Jun 04, 2018

Our New Blocking Wrapper Restores Publisher Control of Bad Ads

Programmatic advertising is a revolving door of new threats, recycled old threats and bad actors. It’s been that way for a long time and we want to put a stop to it.

Today, we launched a major upgrade to the Ad Lightning platform: A powerful new suite of ad blocking tools for publishers. Finally, publishers will have the control they’ve been looking for to completely prevent malicious, offensive and poor-quality ad units from loading on their sites.  It's time for publishers to take the lead, inject their own brand of transparency, their own definition of control and determine which ads and partners measure up, on their terms.

In a recent survey of over 100 top publishers, most said programmatic partners and industry organizations don’t do nearly enough to address these issues, so it’s not surprising that the vast majority, 73%, said they’re most bullish on new technology solutions that will give them the power to block programmatic ads on their own terms.

In order for publishers to take full control of their advertising, they need a true long-term ad blocking strategy enabled by a solution set that meet five core requirements:

  1. Address ad quality issues proactively
  2. Block ads comprehensively
  3. Eliminate bad ads cost-effectively
  4. Provide centralized control and transparency,
  5. Integrate seamlessly into existing core ad tech


Proactivity is an important aspect of a sound ad blocking strategy. Whenever possible, unwanted ads should be blocked before they load on the page. In addition, ad quality insights should be available to Exchanges and Platforms, so they can resolve issues further upstream and perform pre-flight testing to ensure creative meets guidelines for compliance, content and security before going live.


Blocking strategies need to protect the publisher comprehensively against all advertising threats. Whether ads are redirecting audiences, introducing malware, slowing page loads or stealing data, the bad ones should be addressed with one solution that scales across the board.  Solutions should provide insight into where the bad ads are coming from, as well as the good ads, allowing for quick optimization of inventory partnerships and maximized renvue.


Your ad management solutions should enable you to improve both your revenue and margins, and those contributions to your business should be clear. The more complex the patchwork of tools, the more difficult it is to see how they’re helping your bottom line. When you eliminate the patchwork of narrow solutions in favor of a more comprehensive approach, your tech stack becomes more manageable and should cost less for both the short- and long-term.

Centralized Control and Transparency:

Publishers need technology solutions that protect the good ads (and the contribution those good ads make to ROI) while providing the flexibility to target bad ads based on publisher-defined ad quality definitions and thresholds. That type of precision is only possible if you have the details at hand to understand which ads have issues, the type and severity of those issues, how they affect your site, and the source of each bad ad. Armed with that level of transparency and an equally robust set of controls, you can take immediate, targeted, yet scalable action.

Seamless Integration:

Your ad blocking solutions should be compatible, and integrate easily, with your other core ad technologies (DFP, Pre-bid solutions, etc.). If pieces don’t work together, it’s difficult to get started, automate ad blocking rules or get a handle on the impact of your ad blocking efforts.

Ad Lightning's Blocking Wrapper

With today's launch, we’ve introduced an ad blocking solution that fulfills all five of those core requirements. We've taken our advanced ad scanning technology Site Scanning is the first critical component of a successful blocking strategy.  By running Site Scans we’re able to collect the HTML as well as all the Javascript responses for each resource within an ad call. This lets us see the source of the bad ad behavior and acurately identify the malicious “signature”.  This methodology helps prevent false positives and eliminates broad classifications of domains as malicious.

Some ad blocking highlights of the new launch:

The new Ad Lightning Blocking Wrapper stops bad ads from loading with a two-phased approach:  First a check to block known threats, followed by an enterprise sandbox application that blocks new and unknown redirect offenders. The new tech seamlessly integrates within your existing ad environment to watch every ad impression & proactively block ads across a more comprehensive list of threats.

The wrapper disables the ad's malicious behaviors and supports a broader set of publisher scenarios than other blocking solutions, minimizes latency and allows you to whitelist providers or ads you’d like the Wrapper to ignore.

Our blocklist covers malware (redirects, maliciously formatted ads and bad domains) and a broad range of other issues that negatively affect customer experience, result in data leakage or violate quality standards. You can easily customize your own blocklist to match blocking parameters to your own key quality issues and unique operating environment.

The Ad Lightning Insights Dashboard now includes reporting that combines both scanning and blocking insights. It’s a refreshing, revealing level of transparency that finally brings publisher-centricity to publisher-side ad blocking. Reports are updated in real time and include details on each type of threat, the source, and the number of times it was blocked.



