The [dis]connect between content “quality” and online advertising.

Jack Marshall
Digiday’s Jack Marshall

I really appreciate the work of Jack Marshall, a reporter at marketing e-zine Digiday, who is helping to expose and explain the “brave new world” of online display advertising and how it has evolved into something that’s rife with problems.

ad exchangesConsider a recent column of Marshall’s titled “Is this the worst site on the Internet?”

In it, he notes that for “legitimate” online publishers that rely on advertising as their revenue model, that model is becoming a more daunting proposition with each passing day.

And a big reason is the emergence of other websites that are “gaming” the online system – not to mention the ad tech middlemen that are their willing accomplices.

Essentially, what’s happening is that ad dollars are being siphoned away from websites that provide professionally produced content and are going to sites that are explicitly constructed to serve up as many ad impressions as possible.

These sites contain little or no original content.

Marshall’s “Exhibit A” is Georgia Daily News, a website which purports to cover “news, traffic, sports, politics, entertainment, gossip and local events in Atlanta.”

As Marshall contends, “What it actually features is content ‘curated’ from elsewhere on the web, and some it has simply stolen from other major news sites” such as the Daily Mail.

Sizable chunks of the website’s content have nothing to do with Atlanta.

GADailyNews home pageConsidering the type of general news site it purports to be, GADailyNews.com doesn’t attract very much traffic at all.  And why would it? — since it contains precious little information of value or interest to anyone who is actually “seeking news about Atlanta.”

But it sure does generate a lot of ad impressions.  According to Marshall, each article page on the site features seven display ad units – all of which refresh every 20 seconds or so.

In the two-minute span of time it took him to read an article about Katy Perry and John Mayer (content copied from an Australian news site), Marshall was served more than 40 ad impressions.

Marshall continues:

“One page has served me nearly 500 ads in just 20 minutes – and I couldn’t stop refreshing them even if I wanted to.”

[And these ads aren’t for B-list advertisers, either.  They’re for brands like American Airlines, Hilton Hotels, Charles Schwaab and others.]

What’s happening here, of course, is that websites and ad tech middlemen have figured out that the algorithms of even the “quality” ad vendors like Google, AdRoll, and Bizo can be gamed pretty easily to serve ads on a low-quality site like Georgia Daily News, which is owned by a single-person entity called Integrated News Media Corporation.

It’s hardly the type of media vehicle that big-brand advertisers would normally wish to use for advertising.  But thanks to the vagaries and complexity of the ad exchange landscape, they are.

For every Georgia Daily News site, there are hundreds of others like it that cobble together seemingly valuable content with a passably convincing set of audience characteristics.

Put it together, and it adds up to problems on two levels.

First, advertisers are paying for impressions that are near-worthless.

Second, since there are finite ad dollars available, legitimate online publishers are losing out on those funds, which are far more important to their well-being than they are for sites that don’t engage in any true journalism at all.

As Jack Marshall concludes:

“Thanks to fraudulent traffic, dubious sites and middlemen with low quality standards, life is only getting harder for those publishers with expensive content teams to support.”

Take Your Pick: One Super Bowl Ad Spot … or 14 Billion Facebook Ad Impressions

Super Bowl Ad Cost

 

This year a single 30-second ad spot during the Super Bowl TV broadcast will cost a cool $4 million.

And that’s just for the placement alone — not the dollars that go into producing the ad.

The high cost of advertising is directly related to Super Bowl viewership, of course, which is predicted to be north of 100 million people this year.

Still, $4 million is a really hefty sum, even for major brand advertisers.  Just how big is underscored in some comparative figures put together by Jack Marshall, a reporter at marketing e-zine Digiday.

Jack Marshall
Digiday’s Jack Marshall

In lieu of spending $4 million on a single ad spot, here’s how Marshall reported that the promotional money could be spent in alternative ways:

  • 14 billion Facebook Ad Impressions – According to digital marketing software firm Kenshoo, right-hand column “marketplace” ads on Facebook averaged 27 cents per thousand impressions during 2013.  This means that for $4 million, an advertiser could run a Facebook marketplace ad every second of every day for the next 469 years.
  • 3 billion Banner Ad Impressions – In 2013, average online display ad CPMs were running just shy of $1.30, looking globally.  Applying that figure to the U.S. market translates into 3 billion display ad impressions for your $4 million spend.
  • 160 million Sponsored Content Views – The typical charge is ~$25 to distribute sponsored content to 1,000 readers.  At that rate, $4 million would give you 160 million impressions (provided a publisher could actually deliver that many!).
  • 10.8 million Paid Search Clicks – With an overall average cost-per-click of 37 cents in 2013, $4 million would cover just shy of 11 million clicks.  That may be one-tenth the size of the Super Bowl viewing audience … but at least your audience would be actually searching for your product or service instead of heading to the kitchen for more corn chips and queso dip.

These are just some of the comparative figures outlined by Jack Marshall in his article.  You can read the others here.