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Be wary of buying ads on Reddit, the numbers are cooked.

Reddit, the famous "front page of the internet" works by users gathering & generating the content and posting it to the appropriate subreddit. There are subreddits for everything, even after Reddit cleaned up some of the more famously seedy subreddits. You can find communities that are gender critical, or Paper Mario fans, people who hate stealth ads at Hailcorporate, and serious audiophiles. There are news and political discussion subs of every persuasion, and many languages, there are 70,000 active communities. In 2016 Reddit had 51.4 million monthly users in May, that was up from 28.4 million a year before, according to comScore. In march of last year Reddit beefed up their advertising department, with five creatives, twenty-four in sales and product development staff swelled to thirty. The cherry on top was when they poached Google engineer Toby Segaran to help build the ad-tech platform. Reddit was going to be an ad market to be reckoned with. Put an ad on the front page of the internet.

At The Next Web conference last year Reddit CEO Steve Huffman famously quipped:

"We know all of your interests. Not only just your interests you are willing to declare publicly on Facebook - we know your dark secrets, we know everything"

Since the rise of Trump in US politics Reddit has had an issue with a subreddit called the_Donald. And by issue I mean, the sub has accused Reddit admins of manipulating the algorithm's to prevent the_Donald posts from reaching /r/all as often as they used to do. The sub is massively popular and extremely active, so postings in the sub can get 8000-10,000 upvotes in less than a day.

Yesterday it appeared Reddit has manipulated the subscriber count that the_Donald has. In the advertising interface, it listed the_Donald as having over 6 million subscribers, but on the_Donald's page, the subscription count is listed as only 386,143. If I were in the market to advertise USA flag jean jacket or similar, I would want to select the_donald as the subreddit to advertise in, but I would also need to know what the real numbers are.

When confronted with the discrepancy, Reddit Director of Communications Anna Soellner told Fox tech news that the high advertising counts were caused by a labeling error in a new service:

"When we released the new ads self-serve product yesterday, the ad interface said "Subscribers" in the targeting drop-down list. However, the actual number represented here was not "Subscribers" but was actually "Daily Unique Visitors" to the subreddit."

The same explanation is echoed in Reddit help thread, where an admin has also stated it was mislabeled. But many commenting say the explanation doesn't add up if it was a simple error of mislabeling, why did the numbers change? Instead of six million, the new number is "daily impressions" and that number is a rounded out twenty-eight million.

Reddit said the issue was fixed by Friday afternoon. "We have just pushed out a change to rename this number ‘Daily Impressions’ and will modify the numbers shown in the dropdown to show ‘Daily Impressions’."
Prior to the fix, there were apparent discrepancies between the advertising count and the count shown to site visitors on other subreddits as well. /r/Politics was listed as having 6.3 million subscribers to advertisers but only 3.3 million to the site visitors. Meanwhile /r/Science was shown to advertisers as having only 10 million users while site visitors saw 16 million subscribers. The image below is created by someone who compared the numbers at ads.reddit.com vs the subscribers on each sub before the change was made, and the_Donald has the largest discrepancy.

When the CEO of Reddit can edit users comments just because he's annoyed with the_Donald, and the advertising numbers differ so dramatically from the numbers visitors see, one wonders how wise it is to put your digital advertising budget on Reddit. Global brands shun Google advertising for their bad practices, as it's becoming a danger to brands to end up in the wrong place online. It remains to be seen if Coca Cola, eBay and Google still find Reddit an attractive place to advertise, but perhaps they're getting other numbers from the in-house advertising team?

Additional info added Sun 2nd April 2017.

I've been poking around the ads interface some more to try and understand what is going on with the numbers. I've discovered that banned subreddits, that is subreddits that no longer exist because they have been deleted, show up in the list if you search for them. If these subreddits do not exist - how can they have an average daily impression count? In short, what are these numbers, exactly?

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Luke B.'s picture

Great write up!

Sport's picture

I went through the Reddit "targeting manual" out of curiosity, it is here for anyone else interested: https://static.reddit.com/marketing/subreddit_targeting_manual.pdf

They put a lot of weight on how the number of subscribers can help you evaluate how far of a reach a subreddit has.