Try it!

At Ad Lightning, we’re dead set on bringing transparency and control to the chaotic world of programmatic advertising for publishers and ad exchanges. Want to see what real transparency and control look like? Try the enhanced Ad Lightning platform for free. Just drop us a note for a free 30-day trial:  

More information on the upgraded version of Ad Lightning is available at

Read More

May 29, 2018

Publishers still seek a solution to their #1 issue (and it's not GDPR)

Last Friday, GDPR went into full effect. Of course, that was big news. Articles about the new EU privacy regulations seemed to pop up everywhere we looked. So, we thought it might be refreshing to start this week with a look at something different.

At the beginning of the year, we surveyed well over 100 digital Ad Ops professionals in order to take their collective pulse on the industry challenges they expected to face in 2018. It was important for us to understand the various Ad Ops perspectives and outlooks for the new year.

Now that we're nearing the halfway point, it might be helpful to circle back and share a few of those insights in the context of industry developments so far.

In early January, most participants felt that a number of issues that challenged their operations in 2017 were likely to become even more concerning in 2018:

  • 63% of publishers felt that ad quality issues had not improved or had gotten even worse over the course of 2017.
  • 33% had a heightened concern about challenges posed by the EU’s GDPR initiative.
  • 75% of participants believed ad quality issues (bad ads) were a significant cause of website latency and that, in turn, reduces site engagement by consumers, hurt publisher ad revenues and reflect poorly on the media brand.
  • 28% of all display ads have at least one significant quality issue (based on Ad Lightning research published early last year)

Since the start of 2018, redirects and malware have become more prevalent than ever, even hitting the mainstream news. Some experts are now predicting that GDPR may make malvertising more profitable for bad actors and may even lead to an increase in malicious ad practices.

Most survey participants felt that their advertising partners and tech solutions fall short of addressing core challenges:

However, many participants were also optimistic about forthcoming technologies that will enable them to gain greater control of significant issues, especially publisher-side ad blocking solutions:

  • 73% believed publisher-side ad blockers will have the most positive impact on ad quality.

The advent of publisher-side ad blockers topped the list of promising developments for 2018:

Since the beginning of the year, some things have changed in the area of consumer-side ad blocking. And unfortunately, some things have stayed the same.

Google has launched their ad blocking capabilities in Chrome and non-Chrome consumer-side ad blocking has increased both in Europe and in the U.S. Of course when consumers use ad blocking tools or the ad blocking capabilities in Chrome, that has a negative impact on publisher ad revenue: No ad served, no ad revenue.

Meanwhile, the IAB continues to recommend that publishers respond to consumer-side ad blocking by simply asking site visitors to turn the blocker off. Throughout the first half of the year, numerous articles continued to suggest that the best blocker-busting options for publishers are to switch away from an ad revenue model (go with a consumer pay model) or improve the user experience so much that consumers choose to stop blocking ads. None of these are realistic long-term solutions for most ad-supported publishers. Many of the most serious experiential issues are created by problems within the programmatic ecosystem which remain outside of the publisher’s control. That’s why publisher-side ad blocking is so critical.

Early in the year, publishers were bullish about the promise of publisher-side ad blockers. So far, however, the smattering of early solutions fall short of offering the level of control and transparency required to make ad-blocking work in a publisher-centric way.

With all of the talk about GDPR, let’s not lose sight of the number one issue: publisher-side ad blocking. So far in 2018, publishers haven’t found what they’re looking for. Here’s to a better second half!

Read More

Oct 20, 2017

The Multi-Billion Dollar Impact of Bad Ads. What Publishers Need to Know

The rise of programmatic advertising has spurred a significant decline in user experience for consumers who visit ad-supported websites. For publishers, that’s become a serious ROI problem.

In the first half of 2017, we published two Ad Quality Reports that dove into the details and ramifications of bad ads for publishers. The first focused on the nature and scope of five top quality issues. The second took a closer look at the potential cost of those issues in terms of actual revenue loss. Our upcoming reports will dive into different, but related issues. Before we move on to those, we thought it might be helpful to summarize and bring some color to the findings in the first two reports.

This year, roughly four out of five of all US display ad dollars (an est. $32.56 billion) are forecasted to transact programmatically[1]. There’s no question that programmatic has become the industry standard for digital display. Through its rapid rise, the tech that makes it work has hit hurdle after hurdle, but it has overcome many of those challenges through sheer market determination and demand for rapid improvements.


