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SSPs aren't created equally: Insights into which SSPs drove the most problematic impressions in Q4, 2019

Posted by John Murphy

February 27, 2020

As the programmatic landscape continues to evolve, we take a look back at Q4 2019 to understand how supply-side platforms (SSPs) are performing when it comes to ad quality. 

Using a sample of over 350 billion impressions monitored in real-time with our creative verification solution, we are able to estimate the frequency and severity of ad quality issues experienced by publishers and users, and tie that back to the SSPs that delivered the ad.

Read the full report covering the entirety of 2019

Malicious Ads and SSPs

For 2019 as a whole, 1 in every 150 impressions was dangerous or highly disruptive to the end-user. That’s 84 billion problematic impressions industry-wide in 2019, a plague of bad ads that drives users to ad blockers and invites scrutiny from regulators. While it’s often undeserved, publishers get the blame for the poor ad experiences because they are the last stop in the chain. However, the problem starts long before the ad reaches the publisher’s site; an ad must first enter the ecosystem and traverse the complex supply chain of programmatic advertising. SSPs sit before publishers in that chain and are in many ways best placed to stop bad ads in their tracks. But SSPs are not created equal and exhibit vastly different capabilities when it comes to managing ad quality.

We tracked impressions from over 75 SSPs, but over 80% of impressions came from just 13 providers commonly used by publishers. These top providers are noted in the charts below with a coding system that carries over from one quarter to the next. We’ve identified Google Ad Exchange within the chart as they operate the largest exchange.

SSPs show meaningful variance in performance from quarter to quarter, with even Google showing occasional spikes in activity. SSP-K, SSP-I, and SSP-F showed the largest swings in performance over the last year. Conversely, SSP-D was a perennially poor performer, calling their partner vetting and management practices into question. 

SSP Performance in 2019SSPs willing to institute proper controls and security practices are best positioned to manage the risk of malicious impressions, but they face attacks and attackers that are extremely unpredictable. As a result, the performance of even the cleanest SSPs can vary hugely from quarter to quarter. The diagram below shows the SSPs with the biggest changes in Q4. Four SSPs showed large increases while Google returned to its historically strong performance.

Malicious Ads by SSP - Q3 to Q4 2019Additionally, quarterly averages can mask significant variation in day-to-day performance, so it’s important to measure the upper bound of the malicious ad rate for each SSP to get a complete sense of performance. When under sustained attack, all but two SSPs had days when roughly 2 percent impressions were malicious, putting their relationships with publishers at considerable risk.

Daily Maximum Malicious Rate by SSP 2019It’s not as if SSPs are doing nothing about these attacks. They are responding to malicious ads but given a lack of data and tools, it can take them some time to resolve new issues. To provide insight into these delays, we’ve measured how long on average it takes  an SSP to respond to a new threat.

Average Malware Attack Response Time in 2019On this measure, we see huge disparities between the best and worst performers. Of particular note is SSP-I, which not only had one of the highest rates of malicious impressions, but also was among the slowest to respond to attacks. That’s a recipe for unhappy publishers. 

In Conclusion 

Whereas publishers in the past had limited insight into the quality of ads they were delivering to users, today’s real-time verification solutions give them deep insight into both the nature and source of threats. They are able to hold SSPs and DSPs accountable for ad quality and push for meaningful change in the supply chain.

SSPs are getting the message from publishers and investing heavily in ad quality controls to gain greater transparency into what’s happening to their publishers. This allows SSPs to limit negative revenue effects and maintain access to publishers, while simultaneously improving the health of the programmatic ecosystem. 

Download Demand Quality Report

Topics: programmatic , adsecurity , malware , adtech , adquality , malvertising , advertising , cybersecurity

Written By: John Murphy
Chief Strategy Officer

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