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Using OpenRTB Signals to Identify Made for Advertising


Made for Advertising sites (MFA’s) have gained significant attention following the recent ANA study that focused on themes like carbon emissions, supply chain transparency and brand education about programmatic inventory. MFAs are a concern because they are designed specifically to win programmatic scale and churn out profits while delivering poor consumer experiences, lacking unique, professional and high-quality content. It should also be noted that they aren’t a new issue. In fact, agencies and buyers have been monitoring these sites since brands started emphasizing brand suitability standards. However, the lack of an industry-approved definition for MFAs makes it challenging to effectively tackle this problem. 

MFAs are created to be just suitable enough for brands that they end up on inclusion lists. It has been difficult to identify these sites because there are no triggers or automated tools to identify them. Someone would need to manually review sites to identify the nuances, because at first glance these sites’ homepages look fine. The homepage is showing newsy, timely headlines, the site updates content somewhat regularly and the layout is fine. The problem starts when you click on a headline, that is when the user gets jammed with slowly loading ad slots and sees a basic article and copy that repeats itself (it is most likely written by AI or stolen from another site). From there, the ads start to refresh. These are not metrics or dimensions a brand will receive from their DSP or verification reports, but OpenRTB has a wealth of signals, and some can be considered as a proxy.  

The current signal that buyers most commonly use to identify MFAs are their carbon emissions during the programmatic auction. Buyers will benefit from considering carbon footprint, but that alone is not a foolproof identifier for MFAs. While some MFAs are certainly high emitters, what we have learned is fraudulent actors will always find ways to try and blend in with premium inventory. As sustainability guidelines become the norm, MFAs will find ways to reduce emissions and still cling to providing low-quality content at programmatic scale.  

So Where Do We Start?  

When brand suitability teams build inclusion or exclusion lists, they should try and identify MFA sites from the start to ensure clients’ investments are going to inventory of value. At KINESSO, we have generated an arsenal of tactics to help us review inventory and weed out MFAs. Be aware, it is a timely process that will require some manual review and individual judgment to create an effective exclusion list.  While OpenRTB still won’t be able to define MFAs, it can help the industry build a definition and allow buyers to continue to overlay more refined brand safety/suitability, sustainability and investment strategies.  

The below indicators, especially when appearing in combination, can help buyers identify and root out MFAs. Always be sure to click into the articles and authors’ pages as homepages are created to pass a quick review.  

Some of the biggest tells of MFA inventory are ad clutter, load times and refresh rates. As you scroll through the content of the site, make sure to pay attention to how many ads are shown. This will affect your brand’s share of voice on the page. See how long the ads take to start loading, because on non-MFA sites, ads should load almost instantly, while on MFAs, ad slots take longer to load, and this is what is leading to excess carbon emissions. Make sure to stay on the page for at least 60 seconds to monitor how quickly the auction refreshes and thus, how long your ad would be in view.  

Next, you will want to review the content and authors that the ads support. When reviewing the articles, be aware of whether an author is credited and if references are linked. MFA content will be poorly written, a key characteristic is repetition of the same idea expressed in multiple ways. This is because these sites tend to take existing content and rework it with tools, including AI, to create more content and keyword signals. 

Assess the site’s traffic and monetization strategy. Check for Privacy Policy, About Us and Contact pages, and examine if they are legitimate. Traffic referral can also be an indicator of how legitimate the site is. You’ll want to make sure there is a healthy mix of direct, search, social and paid. Finally, review the site’s ads.txt file to determine if it is being maintained. Spot check a few sellers to ensure they are still on the SSPs.  

What’s Next?

As buyers more closely evaluate supply and aim to demonetize this inventory, fraudulent actors will find ways to adapt. DSPs and SSPs need to empower buyers to make more granular decisions on the supply side. SSPs need to enforce and audit any publisher declaration of their inventory to ensure it is accurately labeled and all signals are being passed, for example, keep an eye out as partners update to the new In-stream vs Out-stream standard. Push DSP partners to ensure that Supply Chain Validation is complete, allow Seller ID targeting within the DSP & SSP, and provide reporting and targeting on hops.  

Finally, push for adoption of global placement identifier (GPID), this will allow DSPs and SSPs to help start understanding the implications of duplicative bids and help cut down on waste.  


William Ruckert
Director, Supply Intelligence & Analytics