What does Remnant Inventory mean?

This term is relevant primarily to sites that monetize their traffic by selling display ad inventory directly to advertisers. Remnant inventory refers to any ad units that have not been purchased by an advertiser, and this must be accounted for using another strategy (more on this below).

Ideally, a site will sell every one of its available ad impressions directly to advertisers at premium CPMs. More likely, however, is that a portion of expected ad impressions will go unsold.

For example, assume a publisher is expected to generate 5,000,000 pageviews during the upcoming month (let’s further assume there is one 728×90 leaderboard ad unit on every page). If the publisher has sold 4,000,000 of those leaderboard ad impressions to advertisers, they will have 1,000,000 remnant ad impressions that must be monetized in other ways.

Options for Remnant Inventory

There are four primary options for monetizing remnant ad inventory:

  1. Serve nothing in place where ads normally appear
  2. Run a “house ad” promoting other parts of the site or related products and services
  3. Run CPA-based affiliate marketing banners
  4. Run CPC-based ads from ad networks

The first option is obviously less-than-ideal; it means that the publisher is wasting what could have been a very valuable ad impression. The other three options each have the potential to result in revenue for the publisher.

House ads are essentially ads that are promoting another stream of revenue for the publishers. Below is an example of a house ad on ESPN:

Example of a House Ad on ESPN

Without a direct-sold ad available to fill that position, the publisher instead elected to serve an ad promoting a show airing on the company’s TV station. This doens’t generate any revenue for ESPN, but can still benefit the overall company by increasing awareness of another of its products.

Options #3 (CPA-based affiliate banner ads) and #4 (CPC-based ad networks) above will likely not generate nearly as much revenue as a CPM campaign. Under both arrangements, the vast majority of ad impressions (those that aren’t clicked) are worthless. However, these remnant monetization techniques will ensure that the publisher gets at least some revenue from the ads that aren’t directly sold.

Most publishers dealing with remnant ad impressions have the goal of eliminating remnant entirely.

Remnant Strategies

Using networks can lead to some complexities when attempting to sell ads directly. Specifically, advertisers may be able to get their ads on your site without buying from your sales team. If they are also running campaigns with the network you’re using to monetize remnant inventory, they may effectively circumvent your sales team and hurt your direct sales efforts.

Most ad networks will let you block specific advertisers. This feature was designed to allow publishers to prevent low quality of competitive ads from appearing on their sites, but it can be used to force advertisers to buy directly as well.

Below is a screenshot of the AdSense dashboard that lets publishers block certain advertisers:

How to Block an Advertiser URL in AdSense

Remnant upside

When you buy remnant space or inventory, you’re getting drastically discounted prices. This low cost also means that companies with a small advertising budget can get access to media that would usually be well out of their league.

Remnant downside

The biggest downside is the choice, you have none. Space or inventory purchased at the last minute and you have say in where or when the ad runs. 

You also have to have ads ready to go at a moment’s notice. This means you need a creative department, production department, and account service department on call to jump on any last-minute request


What does Remnant inventory mean?

Remnant inventory refers to any ad units that have not been purchase by an advertiser, and that is sold at discounted wholesale prices

Why is the Remnant inventory available?

Remnant inventory is typically available because it does not sell, or last-minute cancelation, or in periods of advertising industry softness or times when not everything is going to sell 

Why are advertisers looking for remnant inventory?

Advertisers purchase remnant inventory from huge networks for use in CPC, CPA, or CPM marketing programs. Even though premium inventory is regarded, remnant inventory is not inferior in any way.