Ad-monetized publishers need to be aware of the potential for shadow banning, the act of being blocked by advertisers who reduce or stop bidding on your ad inventory. This can have a catastrophic impact on your RPMs and ultimately ad revenue. This article will tell you what it is, how you can find out if you’re affected and what you can do about it.
What is shadow banning?
Shadow banning is the act of banning a person or organization from interacting in some way with an online entity without the banned person knowing they’ve been banned.
The term originated in social media, where instead of a notified ban, the user would be informed of their ban and potentially the reason for their ban. The shadow banned user would still believe that their interactions were visible to other community members. For example, they could add a comment to another user’s post, but only they themselves would be able to see this comment.
It’s also known as blacklisting or being blacklisted (a phrase that itself comes elsewhere but is significantly older than shadow banning; Charles II of England used it in 1660!).
The whole point of doing this is to discourage those users from posting the same content on other fake profiles, as they would believe that their existing posts (which might be spam or break site rules) were still visible and weren’t gaining any traction when in fact they weren’t visible to other users at all.
Shadow banning and internet advertising
Shadow banning and blacklisting exist in the ad industry as well. Google can and will ban publishers or suspend their accounts temporarily if they spot what they consider to be excessive violations. This normally isn’t shadow banning, as Google will usually inform you that your account has issues that need addressing.
But when an individual advertiser, whether they are an Adsense/Ad Exchange advertiser, third party network, or SSP, notices ad setup policy violations (ASPVs) and/or invalid traffic (IVT), they can drastically reduce their bid prices or stop bidding on impressions without warning. It’s this which the publisher has no knowledge that constitutes shadow banning.
What are ASPVs and IVT?
Invalid traffic (IVT) is non-human traffic caused by bots or other programs and is usually abusive somehow (scraping content, searching for personal information, etc.). These bots cause advertisers to pay for impressions that humans don’t see, which gives no value to the advertiser.
It’s also possible, although much less common, to have humans going to pages for hours on end and recording impressions and clicks. In almost all cases, though, invalid traffic is caused by agencies external to the publisher.
Ad serving policy violations, or ASPVs, are caused by the publisher, albeit almost always unintentionally. ASPV refers to actions that the publisher has taken in the layout or design of their site, causing a violation, either to Google or an advertiser.
The following are types of actions that are included under ASPV:
- Ad stacking: this means placing more than one ad on top of another ad or overlapping it. This is not only bad site design in terms of aesthetics but means that a user might click one ad while intending to click the other.
- Page content overlapping ad slots: as above, the page content isn’t formatted around the ad giving enough space to identify the ad as an ad clearly. This can also lead to accidental clicks.
- ‘Next’ or ‘continue’ buttons next to ads: placing these buttons so that they are overlapping ads or not leaving sufficient space.
- Abusive refresh strategies: for example, refreshing the ads using code instead of user behavior when in contravention with advertiser policy.
- Hidden ad units: The ad generates an impression but isn’t displayed on the page, usually caused by coding errors.
- Ad units rendered off the page: as above, but where page formatting is such that ads are displayed wholly or partially outside the standard viewport.
- Short form content abuse: deliberately trying to inflate impressions by increasing users’ clicks or engagement with the site by providing minimal content per page. This reduces the viewing time that advertisers can expect.
- Controversial content: particularly political or potentially illegal subject matter in the page content.
- Any other tactics or poor placements that increase the chance of accidental clicks or poor viewability.
How can I reduce invalid traffic?
Monetize More has developed Traffic Cop, which can identify, classify, analyze, and block different kinds of non-human traffic using advanced machine learning and sophisticated fingerprinting algorithms. Depending on your settings, this traffic can be monitored, or action can be taken before the auction process happens, meaning that ads won’t be shown to users identified as non-human.
Unlike many other commercially available attempts at solving this issue, Traffic Cop analyses traffic in real-time and provides instant reporting so that you can see the impact of invalid traffic on your site, as well as take immediate action and actively prevent both full-on account banning and shadow banning.
This solution is designed to run in the background but also provide much needed information about traffic health. Traffic Cop can alert you if one or more campaigns generate excessive levels of invalid traffic and help publishers plan their strategy to combat it.
Are you ready to kick invalid traffic and shadow banning issues to the curb? Start running Traffic Cop today!
What about ASPV? Can Traffic Cop help there?
Within Traffic Cop, we are conducting final beta testing for each type of ASPV mentioned above. This will alert you immediately to any issues that can lead to a shadow ban from advertisers or an outright ban from Google.
The key with Traffic Cop is prevention; we aim to stop shadow bans and account bans before they happen by taking away the things that trigger them. Traffic Cop is your insurance policy against a potentially huge revenue loss.