Why We’re Sour on Programmatic

Programmatic digital buying had so many promises, but those promises are empty when it comes to how it’s evolved…or devolved into a mess of awful content, clickbait websites, and non-human traffic.

Let’s start with awful content. The image above is of four items that were in my Twitter and Facebook news feeds as I scrolled the other day. Everyone’s made the mistake of clicking on these links and so many of you see more and more in your social feed because of it. The teaser in the post rarely shows up in the article as these are simply rehashed sites you’ve already seen. The name of the site is intended to pass muster on a brand safe site list, but it’s not what it says it is. For example, these four ads have URL’s that are misleading: Travelerdreams.com, Luxandlush.com, 5Dwallpaper.com, and Foodisinthehouse.com. I wonder how the DSP’s categorize these contextually. Is one travel, one beauty, one home décor, and one food?

These sites exist ONLY because of programmatic advertising. The landing pages have tons of ads, many repetitive, and they routinely shift the content as you scroll to get you to accidentally click on an ad and the content is just a waste of time. I visited one of the sites by typing in the URL directly to see how it would look if a buyer/client was looking into the sites on a site list. Travelerdreams.com looks like an innocuous, but genuine, low-quality travel blog aggregation site. BUT, you cannot find a way to navigate to the click-bait landing page other than by clicking on the social ad (by design I’m sure). No one would go to this page. Ever. It doesn’t even show up on a search organically. The main URL content is just there to stay off block lists.

Why are we as an industry allowing these types of sites to succeed (they have no real editorial costs) and great high-quality, well-written sites can’t survive. We’ve created a system where the bottom is the market both media price wise and content wise.

Here are five things you can do today to improve the programmatic ecosystem. Your media CPM might increase, but your actual results in real outcomes will not change. No one intentionally clicks on ads on these crappy listicle sites.

  1. Turn off open web inventory
  2. Use ComScore 500 (or 1,000) sites
  3. Increase your bid price so you can buy better inventory
  4. Optimize towards conversions, not clicks
  5. Buy publishers directly
  6. Don’t use UTM codes for a short period so you can see how many bad sites you are really buying

I highly recommend that you read Bob Hoffman’s book ADSCAM. Bob is a great writer, very entertaining, and this book is enlightening. You will learn that the problem of ad fraud goes beyond wasting our client’s money.

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