Percentage of US display ad dollars forecasted to transact programmatically in 2017.

      ~$32.5 Billion

Estimated US programmatic display ad spend for 2017.

Hurdles, like viewability, brand safety and fraud, are symptoms of the overarching absence of control and transparency that still persist in (and even define) the programmatic model. Now, another symptom has emerged for publishers. And this one is very expensive. Bad ads are costing publishers billions in lost ad revenue. Here are the key points publishers should know.

Programmatic Advertising Has Created a Torrent of Ad Quality Issues

Bad ads are ads that don’t meet reasonable/IAB specifications for formatting, size or other guidelines. There are a variety of ad quality issues that occur with a surprising degree of frequency and non-compliance.


Percentage of display ads that have at least one significant quality issue


            Average File Size:


            vs. IAB guideline of 300KB


            SSL Non-Compliance:


            of network calls don’t meet IAB security recommendations


            Network Calls:


            network requests per ad (avg) vs. the IAB-prescribed maximum of 15


            Video Formatting:


            of in-banner video ads are auto-play


            CPU Usage:


            of ads exceed the maximum 300ms CPU utilization guideline.

The AQ Index: A Measure of Industry-Wide Ad Wellness

To gauge and track the overall scope of the ad quality problem, industry-wide, we roll up the frequency and scope of these issues into an industry ad quality score called the AQ Index. The index is an average. Many websites score higher. Many score lower. Most fluctuate above and below.

            AQ Index for Q2, 2017:



The Stealthy Nature of Bad Ads

These particular issues are especially difficult for Ad Ops teams to identify, quantify and address. When ads are delivered programmatically, the publisher cedes control of the ad creative to third-party programmatic partners. On the surface, the ads that get delivered programmatically look like regular ads, often from big, reputable brands. So, Ad Ops personnel are often unaware of the specific ads, let alone the problems the ads may be creating.

Blame the Programmatic Advertising Process

Display ads often start their journey from agency to audience with one or more quality issue. However, those issues are often compounded and new issues are introduced as the ad bounces around in the programmatic machine. And there are no quality checks along the way.

Ad Quality Issues Slow Website Page Loads

Bad ads cause page-load latency. When ad issues stack up, page loads slow down. As programmatic advertising becomes more prevalent, ad-related page latency becomes more threatening. Cumulatively, ad quality issues delay page loads and interrupt user experiences on even the most reputable ad-supported websites.


            Average page load latency across the industry due to ad quality issues.

      4.3 Seconds

            The average ad-related page load delay in terms of time.

The Financial Impact of Bad Ads

Website visitors often abandon sites when pages take too long to load. Numerous third-party studies show a direct relationship between each second of page-load latency and user abandon rates. One of the most conservative studies estimates an 11% abandon rate for each second of delay. Even if you apply an abandon rate of 5%, the cost of lost page views and ad impressions adds up quickly:


            Average estimated monthly revenue loss for an ad-supported website

            as a result of ad-related page load latency (5% abandon rate).


            Average annual revenue loss for an ad-supported website,
            due to ad-related page load latency (est.)

      $8 Billion

            Annual loss, industry-wide, as a result of ad-related page load latency (est.)

Resolving Ad Quality Issues

These costly ad quality issues exist because the programmatic model lacks built-in quality controls and provides publishers with very little transparency and control of their own. So, the best way to resolve the issues is to inject transparency and control into the programmatic process. From a transparency standpoint, Ad Ops personnel need to have visibility into the presence, severity and potential impact of the threat. And, they need to know the specifics of the causes, for example, which ads have issues, the number and type of issues, and which partner is trying to deliver those specific ads. Armed with this information and the right tools, publishers can regain transparency and control and take steps to proactively block, fix or replace problematic ads.

A Quick Note About Ad Lightning

At Ad Lightning, we continually collect ad quality and website performance data from millions of ads and web pages as part our daily course of business. We believe that, in aggregate, the industry insights and trends that emerge from that data should be available to all publishers to help them protect their business in the new programmatic world. That’s why we publish the Ad Quality Report for Publishers each quarter. You can access the reports here.


[1] according to eMarketer’s most recent 2017 forecast

We welcome your feedback on this post or any of our quarterly Ad Quality Reports. Please send us your thoughts:

If you’d like to know more about the Ad Lightning platform or give our tools a trial spin, we’d be happy to set you up. Just drop us a note:

Read More