The Ultimate Guide to Ad Serving & Optimization

This post will cover ways to optimize the ad serving process, including suggestions for delivering the best possible performance for your advertisers and avoiding costly page load errors.

Included in This Guide

  • How to Maximize Ad Revenue Through DFP
  • 5 Tips For Better, Faster Ad Serving
  • How to Improve Advertiser Performance
  • 6 Programs Web Sites Can Use to Serve Ads

How to Maximize Ad Revenue Through DFP

In order to maximize revenue from display advertising, the best thing you can do is sell your ad inventory directly to targeted advertisers willing to pay a premium rate. Of course, many publishers don’t sell all of their inventory directly and instead rely on network partners to monetize remnant inventory. Monetizing this unsold inventory is a major component of online monetization; optimizing the yield here can have a huge impact on your bottom line, especially if you have a significant base of existing traffic.

Read more on How to Maximize Ad Revenue Through DFP.


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5 Tips for Better, Faster Ad Serving

For websites that generate revenue from display advertising, there are a number of opportunities to make optimizations to improve overall earnings. Between ad colors and fonts, page layouts, and even different networks, you’ll have no shortage of experiments to run and incremental improvements to make. One such opportunity you may not have considered relates to the speed of your site. Because a slow website cripples earnings capacity, boosting your property’s overall speed can deliver a meaningful improvement to the revenue generated from your existing traffic.

Why Speed Matters

As a general rule of thumb, the faster your site loads the more pageviews you’ll receive and the more money you’ll make. Let’s explore why this would be the case. For starters, there’s a direct relationship between site speed and user experience. The faster a site loads, the easier it is to navigate and the better the user experience. This translates directly into more pageviews during each visit, and an increased likelihood of return visits.

You’ve probably experienced a slow website recently; your reaction was probably one of frustration that caused you to cut your visit to that site short. Doing so also cut short the number of ads you saw and the opportunities for the publisher to earn display ad revenue. Page load is also a factor considered in algorithms used to determine where pages rank in major search engines, including Google. The premise here is similar: faster loading sites provide a better user experience, and should rank ahead of similar properties that take longer to fully load.

So decreasing page load time can also bring more visitors to your site, which can obviously help to boost display advertising revenue.

Ads: The Speed Killer

For sites that monetize via display ads, there’s obviously a benefit to having multiple ad units on each page. But there are drawbacks as well; ad units can increase the page load time substantially, especially if they’re complex and large. In general, there will be a strong negative correlation between the number of ads (and ad networks) used on a site and the speed of that site. But this trade-off is avoidable; it’s very possible to serve multiple ads on a page without sacrificing the user experience (and ultimately pageviews and ad impressions) in the process.

Tip #1: Limit File Sizes

If you’re dealing directly with advertisers who are sending you files to serve, you may want to consider cracking down on the file size. If their ad units (i.e., the actual Flash files) are too large, they may take too long to load and result in a bad user experience. A 60 KB max limit included in a spec sheet will generally result in reasonable load times, but many publishers require files to be even smaller (specifically, a 40 KB limit).

Tip #2: Use Asynchronous Ad Codes

When creating AdSense ad units, you now have the option to generate tags for asynchronous ads. This is one of the easiest ways to eliminate any ad-related slowness; it literally takes just the click of a button. Using asynchronous ad code is advantageous because it allows ads to load separately from the rest of your site. In other words, if there is an issue with an ad unit loading slowly it won’t drag down the rest of the site with it by preventing other sections of the page from loading.

While it’s obviously not ideal to have ads load slowly, this will inevitably occur whenever you’re dealing with a network. Ensuring that any such issues don’t interfere with the overall user experience is still a nice win. If you’re creating new ad units, make sure that asynchronous box is checked. If it’s been a while since you set up the ad units on your site, an overhaul to upgrade old ad code will have a nice payoff.

Tip #3: Kill Off Slow Networks

It’s often advantageous to use multiple ad networks to maximize your earning potential. But each ad network you add to the equation means there is a possibility for a major reduction in website loading speed. While Google AdSense generally won’t give you many speed headaches, unfortunately the same can’t be said for all networks. Sometimes, certain networks just won’t work well with your site, adding seconds to the load time and having a significantly negative impact on the user experience.

Wade Shepard has a great case study in this process, outlining how he identified and killed off ad networks that were dragging down his overall page load time. You can also run a quick test on your site to identify any outliers in terms of load time. From the Chrome Browser:

  1. Right Click
  2. Select “Inspect Element”
  3. Click on the “Network” tab
  4. Reload the page

You’ll see a bunch of lines pop up, each indicating an element of the page that has to load. Search for any ad networks you know you’re using (you can check for other plug-ins, such as analytics platforms, as well) and note the time associated with each.

Below is an example from Note that Outbrain, a “featured content” network used to generate some incremental revenue, is contributing to the overall load time. In this case, it’s probably not a big deal since it’s adding only a few hundred milliseconds. But if you see ad networks here with a large load time, they may be doing you more harm than good.

CNN Outbrain

Tip #4: Experiment With Fewer Ad Units

This tip can be summed up in four words: sometimes, less is more. While you’ll naturally be inclined to increase the number of ad units as you attempt to increase display ad revenue, the opposite approach may sometimes be more effective. Run A/B tests that involve taking ad units out of your site completely; you may be surprised to see that giving some the ax is more than offset by higher earnings from those you leave in place.

