One of the most frustrating things for a publisher is receiving complaints from users about ads. Following are some steps you can take to fix misbehaving ads.

Get a full report

As soon as possible, get as much information from the user as you can. Screenshots are invaluable. Also ask for the browser, the operating system or device, the URL, the ad slot, the time of day, and which country the user lives in. Sometimes you can’t get all this information, but every little bit helps.

Assess the seriousness

90% of an iceberg is below the surface. The same may be true with your ad problems. If 3 users take the time to contact you about a problem, there may be hundreds who didn’t bother. Consider providing a forum area where users can provide feedback and discuss site issues without complaining in the general comment areas. Take into account how many users are affected and whether this is a temporary problem that is likely to be fixed by the ad network automatically.

Duplicate the problem

This is critically important. If you can’t duplicate the problem, it’s very hard to know you’ve fixed it. If you’re debugging a direct deal, great! You should be able to force the ad to show.

Unfortunately, duplicating the problem is not always possible. Especially with ad networks, problems can be devilishly hard to duplicate, mostly because of re-targeting. Put simply, many of the ads you see are based on the websites you visit. So the ads you see will not the same as the ads seen by your readers. Ads may also be targeted to a particular country or device. So an iPhone user in London may get different ads than a Windows user in Los Angeles. Because of this, along with dozens of other algorithmic factors, it’s very difficult to ensure that a particular ad will show. We’ll cover advanced diagnostic techniques such as geo-proxies and device-spoofing in a future blog post. It’s very valuable to duplicate the problem whenever possible so you can be sure it’s fixed.

Block the ad

Once you’ve isolated the ad, you can determine which network it comes from. This can be an advanced move that requires knowledge of web development.

Some networks, including Google AdSense, allow publishers to manage their own block lists. Self-service blocking is a fantastic feature, especially if you have a sensitive audience.

Other networks are able to block advertisements through customer service channels. This process can sometimes be slow and may be completely unavailable outside of business hours. If you don’t know how to get in touch with customer service or your account representative, get that information now instead of waiting until you have a problem! To speed the process, send them as much information as possible, including steps to duplicate the problem, a test page, screenshots, etc.

Turning off ads

Some problems are very hard to track down. If you can’t isolate the problem, you can start turning off ads. It’s best to form a plan first and take notes along the way so can reverse the process and turn everything back on once this problem is solved. The key is determining when the problem is solved. If you have a problem that happens 100% of the time, turning off ads will isolate the problem very quickly. If you have a problem that occurs once a day, turning off ads will not be very effective. Remember that ad server changes rarely take effect immediately. You may need to wait anywhere from 5-15 minutes to several hours depending on the ad server before changes take effect. Remember that customer support will not be able to debug the problem if their ads are disabled.

The Nuclear Option: Turn off everything

If everything else fails, you can turn off all ads. Think about this in economic terms. How bad is the problem? How much are you hurting user experience? Is it a $100 problem? Is it a $1,000 problem? How much revenue are you willing to forfeit for a solution? Is it time to bring in a web developer?





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