Questionable Web Domains Boasting Huge Traffic Numbers Could Be Costing Online Ad Industry as Much as $400 Million a Year | Adweek Questionable Web Domains Boasting Huge Traffic Numbers Could Be Costing Online Ad Industry as Much as $400 Million a Year | Adweek
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Suspicious Web Domains Cost Online Ad Business $400m per Year

Full of hot air

Forward Health
Forward Health operates six sites, including Menshealthbase.com and Womenshealthbase.com—which, according to one active exchange buyer, are “two of the most suspicious sites we’ve ever seen.”

An analysis by social ad data company RadiumOne found that 94.4 percent of the traffic on Womenshealthbase is identical to Mensshealthbase. “Something is really going on here,” says Kyle Napierkowski, RadiumOne’s director of ad optimization.

But Forward Health managing partner Arthur Meyerovich says the company does not use bots, adding he is shocked to hear that it’s been tied to the brewing scandal. “We are not a tech company,” says Meyerovich. “This is absolutely surprising to me. We’ve expanded our investigative efforts, and we’re looking to third-party security companies. In fact, if you are a security company that deals with this, I would personally love to hear from you.

“We take pride in our properties and content, which is created in-house by our doctors and health authors,” he continues. “Our business model online is advertising on our sites, and our clients range from top pharmaceutical brands to general large brands looking to reach a premium audience.”

Is it possible that Forward Health is a victim here? While some in the business say that could be the case, others contend its sites have exhibited suspicious traffic for so long that it’s doubtful company executives are unaware.

Modernbaby.com
and Interiorcomplex.com

Each of these sites peddles enormous traffic on the exchanges. For example, on a recent day Modern Baby was offering 19 million impressions via one exchange (quite the baby boom) and Interior Complex 30 million (the roaring housing market must be back).

“Interior Complex has always been a bad offender,” reveals one demand-side platform (DSP) exec. “In our last report we showed it overlaps with 138 other sites, and Modern Baby overlaps with 89 other sites.”

According to James Nicholson, founder of the sites’ parent company, Brightline Media, this sort of thing is just part of Web publishing. “Like a lot of publishers, we’re always dealing with bots,” he says, adding, “We are still investigating this issue.”

Nicholson says Brightline employs 25 people, yet any articles on Modern Baby are by authors who use only first names, like “Marye.”

It’s not just the bylines that raise eyebrows—Modern Baby is also loaded with ads. Often the same ads appear down each side of the homepage. (Interestingly, Modern Baby has some sort of affiliate arrangement with Glam Media’s Tend.com.) Among the brands spotted in a recent visit: an auto-play video ad for Procter & Gamble’s Febreze, along with banners for Amazon, MacKeeper, Essie Cosmetics and Norwegian Cruise Line. What’s more, sister site Smartmomdeals.com featured four banners at the same time for the HR-management platform Namely, along with an auto-play unit delivered by Glam for the branded Web series Breakfast After Dark, for Unilever’s I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

Says Nicholson: “We are always trying different ad configurations. We are very active content producers. We have 25 writers and editors producing fresh content on a daily basis. Most choose to have their first and last names displayed as bylines, but some prefer just their first name. It’s an individual choice for each author.”

According to RadiumOne, 40 percent of Modern Baby’s traffic is shared with sister site Interior Complex, which covers architecture and design.

Even more eye-opening, 66 percent of the site’s traffic is the same as Womenshealthbase. Might Brightline and Forward Health be sharing trade secrets, or are they victims of the same bot?

“It could be a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy these guys have,” says Napierkowski. “Some sites have legit traffic ... and mix in bad sources. Or it could be that everyone kind of knows. Or it could be a junior traffic guy [playing games].”

2Blue Media Group
This firm maintains a collection of 47 Web properties, including MOMentumNation.com, UniversityofSpeed.net, Womenhealthplans.com and Shoplick.com. Among the red flags: 2Blue Media has long been named on blacklists of sites maintained by various buyers and DSPs. One of its authors, Ellisha Rader, also writes for Alphabird, one of the firms caught up in Adweek’s original investigation.

“2Blue Media has been all over our suspicious-activity reports for a long time. Almost all of their pubs show up,” says a source.

One 2Blue Media site in particular, Theamericangentleman.com, has a 71 percent overlap with destinations on a list compiled by Adweek with help from multiple sources, including RadiumOne, indicating bot traffic or gamesmanship.

“We are a soup-to-nuts lifestyle company,” says co-founder Andrew Moskowitz, who denies any bot traffic. “That’s what we do.”

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