Features to Look for in a Complete Ad Quality Solution

Ad ops teams are under siege, spending far too much time on the frontlines of the battle for ad quality. In fact, as we discovered in our recent 2020 State of Ad Quality Report, some devote as much as 30 hours per week on ad quality issues alone. And as any publisher or platform will attest, time spent fighting redirects, malicious ads, and compliance issues is time not devoted to other critical areas. Suffice it to say, the industry needs effective ad quality solutions.

Artboard 1 copy 2-101

Building on our previous insights on The Best Ad Quality Solutions for Publishers and Platforms, we now want to look at the essential features that publishers and platforms should look for in a truly comprehensive ad quality solution partner. Besides an in-depth discussion on ad blocking, we’re also going to expand the conversation to include everything you need from a genuinely holistic approach to ad quality, including:

  • Real-time blocking script
  • Real-time blacklist
  • Dynamic threat analysis
  • Flexible ad replacement options
  • Live website scanning
  • Ecosystem exposure (billions of impressions)
  • Detailed reporting
  • World Class Service & expertise

As you’ll see, when it comes to ad quality, the best approach is one that covers every angle, leaving no malvertising stone unturned.

Must-Have Solution Features

The bad ad riddle doesn’t have a single solution, no silver bullet to fight against ad fraud. Instead, it requires a layered strategy that prevents bad ads with different techniques, addressing the problem from different angles. Put another way, when looking for the most effective solution for your enterprise, there are certain must-have features to look for.

Artboard 1 copy 3-100

To zoom in specifically on ad blocking, there are three key components to look for in a truly effective solution – the script, the blacklist, and the analysis. Collectively, these interlocking components allow you to identify, assess, and analyze a threat in real-time. Further, when performed in series – execution, prevention, and analysis – each builds on the previous components to provide maximum impact and insight.

Real-Time Blocking Script

Drilling down a bit further, there are three different ways to integrate a blocking script into your configuration:

  • Sandboxing is a legacy technology that uses a creative wrapper implemented through Google Ad Manager (GAM). Ironically, these wrappers don't provide coverage for EDBA or GAM so, while a good start, they have too many coverage gaps to be highly effective.
  • Pre-bid plugins are another convenient but somewhat outdated technique, easy to implement but not able to cover nearly enough inventory since it misses anything run outside of pre-bid.
  • On-page code is a line of JavaScript implemented into the page header. This is the option we use at Ad Lightning to great effect since it allows you to wrap everything and see exactly what loads on the page.

When looking at the blocking side of an ad quality solution, what’s most important is having maximum coverage, something that on-page code really shines at. However, the on-page code also needs to be flexible enough to cover not just inventory delivered through GAM, but also native units and widgets through direct integrations. Tag Management implementations can be a viable option for integration as well.

Artboard 1 copy 4-100

So what does that mean for you during your research into different ad quality solutions? Simply offering “real-time ad blocking” isn’t enough. Flexible on-page code that can adapt to different circumstances is the only way an ad blocking solution will provide sufficient inventory coverage. Anything short of that is like using an umbrella with a huge hole in it – you might block some rain, but you’re still going to get soaked.

Real-Time Blacklist

This feature uses a perpetual, real-time list of all known threats that’s cached in the web browser to minimize latency. Each time an ad loads on a page, it checks the ad payload against the list to identify threats. If it spots one, the solution stops the ad from rendering and inflicting any damage. Remember, the inputs are the most essential component of effective blacklist analysis. If you’re using a solution with long cycles, then the blacklist won’t be agile enough to identify newer threats.

Dynamic Threat Analysis

Real-time dynamic analysis loads and executes all of the scripts in a protected environment to reveal what happens in real-time. From there, a solution can either block the malicious script that it identifies, or add any signatures to the blacklist as it goes through the dynamic analysis.

Solutions that take the former route – blocking the malicious script – have some definite drawbacks. They can cause discrepancies, lack support detection of many types of malware, don’t include blocking categories like competitive ads, and often struggle with larger ads. However, the latter of these options – adding signatures to the blacklist as it conducts the dynamic analysis – is the technique that Ad Lightning employs, and is the most beneficial of the two, combining accuracy and speed without affecting other elements on the page.

