These Home Sites Have Few Users but Offer Millions of Ads

One company lists half a billion monthly impressions on AppNexus' exchange

There’s little doubt that home is a big category on the Web, whether you’re talking decor, design, remodeling, or buying and selling. So naturally, numerous publishers have looked to capture this rabid audience, which has led to lots of traffic available in home-related categories on various ad exchanges.

But how much?

Take the Home and Garden category in AppNexus’ exchange, which in July listed 4 billion impressions. The top site in the category, Ideasforhome.net, had 467 million “platform-audited” impressions via AppNexus—269 million “seller-audited” impressions.

Another top site, Yourhousedesign.com, listed about 111 million monthly platform-audited impressions via AppNexus.

Sounds pretty big. Yet according to comScore, these sites on average reach roughly 0.1 percent of the Web population—meaning that in some cases, visitors to these sites would have been averaging around 500 page views per person last summer, which would suggest that the home category is achieving some serious engagement.

In the case of Yourhousedesign, the site is operated by the firm Relevad, which also helps manage and monetize sites such as Bikesdirect.com, Breakfastdailynews.com and News788.com. Adweek was unable to determine who owns these sites; none of them list any addresses or contact information, and Relevad would not reveal any ownership information, citing client confidentiality.

Relevad says there’s a perfectly logical explanation for the heavy volume available via AppNexus. Per Yury Kamen, Relevad's chief technology officer, Yourhousedesign typically sells only 15 million ad impressions per month.

The reason AppNexus reports such high volume is that Relevad sometimes works with up to 15 different ad sellers. AppNexus is actually showing the total number of ad impressions that could be sold by each partner. In other words, it’s doing lots of double counting, Kamen said.

“Relevad monetization technology uses multiple partners and combines them in an optimized daisy chain,” he said. “The number of partners may exceed 15 per single ad placement, and some of our partners are connected to AppNexus as well as to other partners that are connected to AppNexus. This would lead to 15 to 20 times more impression attempts than actual purchased impressions.”

It's AppNexus policy to not comment on specific partners. But  the company insisted it’s on top of the issue of bogus Web traffic. In fact, CEO Brian O'Kelley has been quite outspoken on the issue.

"We see more than a trillion impressions across our platform in a month, the overwhelming majority of which are high-quality inventory that buyers want to buy," said AppNexus svp, product Pat McCarthy. "Since the platform is designed to optimize buyers’ spend, the dollars go to sites that perform best. We consistently see that low-quality sites don't perform well and therefore don't sell well. For the relatively small percentage of inventory that is nonhuman traffic, click fraud, piracy and other bad behaviors that  affect the entire digital ad ecosystem, we have zero tolerance, and we’ve made some of the industry’s biggest investments and have some of the best technology to stop it."

Experts say that Relevad's explanation for the high volume of inventory listed via AppNexus could be accurate. Regardless, it speaks to the arcane world of online ad exchanges where it seems only a select few number of individuals even know what is going on, and the open nature makes things increasingly difficult to police.

A closer look at Yourhousedesign does reveal some curiosities. A recent visit showed autoplay video ads for Mitsubishi, as well as banners for Stop & Shop, Milky Way, Hilton and others. The page featured 48 different ad pixels, according to the Web-tracking software Ghostery. At times there were two video players automatically playing videos at the same time.

Content-wise, the Mitsubishi spot led into an autoplay video from Russia Today—in Russian. That seemed an odd fit for a home improvement site. Besides video, there were a series of superficial articles carrying the byline “admin.” Here’s an example of a recent article in its entirety:

Guide When Choosing Quality Stainless Steel Kitchenware