According to a recent report from the Association of National Advertisers, an alarming 15% of programmatic dollars, amounting to a staggering $10 billion, was allocated to made-for-advertising (MFA) websites in the past year.


You may be wondering, what are MFA sites?


They’re online platforms specifically designed to host and display ads. MFA sites significantly impact the user experience with clutter and a prioritization of ad placement over content quality.

In today’s digital advertising ecosystem, where every click counts and competition for consumer attention is fierce, understanding the landscape of MFA sites is essential for marketers aiming to navigate the complexities of online promotion effectively.


Users are frequently bombarded with sensationalist headlines like ‘You’ll never believe what they look like now!’ and ‘Doctors hate this one trick!’. Whether it be celebrity gossip or ill-informed medical claims, MFA sites maximize cheap reach with clickbait.


Unfortunately for the advertisers on these websites, this engagement is often superficial. The abundance of clicks usually doesn’t lead to improved cost per action (CPAs) nor do they boost meaningful engagement with their brands. In an era where distinguishing oneself from the noise of digital content continues to get harder, how can advertisers stand out to connect with their target audience?


In the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing, MFA websites pose a unique challenge. They’re cluttered with ads and what they lack in quality content, make up for in sheer quantity. Ad fatigue and lower engagement levels quickly become the norm, diluting brand messaging and ultimately impacting the user experience negatively.


Many users aren’t even aware of the existence of MFA websites. All they see are huge numbers of ads vying for their attention. This leads to skepticism, distrust, and avoidance which all make it incredibly difficult for legitimate advertisers to make an impression and stand out from the crowd.


MFA sites lead to:


  1. Ads getting lost in the noise. As discussed earlier, made-for-advertising (MFA) websites are over-stimulating and full of unhelpful content. It is very likely that your ads will immediately get lost in the sheer vastness of content. Many users might go out of their way to avoid looking at or interacting with the advertisements they come across because it’s too much for them to process.
  2. False traffic to websites. MFA websites often generate accidental clicks. Aside from doing nothing to help a business, this can also frustrate users who may blame the brand itself for the annoyance rather than the MFA website that supplied the ad. The next time they see a similar ad they may go out of their way to avoid it which not only harms the potential for future acquisition of customers but also hurts the image of the business. 
  3. Damage to brand reputation. Many of these sites host a range of advertisements, some of which could contain inappropriate content. This can be a bad look for a business and could have a very negative effect on the way customers perceive the brand. Even the cheap clicks one receives will likely not lead to any meaningful engagement.
  4. Poor return on investment (ROI). Generally, MFA sites are a bad investment for advertisers. They’re anything but transparent and generate data that ultimately doesn’t lead to business success or brand growth. They drain budgets and derail campaign goals.


Are MFA sites considered ad fraud?


Technically, no. But they employ similar tactics that one should be aware of. MFA websites engage in practices that lead to impressions and clicks that users may not know about. Below are some important examples:


  1. SDK spoofing. This is the manipulation of software development kits (SDKs) to falsify data related to app installations, engagements, or ad impressions. It involves the alteration of signals sent by the SDK to mimic genuine user interaction or app usage, misguiding advertisers to allocate resources based on false data.
  2. Ad injection is a deceptive practice where unauthorized advertisements are injected into a webpage without the consent of the website owner or publisher. It often involves the manipulation of browser extensions, plugins, or malware to insert additional ads into the user’s browsing experience. It leads to intrusive and irrelevant ads, overall degrading the effectiveness of the ads around them.
  3. Pixel stuffing is a fraudulent technique employed in digital advertising where an excessively large number of ad impressions are crammed into a single pixel. This is invisible to users who, unknowingly, artificially inflate ad impressions. Not only does pixel stuffing distort impression metrics, but it also misleads advertisers into believing their ads are being effectively displayed.
  4. Click fraud is when individuals or automated bots generate fake clicks on ads with the intent to increase the click-through rate (CTR) or exhaust the advertisers’ budget. It ultimately undermines the effectiveness of online marketing campaigns by distorting engagement metrics and wasting advertiser resources without providing genuine user interest or conversions.
  5. Ad stacking is the practice of displaying multiple advertisements on a webpage in such a way that they overlap or obscure each other. Similar to pixel stuffing, this can lead to misleading impressions or clicks. The goal is to artificially inflate ad performance metrics by making it seem like more than one ad is being viewed or interacted with when in reality, only one ad is visible or accessible to the user.
  6. Domain spoofing is a deceptive tactic where a fraudulent party creates a false website or sends emails mimicking a legitimate domain. The goal is for the targeted party to disclose sensitive information or inadvertently download malware. It’s a serious concern in digital marketing because it is not only dangerous for users but can lead to the misdirection of overall advertising spend.