In this example case, if we click on the /r/food subreddit link in the search results page we’ll be re-­directed to the /r/food subreddit page. On the right-­‐hand side of the page, you’ll find the title, subreddit subscriber count, and subreddit description.
By reviewing this page, you are able to evaluate the potential reach and relevance of this community by reading the subreddit subscriber count and description.
This /r/Food subreddit shows over 541,000 active subscribers (potential reach), and its community description confirms that this subreddit is about food-­‐related topics (relevance).

Now compare that to the odd discrepancy found in subreddits that seem to have suppressed subscriber numbers, like in this image. They have far larger reach, but you wouldn't know by the subscriber numbers. It's almost ~80 impressions per subscriber, which is an absurd number.

Something very odd is going on here, I just don't know what.

sirylj's picture

spez is a cuck!

idjoidsj's picture

I wonder if they are lying to their shareholders about this stuff too? Isn't that illegal?

Manuel Cruz's picture

The name of the variable of the API is still "subscribers", because they cannot change the API without breaking the servers and the apps. Weird to call a variable subscribers if it did not reference subscribers, don't you think? They are fraudsters, liars, and manipulators. They are openly dishonest, partisan, unethic, and unprofessional, as they do not even abide to their own rules. They inherited reddit after his original creator was detained and suicided for defending free speech. Their CEO is a cannibal. WHY WOULD ANYONE IN THEIR SANE MIND WANT TO GIVE THESE PEOPLE A SINGLE DIME?

Titus Pants's picture

Can they add a field called impressions or whatever, without breaking anything? And still keep subscribers and actually use it for that?

Dabitch's picture

I noticed this as well, archive link to thread

"According to the "Daily Impressions" numbers, t_d accounts for 14% of reddit's daily impressions. Is that accurate?"

"No, that is not accurate."


also, regarding Manuel Cruz statement that the api still said subscribers, that was true a few hours ago but has seen been fixed. See https://ads.reddit.com/api/audience/communities/?filter=the_donald and the image below if the link doesn't work for you.

sirylj's picture

Check out this thread on /pol/:


It has all (I think all, most at least) of the images explaining this. There's also a chart showing impressions per subscribers that proves that they are lying.

James_Trickery's picture

Wouldn't "subscribers" be a better measure than some average of daily traffic anyway? It feels strange that they switched to an average, rather than an accurate daily but the easiest number to use would be subscribers.

trou's picture

Subscribing to some of the controversial sub-reddits can block privileges in others, so people read them without actually subscribing. I can see why impressions are arguably more accurate in terms of eyeballs on a page.

Sport's picture

It's commenting , whether you've subscribed or not, in certain subreddits that will block you from /r/naturalhair and whatever other prissy little subreddits. So there's a lot of lurkers, but you can subscribe and lurk.

Dabitch's picture

Subscribers could be XK registered users, while the daily traffic could be three times as much because people lurk a lot., so I think showing daily traffic is more relevant but I dislike that they decided to show an average of traffic.

Titus Pants's picture

It depends. Some subreddits are "default" so they subscribe all new members to them. Most people won't visit but a handful of those even once. And even "real" subscribers to any subreddit don't necessarily ever visit again, much less every day. Dormant accounts aren't automatically unsubscribed.

At the same time, for the vast majority of subreddits, you don't have to subscribe to read and post there.

So the number of subscribers can both under- and overrepresent actual activity. Still, subscribers are used to compare popularity, especially since it's the only real metric they publish on the page.

mochazina's picture

I think they did mislabel, in a very amateur way. It's entirely possible to get 28 million impressions per day if you have 6 million daily unique users. That's where they messed up, the_Donald might have messed up subscribers numbers, but they also have six million eyeballs a day.

Skd's picture

Well here's the thing, the Donald mods have no control over the number that appears on the sub. So the Donald didn't mess anything, the reddit admits did.

ynrwal's picture

Wouldn't it be 12 million minus a few thousand to account for people with one eye. Also, there is a possibility that completely blind people could access it through some sort or text to speech.

Jayne's picture

So the six million daily unique visitors each have only one eyeball?

Dabitch's picture

Haha, I like how silly this got.

jon's picture

This website scrolls in a weird way. Leave my scrollbar alone!

Dabitch's picture

OK man.

AnonymousCoward's picture

Yes, the numbers are cooked. Everyone knows this, I hope.