How to Optimize Display Ads to Boost Site Profitability

Venatus' guide to optimizing online display advertisements to boost profitability for web publishers.

Written by
May 13, 2024

Display ads are perhaps the most straightforward way for publishers to add a source of monetization to their web-pages, by allowing advertisers to occupy a designated area of display real-estate on their site, in exchange for advertising spend (CPM). Display ads are available in multiple standardized sizes and are typically sold to the highest bidding advertiser via online auctions, which take place as a user requests to load a specific web-page. 

Although display banners often demand the lowest selling price compared to more interactive and customisable ad-formats, publishers can take advantage of key optimizations, such as positioning, header-bidding and ad-block recovery in order to maximize their earnings from display ads. 

Avoid Ad-Clutter

Whilst it might seem logical to increase display ad revenue by placing as many display ad-units on a page as possible, this can actually be counterintuitive for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, excessive ad-clutter contributes to a poor user-experience and unattractive design, which can massively increase bounce rates as users will often choose a better looking alternative if available. Secondly, search engines typically scan for the frequency, density and viewability of ads on a given web-page when crawling and indexing them for future reference. Sites with excessive ad-clutter are often penalized for doing so, leading to lower search rankings and thereby reducing the volume of web traffic from search engines. 

User experience should always be the most important factor when considering page design, as users won’t put up with poor web-design with so many alternate options just a click away. Display ads should not be placed too close to site content to remain distinguishable and shouldn’t take up more than 50% of the total page. In addition, ads should fit entirely on display, regardless of a user’s screen size and not overlap with site content or other ads. 

Optimize Ad-Unit Positioning to Increase Viewability

The term above-the-fold is taken from print media to describe the area above the crease on a newspaper, however online, this refers to all content on a web-page above the bottom of a user’s screen, prior to scrolling down. Display ads are measured in terms of their viewability, or the percentage of the ad which falls within the viewable area of a user's screen; for example, Google only counts impressions for ads where 50%+ of its total area is viewable for at least one second. Good viewability across ad-units can increase total impressions counted, as well as click-through rates for campaigns, thereby increasing profitability. 

Above-the-fold ads have considerably higher viewability due to the fact they are usually over 50% in-view, by appearing on the first load of a webpage prior to scrolling down. Additionally, tall MPU ad-units typically perform better in terms of viewability, by remaining on screen for a longer period of time. In-article placements can also be a great way of grabbing attention, by placing ads during natural breaks within written content. Publishers can experiment with ad-unit positioning whilst monitoring viewability, in order to best optimize their site layout to increase ad revenue, although user experience should always remain the top priority. 

Optimize Ad-Unit Sizes

Larger display ads typically demand a higher CPM, as they take up a larger portion of the total web-page. In this regard, publishers can boost revenue by selecting an optimum mix of banner sizes to host on their web-pages. For example, publishers could place a 970x250 (billboard) display ad at the top of their web-page, ensuring high-viewability and higher CPMs compared to standard banner sizes. 

However, a user’s device size must also be considered, as out-of-view display ads will reduce viewability and profitability, for example large banners may not fit properly on mobile devices, leading to uncounted impressions. As roughly 58% of all web traffic comes from mobile devices and average CTRs and CPMs are higher across mobile devices, providing a well optimized mobile experience is crucial to increasing overall ad-revenue. Publishers should take advantage of responsive web design to select suitable banner sizes depending on a user’s device, whether that’s a desktop, tablet or mobile device.

A/B Testing

A/B testing refers to the comparison of two different options pitted against each other to determine the most effective one. For example, an advertiser may run two different creatives across their ad-campaign, before comparing the performance of each and subsequently opting for the best performing one moving forward. A/B testing can be applied to many different situations, for example publishers could A/B test the performance of ad-units when placed in different areas of a webpage. Overall, this can greatly increase ad-performance and overall profitability for publishers. 

Header Bidding, Ad-Networks and CPM Floors

Header bidding is a software process embedded into web-pages, allowing multiple advertisers to bid for a given ad-unit in real time, meaning ad-units are always sold to the highest possible bidder. By increasing advertiser demand for a single ad-unit, publishers can benefit from increased profitability by increasing CPMs paid by advertisers.

When starting off, a publisher’s choice of ad-network will have a big impact on revenue and profitability. Google’s AdSense platform is one of the most popular ad-networks for fledgling publishers, boasting a massive volume of advertisers and simple tools to get started with display-ad monetization. However, Google’s Ad Exchange is just one of many supply-side platforms (SSPs), meaning publishers who partner solely with Google are omitting a large amount of advertiser demand from other SSPs across the web. 

Venatus’ proprietary header-bidding technology connects publishers with Google’s Ad Exchange, but also the world’s largest SSPs outside of Google, thereby boosting ad-revenue by serving only the highest bidding advertisers across the web. 

Lastly, publishers can set a CPM floor price, or the lowest accepted price to advertise on a given ad-unit, to ensure ad-impressions are not served too inexpensively. For example, if a CPM floor of $3 is set, that means the publisher should generate at least $3 for every 1,000 impressions served. If the CPM floor price isn’t met, the ad-unit may go unfilled or fall back to a different ad-network. 

Counter Ad-Block Plugins

Ad-blockers are web-browser plugins which remove advertising content from web-pages. They work by scanning the domain names of all elements loading on a web-page and comparing these against their blocklist of potential advertising domains; if the domains match up, the ad-blocker will prevent the ad from loading. 

With roughly 25.8% of internet users using ad-blocking software, ad-blockers can significantly impact profitability for web publishers, as well as impacting analytics and user experience. However, there are a few steps publishers can take to limit the impact of ad-blockers on site revenue, also known as ad-block recovery.

Firstly, it’s important publishers adhere to ethical advertising practices, meaning they aren’t overloading their pages with intrusive ads, which may provoke users to enable ad-blocking software. Ads should always be distinguishable from site content, non-overlapping and unintrusive, to ensure user experience isn’t compromised. Certain ad-blocking plugins automatically allow ‘acceptable ads’, so keeping in line with these policies can limit the impact of ad-blockers on overall profitability. 

Secondly, publishers can take advantage of ad-block detectors, or plugins which embed into web pages to recognise when users are using ad-blocking software. After detecting ad-blocking plugins, publishers can display a message requesting users to whitelist (or allow ads on) the site or alternatively lock the entire website to those who have ad-blockers enabled. 

In Summary...

Display ads are a great way for publishers to initially introduce ad-revenue to their website and fund future growth, however the effective optimization of display ad implementation can take this to the next level. 

If you’d like to learn more about implementing display and high-impact ad formats to boost ad-revenue across your web inventory, get in touch with a member of the team at: