Issue #7: Early February

Issue #7: Early February
Essential news for web publishers on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month (ish)

Welcome to everyone reading Powered by Ads for the first time through the new "LinkedIn Edition". Thanks for joining us on this fortnightly roundup of everything that is important for web publishers. If you'd prefer see this in email you can subscribe at www.poweredbyads.com (It's what all the cool kids do). On the website you can also read past issues and find out more about the person behind the updates if you wish.

It's been another busy two-weeks in ad-land,  so there is a lot to get through this issue. As ever I've summarised the headlines below to save you time. Issue #7 is quite a meaty one, so grab yourself a cuppa and strap in.  

In this issue...

(just scroll down and read the bits that interest you)

  • The big MCM Switchover
  • In-content ads now "acceptable"
  • Poll: How do you handle adblocking?
  • Targeted advertising comes under even heavier fire...
  • ...but the ad industry prepares to fight back
  • Now even our fonts breech GDPR
  • Goodbye FLoC, hello Topics API
  • AdSense users reporting bot clicks
  • Your favourite SEO tools just got an upgrade
  • No dumb questions
  • Hire Me!
  • More stories in short
  • Wrapping up

The big MCM Switchover

It's been a long time coming, but Google finally turned off its Ad Exchange SPM product at the end of January. Scaled Partner Management was the product that most publishers used to access Ad Exchange through a third party provider. It has been replaced by MCM (Multi Client Manager) which gives similar functionality, but as a native feature of Google Ad Manager.

It's not been an easy migration, either for Google or the thousands of companies offering monetisation through Ad Exchange. I've heard noises this week that the final switchover didn't go very well for a number of providers and publisher revenues will likely have been hit.

I'd advise any publisher who accesses Ad Exchange through a 3rd party to keep a close eye on impressions, revenue and page RPM over the transition period. Google wins a high proportion of impressions and generates a lot of upward auction pressure for most publishers. A few days with Google not firing properly can be painful.

In-content ads now "acceptable"

Publishers who employ adblocker mitigation tactics might expect them to perform better in 2022. Most anti adblock solutions use the strategy of trying to serve "acceptable ads" to users that have adblockers enabled. The most popular adblockers have an option to serve less intrusive ads that meet the criteria of the Acceptable Ads Standards. This option can be disabled by the user, but many don't.

The problem for publishers has always been that these Acceptable Ads perform badly compared to standard display. Placements and formats are limited, many partners cannot be used and there is often additional latency.

The good news is that the standard has just had a significant update; the most extensive in its 10 year history. One of the key changes is the removal of the criteria that ads cannot "break up content", meaning that better-performing inline ads can now be served.

If you don't currently employ ad blocker mitigation then it might be time to look at this again. Two of my favourites are Blockthrough and Admiral. More on this story here.

Poll: How do you handle adblocking?

Given that adblocker mitigation is "free money" available to most publishers, I'm interested to know how the PoweredByAds audience currently deals with adblocking users. The poll is just 2 questions and anonymous. Please click below to answer and I'll come back to this question in the late Feb issue.

How do you currently handle adblocking users?

Click to answer the poll. It's anonymous and takes 10 seconds!

Targeted advertising comes under even heavier fire...

A new bill was introduced in the US last month that threatens the entire online advertising ecosystem. The unsubtle name of the "Banning Surveillance Advertising Act (BSAA)" gives you an immediate taste of how hard it is going after the online advertising space. The bill seeks to ensure that an advertiser can not “target the dissemination of an advertisement,” and the definition of "target" includes not just one-to-one targeting but also “a group of individuals”.  I can't think of any current privacy solution that would pass that test beyond a backwards step to contextual only advertising. One can only imagine what this would do to Facebook and Google. More on the bill here.

Meanwhile, in Europe the European Parliament has adopted The Digital Services Act. The Act will prevent platforms, like Google, Amazon, and the Meta-owned Facebook, from using sensitive information, such as sexual orientation, race, and religion for targeted ads. It will require services to give users the ability to easily opt out of tracking, and pressures platforms to remove illegal content and products , including hate speech or counterfeit goods. More here

...but the ad industry prepares to fight back

The ad industry isn't quite ready to just roll over and play dead though. Despite utterly failing to speak up in the conversation around ad privacy for the last decade, key players are beginning to squeak up.

