A rate card is essentially the menu of ad options available on a site. This document contains the cost, either on a flat fee or CPM basis, for the various ad units that advertisers may buy on a site.
This document is only relevant for publishers who are selling part of their ad inventory directly to advertisers. If you are using a network such as AdSense to monetize your display ad inventory, a rate card won’t be necessary. Ad networks are monetized primarily on a CPC basis, so there is no need to quote rates for inventory.
Below is an example of a rate card included in the 2013 media kit for PopSci.com (the online home of Popular Science):
As shown above, a rate card can be a fairly basic document; for each available ad unit, it can include just the dimensions and the price. In the rate card above, most line items are shown on a CPM basis but some are priced on a flat fee (specifically, the e-newsletter and sponsored posts).
Other rate cards may include additional technical information or noteworthy restrictions on the ad units, such as:
Typically, advanced technical specifications for ad units would be provided via a separate document known as a spec sheet. However, some publishers may also include relevant data on the rate card.
Once a rate card has been created, publishers need to know what to do with it.
Different publishers take different approaches on this topic. Generally, rate cards are not included in a media kit and are not made publicly available (a media kit is generally easy to find and download). However, there are obviously some exceptions (the screenshot above is a page out of a larger media kit that was available for download).
Many publishers will provide a rate card to advertisers upon request. There are a few advantages to this strategy:
Generally, we suggest keeping a rate card private unless an interested advertiser asks for it.