MFA Sites

Made-for-advertising (or short: MFA) sites are commonly known to be digital website properties, specifically created for generating publishers’ online ad revenue, while offering low-quality content to their readers. 

The Problem of MFA Sites

In plain words, the notion of made-for-advertising sites, also referred to as made-for-arbitrage sites, implies that a publisher is only interested in showing their audience the maximum volume of advertising content, regardless of whether it’s taking a toll on their overall content consumption experience, or whether they’re getting any of it at all or not. 

Quite predictably, from a brand’s perspective, the MFA’s site inventory is frequently perceived as that of the lowest quality, hence preferably avoidable in maximum ways possible. 

The trick is, even though the concept of MFA sites isn’t new, it seems to have stolen the limelight in digital advertising in the 2020s, in many ways due to the recent research results showing that MFA sites have been receiving over 10% of the total display ad budgets (per Jounce Media), and actually represented over 20% of the total digital ad impressions in 2022 – 2023 (per ANA). 

What the research has uncovered basically means that in spite of the brands’ efforts to minimize their ad exposure on MFA sites, such possibilities are way higher than one could have expected, particularly in programmatic advertising practices. 

In Search of the New Definition

Quite predictably, in search of the more effective ways to filter out the MFA inventory from their ad buying pool, in 2023 the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) came up with the more precise definition of what should be considered an MFA site (hence presumably filtered out). Namely, some of its characteristics include:

  • ratio of advertising to editorial content (particularly on desktop web) at 30%, or higher; 
  • rapidly auto-refreshed advertising content within the multiple ad placements;
  • low-quality website UX/UI design & layout (supposedly due to the use of a website template);
  • low-quality, generic or duplicate content (often composed using the generative AI tools);
  • big share of the paid traffic [sourcing], and more. 

As the experts admit, if  2-3 criteria are matched, a website may be considered as MFA, but final verdict should still be in the hands of an advertiser. 

The trick is, even the updated version of the definition still includes a range of subjective points, not to mention the fact that some of the described website criteria may still keep its content informative & engaging for the target audience (e.g. cooking recipes), hence making its inventory potentially lucrative for brands working (and aiming to spend their digital marketing budget) in the relevant industry vertical. 

On the other hand, the Ebiquity & Scope3 research, for instance, uncovered that MFAs generate 20%+ higher volumes of carbon emissions, if compared to non-MFA sites, which basically makes them a no-go for premium brands with ambitious sustainability goals. 

In view of this, data transparency remains the key factor, which should help brands and agencies make their informative choices on if & how to include MFAs in their digital advertising plans. 

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