How to ensure your Google AdWords ads are not being served on Breitbart

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adwordsLet me state that this is not a tutorial. It is simply a perspective with links to some documentation telling you how to ensure your Google Adwords ads are not being served on Breitbart or other sites you might not want to support or be associated with. It is not my intention to call out Breitbart alone. This applies to any site that you as an ad buyer find objectionable and do not wish to support.

I’ve seen quite a lot of posting on the web and social media of late talking about how many advertisers are pulling their ads from Breitbart.

Bravo.

But in reading, I’ve found there are people who are asking others to try to accelerate this by visiting Breitbart’s site, and contacting companies who advertise on Breitbart.

Here’s one tweet from Sleeping Giant (@slpng_giants) on Twitter that’s being referenced a lot:

I like the idea behind this, but there’s a big problem; it bothers me that to find out who is advertising on Breitbart, you have to visit the website.

Any time you visit Breitbart (or any other website serving ads), be it to look and see who is advertising, or to read their poisonous hate mongering, you are loading ads, which makes them money.

Don’t do that.

If your sole reason to visit is to see who is advertising so you can reach out to that advertiser and tell them to stop, fine. The way Sleeping Giant is doing it, I call shaming, which I don’t mind on some level, but I don’t really think is effective in the long run. Just know, if you are running an ad blocker you won’t see the ads, and if you aren’t running one you’re giving Breitbart impressions (eg. helping them generate ad revenue.)

If you examine the source code of their site, (which you can do from the terminal without loading ads using a variety of tools, like lynx or cURL) you will see that they are serving ads using Google Doubleclick for Publishers (DFP). This means, they are either scheduling and trafficking ads they are selling, or they are serving ads from networks.

If you are a company intentionally buying advertising directly from Breitbart, (1) you almost certainly quit reading this post somewhere near the third word of the post title and (2) you obviously have a desire to support them.

If you don’t want to support sites like Breitbart, here’s what you should know. If you are buying advertising on AdWords or a similar ad platform, unless you explicitly set Exclusion URL’s on your ads, your ads could be served on sites like Breitbart. Since the most common platform for people to buy ads is Google AdWords, you should know that you can set Exclusion URL’s on your ads that tell Google not to serve them on certain domains.

Here’s a ridiculously condensed explanation of how digital ad platforms work: Ads are sold based on past performance, usually by impressions. Depending on how many page views a site serves over a period of time, an ad forecasting algorithm will determine the site has a certain number of future impressions to sell. This is basically the quantity of your inventory. Web traffic is almost never constant so these ad forecasting algorithms are much more than simply looking at the past average. But the algorithm will determine roughly how many impressions you have available to sell in a future period. So, your sales team go out and try to sell that inventory for the highest CPM (cost per thousand impressions) they can get.

What happens if your web traffic is less than what the algorithm predicted? You thought you would have a certain number of impressions to sell but your traffic dropped and you delivered less than you sold. You have underperformed, and you have to tell your advertisers that they didn’t get the impressions they bought. Usually, this means you extend the life of the contract until the impressions are delivered, you give them money back, or whatever. But underperformance is not a good sign generally for publishers who want to look good to their advertisers.

What if the site outperforms the algorithm, or all the inventory isn’t sold? What ads appear on the site when the sold inventory is all delivered but there’s still traffic?

If you are using Google DFP, these remnants are most likely being back-filled with network ads and house ads (ads for the site itself for selling schwag, subscriptions, ebooks, and so on.) The network ads pull from a whole bunch of available ad networks, including Google AdWords.

If you are buying ads on AdWords these sites are where your ad is showing up.

So, if you are buying ads on AdWords and want to make sure your ads are not serving on Breitbart or any other site you don’t want to support, here’s the official Google documentation on how to add your exclusion URLs. Create your campaign, then go in and set the targeting and exclusion rules. To block an entire site like Breitbart, be sure to use a top-level exclusion (eg. breitbart.com) to ensure you are excluding www.breitbart.com as well as just breitbart.com, and all variants thereof.

I much prefer to see people take steps to make sure they are not paying for ads to serve on sites they don’t want to support as an alternative to going to those sites, looking at what ads appear, and then trying to shame the advertiser to pull their ad. While shaming might have some effect in motivating a business to pull an ad, it will likely only increase the defiant support for the cause behind the site. The advertisers who are knowingly paying to be there are only part of the problem. Breitbart can still make money (not as much, admittedly, but still some) from those who are paying to be there unwittingly. Be proactive and make sure you are not in the later group.

Lots of people are starting boycott lists since the election. Once again, great idea. If you are angry about what’s happening, I totally support efforts to vote with your wallet.

But who do you trust to tell you what companies are good and which should be boycotted? Every such list I’ve seen has included at least one business which I have not been able to find one other corroborating statement indicating they do business with Trump, Bannon, or any of the rest. There are lists that have Amazon at or near the top, and just as many that don’t list Amazon at all. There are lists that have been turned into iPhone apps for convenience in making a quick decision about whether to buy or not buy a particular brand. Not one that I have seen include any information citing sources, and offering verifiable corroboration of their assertions that the business belongs on the naughty list.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I don’t like voting with your wallet. I think it is very important. I’m just saying, to be effective, do your homework.

Breitbart use Google DFP as their ad platform. Does that mean everyone should boycott Google? (NO, it doesn’t mean that.)

My feeling is, do as much digging as you possibly can before you boycott a business. There are lots out there who you will find are easy to research. There are others who are much harder.

And don’t go too far with associations. You shouldn’t boycott a company just because someone you don’t like uses their products. Using Google DFP is not at all an endorsement from Google of the site on which the ads serve, just like using a key from a certain manufacturer to key a person’s car is not the same as the key manufacturer committing an act of vandalism.

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