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Made For Advertising (MFA) sites: Is it a threat to transparent e-advertising?

Posted by Huzefa Hakim | May 2, 2024

Made For Advertising (MFA) sites: Is it a threat to transparent e-advertising?

Have you ever stumbled across a website crammed full of ads with little to no meaningful content?

These are often Made for Advertising (MFA) sites, designed primarily to earn money by drawing in visitors just to view and click on advertisements. While they are not inherently illegal, their impact on the quality and transparency of e-advertising raises several concerns.

According to an examination of the programmatic ad dollars, MFAs accounted for 21% of the audited 35 billion impressions. This clearly shows how widespread these MFAs are to lure advertisers into believing in the power of superficial metrics rather than going for genuine business outcomes.

In this blog, we will go deep into an MFA site and explore the potential vulnerabilities of ad fraud in these sites; given the picture that is painted and not genuine enough to bring business through e-advertising

What happens in an MFA site?

Imagine you're searching online for helpful gardening tips. You click on a link that promises a comprehensive guide, but instead of finding useful advice, you're bombarded with ads. Every scroll reveals more banners and pop-ups, while the content itself is barely a few lines of generic information sandwiched between advertisements. This scenario is typical of a Made for Advertising (MFA) site, and here’s what generally happens:

  1. High ad-to-content ratio: The primary characteristic of MFA sites is their overwhelming number of ads compared to actual content. These sites have pages cluttered with advertisements, including banners, pop-ups, and auto-playing videos, far outnumbering the sparse, low-quality articles or guides they host.
  2. Poor user experience: With the primary goal of maximizing ad views and clicks, MFA sites often neglect user experience. Navigation is intentionally confusing to keep users clicking through multiple pages, each laden with ads, thereby increasing the chance of accidental ad clicks.
  3. Content farming: To attract traffic, MFA sites frequently employ automated tools to generate content or scrape it from legitimate sites, repackaging it with keyword stuffing. This technique aims to improve search engine rankings, drawing more visitors to generate additional ad revenue.
  4. Arbitrage tactics: Operators of MFA sites often engage in traffic arbitrage. They purchase cheap traffic from various sources, hoping the revenue from ad clicks surpasses the cost of this traffic. This involves a gamble on ad placements and click rates, often disregarding the quality or legitimacy of the traffic bought.

How is an MFA site vulnerable to ad fraud?

Before we proceed, it is important to note that MFA sites do not qualify as Invalid Traffic (IVT). It is the short-lived nature of the engagements on these sites through low-quality content which makes it a concern for advertisers who fall into such traps.

Let’s see how these sites are vulnerable to ad fraud

  1. Click fraud: One of the most prevalent forms of ad fraud associated with MFA sites is click fraud. Automated scripts or paid individuals might repeatedly click on ads without any intention of purchasing the advertised service or product, depleting advertiser budgets.
  2. Ad stacking and Pixel stuffing: MFA sites may engage in ad stacking (placing several ads on top of each other in a single ad placement) or pixel stuffing (fitting multiple ads into a tiny pixel that is not visible to the naked eye). Both practices lead to advertisers being charged for ads that are never actually viewed by real users.
  3. Ghost sites: Some MFA sites are 'ghost' operations, where they exist in name and server space only, hosting ads but devoid of real user interaction or legitimate content, driven purely by bot traffic.
  4. Domain spoofing: MFA operators may misrepresent their web properties as more reputable sites in programmatic advertising environments, tricking advertisers into thinking their ads are being placed on premium sites.

What do advertisers need to keep in mind before advertising on MFAs?

When considering whether to place ads on Made for Advertising (MFA) sites, advertisers should be mindful of several factors to safeguard their investments and ensure they are engaging with their intended audience effectively. Here are key considerations:

  1. Understand the impact on brand image: Advertising on MFA sites can negatively affect a brand's image. Since these sites often lack quality content and are seen as low-value by users, ads appearing on such sites may be perceived similarly. Brands must consider whether the potential reach on MFA sites aligns with their image and values.
  2. Evaluate traffic legitimacy: It's crucial to assess the legitimacy of traffic on MFA sites. Many such sites drive traffic through dubious means, including paid traffic schemes that do not result in genuine engagement. Advertisers should demand transparency in traffic sources and user engagement metrics.
  3. Consider the relevance and context of ad placements: Ad placements need to be contextually relevant to the content they are associated with. MFA sites often do not provide contextually appropriate placements, which can lead to poor campaign performance and wasted ad spending.
  4. Assess the risk of ad fraud: MFA sites are frequently associated with various forms of ad fraud, such as click fraud and impression laundering. Advertisers should use specialized ad fraud detection tools and services like ClearTrust, which offers custom IVT filters and a transparent, white-box approach to ensure that ads are not subject to fraudulent activities.
  5. Scrutinize the cost-benefit ratio: Given the potential for high traffic but low engagement on MFA sites, advertisers need to carefully analyse the cost-benefit ratio. The cheap cost of advertising might seem attractive, but if the traffic quality is poor, the overall ROI could be negative.
  6. Leverage robust ad tech solutions: Employing advanced ad tech solutions that provide detailed insights into ad performance and audience behaviour is essential. Tools that offer real-time data and analytics help advertisers make informed decisions and pivot strategies when advertising on sites with questionable value.

Made-for-advertising sites pose a significant challenge in the realm of e-advertising by threatening the transparency and efficacy that brands and consumers deserve. However, by employing sophisticated, tailored solutions like those offered by ClearTrust, advertisers can safeguard their interests and ensure that their advertising budgets are spent wisely, supporting genuine user engagement rather than falling into the traps set by MFA operators.