3 Trust Signals that Help Publishers Stand Out from MFAs

April 19, 2024

by Rich Murphy, President


One topic that keeps making headlines in the digital media and advertising industry: made-for-advertising websites. Studies have been developed to determine what MFAs are costing advertisers (15% of all ad budgets, according to the ANA). The industry has tried to define them. Tech providers have tried blocking them from media buys, which has caused some pushback from legitimate publishers who might resemble MFAs on the surface but are anything but. Despite all these efforts, a recent report from Adalytics showed that ads are still reaching MFAs.

The industry is starting to realize that a one-size-fits-all approach to weeding out MFAs doesn’t work. Media buyers and tech providers are taking a step back to re-examine their selection of media partners. Instead of automatically blocking publishers that don’t fit specific criteria, they’re looking at media more granularly and adding approved publishers to inclusion lists.

What are advertisers seeking in a publisher partner? Broadly speaking, they’re looking for publishers that have created quality ad environments that are seen by real audiences. But different buyers use different criteria and technologies, which lead to inconsistent and disparate outcomes. How can publishers take control of the narrative and demonstrate why they should be rewarded for their quality content?

The answer: implement trust signals, especially those developed and backed by the industry. Here are three trust signals designed to help publishers stand out to buyers for their commitment to quality, transparency, and accountability, and earn advertisers’ trust and business.


Trust Signal #1: Industry Certifications

Several industry groups, including the Media Rating Council, IAB Tech Lab, Trustworthy Accountability Group and the Alliance for Audited Media, have developed compliance programs to recognize publishers for meeting industry standards for ad measurement, brand safety, ad fraud and sustainability. Publishers that complete these programs demonstrate their commitment to transparency and have processes and systems in place that deliver accurate and reliable data advertisers can trust.

Many of these industry certification programs require independent validation that a publisher has implemented industry standards and best practices to earn certification. Independent review and validation provide additional assurance for media buyers and publishers.


Trust Signal #2: Brand Safety Tools

With advertisers becoming increasingly concerned about brand safety, solutions have been developed to highlight publishers committed to creating safe content and environments.

The Journalism Trust Initiative was developed by Reporters Without Borders in collaboration with the industry to provide a blueprint for certifying media outlets for their adherence to industry standards to produce ethical content. JTI’s certification program includes third-party verification and differentiates quality media for their commitment to these standards and best practices.

Trust.txt is an industry framework developed by the non-profit JournalList to help tech platforms and advertisers make associations between publishers and the industry organizations they belong to including Digital Content Next and AAM. Participants in the program add a Trust.txt file to their website directory, which acts as a machine-readable map to help advertisers, tech platforms and search engines connect legitimate publishers with respected industry organizations.

The Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart® rates publishers for their political bias and reliability and lists them on an interactive chart. Publishers verified by a third party tend to be rated among the most reliable and can use their rating to show media buyers their reliability and trustworthiness. Media outlets rated at the top of the media landscape can take their ratings to the next level and achieve certification from Ad Fontes for consistently providing reliable news and information.


Trust Signal #3: Industry Memberships

Membership in an industry organization is another signal of trust that differentiates quality publishers from other websites. Industry memberships require investment and often adherence to a code of ethics. Publishers that join and participate in industry associations stand out for their commitment to supporting and advancing the industry.

As digital advertising evolves and becomes more competitive, standing out for your good work becomes even more crucial. Demonstrating your commitment to industry standards and best practices by participating in the industry programs mentioned above is essential for communicating your value to advertisers. As media buyers become more focused on curating their inclusion lists, showcase your commitment to quality and transparency. Adopting these trust signals differentiates premium publishers in a competitive market and fosters a healthier ecosystem for advertisers and audiences alike.


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