How to Prevent Inappropriate Ads From Hurting Your Website

Reading time: 6 minutes

Did you know that in 2019, Google blocked and removed about 5,000 bad ads per minute? What’s more, almost one million advertisers were also blocked for policy violations!

What do these “blocked” ads consist of, you ask?

Inappropriate content that’s vulgar, offensive, or downright dirty — all of which compromises a website’s authenticity by making it come off as not just inappropriate but unsafe. 

These types of ads can negatively impact your revenue as a punisher because they also compromise the quality of your ad inventory[13][4]. More often than not, publishers trying to build up their websites and ad revenue tend to focus on ad quality[5] and ad placement for better viewability[6]. However, the quality of the content is just as important because it can make or break the user experience.

Therefore, blocking inappropriate, offensive, or bad ads from cropping up in your ad slots should be a top priority as a publisher[14]. It’s a constant battle, especially since it requires identifying how the advertiser[7] was able to pass through the formal restrictions to display these types of ads.

Let’s discuss.

Where Do Inappropriate Ads Come From Anyway?

Once programmatic advertising[1] came into the picture, serving up ads became more efficient than ever. Publishers were able to partner with more than one ad network[8] at a time and get a greater demand for their ad inventory — all in a matter of milliseconds. Unfortunately, the programmatic advertising world also (and not surprisingly) became a playground for bad actors to creep in and serve ads containing inappropriate and offensive content on websites.

There’s no simple way of identifying the method by which inappropriate ads get served. All we know is that these bad actors find a way to malign ad creatives or ad calls to get their offensive ads through. 

For example, When a user hops on a website, the programmatic advertising kicks in, and the ad network or exchange funnels ads from a pool of third-party demand partners. However, any one of these third parties can be made vulnerable by a cyber attacker with offensive ads. 

What’s more, it only takes a few seconds for these terrible ads to get impressions. That means it only takes a few seconds to bruise your brand’s reputation.

How Can You Identify Inappropriate Ads?

In the earlier days of inappropriate ads, you only had to worry about vulgar and offensive content. Today, the digital world is more diverse and divisive than ever, which has led to Google expanding its definition of what’s considered an inappropriate ad.

According to Google, an inappropriate ad is an ad with content that:

  • Incites violence, hatred, or discrimination against an individual or group based on race, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation, age, gender, and other demographics
  • Directly harasses a group of people or individual person (based on the above criteria)
  • Seeks to exploit others or advocates for physical or mental harm
  • Promotes animal cruelty by indicating violence against any type of animal or the illegal trading of extinct species
  • Exploits sensitive events such as tragic events, terroristic events, natural disasters, and so on
  • Is shocking in nature. This means the promotion of violent or gruesome images, obscene language, or the inexcusable portrayal of images that are shocking or scary

One example of an inappropriate ad would be an ad claiming that a celebrity or well-known person is deceased when they are still very much alive. Another example would be an ad that promotes the body shaming of women on a website featuring an article about the harm of misogyny. 

Some are more obvious than others, but you get the hint.

As for Google, some examples of how the search engine identifies these inappropriate ads would include finding ads that:

  • Encourage ad viewers to believe that others (a whole group or an individual) are inferior, for whatever reason, and should be publicly shunned
  • Demonstrate support for terrorist groups or promote death by suicide for certain groups or individuals
  • Contains graphic imagery, such as crime scenes

How to Block Inappropriate Ads in Google Ad Manager

Blocking inappropriate ads in Google Ad Manager[2] (GAM[3]) starts with figuring out the source of the ads — as in, the mischievous advertiser. The first thing you’ll want to do (if you’re a publisher) is to ask your friendly neighborhood ad ops[9] professional for the following important details:

  • A screenshot of the ad and the URL of the page it shows up on
  • The URL of the malicious link that the ad may redirect users to

With this information in your pocket, you’ll be able to block the advertiser via GAM by:

