Photo Credit: A. Robert Turner/Alamy

Is there horse meat in your media?My guess is that many digital advertisers don’t have much transparency when it comes to their media inventory supply chain.  They know the vendors, they think they know the products, but instead of premium choice beef, they may be getting horse.

At Flite we see a lot of Internet traffic that is exposed to the ads built on our platform.  In most cases we see quality traffic -- especially when the ads are served by our publisher customers.  But, in some cases, we see strange things.  We see horse meat instead of beef.

Internet traffic can be fit into a marketing hierarchy -- with the highest quality traffic at the top and horse meat, or worse, at the bottom.  To figure out which is which answer the following questions.

Who are the people generating the traffic? 

High quality traffic includes audiences who make good business sense and will attend to your message.  Low quality traffic includes automated traffic -- programmatic traffic built to audit or scrape (or worse) the underlying page content.  If you manage a website, you’re probably already looking at this data.  But if you want to understand the traffic composition of the pages your ads run on you’re probably out of luck.  You may be getting portions of horse rather than 100% beef.  Find an impartial source (not the supplier of the inventory) to help paint the traffic picture for you.  There are simple ways to determine if the traffic exposed to your ads look the way you’d expect.

What are the people doing when they are exposed to your ads?  

Are they seeking to accomplish a goal that makes them blind to your advertising?  As an advertiser how can you determine this?  Most of that knowledge is held by a small number of companies that can drop lots of first party cookies.  They can track and infer intent.  Leverage your advertising buying clout to see behind the curtain.  Demand transparency from your suppliers.  Try asking for an impression breakdown based on previous page or site search terms to start.  I’m guessing most won’t be able to provide.  But you can’t expect the answers without posing the question.

When is the traffic happening? 

Sophisticated advertisers have always tried to daypart their digital messages.  But in the age of audience buys and retargeting, you may be getting quality Who at bad times.  When you make audience buys, ensure you also have transparency into when that targeted audience is seeing your ad.

Where is the traffic coming from?

Again, website owners track this.  But as an advertiser, do you see your impression data broken out by the “X-Forwarded-For” (IP Address)?  Do you know if the traffic is exclusively coming from the US (if it’s intended to)?  Is it clustered in strange IPs?  A lot of the bad Who from above can be picked out using IP.  But it’s getting harder.  Dynamic IP addresses make blacklisting more difficult.  Distributed malware can also spread bad traffic across IPs to make it harder to identify them.

How is your traffic being generated?

Are you serving ads that can be rendered on the browsers and platforms used by your audience?  Are they optimized for them?  The How can’t discern beef from horse -- but based on how they are reaching you, your ads may appear, to them, as horse.

You probably are already asking How in one form now.  You call it pacing.  But it can be more illuminating than that.  In the world of RTB/programmatic buying you run into the risk that the underlying algorithms could be making horse meat out of your beef.  For example, are your ads pacing well day by day -- and even within a day?  What happens if you look into the minute breakdown?  What if ads are being served and capped in the same block of an hour (say :00-:05)?  Is this good?  It may be.  But if your audience follows any type of pattern, you may be programmatically excluding a subset of your audience - in a way ensuring they NEVER see your ads.  It’s worth looking into.

Web analytics packages can answer most of the questions above.  But as an advertiser, you usually can’t get that kind of transparency across the inventory you’re buying.  At Flite, many of our basic reporting features provide web analytics-level transparency for your ads -- and many in real time.  And for some of the hard questions, like What, we’re deep into figuring out novel ways to generate answers for our customers. It’s important for us to provide full transparency into your digital advertising supply chain.  Make sure you’re getting the 100% beef you’re asking (and paying) for.