How to Get Better CPMs: Display Ad Case Study

We’ve written quite a bit over the past several months about effective display advertising strategies. Today, we’re looking at some real-life examples of these strategies in action by examining a page on eHow.com. Note that the site’s home page is completely devoid of ads; there’s no attempt to monetize whatsoever. The primary goal of that page is to get visitors to one of the article pages, which are monetized much more effectively.

Below is an annotated screenshot of an article page, to which I’ve added several notes. After that is a discussion of some of the noteworthy elements of this effective display advertising campaign.

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eHow Tutorial

Item #1: Custom Search

This site is utilizing a custom search engine powered by Google. Whenever a query is entered into the site’s search engine, it returns a results page that’s full of AdSense ads.

Below the sponsored links are links to other eHow articles shown, but the entire above-the-fold real estate consists of ads:

Flag Search

This search results page likely sees eRPMs north of $10, an impressive number for such a generic site. Though the traffic is likely relatively low–only a fraction of visitors to the site will use the search function–the ads are extremely targeted and relevant.

Item #2: Sub-Nav Leaderboard

Near the top of the page are some traditional display ad units, including a 728×90 leaderboard. This ad unit has wisely been positioned below the nav bar instead of at the very top of the page. That position keeps the leaderboard in view of visitors longer, which improves visibility and click rates. Here’s an example of a leaderboard positioned too high up, where it leaves visitors’ screens as soon as they begin scrolling:

About Leaderboard

The leaderboard on About.com is too high; it will be out of view as soon as the reader begins to scroll through the article. By deciding to put the leaderboard below the nav, eHow likely increased click rates by close to 50%.

Item #3: Dynamic Rectangle Ad

The rectangle ad served in the right rail looks fairly standard, but there’s a bit more to this ad unit than meets the eye. The screenshot above shows a 300×600 large rectangle, but this page is set up so that 300×250 medium rectangle ad units can also run in the same placement.

This dynamic setup is ideal because it expands the universe of potential ads that can run in this position and allows for the very effective large rectangle to be included there.

This thread at the official Google forums will explain everything needed to run ads in this way.

Item #4: Custom Link Units

The right rail also features a section of custom link units that lead to a landing page filled with relevant ads for the visitor. In this case, eHow has set up a branded landing page that consists entirely of ads leading to third party sites. Here’s what you’ll see when clicking one of those link units:

Flag

These link units are effective because they are styled to look exactly like the natural links on the page that take visitors to other articles. Though there is a header clearly identifying the links as “Related Ads,” they don’t look like traditional text-based ad units.

It should be noted that these options aren’t available to all publishers; this implementation was likely put in place through a collaboration of a team from the ad network and the publisher.

Item #5: In-Content Text Ads

Further down the page visitors encounter a text-based ad that is inserted between two paragraphs. This is a great example of injecting ad units into high visibility areas of a site; even the most “banner blind” of visitors is likely to glance at this ad. In general, the greater the percentage of visitors that sees an ad the greater the number of clicks that will be generated. For sites running CPC ads through ad networks such as AdSense, that means higher revenue.

Item #6: Large In-Content Text Ads

Near the bottom of the article is another, larger section of text-based ads within the content of the article. These ads are styled to blend in with the natural content around them, which helps to boost the click rate. Though these ads are far down the page, they likely see very good click rates:

Large In Content Ads

Again, the custom styling here that helps to blend the ads with the surrounding content is a perk that is only available for the larger partners of an ad network.

Additional Suggestions

Overall, the display ad strategies that are in place on the highlighted page are excellent. The overall click rate is likely far above the average thanks to the positioning and styling of the units used.

There are, however, a couple specific suggestions that would improve performance even further:

Improvement #1: Floating Rectangle Ad

The dynamic rectangle and link units in the right rail are very effective, but they are only visible for a small portion of the time spent on this page. Once visitors have scrolled past this section of the page, the ads are no longer visible. On this very long page, there are no ads present for much of the reading experience.

Allowing these ad units to scroll with visitors would increase their visibility significantly and could have a meaningful impact on the performance. This ad implementation idea is covered in depth in this tutorial.

Improvement #2: Additional Bottom-of-Page Ads

The second change we would suggest involves placing some additional banner ads and link units at the very bottom of the page. Currently, there is very little after the end of the article. Though most visitors to article pages likely read only a portion of the content and don’t make it all the way to the end, those that do are generally very receptive to relevant ads or text links that promise additional information.

A few ideas for the very bottom of these pages include:

  • Sponsored Content widget powered by Outbrain or Taboola
  • Additional set of horizontal link units (perhaps the 728×15 unit available through AdSense)
  • Standard 728×90 leaderboard

Bottom Line

The best ideas for ways to improve monetization come from keeping an eye out for effective techniques in action on other sites. Generic properties that cover a wide range of topics can be a great source of inspiration, as they generally monetize almost exclusively through display advertising and rely on generating very high click rates on their ads.

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