Media Quality Measurement: Finding Harmony With the Buy Side

“If we think about who’s in the room here, you’re all premium publishers,” AdMonsters Chair Rob Beeler told the recent Think Tank on media quality. And no one doubted this distinction—the discussion group assembled with the help of DoubleVerify/Ad-Juster included more than a dozen revenue professionals representing publisher brands easily considered household names.

“When it comes to grading against the whole wide web,” he continued, “any old website that will serve an impression—you have better viewability, better brand safety or suitability, and lower rates of invalid traffic.

“You’re not fraudsters! But sometimes the tools that protect against bad actors feel like they’re targeting  you.”

DV Publisher Suite is an enterprise-level SaaS analytics and automation platform for premium digital publishers that want to maximize revenue yield from their high-value inventory.

Instead of complaining about the injustice of it all, this Think Tank had been assembled to develop best practices for easing tensions over brand safety, viewability, and invalid traffic measurement—the key elements of media quality. In discussing their challenges, the publishers in the room realized they needed better avenues to communicate brand safety best practices on a site-level or even campaign basis to advertisers, as well as tools to manage fragmented data coming in from a host of media quality vendors.

The Brand Safety Challenge

Brand safety challenges around coronavirus-related content were high on the minds of all circling the virtual table. But this was just an extreme example of what revenue professionals have seen over the years. The oddest terms and phrases included on blocklists can cost publishers precious inventory or force them to perform acrobatics to fulfill campaigns. Discrepancies are dollars lost, commented one publisher.

Keyword blocklists are often out of date, and new terms keep being added without old, irrelevant ones getting the boot. In other cases—and this is definitely a programmatic problem—an agency doesn’t have the ability to isolate blocklists by brand, so a one-size-fits-all exclusion list is employed.

While publishers often focus their frustrations on brand safety providers, those same partners often proved quite resourceful when brand safety was the culprit in a campaign gone awry. Publishers noted that brand safety providers were not only willing to listen to their complaints and grievances but took those to heart and turned them into better practices for their clients.

DoubleVerify/Ad-Juster jumped into the conversation to say they were serving a more consultative role for their buy-side clients—not just handing brands and agencies the keys to the platform, but showing them how to best drive it. Especially during the pandemic, DoubleVerify dove deep into their data to pull out learnings for clients, publishing a great deal of advertiser-focused guidance and walking them through platform configurations. 

It seems the service providers are increasingly acting as brand safety whisperers for clients—and their advice was fueled by what they learned from their publisher partners. So there is an informal line of communication between the buy and sell sides via service providers, but formalization—preferably through some kind of tool or shared dashboard—is a necessary next step to increase efficiencies and decrease frustration. 

But this smacked directly into the next challenge: vendor fragmentation.

Too Many Partners to Manage?

Fragmentation in media quality is a two-headed beast best examined via viewability. Despite the MRC standard—which truth be told, has always been advertised as a baseline; a springboard for a buyer or agency’s imagination to leap off—every major holding company holds its own viewability specs. Publishers are most challenged by agencies demanding 100% viewable inventory and no less, which industry groups have long said is a self-defeating goal.

Different viewability specs mean a great deal of negotiations—and in direct sales, publishers have found heading off potential issues at the start is far more effective (and less painful) than battling in reconciliation. Suddenly ad ops is the chief wheeler and dealer: “You’re not going to get the scale you want with those demands, so let’s try this.” 

But that’s a lot of sweat equity for machine-managed processes, and time that could be spent on true revenue-driving projects. Plus, understanding potential yield is completely undermined by such manual practices.

And here comes the other ugly head of fragmentation: not only does every buyer push its own flavor of viewability spec, they use a variety of vendors for other media quality factors like brand safety and IVT measurement. Publishers have found that even vendors with different media quality offerings will have divisions that don’t work well together—or even talk to each other. 

To optimize campaign delivery, publishers often need in-depth relationships with an endless (and potentially growing) number of vendors, and sometimes multiple touchpoints within. Even for a large publisher, this is nearly impossible—some have even formed media quality teams within their revenue departments.

Will on-page code from these vendors get publishers the data they need? That crashes into another obstacle: publishers can’t install code from any and every vendor on their sites without starting to worry about latency and user experience in general. 

What publishers need is a way to reel in all this media quality data, potentially through an aggregator of some sort—similar to yield optimization or revenue analytics platforms that centralize data from demand partners. 

This would be a game-changer for media quality and strip away a great deal of labor and irritation from revenue teams—energy that could be put to better use elsewhere. But a media quality dashboard could also provide new opportunities on the sales front, and even optimize yield against viewability-obsessed bidders. 

Meeting all advertiser KPIs could become less challenging… after you coaxed out the KPIs. (Well, you might have the data to argue which KPIs they should optimize toward.)

Turning the Other Cheek

While media quality measurement has sometimes been a sore spot for premium publishers that held their classy content and design as a point of pride, the time for sour grapes is long over. Ad ops specialists like the ones at our recent Think Tank are well aware they’re working in “the most measurable medium”—media quality is no exception, and the potential to turn measurement into revenue-driving advantage is quite real. 

However, for publishers to get the most out of media quality measurement, they need tools that facilitate communication on brand safety with the buy side and formalize best practices. In addition, a media quality data aggregation platform could empower publishers to optimize campaigns as well as make smarter revenue-related decisions.

Fortunately, both of these feel within reach.