The 970×90 Banner Ad Unit: Everything You Need to Know

Anyone who monetizes a website through display advertising has long been familiar with the “standard” ad units that are the most common venues for ads online. For a long time, the bulk of online ads have been served in just a handful of sizes, including a 728×90 leaderboard and a 300×250 medium rectangle (and, to a lesser extend, a 160×600 skyscraper and 180×150 rectangle).

The dominance of those units in the display advertising landscape isn’t likely to disappear any time soon, but there are some new products coming onto the scene. Google AdSense has introduced and promoted a 300×600 large rectangle, and advertisers have generally embraced the new size as an opportunity to convey lengthier and more effective messaging in their ads. The 300×600 large rectangle is now included in the IAB’s “Rising Stars” package, indicating how popular it has become.

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970×90: Breakthrough or Bust?

The 970×90 super leaderboard is another new ad unit that AdSense has developed and rolled out recently. While it’s also included as part of the Rising Stars platform, it is not nearly as well known as the large rectangle. As the dimensions and name suggest, this super leaderboard is basically an expanded version of the traditional leaderboard; it’s about 33% wider than the standard leaderboard, giving advertisers significantly more room to create an effective call to action. (Click below to see the full size.)


Below is an example of this larger leaderboard in action. Note that this ad unit can be used as an expandable placement that opens down within the page to reveal a high impact placement:


Here’s another example of the 970×90 unit in action, this time featuring a Radio Shack ad:


Here’s one final example of this ad unit in action, this time featuring creative from Nike:

Nike 970x90

There are reasons to be excited about the opportunities introduced by this new ad unit. For starters, it’s obviously larger than the existing leaderboard. The 300×600 has proved to deliver higher interaction rates relative to the smaller 300×250, so it can be expected that the new larger leaderboard should deliver higher click rates than it’s ancestor 728×90.

In addition to the larger size, the uniqueness of this ad unit may increase its effectiveness, at least in the near term. Because we’re so used to seeing a 728×90 leaderboard on the websites we visit–but not accustomed at all to a wider 970×90 banner–the new ad unit may pop out and help to overcome banner blindness among visitors. That would presumably also contribute to higher engagement rates, click rates, and earnings.

Of course, under this theory the success of an ad unit would ultimately render it less effective; as we become more accustomed to the 970×90, it would fail to stand out from the content as much and click rates would presumably decline.

How to Implement a 970×90 Banner

The easiest way to get a 970×90 ad unit on your site is to replace an existing 728×90. For some sites, there is no design work required; serving a 970×90 involves transforming empty white space into part of a larger ad unit. But not all site designs can handle a super leaderboard; if you’re currently using a 728×90, you need to have about 242 pixels of empty space surrounding it horizontally into which it could expand.

Here’s an example of a site where implementation of a 970×90 would require a bit of a reorganization; there’s simply no room to expand the existing 728×90:


The super leaderboard is created and implemented in the same way any other AdSense unit would be; when you go into your dashboard and create a new ad, you’ll see the 970×90 included in the dropdown list of options. From there, you’ll get the code and insert it into your site’s HTML just as you would with other ad unit.

One important note about the implementation process: when setting up your site to accommodate a 970×90, you’ll want to use a design that will be appealing if a 728×90 appears centered in the ad unit instead of a 970×90 (more on this below).

What To Expect

Though it’s been out for quite a while, advertisers have been very slow to embrace the 970×90 leaderboard; only a small percentage are producing creative files in this size. (Although, as shown in the examples above, some major brands have started to produce this ad unit for their marketing efforts.) That means that Google has a relatively small pool of ads in this size from which to choose when trying to fill your inventory. As a result, it may be difficult for the algorithm powering AdSense to find a 970×90 that will deliver higher earnings than the 728×90, despite the advantage that novelty brings.

To understand why this may be the case, think of a simplified example. Let’s assume that there are 1 million 728×90 ads in the AdSense pool but only 1,000 970x90s because most advertisers don’t make their ads in this size. Even if the 970×90 has some advantages, it’s very possible that the relatively shallow pool produces ads that can’t compete with some of the more effective 728x90s. A relevant 728×90 may still perform better than a non-relevant 970×90.

The more targeted your site’s content, the more likely this is to occur. If none of the advertisers who normally appear in the 728×90 spot on your site are producing 970×90 ads, you may see less relevant ads in this position as AdSense “digs deep” to try to find 970×90 ads that will perform well in this size.

If it’s unable to pair you up with a 970×90 ad that performs better than the 728x90s that normally appear, you’ll probably see the good old 728x90s continuing to appear. In other words, a 970×90 ad unit will be most effective when relevant advertisers have developed and are using this size. Unfortunately, for most sites this won’t be the case.

If you’re active and tweaking and optimizing your display ad settings, you should definitely try out the 970×90 super leaderboard in place of an existing unit. But temper your expectations; given the scarcity of compelling, effective ad units in this size, it’s very unlikely that you will see a meaningful uptick in performance and earnings. 

Bottom Line

The 970×90 is definitely a positive development for webmasters who are monetizing their traffic through display advertising. But with this ad unit still in its infancy, it is not yet as effective as it may eventually become.

It’s important to note that there is little to lose by experimenting with a 970×90 ad unit. If your ad network is unable to serve up ads that beat the baseline 728×90, it will revert to serving the more common ad units (centered in the 970×90 space, with 121 pixels of empty space on either side).

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