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How to Stop Bad Ads: a Quick Guide for Publishers

June 8, 2021

What are bad ads? Are they malicious, offensive, cheap, or condescending? Perhaps they’re dangerous, misleading, or even illegal. Regardless of your definition of a bad ad, all publishers and advertisers can agree that they’re a significant and expensive problem in the programmatic environment.

What Are Bad Ads?

Bad ads are one of the main reasons why more than 760 million people use ad blockers.1 According to research, 83% of users don’t mind ads. They just want to filter out the bad ones.2 

A study by HubSpot revealed what users hate the most about ads:

  • Annoying and intrusive (64%)
  • Disrupted user experience (54%)
  • Security risks (39%)
  • Offensive or inappropriate ads (33%)

In short, any malicious, fraudulent, offensive, or disruptive advertising is considered a bad ad.

It’s critical for publishers to protect their visitors against these ads or risk permanent damage to their reputation. Users may be willing to accept the “content for ads” exchange dynamic, but it’s the publisher’s responsibility to ensure that the ads are safe and of high quality.

Where Do Bad Ads Come From? 

Bad ads can enter the advertising ecosystem at various points, and, with the vast and rapid growth of programmatic advertising, it’s become a popular target for malicious hackers and fraudsters.

These individuals or groups use advertising networks to spread malware, misinformation, and offensive content or steal revenue from publishers and advertisers. In fact, it’s such a significant issue that even the WFA predicts that ad fraud will become one of the biggest organized crime markets worth $50 billion.

For cybercriminals, bad ads are easy to deploy on a massive scale. They deceive web users and deprive publishers and advertisers of income. Despite the security measures in place, the scale of programmatic ads means that some bad apples still manage to slip through. They can also disguise themselves as legitimate ad units.

Types of Bad Ads

Programmatic ads allow fraudsters to take advantage of a massive and anonymous advertising environment. While there are many different types of unwanted ads, some are more common than others. Here are a few bad ads that are favored by cybercriminals.

Scams and Fraudulent Ads

Fraudulent ads aren’t easy to spot. They’re designed to look legitimate and appealing, often having click-baiting titles. These bad ads encourage users to visit a landing page that offers a fake service or product. It may even look like or have the name of a legitimate business or service provider.

Fraudulent Ads - Flickr

Example: Ads offering insights into how celebrities made their millions, but that leads to a page encouraging a Bitcoin or similar false investment.

Phishing

Phishing ads are designed to get users to enter their personal information. As with fraudulent ads, a visitor is encouraged to click through to an external landing page. Once there, users will be prompted to enter their personal information. Once scammers have this info, they can then proceed to the next step in their operation.

Phishing Scam - Flickr

Example: A landing page that tells users they’ve won a prize or warning them that their device has been infected with malware.

Malicious Ads and Malware

These are very sophisticated bad ads and can install malicious code such as:

  • Trojan horses
  • Ransomware
  • Automatic redirects
  • Spyware
  • Malvertising

Many of these malicious ads can install the code on a device without alerting the user. However, the most common type is redirects. These bad ads send visitors spiraling down a rabbit hole of redirecting pages and ads. While users try to get back to the original content, they might either install malware accidentally or happen entirely without their knowledge or involvement.

Example: Fake Google Security redirect warning or multiple redirects with popups that contain no visible content.

Offensive Ads

Bad ads can be classified as offensive in one of two ways. The first is to encourage the spreading of fake news. These ads will take serious messages, such as info related to important events and public issues, and twist them into click-bait that’ll spread quickly. The second type typically contains age-inappropriate content or information that users may find insulting or offensive.

Example: Fake news regarding events or age-inappropriate and adult ads that don’t match the site's content.

Disruptive and Poor-Quality Ads

Poor quality ads can significantly disrupt a user’s experience, so much so that they might leave your site and never come back. These ads may show up on your site through legitimate means.

For example, when you have ad space below the fold that rarely gets bids, it may be filled by a poor advertiser buying through your network or exchange. That’s why partnering with a reputable platform is critical.

Example: Aggressive sticky or popup ads that are difficult to close or block significant portions of the content.

How to Stop Bad and Unwanted Ads

Due to the sheer size of the advertising ecosystem, it’s nearly impossible to stop bad ads entirely. Even though programmatic technology and ad platforms continually adapt to prevent bad ads, malicious partners evolve just as quickly to overcome these barriers.

Additional issues include the scale of programmatic ad systems and the time and cost involved in checking and verifying advertisers while still achieving high fill rates and maximizing monetization. Essentially, complete prevention isn’t viable.

However, there are ways that publishers can avoid bad ads and lower their risk of being exposed.

One way is to partner with advertisers directly, vetting each one before allowing their ads on your site. Unfortunately, this isn’t a viable solution for all publishers, particularly not smaller sites that can’t afford dedicated ad management teams. That’s why ad exchanges, networks, and managed ad tech providers bring so much value to a partnership.

For example, if our users are plagued by ad fraud and malicious or offensive ads, we’re also affected. That’s why Rev•Amp is dedicated to helping our publishers deliver top-quality ads from pre-approved advertisers while monitoring for and preventing bad ads.

What to Do If You Encounter a Bad Ad

If you’re a publisher, it’s vital to keep an eye on your ads to ensure that you’re not delivering bad ads. If you do notice a bad ad, you should:

  • Take a screenshot of the advertisement.
  • Determine the identity of the advertiser.
  • Note the date, time, location, device, and browser you’re using.
  • URL of the page where you noticed the ad.
  • Position of the ad on the page.

While it might be tempting to see where the ad leads, don’t click on it. Instead, send all of the above information to your ad exchange or ad services provider. Keep in mind that they might not be aware that they have a problem with bad ads, so work together to isolate and solve the issue.

If the ad isn’t being delivered through your regular system, you may need to take additional steps to clean and secure your site.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, bad ads are a common problem that plague publishers and advertisers. Many industry experts, security providers, and regulatory bodies work on more permanent solutions to address ad fraud and bad ads. In the meantime, it’s up to publishers and advertisers to take the necessary steps to protect themselves and their users.

Ensure that you work with a reputable ad exchange, monetization platform, or managed ad tech services provider that includes robust security and support. Regularly inspect your site and focus on working with your partners to protect yourself, your users, and your reputation.

1https://www.statista.com/statistics/435252/adblock-users-worldwide/

2https://www.smallbizgenius.net/by-the-numbers/advertising-statistics/

is a Strategic Partnership Manager at Softonic. As Strategic Partnership Manager, Maria is responsible for identifying strategic publishers and help them optimize their site for maximum yield as well as being on the constant lookout for opportunities to improve monetization capabilities.
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