Both Facebook and the IAB have launched rather similar campaigns to defend personalised and targeted advertising. The IAB, through a new Internet for Growth campaign are taking the "targeting as a leveller" angle, putting the spotlight on how targeted advertising supports small business*.

Facebook's spin on the same message is "Good ideas deserve to be found".

It's good to see the industry finally addressing messaging around this issue, but feels like far too little, far too late to me.

*This campaign triggered my old "link building Spidey-senses". Follow links plus a "share your story" form. Get in there!

Now even our fonts breech GDPR

In Issue #6 we discussed an Austrian ruling that embedding Google Analytics on a website before obtaining user consent is a breach of GDPR regulations. Now a court in Munich has made a similar ruling around the use of Google fonts.

I only spotted this story yesterday, so have not yet dug deep on this, but it seems potentially significant. Although the damages ruling was small, at just €100, it's a worrying precedent for anyone who runs any form of online service. The reason being that the personal information in question was no more than the user's IP address.  

Anyone with a particularly long memory who followed me from my old "company newsletter", may recall me raising this as a real possibility way back in 2018 when GDPR first came into force. More from HackerNews

Goodbye FLoC, hello Topics API

Google continues to propose solutions for targeting beyond the third party Cookie after concerns grew that FLoC could allow for user fingerprinting. The latest proposed solution for the Privacy Sandbox is Topics API. The solution would see users tagged as being interested in up to 5 topics based on the websites they visit. This tagging would live in the browser and not be shared with adtech servers. The tagged topics would be from a list of just 350 topics and be deleted after a few weeks.

The proposal seems stronger on privacy but is facing strong criticism in terms of the limited capability it would give advertisers and the lack on transparency it would provide. Official announcement here.

AdSense users reporting bot clicks

There have been a number of unconnected reports of inflated clicks on AdSense units this month. The common pattern is that there are high number of revenue generating clicks that don't correlate with traffic being reported by Analytics or in server logs. This can be worrying for publishers as Google are infamous for their harsh rulings around invalid traffic.

Monitoring the various threads I am seeing on this topic, I am not convinced by the technical solutions I am seeing. If the traffic isn't being reported in server logs it is not from the publisher's server. This means that solutions like Cloudflare or IP blocking are unlikely to help in this instance. The best advice for publishers who experience this is simply to report it to Google, making sure it is clear that this isn't traffic you are serving and appears to be an AdSense reporting error.

Publishers using AdSense might be wise to check AdSense reporting for any sharp increase in CTR mid January or any countries with unusually high CTR.

Your favourite SEO tools just got an upgrade

A new URL Inspection API in Search Console just gave site owners a way to programmatically query a host of URL data from Google Search Console.  Up to 2000 URLs per day can be queried for data such as when the URL was last crawled, indexation status, robots.txt status, referring URLs, mobile usability and even rich results.

Whilst most publishers will likely not end up querying the API directly, they can expect to see the results of this being added to many popular SEO tools and CMS plugins soon. Looking at my favourite SEO tool this morning, it seems this capability has already been integrated into Screaming Frog. If anyone needs me today I shall be running crawls!

No dumb questions

Have a question relating to Ads or Web Publishing and don't know who to ask? Ask it here without judgement. I'll pick out some interesting ones and either answer them myself or find someone who can.

Click to answer

Hire me!

Have a web related challenge that you need some help with? I have 25 years experience supporting online businesses across monetisation, traffic acquisition, strategy and more. I now have capacity for a small number of either short-term engagements of low-touch ongoing projects. Find out more here.

Other stories of interest that I have kept short:

Wrapping up

That was a long issue, so well done to anyone still reading this! I hope you found Issue#7 useful. If you did please do share it on social media or in email to your contacts. This roundup is a fairly significant piece of work every two weeks and seeing the numbers grow and hearing back from readers is what keeps me going.

I'll be back in your inbox is around 2 weeks.

Mat