April 24, 2024
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Keyword blocklists prevent brands from reaching more audiences; impacts efforts to be more inclusive


The internet is an unpredictable place, partly due to ongoing political and regional tensions throughout the world. In times like these, it’s no surprise that brands are hyper-focused on how they can protect their image and reputation. Marketers often turn to keyword blocklists in order to avoid unpredictable or controversial topics online. But as the internet grows more complex, are keyword lists still the best way to safeguard a brand?

As per Integral Ad Science’s research, it shows that keyword lists are an outdated approach that can block a more authentic experience that consumers want with online content. In addition to a fair amount of overhead maintenance to keep up to date, keyword technology is limited to URL detection, not taking into account the context or sentiment of the page, which leads to more false negatives and false positives. Keyword lists don’t understand sentiment or emotion, which as a result could mean brands are missing out on reach and blocking diverse content, diverse content creators, or general information on important topics that consumers seek out.

In an experimental study conducted by MAGNA Media Trials, IAS tested three key brands across CPG, auto, and insurance verticals. The design included standard content versus content that would be flagged by an exclusion list of keywords within one of three categories:

1. Diversity
2. Political
3. Mental health

Consumers were exposed to a video with the brands adjacent to either the standard content or one of the exclusion keyword list content categories. After viewing the brand’s ad and the surrounding content, the consumer was asked a series of brand KPI-related questions, as well as content and brand sentiment questions.

“Safety and suitability are top concerns for advertisers. Keyword blocking has been a simple and, at times, effective method to avoid content that brands do not want to be associated with. However, keyword blocking also prevents advertisers from reaching an engaged and diverse audiences by using an outdated approach. In our research with IAS, we found that blocklists prevent brands from reaching audiences that otherwise would be receptive, as well as negatively impact efforts to be more inclusive, said Kara Manatt, EVP, Intelligence Solutions, MAGNA Global.

2 percent of consumers think brands should make a concerted effort to place ads around content that promotes diversity. What’s more, 61 percent of consumers believe advertisers actually approve of the content near their ads, making support for culturally relevant content even more crucial to a brand’s reputation.

Using keyword exclusion lists alone can lead to serious implications for advertisers. They can cause advertisers to be blamed for discrimination by blocking minority creators’ content, limit reach to diverse audiences, and simply limit reach in general.

In the study with MAGNA Media Trials, there were a number of high quality videos that would have been blocked due to exclusion keywords either in the URL, caption, or video title.

Advertisers who are relying on keyword blocklists are potentially missing out on responsible engagement with consumers, and also missing the opportunity to promote diverse content and content creators.

Advertisers may believe that ad placement across diverse, political, or mental health content could have a negative impact on brand KPIs — however, the study with MAGNA Media Trials proved otherwise. In fact, ad placement near exclusion list content, which would be flagged by an exclusion keyword list, was as successful as standard content in driving positive KPI performance.

Ads near exclusion list content also scored well in regards to content alignment as being likable, high quality, and gaining attention. Those consumers felt positively about the content itself — a validation that adjacency to these potential blocked pieces of content is a missed opportunity for brands.

79 percent of consumers said the ad near the exclusion list content was high quality. 74 percent percent of consumers said the ad near the exclusion list content was likable ■ 71% of consumers said the ad near the exclusion list content caught their attention. 51 percent of consumers said the ad near the exclusion list content got them excited about the brand.

In addition to missed reach, keyword exclusion lists can block potential positive brand perceptions. The results from the MAGNA Media Trials study show that there is greater impact for consumers exposed to the exclusion list content. In fact, consumers were nearly twice as likely to view the brand as knowing how to connect with them and as a brand they prefer.



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