Advertising is one of the most popular methods for monetizing an app. Unfortunately it’s all too common for app publishers to overlook their in-app advertising strategy. The result is reduced ad revenue and a potentially sub-par user experience.

The good news is you can maximize your ad revenue without driving users away. I’m not going to pretend it’s quick and easy, but with some thought and regular testing it’s something every publisher can achieve. Here are the 3 main elements to consider when it comes to maximizing ad revenue and some tips for optimizing each of them.


Types of Ads / Ad Formats

The first thing to consider is the type of ad, or ad format you want to use. If you would like to read more about the different ad formats available to you, I suggest reading my earlier post on this topic here.

Each ad format is unique, and they should all be used differently. When you are considering which ad format to use, think about the following:


Is your app free or paid?

This matters because users have different expectations from a paid app compared to a free app.

If your app is free or freemium, users expect to see ads and there is a certain level of tolerance for them. All of the major ad formats are considered acceptable to a degree.

Generally if a user pays for an app, they don’t expect to have to deal with advertisements. This rule applies particularly to interstitials, banner ads, native ads and rich media ads. Anything advertising that impacts the user experience in a negative way is a no-no inside a paid app.

However there are ad formats that you can use effectively inside a paid app without annoying your users, as long as you get the timing and the placement right (covered later in the post). Here are the only 2 ad formats I would use in a paid app.

  • App Wall – I’ve found that an app list linked to a ‘more games’ type button doesn’t impact the user experience. I assume this is because the app wall only appears if the user wants it to. ie. They press the button.
  • Rewarded video. If used in a paid app it should be done like I just described for an app wall, where the user must press a button before the video is displayed. An incentive is given to a user to encourage them to watch a video. The incentive may be in the form of in-app currency or some other bonus like unlocking content. For example, you may have a button that says ‘Watch a video to get 100 free coins’. It’s then up to the user to decide whether they want to watch an ad, rather than it just popping up.


What type of experience are you trying to provide?

You should also consider the experience that you want to provide to your users.

Are you aiming for a premium experience? If so, maybe banners are not a good fit because they can look ‘cheap’ and take away from a beautifully designed User Interface.

For a premium experience you may want to consider limiting yourself to video ads and offer walls as mentioned for paid apps. Interstitials may still be an option but consider the timing and placement carefully to avoid ruining the user experience.


What type of app is it and what does the user flow look like?

The type of app you are building and the way the user progresses through the app will also influence the ad formats that you will want to use.

If you’ve got a game app where there are regular breaks such as completing levels or achievements, interstitials, video ads or rich media ads may be a great option. Natural breaks in game-play are a good opportunity to show these advertising formats without causing too much disruption.

If you’ve got a utility or productivity app, your users want to complete a task. They don’t want interruptions like interstitials or video popping up when they are in the middle of something. Banners may be more appropriate in these types of apps.


What is your goal for the app?

You need to think about what your goal is for the app. Are you building something that you will maintain for years to come, building the user base and improving constantly? Or are you looking for a quick buck and just want to make a burst of revenue and move on?

Your goal will have big influence on your choice of ad format. If you want quick revenue and don’t care about users leaving because you annoyed the crap out of them with ads, then you want to choose formats with high ecpm. You’re best bet will be video, interstitials and app walls.

If you are looking to retain users for as long as possible and build your user base by providing a great experience, then you will have a different approach. Video, interstitials and app walls may still for part of your app monetization strategy, but you will need to carefully consider how you use them.


2. Timing / Frequency

Timing and frequency is all about when you show an ad and how often you do so. The key is determining what the triggers will be for your ads.

To work out your timing you need to look at the different screens you have and the key events that occur as a user moves through the app.

Most apps will have more than one screen; there will be a ‘home’ screen that is shown on app launch and a number of others depending on what the app does. Think about which ones are used most frequently and which ones a typical user will spend the most time on.

You will want to time your ads in way that doesn’t interrupt the flow that a typical user follows or disrupt core tasks. A classic example of poor timing in a game app would be having an interstitial pop up right in the middle of a game.

Here are some ideas on how you can use timing to optimize revenue.

  • Trigger an ad after the user visits a screen x amount of times. For example, to create a positive first impression, you don’t want to show an interstitial or video ad as soon as a user opens the app for the first time. However you might want to show an interstitial in this location after they have opened the app 10 times.
  • If you are using analytics you will be able to see how long the average session length is for your app. This is how long the average user stays in your app before closing it. If you know that the usual session length is 2 minutes, maybe you can show an ad after 1m 50s.
  • You could also consider using different ad formats at different times in the same place. For example, why not try showing an interstitial when the user completes a level. But after they finish 3 levels they see a video ad instead.


3. Placement

Ad placement is a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to monetizing with mobile ads. Placement is simply the location in which you show ads in the app.

