Brand safety is a sneaky little thing.
You’re trying to explain how “drop-dead gorgeous” your recent DIY end table turned out or how you can’t wait to get “tripping” on the road again, referencing your upcoming vacation.
You think these are just great descriptors (which they are!) but using the words “dead” or “tripping” might set off warning flags to advertisers that this content possibly references violence or drugs.
Of course this wasn’t your intent, but unfortunately, these kinds of “mistaken identity” issues with certain words on your site can affect your ad revenue behind the scenes.
But we’re here to clear some things up and give you helpful resources so your posts can earn at their top potential!
In this post you’ll find:
- An introduction to brand safety, and how and why it can affect your RPM
- Inspiration from three AdThrive publishers’ success stories
- Actionable steps for identifying brand safety issues in your content
- An AdThrive-exclusive resource to help you brainstorm creative alternatives for common “problem words”
Brand safety 101
So what exactly is brand safety?
Brand safety addresses trust in online advertising. Advertisers want to make sure their ads don’t appear next to topics they consider to be sensitive, controversial, or offensive. For a really obvious example, a company that makes matches probably doesn’t want to advertise on news stories about a massive forest fire. Makes sense, right?
Today, most brand safety measures are keyword-based.
In the realm of SEO, keywords help Google to best match content with readers’ search intent. In the world of brand safety, keywords warn advertisers there might be risky content, impacting whether or not they choose to advertise on that page.
Brand safety and the RPM equation
Brand safety affects the earnings part of the RPM equation:
RPM = earnings / pageviews x 1000
And CPMs, or how much advertisers value and are willing to pay to show an ad impression, make up your ad earnings.
Tons of different advertisers bid to win the opportunity to show an ad to your readers. But some advertisers won’t bid to show their brand next to certain topics, reducing competition and CPM, and negatively affecting your RPM.
Each advertiser gets to decide their own brand safety standards
Each advertiser can create their own list of brand safety keywords — words that, if found on a page, mean they don’t want their ads to display on that page.
This brand safety keyword list can be as short or as long as an advertiser wants. Some advertisers may be really strict, and some may only have the most obvious culprits on their keyword list. A single advertiser’s list isn’t a particularly helpful yardstick for your content strategy, because other advertisers may not have any issues with those same words.
Brand safety keyword filtering is pretty basic
Unfortunately, the algorithm-based tools advertisers use to identify content that isn’t brand safe are pretty basic. They’re not able to take context into the equation.
These algorithms can’t tell the difference between a “killer clown who terrorizes a theme park” and your “killer brownies that are oh-so-delicious!” Or somber stories about the devastations of drug addiction and “I’m so addicted to bargain hunting!”
That means it’s really important to consider every possible connotation for words and phrases.
But there may be times when you still want to use a word that’s not “brand safe.” Here’s why…
Brand safety vs. SEO
What happens when advertisers might shy away from a certain word (like “bomb”), but it’s CRITICAL for SEO (like “bath bombs” or “hot chocolate bombs”)?
In many cases, the increased traffic you get by using a term that’s not totally “brand safe” outweighs any reduction in advertiser spending.
You always have to consider the big picture — and when in doubt, side with your readers (which is also good for SEO)!
If your readers won’t instantly recognize and respond to “melting hot chocolate ball” used in place of “hot chocolate bomb”, you won’t get clicks and pageviews. You’ll probably make less ad revenue overall than if you used “hot chocolate bomb” and saw a slight decrease in CPM.
Brand safety can be helpful in identifying why a certain post may be getting a lower CPM so you have more insight and knowledge into factors affecting your ad revenue.
But pageviews are an equally important factor for your earnings, so if your post or site setup results in great traffic and serves your readers, apply the old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
There’s no need to change up what’s working well and risk losing what you’ve worked so hard for: trust with readers, great Google search results, or both.
Think of brand safety awareness as a tool to add to your toolbox — like data from Google Analytics or research from your keyword tool — and use the insights you glean to make the best decisions for your business.
[Case study] The Almond Eater: finding creative alternatives for alcohol-references
Some advertisers choose not to advertise on content related to alcohol, especially overconsumption of alcohol — but what if you’re sharing a non-alcoholic recipe?