These shady practices, while may not always technically constitute ad fraud, ultimately erode trust in the advertising ecosystem. It’s extremely difficult to implement specific regulations for MFA websites. While this may change, it won’t in the near future. For now, it’s important to remain vigilant and cognizant of what is controllable.


Making sure that content doesn’t show up on MFA sites is one way to do this. Optimizing ad placements for websites that are sure to have meaningful engagement will allow your content to have a better impact.


Thankfully, AI can help make this an easier process. By identifying how ads do on specific pages and why certain ones do better than others can be the difference between success and failure. Machine learning algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data to identify trends and patterns that human analysts may miss. Automation can then predict which creatives will provide the most value for specific ad campaigns. It can optimize ad spend and improve return on investment (ROI) all while allowing advertisers to make data-driven decisions quickly (See Revolutionizing Advertising: Gen AI and AdSkate’s Creative Analysis).


Creative analysis can even analyze the content, aesthetics, and user experience of the ad creatives to determine what resonates with viewers. It’s important to enable digital marketers to craft campaigns that are not only visually appealing but also contextually relevant to the audience they aim to reach. In other words, creative analysis involves a critical evaluation of how well an ad integrates with the website’s content and whether it resonates with the target audience or industry (See Creative Analysis in Digital Pharma Advertising). It ensures that ads are not only placed in optimal locations but also maintain the integrity and consistency of the brand’s message.


Utilizing AI, advertisers avoid MFA sites and also put themselves ahead of the curve. They’ll gain customers faster and improve brand image quicker all while meeting campaign goals. It becomes easier to adapt to new situations and stay on top of industry trends automatically (See Amplifying Creativity: Embracing AI in the Creative Industry).


As we look ahead, there is no doubt that MFA websites cast a shadow. We are looking at a slow erosion of user trust that may diminish the overall effectiveness of some forms of marketing. As consumers become increasingly savvy and discerning in their online interactions, they may grow weary of clickbait headlines and intrusive experiences.


While regulatory scrutiny could eventually pose risks to MFA websites, this is unlikely to happen tomorrow. They’re not considered ad fraud and while they are changing the landscape of digital advertising today, they also don’t appear to be going anywhere soon. In an era of heightened awareness around data privacy and digital ethics, advertisers may face mounting pressure to align their strategies with consumer expectations. There are increasingly more ways to reach a target audience in meaningful and impactful ways. Understanding how to maximize this impact is crucial for successful digital advertising. Emerging technologies like AI and creative analysis have proven that this is all possible. 


As we look to the future, the pervasive influence of MFA websites casts a lingering shadow over the digital advertising ecosystem. We stand witness to a gradual erosion of consumer trust, a phenomenon that threatens to undermine the efficacy of contemporary advertising. In this landscape, emerging technologies such as AI and creative analysis offer promising ways to save programmatic dollars and navigate the complicated challenges posed by MFA sites. Mastery of these tools will prove indispensable for advertisers looking to forge authentic connections with their target audiences amidst the confusion of digital advertising’s ever-shifting terrain.