Ad Category Opt Outs: Use with Caution — Opt in to Increase RPM

male developer wearing plaid shirt coding on a laptop from a couch

Mediavine has always been obsessed with ad quality.

After all, a single negative ad experience can ruin a user’s visit to your website, impacting both your short-term revenue and long-term growth potential.

We also recognize that when you represent more than 10,000 independent publishers, their interpretations of what constitutes “ad quality” are likely to vary.

Obviously, the really awful ads should always be stopped — malware, pop-ups, mobile app store redirects, etc. Everyone agrees on this, and we block these by default.

Beyond these default bans, however, publishers may want to go a step further in controlling ad experiences. That’s why we want to talk about a Mediavine exclusive feature:

The ability to opt out of ad categories directly in your dashboard.

What are ad categories?

When we say ad categories, we’re referring to the “content category” of that ad, or what it’s about.

Some common examples of more controversial ad categories that publishers may wish to block are political ads, gambling, alcohol or ads about guns and firearms.

A woman using a smart phone.

How do ad category opt outs work?

Each ad is mapped to one or more category determined by the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau).

The IAB is basically the self-regulating body of our industry, and it has established a set of categories within which advertisers can categorize their ad content.

For example, if someone is running a political ad, they can mark it as such.

The IAB also runs a spec known as OpenRTB. This is used for bid requests so that when a request is made during the auction, there’s a slot to specify categories you want blocked.

That’s known as the “bcat” or blocked category.

Acronyms and ad tech jargon, we know. The long and short of it is that this is all going on behind the scenes to nix the categories you’re selecting to block.

So why is that important?

“But … I blocked political ads and I still saw one!”

We know this is confusing, but it’s important to note that the request to block ads actually falls on the advertising side, or Demand Side Platform (DSP), to enforce.

We tell our SSPs, the Supple Side Platforms we work directly with, to block certain categories for your sites. They in turn pass that on to the DSPs. But ultimately, if the DSPs send back a political ad that wasn’t marked as political, it will come through the exchange.

A man using a smart phone.

Enter Mediavine Ad Reporter!

Despite these preventative measures, there will be occasional ads that are classified incorrectly by mistake — or even on purpose by a nefarious party looking to sneak them through.

The Mediavine Ad Reporter was designed for exactly this scenario.

Under each ad unit on Mediavine-managed sites, you’ll see our logo. Just click that button, authenticate you’re a Mediavine publisher, and report that sucker.

This instantly lets us know that a miscategorized ad is on your site. Our real life humans, led by Brad from the Internet, will see that report and get our ad partners to remove it.

Which categories should you block?

Ideally, as few as possible.

We realize the irony of that statement, given that we’re talking about an exclusive tool enabling you to do so. But remember, blocking categories comes at a literal price.

Each category you negate from the auction means fewer bids, decreased competition and a lower “clearing price” — or your website’s CPM.

Think of it with this hypothetical: You elect to block politics as a category. A political advertiser was willing to bid at a $4.00 CPM but now cannot do so.

Your next highest bid for that unit was $3.00 from a non-political advertiser, meaning you’ve just lowered your CPM by $1.00, or 25 percent, in that auction.

Maybe you find certain ads so unpleasant that it’s worth it to you, but when you’re blocking entire categories, it will likely lower your CPM and therefore your RPM, too.

The ad categories we’ve seen have the biggest impact on RPM include — you guessed it — politics, pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol, tobacco and gambling.

A woman sits with a laptop computer in her lap.

“But I don’t support [insert BRAND or POLITICAL CANDIDATE here]!”

Totally. We get it. But that’s not always how programmatic advertising works. Remember, brands are targeting your audience even more than your content.

Advertisers purchase ads to target the user.

As long as the site displaying the ads is considered “brand safe,” the advertiser may not be that concerned about the content.

Another hypothetical: If someone receives an ad for Round-Up, it’s not necessarily because you talk about gardening. It’s probably based on that specific visitor.

Before you block “Weed & Pest Control,” remember that this ad likely appeared because that user is researching the product. Other people will see different ads.

Blocking categories that your content is related to will have an impact as well.

Visitors to the hypothetical gardening site will be the very audience that Round-Up is likely to target, regardless of the website’s stance on the product. In such cases, blocking ad categories as a means of sticking it to Round-Up may achieve little beyond limiting your own earnings.

The same goes for food and drink categories.

If you’re writing about food, don’t stress about smaller food categories. Just because you blog about a gluten-free lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean you should block all cereals.

Those advertisers know who they’re trying to target; they won’t be serving ads to gluten-free users if those individuals truly would never buy their product.

Programmatic advertising isn’t perfect, but it’s quite effective at pairing advertisements with target audiences. It’s also important to note that readers are pretty sophisticated as well.

These days, the majority of users are likely web-savvy enough to recognize that the same display ads appear across many sites and are not specifically endorsed by each publisher.

So if a political ad appears it’s because a candidate or party thinks there’s a potential voter to target — at the risk of sounding like a broken record, these ads are served based on users.

Even if you loathe a particular candidate, die-hard supporters or undecided voters from swing states might be reading your blog. Think twice before turning away big Super PAC bucks.

In summation, the ads you’re seeing are not the same ads your audience is seeing. Everyone gets a different ad experience based on their unique profile.

Personalized advertisements are what delivers a better experience for users, advertisers and publishers alike. We’ve put the ability to regulate and limit ad categories in your hands, but remember to consider the broader advertising ecosystem and use this option wisely.

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