Erin of The Almond Eater couldn’t figure out why the RPM for her amazing skinny margarita recipe was so low — it didn’t even have alcohol in it!
Our team helped her identify two phrases in the post — “tried a LOT of different types of margaritas” and “not hungover,” We suspected advertisers were spending less due to perceived references of overindulgence!
Resolution and impact:
Erin implemented a few creative wording tweaks including replacing “not hungover” with “feeling much better the next day”, and this post’s RPM increased 144% over the next six weeks!
[Case study] Posture Direct: sitewide impact from removing the word “download”
Mark of Posture Direct found that his entire site was flagged for brand safety issues in the “illegal download” category, possibly due to an invitation for his readers to “Download Free E-book” in the site’s navigation menu.
This is a super common way to invite readers to grab a resource — but unfortunately, the word “download” is often on advertisers’ lists to avoid because it often refers to illegal downloads. Because this keyword was in the site’s nav bar, it was appearing on every page of his site, and impacting RPM across the board!
Resolution and impact:
Simply removing the word “download” from the navigation bar had a huge impact on Mark’s RPM — six weeks later, all the flags were gone and his site’s average RPM jumped by 71%!
[Case study] Sustainable Cooks: keep looking for a solution when it’s not so obvious…
Sarah of Sustainable Cooks had a virgin mojito recipe as her #1 post but there was no obvious reason why it was getting such a low RPM.
She had certainly done her research, digging in on alcohol references, the Jump to Recipe button, traffic sources, and the word “virgin” — none of those changes helped RPM!
Our team discovered that the word “limey”, used to describe the taste, was getting flagged as a derogatory term (an American slang nickname for a British person).
“You’re blowing my mind with this — HATE speech this whole time?! Wow!” said Sarah.
Resolution and impact:
Sarah’s perseverance to find a solution paid off! After removing “limey” from not only her post, but also several comments which contained the word, RPMs jumped 36% in six weeks — with no impact on the post’s traffic!
How to identify brand safety issues for higher ad earnings:
Step 1: Use the Brand Safety report in the AdThrive dashboard
This report gives you a list of URLs that advertisers have flagged as potentially risky content in areas like adult content, violence, offensive speech, etc.
A flag does not mean that advertisers are actually restricting spending on the post — but it does indicate a likelihood that you’ll see a lower CPM on that post because some number of advertisers believe it contains content that isn’t a fit for their brand.
And remember, a good portion of the time these flags are false positives. For example, one publisher used “plan of attack” colloquially in a post and it was flagged for “offensive speech”.
Step 2: Review the flagged post to identify the “problem” keyword
If you see a post flagged for content that’s potentially not brand-safe, head to your post and look at it through the eyes of a computer.
Is there any word, phrase, or reference that might sound risky? Don’t forget to check the comments — they’re considered part of your content too.
Remember, keyword-based brand safety doesn’t consider context, so this isn’t a judgment call about your style or voice! Just because something is flagged does not mean you have to change a thing.
More on that in the next step!
Step 3: Weigh the SEO impact before making any changes
Once you’ve identified a likely suspect, consider how important that keyword is to your overall post.
Let’s say you saw a recipe flagged for “adult content” and you think it’s probably because it’s about how to make a “juicy chicken breast.”
If it’s a crucial keyword for SEO, don’t touch it!
In a chicken breast recipe, you really can’t omit the word “breast” without damaging the post’s value to your readers. But if the word is not critical, consider replacing it with an alternative.
Use your best judgment and remember there are two parts to the RPM equation: earnings AND pageviews.
If a word or phrase gets you great search traffic, it might not be worth replacing with an alternative. And you should always pause and consider the full implications before you change the content in a post that’s doing well in Google search results.
It’s a give and take — perhaps sacrificing the higher advertiser spending in order to get great SEO could potentially offset, or even counteract, that lower CPM.
You’re the expert on how to best serve your audience. Brand safety is just one factor to consider as you create and update your amazing content!
[AdThrive exclusive!] Common brand safety keywords with creative alternatives
We analyzed a bunch of data on potentially problematic words and compiled a list with examples and ways to reword your intent as you’re creating and updating content!
Again, this won’t be comprehensive, as each advertiser’s idea of what’s “brand safe” for their company will differ, but it’s a great starting point.
Log in below to access the list!