Navigating the MFA minefield: Avoiding clickbait sites in programmatic advertising 

By Programmatic Executive Revanth Rajendran

Today’s online world frequently sees flashy, eye-catching headlines and images that draw us in. But too often, clicking leads us to websites filled with incomplete content or even false information, with ads popping up everywhere. These sites are called “Made For Advertising” (MFA) sites, created solely to show ads and make money from them without caring much about giving value to the users.   

MFA sites usually get their traffic by buying it or by using catchy tricks to get clicks, whichare designedto maximise page views. While this might not seem like a fraud in the traditional sense, it becomes shady when they take content from real publishers without permission or credit. That’s cheating both readers and advertisers. 

A recent Adalytics study found that a prominent US advertiser spent over $10 million alone on MFA websites through a comprehensive analysis of their programmatic media buys in the second half of 2023 (Adalytics, 2024). With generative AI tools, it gets even worse as it’s easier for MFA creators to churn out tons of content quickly, meaning moreof theselow-quality sites are popping up all over the internet.   

MFA sites also often resort to aggressive ad tactics like constant refreshes.Thismeans users might see the same ad thousands of times in a single browsing session, raising doubts about how effective these adsreallyare and whether proper frequency capping isbeing used. 

These sites also harm sustainability and energy usage. Auto-refreshing ad slots on these sites can lead to tens of thousands of HTTPS requests for ad auctions and cookie syncing in just one browsing session. Despite this heavy data processing, only a few unique usersactuallyreceive the ads, which is inefficient and environmentally taxing. 

What do we do 

In response to the growing concern surrounding MFAs, Leading advertising trade groups like ANA, 4A’s, WFA, and ISBA collaborated to establish guidelines aimed at helping advertisers identify MFA sites and avoid them. These guidelines highlightkeycharacteristics such as high ad-to-content ratios, rapidly auto-refreshing ad placements, minimal organic audience engagement, and poorly designed websites with low-quality content (Barnett, 2023). 

We’ve partnered with Adloox, a trusted ad verification vendor, to safeguard clients from MFA sites. Through this partnership, we continuously monitor and filter out MFA sites as invalid traffic, ensuringthat ourclient’s advertising budgetsare spenteffectively. Additionally, we closely monitor metrics such as frequency and incremental reach to detectanyanomalies that may indicate delivery on MFA sites. Adloox’s attention metrics feature enables us to identify sites with low attention rates, which may indicate potential MFA activity, allowing us to take proactive measures. 

In addition to these measures, we leverage private marketplace deals from reputable platforms like GoodNet, which offer curated “green deals” featuring sustainable and environmentally friendly inventories.By purchasing ad space through these deals, wenot onlymitigate the risk of encountering auto-refreshing ad inventoriesbut alsocontribute to a more sustainable advertising ecosystem. 

With the rapid advancements in AI technology, new forms of ad fraud and invalid traffic continue to emerge, posing significant risks toouradvertising spend. However,it’s in the hands ofagencies and advertiserstoremain proactive and vigilant inourapproach. Bystaying vigilant and proactive in our approach, we aim to uphold transparency, integrity, and sustainability in the digital advertising landscape.