The proportion of users accessing websites through mobile devices has been climbing steadily since WAP was (thankfully) abandoned and web-enabled phones became the norm. The tipping point of mobile traffic outweighing desktop has been reached in most regions, and more publishers now find themselves running mobile-first websites and facing the challenges this brings.
Key amongst those challenges is how best to monetize that mobile traffic. Ad monetization is undoubtedly more difficult on mobile, where real-estate and attention are both in short supply. As a result, many publishers make simple mistakes that seriously limit their website’s mobile revenue potential.
We’ve compiled some common mobile ad monetization mistakes we see and offered some solutions to help you maximize your revenue in an increasingly mobile world.
Mistake 1: Blaming Mobile CPMs
When the shift to mobile began, the ad eco-system was slow to respond. As a result, CPMs were initially much lower on mobile than publishers were accustomed to seeing on desktop. However, times have changed.
Advertisers now know that mobile is where their audience is and where they are transacting. Consumers are now not only comfortable making purchases online but often prefer mobile. Consequently, ad revenue has followed.
As far back as 2015, the industry was reporting that mobile CPMs had overtaken desktops. Yet it is still common to hear publishers blame mobile CPMs for poor mobile earnings when this can often mask issues that are more addressable.
- Be informed: Check CPMs by device type.
- Take time to understand the real causes of mobile page RPM differences across devices for your website, paying attention to how users interact differently on different devices.
Mistake 2: Slow Mobile Pages
Speed is increasingly important in all aspects of the web but is critically so on mobile devices. Research by Google shows that a delay of just one second can impact conversion rates by up to 20%. Whilst this research focused on e-commerce, it does highlight how sensitive users are to any delay on mobile.
Programmatic advertising is never as fast as site owners would like it to be. It’s a complex process to offer an impression to thousands of potential buyers and collate bids, so we have to be acutely aware of anything that slows this process down further.
The same Google research found that more than half of mobile users will leave a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load and that pages that load in under 5 seconds boast 25% higher ad viewability, 70% longer average sessions, and a 35% lower bounce rate, all metrics that help support higher ad revenues.
- Test on real devices, not just mobile emulation.
- Use tools like Web Page Test to understand how your website performs to users on different connection types.
- Hold your 3rd party scripts to high standards. Weigh the advantage of every script on page vs the cost of lost revenue through slower pages.
Mistake 3: Not Testing Mobile First
Because we tend to use our desktops when we build and test websites, it is natural that we test there first. Sometimes we’ll remember to use Chrome’s mobile emulator for some last-minute testing, or maybe take a quick look at your mobile phone. Invariably though, we do far less mobile testing when compared to the proportion of mobile traffic we have.
If the majority of our traffic is mobile, then we should be building and testing sites with mobile at the forefront of our minds. I have seen errors as extreme as all ads being hidden on mobile devices going unnoticed, but more frequently it is poor mobile positioning.
Mobile testing has specific challenges too. Different devices and device sizes can render pages quite differently at times.
- Sites that are at or approaching mobile dominance should be designed and tested with mobile-first in mind.
- Real device testing is important. Emulators are not all that accurate. Call upon your team, friends, and family to help you test in a real setting.
- Test on devices that match those that your users use. Remember to look at connection speeds, too.
Mistake 4: Unseen Leaderboards
Leaderboard ads, at the very top of pages, were traditionally seen as premium placements and were highly sought after by advertisers. Leaderboard positions are still in high demand for direct campaigns, but often have significantly less value when traded programmatically, particularly so on mobile devices.
The problem with leaderboards is that users have become accustomed to websites having no real content at the very top of a page. Users landing on a page for content are not immediately interested in ads and navigation, so they’ve trained themselves to scroll slightly as the page loads.
This behavior is more evident on mobile where our fingers are usually already in place for the little touch that sends the leaderboard and menus out of view to make more room for content. Even if the ad does load before the user scrolls away, it will often not stay on-screen for long enough to register as a viewable impression.
- GAM Ad Speed reports will show you how many impressions this impacts. The example above groups by device type to demonstrate the issue on mobile. This can also be grouped by ad unit so that you can target the most affected units.
- Slow ad serving will increase the impact of this effect.
Mistake 5: Collapsing Sidebars
Sidebar / Side Rails are a common layout feature and provide a convenient place to site 300×250 and 300×600 units on the desktop. Although sidebar placements don’t tend to attract many clicks, they can still be valuable thanks to their high viewability, particularly if the ad sticks in view as the user scrolls down longer pages.
Sidebars simply don’t work in the limited-width space of a mobile screen though. The standard approaches to a responsive sidebar layout are to either hide the sidebar completely on mobile devices or to shift the sidebar under the main content. Both approaches present challenges to monetization efforts.
Hiding the sidebar completely can cause two problems. Firstly, with those ads not getting seen, we cannot expect to earn from them. Secondly, if we hide the ad (as opposed to not calling it) it may harm our viewability or even trigger ad fraud detection. Both outcomes could result in our desktop revenue being impacted as well as mobile.
Moving the sidebar beneath the main content is preferable in many ways, but presents its own issues. Users are unlikely to scroll past the end of the content and continue scrolling to find ads. This not only means no click or viewable impression to generate revenue but can drag down the perceived quality of your inventory and impact revenue across all platforms.
- Consider whether a sidebar is the best approach. If the majority of traffic is mobile, it might be time to ditch it.
- If you do hide areas on mobile devices, try not to call the ad units in there. Use responsive ads, or use size mapping to set them to 0 sizes.
- If you move units significantly between device types, try to serve different units. This will help preserve the value of your better inventory.
- Where possible, add mobile-specific units in places where they will perform.
Mistake 6: Not Embracing Mobile-First Formats
The web experiences of desktop and mobile are significantly different, yet we still rely on legacy desktop formats for most of our mobile ad monetization. It’s hard to point the finger at publishers for this as inventory has to reflect what advertisers are buying, which means familiar banner and video products.
There are ways to deliver those creatives more effectively on mobile, though. Mobile interstitials are one. Thanks to early substandard versions, interstitials have a bad rep, and many publishers are understandably hesitant about using them. But there is little denying that they work; with close to 100% viewability and a hard-to-ignore format, they command a premium price. “Between page” formats soften the user experience hit and prevent bounces, making them much more palatable. Google-powered interstitials are also heavily frequency capped, which is an approach that could be added to other solutions too.
Anchor / Adhesion / Catfish units are another effective way to use common formats in a better way on mobile. These are so common on mobile devices now that they no longer have the negative user experience impact that they once did. Highly viewable and great for smart-refresh, a good adhesion product can often outperform the sum of other mobile display ads on a page. Those still worried about user experience can add close buttons, add “close for session” options, and rate limits their appearance to hit the right balance for their site.
Do This One Thing Today
In summary, mobile earnings don’t have to worry. You just need to think outside the desktop-first box. If this guide has encouraged you to look more closely at your mobile revenue, then the one step I would encourage you to do today is to complete a mini-audit of your mobile ad performance.
Check each of the metrics below and compare them on desktop and mobile to get an accurate picture of how your mobile set-up is currently performing and where you need to focus to increase your mobile ad revenue.
How do your mobile and desktop experiences compare on:
- Average pages per session
- Core Web Vitals
- Active View Viewable %
- Ad impressions per page load
- Request CPM by ad unit
- Overall page RPM