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Forbes hits back at 'deeply misleading' accusation of hosting made for ads subdomain

Forbes hits back at 'deeply misleading' accusation of hosting made for ads subdomain

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Ad quality firm Adalytics has released a report accusing Forbes of misleading advertisers into believing that they were buying premium ad space on when they were actually buying space on, a reportedly made for advertising (MFA) subdomain. 

When MARKETING-INTERACTIVE reached out to Forbes, it said that the Adalytics report was "deeply misleading" and "misrepresents" the scope and operation of a legacy Forbes sub-domain.

"Adalytics, a for-profit company that offers services to advertisers, refused Forbes’ request for a copy of the research report that was shared in advance with The Wall Street Journal – so that we could review the claims in advance of them publishing today," a spokesperson said, adding:

The subdomain was developed as an alternative means to consume existing content and represents only about 1% of Forbes’ overall user base.

Forbes explained that it has since shut down the subdomain, which is an "insignificant" part of its business to eliminate any potential confusion. 

What happened?

According to Adalytics, hundreds of major brands were observed transacting ads on the “www3” sub-domain under Forbes. These include JPMorgan Chase, Procter & Gamble, Ernst & Young (EY), Dior, Volvo, American Express, Disney, Kimberly-Clark and more.

The report claims that Forbes intentionally set up a misleading MFA subdomain that was delivering vastly different results to its advertised site.  MFA sites typically use sensational headlines, clickbait, and provocative content to attract visitors and generate page views, which in turn generate ad revenue for the site owner, according to the Association of National Advertisers.

According to Adalytics, a reader viewing an article on the normal sub-domain may see about three to 10 ads in an article. However, if they were on the www3 variant, it would expose the reader to approximately over 201 ad impressions in a single page view session.

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It added that the "normal" root domain appears to get 90%+ of its readership through organic search and direct page navigation, whereas the "hidden" www3 sub-domain appears to source more than 70% of its readership through paid display ads on Taboola, Outbrain, and other paid traffic acquisition sources.

The company further elaborated that data from website traffic analytics firm Similarweb shows that the largest age group of visitors on the “normal” “” domain are 25 to 34 year-olds. However, Similarweb shows that the largest age group of visitors on the “hidden” subdomain are 55-64-year-olds. Similarweb also reportedly showed "large differences" in behavior amongst audiences between the sites such as through audience targeting, affinity and browsing interests of readers. 

Adalytics also added that Forbes does not seem to deploy its subscriber paywalls on the “www3.” subdomain, unlike on the regular Forbes website. It said: 

"Unlike the 'normal' Forbes website, it appears that (for all examined page URLs) Forbes instructs search engine crawlers such as Google Bot and Bing Bot to not index the www3. subdomain's articles. This means readers (or digital media industry analysts) cannot find these specific articles in either organic Google or Bing search results."

It added that Forbes’ website appears to be "set up to automatically redirect users who try to open to", preventing the user from reviewing the content on the www3. subdomain unless they input an exact page URL or first click on an Outbrain ad on another website that redirects them to the www3 subdomain.

When some ad inventory from the “www3.” subdomain is transacted via server side Prebid, four ad exchanges - Microsoft Xandr (fka AppNexus), Triplelift, Pubmatic, and Magnite - appear to incorrectly relay this inventory to buyers as being served on the “normal” “www.” sub-domain, which some industry experts consider to be a form of “domain spoofing”, said Adalytics.

"Some of this mis-declared inventory was observed transacting via what appear to be Private Marketplace (PMP) deal IDs," it added.

The company also said that many SSPs that transact ads on the “hidden” “www3.” subdomain appear to have public, written policies that prohibit or discourage certain publisher ad serving practices. These include mis-declaring page URL information, "excessively" refreshing ad slots, or having a large amount of readers visit the publishers’ content through non-organic traffic sources., Pubmatic, Magite, ShareThrough, TripleLift, and Microsoft Xandr SSPs’ also have an apparent monetisation of ad inventory from “www3.” Forbes' subdomain may raise questions about these vendors’ enforcement of their own inventory policies, it said.

Join us this coming 24 - 25 April for #Content360, a two-day extravaganza centered around four core thematic pillars: Explore with AI; Insight-powered strategies; Content as an experience; and Embrace the future. Immerse yourself in learning to curate content with creativity, critical thinking, and confidence with us at Content360!

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