  • Opening the protections panel from the main menu
  • Clicking on New Protection >> Protect All Inventory (if you want to lock the advertiser from your entire inventory)
  • Adding the address of the landing page that the ad redirects you to, which will block the advertiser
  • If you want to block the advertiser from just a part of your inventory, you can click on New Protection >> Only Protect Specified Inventory
  • From there, you can go ahead and enter the inventory URL that you want to be protected and add the landing page of the redirect
  • Lastly, click Save

In some instances, the landing page URL for the bad ad redirect won’t be available. When this happens, you’ll need to turn to Google’s Ad Review Center to finish the bad ad blocking[10] process as they give publishers control over individual ad exchange[11] ads. Therefore, you’ll be able to choose to block or allow certain ads, report ads in violation of Google’s policies, and so on.

Here’s how that’s done:

  • Click on Delivery >> Creatives in the main menu
  • Upload a screenshot of the inappropriate ad in the Review Center
  • Click Block this Ad
  • You can also click Report Ad if you feel it’s in violation of Google’s policies

If you don’t have a screenshot of the offensive ad, you can browse the ads that appear in your inventory and pick out the ones you find inappropriate and block them using this method.

How to Block Inappropriate Ads in Google AdSense

You can also block bad ads if you’re using Google AdSense[12]

Here’s how it’s done:

  • Log into your Google AdSense account
  • Click on Blocking Controls >> Content
  • Choose the site you want to block the ads from or select All Sites to block the advertisers on all of your websites
  • Now click on Manage Advertiser URLs
  • Enter the URLs you want to block, separating them by a comma if there’s more than one
  • Click Block URLs and the changes will be reflected within 24 hours

Other Ways to Block Inappropriate Ads

You may never be fully immune to inappropriate ads, however, you can leverage the technology at hand to identify when bad ads are being served and prevent fraudsters from slipping through the programmatic cracks.

When it comes to direct campaigns, here what’s you can do to avoid unwanted ads:

  • Scan all creative[15] and landing pages from various geographic locations. Be sure to use different targeting[16] parameters before uploading them to your ad server
  • Perform daily audits for compliance breaches in your demand partners, and continue these checks during their entire run with your ad inventory

When it comes to third-party campaigns, follow these steps:

  • Scan all live campaigns in real time and frequently. This goes for both the creative and landing pages that are served within your inventory
  • Make sure that your ad verification and security service (if you have one) will notify you in real time when any bad actors try to get through or when any malicious activities are detected within your inventory. This goes for malware as well.

Final Thoughts

Inappropriate ads aren’t going anywhere and they will continue to disrupt and ruin the user experience on as many web pages as they possibly can. This means that preventing them from destroying your brand reputation and putting a dent in your ad revenue — and website traffic — is an ongoing duty. 

However, as long as you dedicate the time and effort to actively identifying and blocking these bad actors, you’ll be doing your part in ensuring a good user experience and preventing revenue loss that comes from ad blocking and shadow traffic. Once you get the hang of using Google’s tools and taking advantage of any technical support offered by ad networks and exchanges, you’ll get a decent stranglehold on the bad actors out there and prevent their inappropriate ads from hurting your website.

Terms
1. programmatic advertising. Programmatic advertising entails using machine learning and technology suites to buy and sell ad inventory with a data-driven process.
2. Google Ad Exchange ( Google Ad Manager ) Ad Exchange is often referred to as the premium version of AdSense, and also a Google-owned ad network of sorts. To join Ad Exchange, publishers need to meet specific requirements such as 500 000 minimum monthly traffic, be invited or join through a Google certified partner. Recently Google has rebranded this product, and it is now called Google Ad Manager.
3. Google Ad Manager ( GAM ) Google Ad Manager is a combination of both Google Ad Exchange and DoubleClick For Publishers as a unified platform that provides publishers with ad serving services.
4. ad inventory. Ad Inventory refers to the number of ad impressions available for sale on a publisher’s website or mobile app. In other words, these are the commodities available for the advertisers to buy on the website.
5. ad quality. A term that refers to the settings that allow sellers to determine which creatives will be allowed to serve on their inventory.

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