Link to home

News from the open internet

Office Hours

What the Tech are MFAs

What the tech are MFAs?

Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Getty / The Current

The advertising industry is concerned about MFAs, and no, that’s not a reference to all the creatives who got their master’s in creative writing. MFAs stand for “made-for-advertising” sites — websites that, as the name implies, are designed for the sole purpose of generating advertising revenue.

A cynic might say that all websites are made for advertising, but MFAs take the idea of advertising-funded content to its most egregious extreme. MFAs aren’t concerned with cultivating a loyal audience, publishing socially important content or providing a safe environment for brands to advertise — they just want to make money, and do so often in an underhanded manner.

MFAs are a concern for marketers, publishers and ad tech firms alike, with all groups trying to eradicate the practice from the digital media industry. Below, we spell out how MFAs work, why they’re a stain on the digital media ecosystem and how marketers can avoid them.

What is an MFA?

An MFA is a website so overloaded with ads that no reasonable person would care to read it and no respectable brand would care to be associated with it.

An MFA site might be stuffed with banner ads. And have an autoplay video ad that initiates upon opening the website. And a pop-up ad. And ads in the header and footer of the website that follow the user as they scroll the page.

MFAs are not concerned with the user experience or providing a good return on ad spend for their brand partners. These sites are inundated with ads because they want to maximize advertising revenue.

In short, an MFA is a misleading website built to make money rather than offer value.

How do MFAs work?

Since brands would rather not have their ads run on MFA sites, MFAs have to employ a variety of deceptive tactics to attract advertisers.

For one, MFAs have the appearance of a legitimate website. MFAs contain clickbait content and they attract real users with their splashy headlines. But audiences tend not to stay very long, resulting in a high bounce rate and few repeat visitors. The low-quality content begets low-quality traffic, which is the opposite of what advertisers want.

Many MFAs engage in domain spoofing, creating websites whose URLs resemble the URLs of trusted publishers but are altered ever so slightly. The spoofed domain might contain a single extra letter or number. To the untrained eye, the spoofed domain appears legitimate, and an ad buyer might be tricked into buying inventory on an MFA site.

MFA ads also tend to be cheaper than ads on legitimate sites. For an advertiser looking to hit its reach goals, an MFA site can appear an attractive option.

In all cases, MFAs are taking advantage of the complexity of the ad-buying process. Ad networks and ad exchanges allow advertisers to buy digital advertising quickly, across thousands of sites. In a typical ad transaction, a marketer’s ad-buying request can go through a demand-side platform, several different ad exchanges, and a supply-side platform. Along the way, there are dozens of data management platforms layering in consumer insights to help make the campaign more precisely targeted. That’s billions of individual pieces of ad inventory floating through various marketplaces. This supply chain can be so complex that advertisers don’t always know where their ads end up — like on an MFA site.

How do brands avoid MFAs?

One of the more-effective methods for avoiding MFA sites is supply path optimization (SPO), an initiative to streamline the ad-buying process and help make it more transparent.

Instead of passing an ad-buying request through myriad ad networks, SPO brings advertisers and publishers closer together in a private, online ad marketplace. Advertisers have direct insight into who they are buying ads from and where their ads end up. They also save money by not having to pay the fees that come along with every step of the ad-buying supply chain. For publishers, SPO can help them retain more revenue from an ad transaction.

Most importantly, publishers in an SPO marketplace often undergo brand safety vetting to ensure that an advertiser’s ad never ends up on an MFA site. It’s true that ads subsidize much of the content we consume via the internet. SPO can help ensure that money goes to content that actually has value to consumers, however, and not to scammy, spammy MFA sites.

By focusing on quality over quantity, advertisers can make more efficient use of their ad budgets, drive better results, and create a more positive and meaningful impact with their digital advertising efforts.