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Considering Ad Refresh? Here’s what you need to know

July 15, 2020 | By Vishveshwar Jatain, Marketing Manager – AdPushup @eclecticv

With challenges like ad blocking, tightening privacy regulations, and third-party cookie blocking, the past few years have been rough for digital publishers. Pressure to create incremental revenue streams and optimize existing revenue may be one reason for the revival of ad refresh. The ability to refresh ads on a page has been around for a while. But it has yet to achieve its full potential in helping publishers increase revenues.

Ad refresh is a technique that allows publishers to increase the number of ad impressions served to a user in a single session by refreshing ad sets based on preset triggers. These triggers can be based on user action (scrolling, clicking or using the search function), certain custom events, or time-based (refresh every 30, 60 or 90 seconds).

If used properly, ad refresh can increase ad revenue per session without compromising user experience or ad viewability. Why then, one may ask, is it not used universally?

Sites best suited to using ad refresh

The first reason is that ad refresh is not effective in all cases. Websites with above-average session durations are ideal candidates. These include gaming sites, educational sites, or sites with high-value niche content. Session duration is an important consideration. That’s because refreshing ads will be redundant and counterproductive if the users don’t stick around long enough to see them.

Secondly, not all networks and exchanges permit ad refresh and each has its own policy for auto-refresh. Google Ad Exchange, Rubicon, and OpenX permit automatic ad refresh, but Google AdSense does not. Publishers should keep their exchanges’ policies in mind while making decisions regarding using ad refresh.

Risks and considerations

The upside of increased overall revenue is certainly appealing. However, if improperly implemented, ad refresh can have a negative impact on your inventory and reputation.

Concerns about ad viewability

When an ad set on a page is refreshed, it is imperative that the user be able to see them. The ad must be within the user’s viewport and they need time to engage with the ads. However, several ad refresh vendors do not take viewability into account. Instead they do what is commonly known as a “blind refresh.” This can damage the viewability score of a publisher’s inventory, lower inventory value, and tarnish their reputation. A poor viewability score can cause DSPs to blacklist a publisher’s supply.

Reduction in CPMs for refreshed ads

It is important to note here that advertisers are often aware when a website is auto-refreshing ads. This can result in lower CPMs for each successive refresh, with advertisers lowering bids due to concerns about viewability. However, lower CPMs are usually more than compensated for by higher total impressions served per user session. This is why, when using ad refresh, publishers may want to consider alternative metrics for measuring their revenue growth, like Page RPM or EPMV (earnings per thousand visitors) rather than CPMs to get a more accurate representation.

Higher bandwidth usage

While ad refresh does not impact the initial page loading speed since the first set of ads is loaded as usual, auto-refreshing involves the page making new HTTP requests to the server for fresh ads based on the triggers set. These repeat requests and ad fetching consume additional data during each successive refresh.

Ad refresh best practices

The balance between revenue growth using ad refresh while maintaining a high viewability score and good UX is a delicate one. For publishers who implement it well, ad refresh is an excellent way to boost overall ad revenue. Our estimates show that, within the AdPushup network, depending on the average time-on-site and concurrent use of header bidding and bid caching, publishers could potentially increase net revenue by 20 to 40 percent.

By following these best practices, publishers can make the most out of this revenue optimization technique:

Adhere to network policies

Different networks and exchanges have their own policies on auto-refreshing ads. While some don’t allow it, others have limitations on triggers that can be used, such as a high minimum interval. Some networks may require publishers to declare if their inventory includes ad refresh units. By reading the network policy and following set parameters, publishers can steer clear of policy violations.

Appropriate use of time-based triggers

Brands and advertisers prefer that time-based triggers allow ads to remain on the page for at least 60 seconds to allow adequate viewability. Higher intervals between refreshes allow for better UX and ad engagement, which makes the inventory more valuable. Some publishers may be tempted to set lower refresh intervals of 30 seconds or less in order to serve more impressions However, we do not recommend this approach as it could mar viewability and cause CPMs to drop.

Test, test, test

Before finalizing your strategy, run A/B tests for different auto-refresh triggers and time intervals. By benchmarking results against a control setup, publishers can learn what auto-refresh iteration works best for their website, or if it even makes a difference. We recommend running these tests on a section of your website and traffic before implementing site-wide ad refresh.

Pick the right partners

There are now ad refresh solutions available in the market that take ad viewability criteria into account while refreshing ads. By partnering with ad tech vendors that offer this service without compromising on ad viewability, publishers can increase overall revenue with minimal impact on CPMs and inventory quality. 

Careless use of ad refresh in its early years had positioned it as a short-term, greedy tactic. However, this perception is changing with the availability of improved viewability measurement in the industry. As long as publishers use ad refresh while keeping in mind the objective of advertising, they can ensure that both brands and users derive value from ads being served and boost their ad revenue and inventory value in a sustainable manner.

About the author

Vishveshwar has over 10 years of experience working in editorial and marketing roles at legacy media and high-growth software companies. His work has appeared in Forbes, AdAge, TheNextWeb, Digiday, MarketingProfs, and Hongkiat. At AdPushup, he focuses on covering the developments in advertising technology.

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