Commentary

How Publishers Can Avoid Keyword Blocking

The coronavirus pandemic has led millions of people to boost their media consumption while they're stuck at home. But that activity isn't translating into more revenue as advertisers suspend or cancel campaigns.

Publishers face an even worse irony when media buyers block ads from appearing next to news that's in high demand. Using keyword blocking in programmatic ad placements, a media buyer can prevent an ad from appearing alongside a story about the COVID-19 death toll.

Not every media buyer objects to such ad placements, as long as they appear on a legitimate news site that generates verifiable pageviews. Whenever possible, publishers tend to emphasize those characteristics in their direct sales efforts.

However, their programmatic sales are more vulnerable to keyword blocking, a practice that two news organizations have asked ad agencies to stop. The News Media Alliance and Digital Content Next on Friday asked digital advertisers and digital advertising companies to end the practice.

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“News organizations are working tirelessly to provide reliable and trustworthy information to their communities,” David Chavern, president and CEO of News Media Alliance, said in a statement. "Keyword blocking serves to punish publishers for this very same coverage with potentially catastrophic effects."

To help media buyers avoid hoax sites, press watchdog startup NewsGuard formed an alliance with advertising data company Peer39, as Publishers Daily reported last week.

Their combined efforts aim to help advertisers find the right audiences in a brand-safe publication, while also ensuring that ads appear along stories from legitimate media outlets. Sponsors play a critical role in supporting publishers that keep the public informed about the COVID-19 crisis.

MediaMath and AppNexus were the first ad-tech companies to offer the service from NewsGuard and Peer39, which plan to expand to other demand-side platforms (DSPs).

While their efforts may not have a huge effect on publisher revenue in the short term, they can help to lay groundwork for future growth when the pandemic subsides and media buyers ramp up spending -- ideally, long before the holiday season gets under way.

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