Tip #5: Look Beyond Ads

Though we’ve focused primarily on addressing issues with ads loading slowly, there are obviously other parts of a site that can contribute as well. Fixing general speed issues will guarantee you additional ad revenue; you’ll serve more ads, receive more clicks, and get a bigger check at the end of each month. Here are a few good resources for testing out the speed of your site (along with suggestions for fixing any issues):

Bottom Line

If you enjoy the process of optimizing your display ad revenue stream, page and ad speed is another challenge to add to your routine. Small improvements in these key metrics can lead to surprisingly large increases in revenue.

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How to Improve Advertiser Performance

Establishing direct relationships with quality advertisers is a major aspect of a successful monetization strategy for many publishers. Doing so takes a considerable amount of time and work, and is by no means a sure thing even with those inputs. Signing a deal with an advertiser to appear on your site is a huge win worthy of a celebration. You’ve accomplished something that most websites never will. But don’t pat yourself on the back for too long; now your challenge becomes ensuring that the advertiser has a good experience on your site.

Signing “one-and-done” advertisers who agree to run one campaign but never renew is a tough way to build a business. The real value comes in developing relationships with advertisers who will spend repeatedly on your site. In other words, the real “win” comes when an advertiser signs up for their second campaign. The success of an advertiser on your site depends primarily on factors that you can’t really control once a campaign is live, such as the “fit” of your audience for their messaging and the agreed upon rates. But there are some smaller tweaks that you can make to ensure that you are delivering value to the advertiser.

Tip #1: Frequency Caps

Many ad platforms allow publishers to restrict the frequency with which a specific ad is shown. This practice can improve performance because it limits the number of ad impressions that will be used on a visitor who may not be the ideal target or may not be receptive to the particular messaging. For example, a 2x daily frequency cap could be placed on an ad. Once a visitor has been shown the ad twice, he/she won’t see it again until at least the next day. Of course, you’ll want to confirm that placing any frequency caps on an ad won’t keep it from delivering in full.

Tip #2: Site-Level Targeting

In many cases, you’ll be able to improve the performance of a campaign by focusing ads on the most relevant parts of your site. For example, suppose you run a sports blog, and a retailer of football jerseys has signed on to run a campaign. Instead of running the ads throughout your site, you would likely see better performance if you serve them only on pages and articles about football. This is essentially “hyper targeting” their campaign to the sub-section of your audience that is most likely to be interested in their product.

Of course, this type of targeting will likely require some additional work; it’s not an out-of-the-box capability offered by most ad servers. But it’s definitely doable, and instructions detailing how to set it up are relatively easy to find.

Tip #3: Geo-Targeting

It’s possible within many ad serving platforms (including DFP) to activate geo targeting that serves your ads to certain countries, states, or even cities. In some cases, this may make it possible to focus advertiser impressions on the most relevant visitors. To continue the example from above, suppose that the advertiser is running creative showing New England Patriots jerseys.

If you have the available ad inventory, you’ll likely see a jump in performance if you serve those ads exclusively to visitors coming from Massachusetts (and perhaps the surrounding states). Geo targeting is available in DFP without any modifications required, and many other ad serving platforms offer it as well.

Tip #4: Time Targeting

For example, suppose you’re running a campaign for an advertiser looking to promote a business-to-business product. Visitors to your site might be more open to the messaging when they’re at work than when they’re off the clock. It’s possible that ads served during normal business hours–say, 9 to 5 Monday through Friday–would get higher click rates than the exact same ads shown on the weekend. Targeting certain times is a simple process within DFP, and can be done in other platforms as well .

Tip #5: Freebies

The goal of direct advertising relationships obviously isn’t to give away ad impressions for free. But in some cases, offering up some bonus inventory as part of an ongoing campaign can make your site look even more attractive and build goodwill with advertisers. Giving away low value impressions can be a good way to improve performance without diluting the value of your inventory too much.

Bottom Line

Once an advertising contract is signed and a campaign is running, the focus swings to client satisfaction and retention. If you’re just starting off with getting some direct advertising relationships up and running, it’s OK to spend some of your time doing things that don’t scale. With a bit of extra attention and thought to your advertisers’ messaging and objectives, you may be able to improve performance significantly and increase the likelihood of renewals and long-term relationships.

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6 Programs Web Sites Can Use to Serve Ads

For websites that make a significant portion of earnings from display ads, the choice of an ad platform can be a very important one. Ad platforms generally handle the entire process of serving display advertisements on a site, including the loading of individual ads and reporting on performance. So you’ll obviously want an ad platform that, among other things, is easy to use, provides flexibility for both direct campaigns and remnant monetization, delivers fast ad loads, and doesn’t have “hiccups” that can cause you to miss out out on revenue. There are a number of ad platforms out there, including both free and paid options. Click here for brief overviews of six popular options, along with some links to more in-depth reviews.


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  • MonetizePros says:

    Thank you for stopping by Sharad. Glad you found this useful.

  • Sharad Gupta says:

    Nice tutorial about ad serving ..

    The fruits of blogging only comes through the best performance of the ads .

  • MonetizePros says:

    Cheers Andrew. Thanks for reading!

  • MonetizePros says:

    No problem Anna!

  • Andrew H says:

    Another smash. Looking forward to the next guide guys.


  • Anna says:

    Thanks for the tips!

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