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Mobile Redirect Ads: The Scourge of Internet?

mobile redirect [Source]

Unaware of the impact of mobile redirect ads? What you don’t know might be killing your publisher revenue.

Generating revenue by serving ads on your website is a tough gig. Those fortunate enough to toe the fine line of requirements presented by Google Adsense can expect to serve top-notch offers from the industry leader. Site owners who’ve lost their Adsense feed, however, are faced with the prospect of trying to partner with larger networks to serve their RTB ads or bouncing from network to network in hopes of finding high quality ads in order to monetize their pages.

It’s tough out there.

As the manager of a display publisher network, the past 6 months have provided me with a first hand glimpse of what may be the single most annoying hurdle facing the independent site owner: the mobile redirect ad. They’re not just a hindrance: they’re stealing traffic and getting away it!

For the unitiated, a mobile redirect ad is served via an ad feed any publisher would serve on their content. When viewed on a desktop, the ads function as one would expect: banner is shown, click occurs(or not), and we move on. The advertiser isn’t interested in desktop traffic however, and the malicious activity occurs when the publisher site is viewed via a mobile device. When viewed via mobile, the ad actually takes the viewer away from the publisher page to a product/offer/download page without warning or permission.

How are these ads getting through? Based on what we’ve experienced, these ads are served via unsuspecting networks that reviewed an advertisement they thought was legitimate. Many of the ads appear to be for legitimate businesses: hotel booking services, local “yelp-like” review sites, product sites, etc. They don’t flag when reviewed by enterprise level security platforms like McAfee Site Advisor or Norton, and the individual reviewing the offer has no reason to suspect the creative is tainted.

Our data shows these ads being perpetrated by “advertisers” originating primarily from the Asian-Pacific region, and primarily from China. The ads are being entered using HTML creatives, primarily using the CPM price model, and are very agressive (i.e., no backing out or any skip options). Please note that this is not an indictment of advertisers from the Asia-Pacific geographic region; we’ve seen these ads originating everywhere from the UK to Australia.

This is not simply a byproduct of smaller networks not being able to police their advertisers. According to TechCrunch, “Affected sites and applications have included Imgur, the AP, NBC, Hearst properties, various newspaper sites and blogs, eBay, Perez Hilton, SomethingAwful, WeatherUnderground, TwitPic, Cheezburger.com, Slickdeals, Twitchy, NHL, and many others.”

Is this the product of rogue marketers? While the answer should be a no-brainer, I recently attended a show in New York with our network and had an SEM from a small agency stop by to chat. The reason for her visit? A UK client of hers asked her to learn more about us since we were “Ok” with mobile redirect ads. Talk about a punch in the gut!

Can you protect yourself? Yes and No. Site owners can minimize the risk by researching the publisher networks providing their feeds to learn where the ads originate from, whether they’ve had previous issues with mobile redirect or hijacking-type ads in the past, and what measures they take to protect the user experience. Note, however, that no network has proven immune to these type of advertisements, and the growth of mobile advertising in previously under-served areas like India, Africa, and the Asian-Pacific geographic region is sure to spur more of these offers in the future. Factor in the oversaturation of the industry due to the growth of RTB exchanges, and the risks become clearer.

The best solution may be to simply maintain a strong working relationship with your ad provider, so any occurrences are dealt with in a timely manner.

Are mobile redirect the scourge of the internet, or a forewarning or things to come? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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