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A Complete Guide to Brand Safety for Publishers

Brand Safety for Publishers
“When we think about brand suitability, the better the definitions that we have for content that is categorized by the platforms, the better choices we have for where we run our ads."

Without a doubt, your brand’s reputation is something that can either sink your business or make it float. Your brand should be an investment to the advertisers that raises your bottom line rather than a problematic expense.

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

 — Jeff Bezos, CEO, and president of Amazon (src)

For this very reason, you have to carefully consider ways to deliver informative content your readers expect and ensure your brand is safe while maximizing your revenue and inventory value.

Moreover, as a publisher, if you’re monetizing your website using advertising, then you have to ensure that you are providing a safe and fraud-free environment to your advertisers.

Because no matter what, users wouldn’t want to risk themselves with malware and piracy, while advertisers wouldn’t want ads to appear anywhere near harmful and inconvenient content. So, how do you ensure that you don’t lose on any of your users or advertisers? 

Without a thought, providing a brand-safe environment is the answer.

Table of Contents:

Introduction to Brand Safety

The more the industry evolved digitally, the more publishers realized a need for brand safety measures to improve the content’s quality and mitigate the growing risks of ad-frauds.

Brand safety is all about actively working towards preventing associations with ads and contents that are harmful to your band’s reputation. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), in practice, brand safety means that you have to avoid placing ads next to any inappropriate or malicious content and provide a safe environment for ad serving.

To ensure a safe environment, you need to work on your site content and not place the ads near any questionable content. Ads that appear next to high-quality content are recognized as more favorable than the same ads appearing in low-quality environments.

Because of your online presence, you’re prone to malicious traffic, ad-frauds, and the likes, that can imperil the trusted relationship you have built with your advertising partners and bring reputational damage to your brand. But, with brand safety measures in place, you can restore that trust with your advertisers because their presence is how you are to secure new advertising dollars, generate revenue from the content, and increase your bottom line. 

Brand Safety

Initially, many publishers were unclear and confused about the differences between brand safety and brand suitability. Brand safety is more of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach whereas brand suitability is a subtle and straightforward approach to provide a brand-safe environment. 

How is Brand Suitability Different from Brand Safety?

Brand suitability is an upgrade or evolution of brand safety. It’s an approach wherein you make advertising decisions based on your advertisers’ needs and what’s right for them. It’s about identifying suitable places, not just for your brand but also for your advertisers’ brand. For example, a particular content on your page that might be suitable for a children’s toy brand may not be appropriate for a music brand.

Brand suitability will enable you to identify the right advertising environment to help the ad campaigns drive your business outcomes. It will provide you with individual brand profiles, market research insights, and strategic positioning to help you target specific environments for efficient advertising.

“When we think about brand suitability, the better the definitions that we have for content that is categorized by the platforms, the better choices we have for where we run our ads,”

– Luis Di Como, SVP of Global Media, Unilever (Src)

Based on the IAS survey to understand the most critical priority—brand safety or brand suitability, a majority of 57% of respondents said that brand safety was a bigger priority, 24% voted for brand suitability the remaining 19% were favoring both. 

Brand Safety PrioritiesWhy is Brand Safety Important for Publishers?

Although brand safety was supposedly an industry-wide problem, recently, it has also fallen heavily on publishers’ shoulders to solve it. We can think of why this has happened because the publisher, being the owner of the content, are the ones who are to analyze, categorize, understand what content is more important and where to display ads on the website. 

Many are still struggling to offer appropriate information without using the blacklisted keywords and, therefore, are losing on monetization opportunities. These days, to ensure that you’re here for the long haul, you have to gain your advertisers’ confidence by displaying their ads in high-quality and viewable environments without the mention of any blocked keywords.

Publishers who are improving the quality of their brand-safe inventory are the ones who are selling ads at higher CPMs. To achieve the same, you have to ensure that the brand safety at scale is at the core of your advertising partners’ capabilities. 

But before you dive into the ocean of brand safety, you have to be aware that it’s a never-ending task. And that’s why it’s always essential that you have an infrastructure that will alert you immediately whenever something goes wrong. 

How the Industry is Helping Publishers with Brand Safety?

Over the years, publishers have faced numerous problems revolving around brand safety. There is a need for them to work with brand-safety vendors directly to understand what advertisers and audience needs. Plus, you also need to ensure that your brand safety and suitability guidelines are robust, comprehensive, and well-reviewed before each campaign.

Like the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Rating Council (MRC), many organizations have been working towards defining practical brand safety measures to help you facilitate a productive connection with your advertisers and audiences. These measures were planned, hoping that it could be used before the campaigns to help you make the decisions with confidence. 

What Needs to be Avoided to Ensure a Brand-safe Environment?

Invalid traffic

From declined performance to ad fraud, Invalid traffic affects your business in many ways. As they imitate human behavior, they disrupt traffic statistics and can even steal data from your users. And, of course, no advertiser would want to partner with you if you are placing their ads on a site that has loads of malicious bot traffic.