Other Essentials for an Effective Ad Quality Solution

But as we said up top, a genuinely comprehensive solution covers all the bases, not relying on ad blocking alone. When researching the different vendors and tools, make sure to look for these features as well:

Flexible Ad Replacement Options

Dealing with the bad ads is only one part of the issue. Unless you’re willing to sacrifice revenue by living with a blank ad slot, you’re going to need a plan B. And if your solution can’t adequately flex to fill that empty slot, then you’re at best looking at partial revenue by taking the DFP passback route. At worst, the slot either remains empty or you fill it with an in-house ad, either way driving no revenue.

However, a solution with flexible ad replacement capabilities is the best of all worlds, not only blocking the malicious ad but also keeping your top-line happy, all without jeopardizing third-party scripts.

Live Website Scanning

A robust live website scanning ability gives an ad quality solution yet another opportunity to add inputs into the overall system. While scanning in a static environment is efficient and can provide significant coverage, live website scanning creates a more realistic simulation than tag scanning by pairing a synthetic audience with a cookie profile. This way, the solution can trigger different ads on the website while also measuring metrics like CPU, revealing the true impact of an ad on a website.

Maximum Ecosystem Exposure

The online ecosystem is vast, almost unimaginably big. Therefore, you want a solution with maximum ecosystem exposure, preferably billions of impressions, to add as many inputs as possible into the system. Solutions that see billions of impressions every day are far better equipped to assess new threats simply from additional coverage.

Detailed Reporting

Finally, data is only as good as it is transparent and insightful. The most effective solutions will deliver vital data points like SSP IDs, log-level data, and data leakage through a flexible reporting system that provides both a high-level perspective and granular details.

This is another instance where virtually every solution in the market claims to have a detailed reporting system but, unfortunately, “detailed” is a relative term. The right solution will give you timely, accurate, automated reports on bad ads and who served them so you can quickly get that information further upstream. It will also deliver the information through the best channels for you, whether that’s an API or an export to Excel from the UI.

Service & Expertise

All of the previous points have focused on solution features which, of course, are absolutely critical to effectively combat ad quality issues. However, the level of service and expertise you receive from your solution partner is just as important as what the solution itself provides.

Artboard 1 copy 5-100

Threats perpetually evolve to account for new techniques designed to thwart a fraudster’s efforts. Therefore, you must feel assured that your ad quality partner will work with you, making certain that you are continually protected and always on the cutting-edge to combat new issues, malicious behavior, and the bad actors that unleash them on the ecosystem. When looking for an ad quality solution partner, keep in mind a few essential traits:

  • Responsiveness – New threats can and do get through sometimes, and any partner that says otherwise isn’t being truthful. Your partner should be quick to respond and address new threats to minimize disruption.
  • Approachability – A good solution partner will be approachable, offering regular calls along with updates on new threats, upcoming features, and always be transparent with their roadmap.
  • Reliability – You should be able to trust that your partner will follow through on your requests as well as offer insights and best practices to ensure you’re maximizing their product.

The Bottom Line to Ad Quality Solutions

Obviously, our list of seven distinct features severely cuts down any list of prospective ad quality solutions. Aside from ad blocking, an effective solution must also provide everything from real-time blacklist and dynamic analysis to live website scanning and insightful reporting. Otherwise, your brand, customers, and revenue streams are all susceptible to the fraudsters and their malicious activities.

And that’s really the bottom line when it comes to ad quality, isn’t it? Stopping ad fraud in its tracks is only one piece of the puzzle. An ad quality solution must also be able to flex its muscles without creating latency that drives page impressions – your impressions – elsewhere. Because, like it or not, a website completely devoid of bad ads still doesn’t do you any good if you’re not generating enough revenue to keep the doors open.

Download: The 2020 Guide to Blocking Bad Ads & Ensuring Ad Quality

As you might have guessed, Ad Lightning is proud to say that we’re the only solution that not only gives you all of these essential features, but, as your ad quality partner, also keeps you on the cutting-edge of ad quality tools and techniques. Our goal is to protect you and your customers from ad fraud – today, tomorrow, and well into the future.