It’s true that the Internet is often oriented around short attention spans: short videos, short articles, and short answers. And for those quick-hit sort of pages, it makes sense to be only served a single set of ad impressions. But if a page is a longer read (like an in-depth article or extended listicle), or is shorter but likely to be left open for a long time (like a recipe or other instructions that a user might keep open in a tab for quite a while), the original ads might swap out for a new batch after a while.
This process of cycling out ads after a requisite amount of time is known as “ad refresh,” and depending on your site, it might be a great way to optimize your monetization.
What is Ad Refresh?
Ad Refresh is a technique that allows publishers to increase the number of ad impressions served per pageview, by reloading ads for active users on-site after at least 30 seconds they were on the screen. Refreshing ad inventory enables publishers to update ad content without having to refresh the entire webpage.
What are the benefits of Ad Refresh?
Refreshing ad units is a surefire way to increase the size of your ad inventory. More impressions usually mean more money, so setting a unit to refresh offers an enticing opportunity to do that without adding more units to a page. Also, if any ads didn’t perform, e.g. via driving clicks, new ads might be more relevant to the user. Therefore, the main benefit of Ad Refresh is the potential to increase ad revenue by increasing impressions or clicks without increasing traffic or load time.
Are there any drawbacks of Ad Refresh?
As with most things related to ad monetization, the reality of Ad Refresh is a little more complex than simply switching it on and earning more revenue. Refreshing ad units can increase revenue, but it can also have the opposite effect – or even get you banned if you do it wrong.
Policy varies between AdSense and AdX when it comes to ad refresh: the short version is that AdSense is mostly against it, while AdX allows it as long as you declare it. Let’s look at both cases in more detail:
Refreshing AdSense ads
Generally, the rule here is “don’t refresh.” The exception is when the ad refresh is user-initiated. This means that you can load a new ad into a unit when the user interacts with the page, but can’t reload based just on elapsed time.
An example of a valid refresh would be triggering a new ad request as the user clicks through a slideshow. If that slideshow was automatic (requiring no user interaction) then the refresh wouldn’t be allowed. This is one reason why publishers opt for Ad Exchange over AdSense – read on.
The wording of some articles on the Google Ad Manager Help pages often confuses publishers on this issue, but AdSense policy is quite clear:
“Publishers are not permitted to refresh a page or an element of a page without the user requesting a refresh.”
Refreshing Google Ad Manager Ad Exchange ads
The Google Ad Manager Ad Exchange (AdX) provides more flexibility through the rules system. With AdX you can automatically reload or refresh ad units, as long as you declare that this is what you do. This declaration allows buyers to choose whether or not to have their ads appear in refreshing ad units. Failing to declare which portions of your inventory will auto-refresh is a violation of Google policy.
How to declare ad inventory that refreshes on Ad Exchange
The declaration can be made in by navigating to INVENTORY > AD EXCHANGE RULES > PUBLISHER DECLARATIONS then adding a “new display publisher declaration” to identify your refreshing inventory.
The declaration asks you to identify what triggers a refresh:
- User behavior: Ads only change based on a user-initiated navigation. There is no minimum refresh interval for ads triggered in this way. This method might apply to single-page applications that allow the user to navigate without loading a new URL.
- Event-driven content changes: Ads are refreshed based on custom events pre-defined by the publisher. Such triggers can only be used to refresh ads after a minimum of 30 seconds. For example, when a publisher refreshes a page with new content, this may trigger the ad to refresh.
- Time intervals: The ad refreshes based solely on elapsed time. There must be a minimum of 30 seconds between refreshes. For example, ads might refresh after 120 seconds have passed.
Greater flexibility in ad implementation is just one of the advantages that Ad Exchange offers. Click here to learn more about Ad Exchange and how you could benefit from switching to AdX on your website.
Having your ad unit refresh is not guaranteed to increase revenue, even in the short term. Some factors worth considering include:
- Some advertisers will not bid: Declaring refreshing units will discourage some advertisers from bidding on them. This could reduce impression CPM.
- Overall viewability and CTR may be negatively affected: Particularly in cases of ad refreshing based on time intervals rather than user interaction. This is because viewability can be negatively impacted, as refresh triggers do not always take into account whether the ad unit is inside the user’s viewport. If ads are outside the user’s viewport but are refreshed anyway, this worsens viewability and makes inventory less valuable.
- Bids could be reduced: Impressions on refreshing units may be less effective for some advertisers, and bids could be reduced as a result of performance even when auto-refreshing ads are acceptable to them. This can result in lower impression CPMs.
- Focus on increasing volume: Ad Refresh aims to offset the potential dip in bids by increasing volume. When implementing Ad Refresh, it is best to focus on the value of the page views and how much a user is worth. This involves looking at both Page RPM and Session RPM, as opposed to Impression RPM.
- CPC ads are likely to perform worse: Each unit can only get clicked once, so publishers with a large proportion of CPC bidders may see little benefit from refreshing ads, or even a reduced yield if the highest-winner bidder’s ads go unseen.
- How long are users spending on a page: If few users are spending 30 seconds or more on a page, then the results from auto-refreshing will be minimal — some of the detriments of the above points still may apply (discouraging bidders, for example) but the benefits won’t materialize as users aren’t staying on-page long enough to experience a refresh.
User experience considerations
Ad Refresh doesn’t slow down the initial page load, but it does consume additional data when ads are refreshed. Refreshing ads means loading more creatives; however, this load does not stand between the user and the content.
Sites with significant mobile usage (particularly users accessing outside of Wi-Fi), those that already have heavy pages, and those whose users are likely to have slow connections will be most impacted by load time. The types of ads you accept should also be considered, as the load from a refreshing text unit vs a refreshing rich media unit can differ greatly.
How to refresh ad units
All of that considered, auto-refreshing units is a viable approach for many and something that we encourage publishers to test. The easiest way to implement it is to use the mechanism built into Google Ad Manager (click here for instructions).
It requires the use of asynchronous GPT tags – this allows you to set a custom refresh period in milliseconds, so be sure to stick to the minimums outlined above.
At this point, it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons that we’ve outlined to decide whether Ad Refresh is worth a try on your page. If you’ve got the sort of content that lends itself to long session times, then you’ve got a fairly compelling case to give it a go (provided you do it properly).
As with many of these sorts of implementations, you’ll want to watch your numbers closely before and after the changes, to see whether they’re working out for you — keeping in mind that if they aren’t yielding the results you want, you can always change back. You can also implement additional strategies to lower bounce rates and increase session times, which could further optimize your site for this sort of strategy.
If you’d like more tips and tricks for monetizing your site, you can read up on our blog. And if you’re looking to connect with a partner who can revitalize your monetization — or if you’re curious about CTV monetization, Full Ad Management, or optimizing your ad bid structure, contact us today.