That’s the main reason why advertisers have added security checks to their ad campaigns. If a system notices unusual traffic on your domain, they might even mark you unsafe for other advertisers to see as well. Typically, DSPs (Demand-Side Platforms) take care of this job. 

Solution: Google analytics is one such tool that can help you detect invalid traffic like bot traffic. Along with that, it’s best if you also seek help from a fraud prevention provider. 

Blacklisted keywords

While ad placements around criminal activities have always been widely avoided by the media buyers, it’s now extended to a full spectrum of other more subjective topics such as hate speech, pornographic, violent, illegal drug-related, and the likes.

Because of the usage of some keywords like kill, injury, terrorism, etc., advertisers might step back from you. If your webpage contains such blacklisted keywords, the advertisers will not place the bid on the ad inventories. As a result, loss of revenue.

Solution: The only solution is a more sophisticated approach that understands the content’s context before stopping the ad from displaying because of the blacklisted keywords.

Fake News

For years, fake news usage has dominated the news headlines with no signs of slowing down. Advertisers, now more than ever, are paying more attention to whether their ad is placed next to false articles and malicious allegations or not. They actively avoid websites containing misrepresentation, misstatement, or conceal information, as it draws a bad name to their brand. That’s why you have to avoid such fake info on your page. 

How to Ensure that Your Brand is Safe?

Know where you stand with brand safety

Every advertiser today, before bidding, is paying notice to how safe your brand is. So, it is recommended that you pay close attention to your sites and analytics tools to look for invalid traffic, fake news, or mention of any blacklisted keywords. After such critical observation, you can then prepare a detailed plan of action to improve your brand safety

Vet your Partners and Advertisers.

Increased technology usage has led to overall increased concerns around perceived brand risk in programmatic advertising. This is happening because there’s not much transparency among advertisers and publishers. 

Therefore, advertisers are opting for direct buy with reputable publishers or direct integration into the publisher’s ad server because, in such a buy, the possibility of ad-fraud is much reduced. This is for your benefit because direct deals bring better transparency comparatively, building much stronger bonds with your advertisers.

You can also run PMP deals/preferred deals or partner with trustworthy SSPs and use Google Ad Manager Protection tools to remove the bad actors consistently. 

Creating a more transparent ecosystem

If you disclose where you are placing the ads and how your content is not risky to your advertisers, you will be able to sell your impressions on the page, even if it contains few blacklisted keywords. If you’re working with multiple ad-tech partners, ensure to add an ads.txt file to your domain.

Released in May 2017, ads.txt is one such initiative developed by the IAB Tech Lab, wherein you can add information about your SSPs, Ad Networks, and other programming partners. Such an initiative gives a transparent flow of the supply chain. This not only protects you and your advertisers against fraud but also creates better relationships.

Defining brand safety measure for themselves

Both publishers and advertisers are free to build their brand safety measures in addition to those provided by organizations like IAB and MRC—and most of you are already doing that.

Brand safety measures are subjective. It might differ from publisher to publisher and advertiser to advertiser. Hence, it is recommended that you keep the information as honest as possible and add reliable sources to the data as per your preference. 

Review the demand partner and brand safety vendor

You have to find out which brand safety vendor your advertisers are using. You can work with them to determine what kind of content is best for your advertisers and then align their needs with your brand values. 

It’s always recommended to work directly with brand safety vendors as they provide protection services and the proper consultation to create a balance between content and ad revenue. And, combined with optimization tools can help you ensure that advertiser needs are met without compromising your content quality.

Furthermore, you also need to ensure that the demand partner you choose has appropriate safety mandates, including ad fraud prevention. Choose your demand partner wisely to not face any brand safety problems in the future. 

Contextual targeting

The introduction to various data privacy laws and browser updates have triggered a surge in contextual advertising. In contextual targeting, the ads are controlled based on the context or keywords of a website. 

It ensures that your audience segments match the particular advertiser’s requirements and ads appear in a relevant environment. Besides, contextual targeting ensures that the context is not associated with inappropriate ads. 

In the ad tech industry, the value of trust should never be underestimated; you have to do everything it takes to gain the confidence of your advertisers and the audience.


We all know that becoming knowledgeable about every aspect of your business is always a good idea. For such an integral part of the advertising chain, it’s even more critical. With you ignoring the brand safety issue altogether will only negatively impact your business.  

Now, with the advertising industry reinventing themselves, the opportunities that come with improving the safety of your brand are going to be the talk of the town. 

We hope the article has given you the insights you need to understand brand safety and its benefits better. Feel free to reach out to us in the comments section for further queries and information.

Automatad Team

At Automatad, we help publishers to monetize better without hampering the user experience. Our products are live across hundreds of publishers, earning them incremental ad revenue with every passing second. You can request a free audit to get an estimated revenue uplift today.

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