It deserves careful thought and consideration if you want to walk the fine line of making money with ads and retaining users. Show an ad in the wrong spot and it could be enough to drive the user away for good. Show an ad in just the right place and it can dramatically increase the chances of a user clicking on it.


Let’s look at banners first. If you want to use banner ads you need to consider the UI and whether or not a banner will be in the way. If you are using a banner, place it at the top or bottom of the screen, and make sure it’s not covering any part of the UI. Having a banner covering up parts of your app looks terrible and if it covers a button it’s just plain irritating.

Also, don’t stick a banner where it’s close enough to buttons that users will accidentally click on the ad. That’s a guaranteed way to annoy your users and drive them away. Accidental clicks are basically worthless from a revenue perspective anyway so there’s really no reason to do this.

You should try and place banners on screens that the user spends the most time on. This will increase the chance of the users seeing an ad that attracts their attention and clicking on it.

Interstitials & Video

As I mentioned earlier, interstitials are best used at natural break points in an app. Some common placements for interstitial ads are on the main menu screen, when a user completes a level, on a game over screen, or when a user completes a task or achievement.

It would be easy to go ahead and drop in an interstitial for every break point in your app. But before you do that I want you to think about a couple of things.

When would a user be most likely to click on an ad? And when would they be most likely to stop using your app if they are interrupted by an ad?

I’ve found the best time to show the user an ad is at a break point when the user is happy. This might be when they unlock some content, complete a level, win a prize, complete a task etc.

If a user is happy they are less likely to be irritated by the ad and they are more likely to click on it.

Showing an interstitial or video ad on game over screens or when they run out of in-game credit etc. seems to have the opposite effect. It increases the chance of them ending the session and reduces the chance of them clicking the ad.

Video can be used in similar locations in the same way as interstitials.

Rewarded videos can be used more creatively. Instead of just popping an interstitial at the game over screen, you could offer the player a free booster if they choose to watch a video. This is a great placement. The user will be incentivized to watch the video because the booster will help them beat the level. It’s a win-win. You receive revenue when they watch the video and the player gets to keep progressing through the game.


4. Content

The content of the advertisements you display in your mobile app must be relevant to your audience if you want to drive maximum revenue.

Try to display ads that are highly relevant to your app. Ads that show content that is appropriate for your user base will attract a much higher click-through rate than ads that are irrelevant.

If you show an ad for an app that helps you cook perfect steak every time inside a vegetarian recipe app, how well do you think that ad will perform? Not very well I’m guessing. It’s completely irrelevant to the audience and a waste of time. Using the same example, what if you were to show ads for a vegetarian restaurant chain in that same app? It’s highly relevant to the audience and almost certainly going to attract more clicks, which translate into more revenue.

So how do you ensure you show relevant ads?

The first thing to do is to understand the ad network(s) you are using. For a start, particular ad networks perform better for certain types of apps.

Some networks like Chartboost and Playhaven focus solely on games, so using them for a utility app is not a good idea, but they might be a great solution for you if you have a game.

Networks like Admob, Mopub and iAds seem to perform better with non-game apps than games.

I’ve only mentioned a few of the many advertising networks out there. You should do some research and find out which networks are best suited for your particular app.

Depending on the ad network you choose, you may be able to take this a step further and customize the types of ads shown in your app. This can be a great way to boost eCPM but you have to be careful. If you are too restrictive it will impact your fill rate, meaning there won’t be enough ads to show. A low fill rate will mean you might have a high eCPM but ads aren’t being shown as often as they should so you are missing out on potential revenue. It’s important to find that balance between relevant ads and a high fill rate.


5. Tie It All Together To Maximize Mobile Ad Revenue

If you want to maximize ad revenue, you need to combine all of these elements to create an effective strategy.

Selecting the right ad format to display in the right location at the right time can be tricky, but if you get it right you will be rewarded with higher revenue and happy users.

The only way to nail it is to test different ad networks, ad formats, placements and timing. You’ll need to constantly analyse the data you have at hand to see what’s working and what’s not. Try changing one thing at a time and measuring the effect.

Use your analytics to see where you are losing users. Look for patterns that may be related to your ads. Got an interstitial showing when the app first loads and 20% of users leave just after? Try changing the placement of that ad and see what happens. You might be showing a video at the game over screen and you notice 50% of users close the app half way through the video. Maybe it’s time to try an app wall there instead. Showing an ad each time the game starts? Maybe every second time will yield better results.

Test different ad networks as well. Do your research on each one and try them for different ad formats. For example, you might find that a particular network is great at video ads but terrible with banners.

Where To From Here

Follow these steps for maximizing mobile ad revenue:

  • Decide on the types of ads you will use and where you will place them.
  • Decide on the timing of your ads.
  • Select the best ad networks for your app.
  • Display ads that are relevant to your users.
  • Make sure you don’t over-do your advertising.
  • If your app contains In-App Purchases, switch off ads for users that have bought something.
  • Review your data, try something different, repeat…..