Over 800% Increase in Junk Sites, But What Can Advertisers Do?

By Jaysen Gillespie, Head of Analytics and Data Science, RTB House

It’s safe to say that artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming almost every aspect of the world that we live in today, and marketing is an area where it’s perhaps making the biggest impact. In fact, more than 60% of marketers are already using the technology within their marketing activities.

While the emergence of AI as an integral part of marketing comes with many positives, this has also led to a significant growth in so-called “junk sites,” with the technology making it easier for fraudsters to make money through illegitimate titles.

Earlier this year, NewsGuard identified 49 websites that, though appearing like typical news sites, had been written entirely by AI software. The number of sites, at the time of writing, has now grown to 557.

These sites – unlike in the past – tend to be well-written and grammatically correct, while presenting seemingly authoritative evidence to readers. This causes a bit of a grey area because, if the content quality has increased, some marketers might not mind too much about appearing on these sites. Because of this, it’s perhaps better to refer to these sites as being “made for advertising” (MFA), rather than “junk”.

Existing only for ads

MFA sites are spun up simply to capture eyeballs and views. Their core mission isn’t based on passion or interest in the content, and they’re not established news organisations. While well-written, these sites often feature factual inaccuracies, and add fuel to the spread of misinformation across the internet.

The problem is the automations that marketers have in place will only see the quality of the writing and not the facts of the content. That’s why the worry should shift to what’s going on in the background. Who owns the site? Who is being funded by the advertising?

Figuring out which sites are legitimate might take a little bit more effort than marketers may appreciate, moving away from the automations they’re used to toward a more manual process. This process could include looking at how long a site has been around, and if there are real contact details available.

A brand problem

This impacts those on the brand marketing side more than those on the performance side. Within performance, fraud and junk doesn’t perform well, so that inventory is dropped out of campaigns fairly quickly.

On the other hand, brand marketers – who are more often interested in impressions and not measuring how those impact a business metric – can be seen to be fuelling fraud. Agencies are looking to find cheaper ways to buy impressions and this leads to ads being served on worse inventory and lower quality websites.

As a general rule of thumb, when advertising is being measured correctly, marketers should be spending around 80-90% of their spend on the 10-20% that works the most. However, that does enable fraud to survive. If everyone is only spending a couple of dollars on low quality inventory, but this is scaled over the whole internet, it adds up to a lot of money going into the pockets of fraudsters.

That’s why it’s so important for brand marketers to ensure this figure is as low as possible, and begin prioritising real metrics over just reach. Because, even when striving for maximum impressions, most advertisers do care about where their ads live, because brand reputation is everything.

Ridding the web of junk

In a world where anybody can use AI tools to create a site that looks the part, there has to be a differentiator. That’s where the branding of titles becomes so important. This matters more than ever for publishers. And, for legitimate smaller content creators, their content needs to have their heart and soul come across to prove their legitimacy.

The importance of the brand is something that the world has lost sight of as the internet has grown. Not everything on the internet can be explicitly believed, so the brand associated with the publisher – and the ability to say they’re a trusted brand – means so much more.

Marketers need to be looking toward those trusted brands and content creators to not just maximise their spend and improve the effectiveness of their campaigns, but to rid the internet of sites that purely exist for fraudulent financial gain.

Tags: AI
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