2011 Ad Inventory Takeaways

Take a look at the Internet.  Really evaluate what it has to offer -- and not just your homepage and bookmarks, but the entire landscape.

This year we’ve looked at more than 500,000 unique domains -- some of them hundreds of times, over and over. This is called taking inventory of the inventory. We’ve discovered some eye-openers about the state of the inventory as 2011 ends, and 2012 begins. Here are our more important and relevant findings. Call them “2011 Tail-end Takeaways.”

First, there’s a lot more to be concerned about than safety.  About 10 percent of all domains that sell ad impressions in scale buying environments (networks, SSP’s, and exchanges) are actually non-English language sites. In fact, more domains are non-English than the number of domains identified as pornographic, or containing violence hate speech, or significant amounts of profanity, combined. That should be a game-changing finding for media buyers and planners as we head into 2012.

What that means, in part, is that the ad verification posse in our industry must extract itself from what appears to be a rather outdated and overhyped fixation on a single issue silo, and instead expand its horizons to other quality issues equally toxic to media buyers and sellers.

Second, this isn’t your father’s media environment. The ad inventory supply at the end of 2011 is marked by constant, dynamic change and evolution. About 21% of the sites that we looked at a year ago in late 2010 actually no longer exist. That means tens of thousands of sites that may have been placed on whitelists at this time last year by either agencies or networks and supply-side providers are gone. There is no content at those domains, or they are ad farms. Never before have so many marketers bought so much inventory in environments so poor and degraded that they may not be around in six months -- or less. Another warning for 2012.

Third, there’s a serious quality issue out there, folks. That’s a problem for both brands and direct marketers. According to our ratings, about six out of 10 sites (58%) available in RTB and large networks are sub-standard environments for advertisers because they don’t adhere to minimum publishing or editorial principles. Think about that one for a second. If there are a million or so domains that sell ads, most brands won’t want to be on 600,000 of them. That’s an ad-ops “Eureka” moment. If marketers wouldn’t want to buy inventory on “phantom” sites, they should be equally concerned about sites whose overall quality matures into negative -- even harmful -- quality territory.

Call these numbers what you will; a slap in the face to the industry, or a wake-up call.  But I don’t think they should be seen as all bad. First of all, the inverse of the numbers about bad sites is true: there are tens of thousands of sites out there most advertisers would want to be on, as well as a couple hundred thousand sites that are average -- not so great, not so bad, but good for reach. Second, it turns out that “good” sites drive performance: click-throughs, CPA, and brand metrics.

That’s good news for buyers and sellers willing to look into publishing environments and incorporate “media intelligence.” Yes, that would be yet another step in a process that’s already complicated. 

Yet it’s also a clear opportunity for improved performance. Understanding where each impression is served and applying that knowledge will be one of the biggest drivers of highly successful campaigns in 2012.

That depends if you’re willing to take the time to dig in and see what really happened over 2011.  Take inventory of your inventory.

2 comments about "2011 Ad Inventory Takeaways".
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  1. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, January 6, 2012 at 2:22 p.m.

    This is both astonishing and not surprising -- how can buyers continue to place their client's brands in environments those clients would never choose to appear in is the 800 pound question no one seems to have to answer to.

    Nice job Andrew -- this will be shared extensively.


  2. Peter Gasparini from uKnow, January 9, 2012 at 12:46 p.m.

    Excellent article Andrew! At uKnow we've seen very similarly disappointing information. We started 2011 with ~1 million domains across exchanges and now only offer our clients the ability to build custom channels (in ~5 minutes) across ~80,000 domains and 50MM pages. Also, don't forgot all those parked domain sites, which seem to regenerate themselves like wackamole. I'd love to have the $ people have spent buying pre-defined IAB categories where their ads were placed on inventory you cited, along with parked domain sites. Going forward in 2012 there's no reason for any demand partners or buyers to purchase inventory without defining the best environment and channel that suits each campaigns objectives...inventory intelligence ought to reign, govern and support all buying decisions. Please continue to keep us all informed of your findings.

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