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Size Matters and Other Obfuscations by Ad Networks and Google

“Today, in response to feedback from many of you who run branding campaigns, we’re announcing a new filter that allows you to show your ads only on AdSense sites among the 1000 largest on the web, as defined by DoubleClick Ad Planner. This new feature will ensure that your ads reach a large number of users, but only on well-known sites best suited for branding goals.”

- Google Inside Adwords blog post this week

Yeah, Ad Networks sell the same way all the time.  comScore top 100, top 500, top 1000.  It is kind of amazing that Google has not released this feature previously, but I am sure that what held them up was that the Product Manager responsible kept de-prioritizing this because it is, if not “evil”, a kind of silly feature that generally serves to mislead people that are not paying particularly close attention.

Perpetually, this is positioned by the sales force as “branding inventory”.  It is implied that the largest web sites in the world are generating inventory ideally suited for large brands to advertise on.  That is just plain silly.

The amount of page views a web site generates has absolutely nothing to do with the relative brand safety or value of brand association that a web site has.  Let’s spend 30 seconds looking at this list of top 1000 web sites:

  • Facebook
  • Blogspot
  • MySpace
  • Photobucket
  • Orkut
  • WordPress
  • Blogger
  • Partypoker
  • Megauploader
  • Imageshack

Those are just some of the non-Chinese sites in the top 60 (so maybe 1/2 of the english language content available) and let me tell you:

  • These sites are not just predominantly UGC content, they feature tons of NSFW content.  (Unlike, say, LinkedIn, which, while on the list and primarily UGC, is mostly brand-safe.)
  • Further, the inventory that Google is getting from some of these guys (e.g. MySpace) will definitely tend toward the distinctly less brand-safe and NSFW.  MySpace is probably not sending their best impressions to Google.

Popularity of the web site is not even loosely correlated with brand safety.  The strategy for this stuff is simple.  For most ad networks (and this is probably still true for Google, although maybe slightly less so), most of their ad inventory came from these sites anyways.  After all, these sites account for the majority of impressions on the Internet.

This “Top X” assurance comforts media planners in some way while only cutting out 10% – 30% of the inventory the network had for delivery.  The result is plenty of room to optimize for the network and the deal is closed, so a victory all the way around.  Buying “Top X” inventory is a way to pay a premium for the inventory you were probably going to get anyway without significant brand protections for advertisers.

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