What Are Made for Advertising (MFA) Sites and Why Are They a Scourge on Ad Tech and Sustainability?

Made For Advertising (MFA) sites are becoming more of a problem for the ad tech industry as they increase in prevalence.

Currently, MFA sites account for at least one in five online impressions, consuming 15% of global programmatic ad spend and generating 26% more carbon waste than legitimate publisher sites.

Major brands are paying for advertising on these low-quality sites, almost certainly without their knowledge. The number of these sites is likely to increase as AI-generated content continues to be more commonplace and as the industry phases out the use of third-party cookies. This is because MFA sites rely in part on outdated contextual targeting tactics to bring in clicks. 

What are MFA Sites? 

There is no standard definition of what makes an MFA site at this time, but there are several key identifiers. MFA websites will be full of “filler content,” such as AI-generated nonsense, clickbait, unnecessary slideshows, and interlinked websites. This content provides a negative user experience and is unlikely to result in anything more than a negative brand impression of advertisers that appear on such sites.  

A major reason these sites are increasing in popularity is that they deliver the near impossible: lots of eyeballs at dirt-cheap prices. While they masquerade as legitimate sites, those eyeballs don’t translate to quantifiable business outcomes for buyers. It feels as if they should be labeled as fraudulent, but unfortunately, most of these sites do not meet current industry standards for invalid traffic (IVT)

MFA sites also have higher carbon emissions than their legitimate site counterparts — approximately 26% more. This is because they are generating a substantially higher number of requests per impression to SSPs and resellers than other sites, which increases waste.  

How do MFA Sites Negatively Impact Publishers? 

MFA publishers are able to game the system to acquire the clicks they need to continue generating advertising revenue. The sites may be full of scammy content, but they aren’t considered fraudulent as of now because they operate within the existing rules set in place to ensure media quality. 

Low-quality media has been in existence since digital media was created, but the MFA problem is increasing the volume of low-quality media exponentially. Unfortunately for publishers, in the supply chain, MFA site content appears to be brand safe and is cheap, making it difficult for buyers to avoid.

There are solutions currently in place to seek out higher quality media, such as buying via private marketplaces (PMPs), but it is tricky to avoid this content entirely. The result? MFA publishers are taking a large share of the advertising revenue pie away from legitimate sites with trusted users. 

Why Should Advertisers Steer Clear of MFA Websites?

The biggest problems for advertisers whose content appears on an MFA site are the quality of the clicks they receive and the negative effect on their brand reputation — both of which can hurt an advertiser’s bottom line. 

Click quality is undermined by MFAs because they pack many different advertisements onto one page, which can lead to a buyer’s ad getting lost in the shuffle. MFA sites sometimes also place ads in positions where they aren’t visible, but can generate accidental clicks. In this case, a brand’s click rate will increase but the consumer is unlikely to actually spend time on their site. 

Brand reputation can also take a hit when consumers see an ad on a website that feels like a scam site. MFA content is often unnecessarily sensational, leaning into tabloid-style stories that many advertisers would rather not be associated with. 

How Can We Put a Stop to MFA Sites? 

Advertisers can avoid MFA sites by purchasing ads via PMPs, using supply path optimization (SPO) strategies, and up-to-date contextual and quality controls. It is also crucial for the entire advertising ecosystem that advertisers fund legitimate publishers rather than MFA sites.

SPO strategies help eliminate intermediaries so buyers have a closer connection to the publisher. This can help them see which investments are going to lead to tangible results. They can take this one step further by keeping their contextual and quality controls updated since MFAs rely on outdated systems to dupe advertisers into buying low-quality content. 

Advertisers can set up exclusion lists to prevent bids from reaching sites that are known MFAs. They should also actively seek out high-quality content sites, even if the cost of advertising is more expensive. 

Ad tech partners can help reduce traffic to MFAs by blocking these sites from premium programmatic deals. Unfortunately, the existence of MFAs is so pervasive that some in the industry worry that eliminating MFAs will do nothing more than send inventory to competitors. Ad tech partners must put pressure on MFAs to improve their user experience or remove this inventory completely. 

Ideally, the industry can come together to set standards that keep MFA sites at bay or these sites will continue to steal ad dollars from reputable publishers and damage buyers’ brand reputations.