Ads play a crucial role in virtually all forms of media. There are commercials on the television, pages of ads throughout magazines, and previews before the movies. You might even get some not so discreet product placement during the show.
Ads have stood the test of time, so it should come as no surprise that they’re an important part of app monetization. With literally dozens of ad networks to choose from, each providing multiple ad formats, where do you even start? Today we will examine the different types of mobile ads in the market place.
If you’re familiar with the Internet, you’ve most likely seen your fair share of banner ads. While websites use them in all sorts of places, banner ads on mobile apps are traditionally placed at the bottom of the screen. This was the standard ad format in the early days of the App Store. Apple actually ran an ad network called iAd, which monetized better than any other banner ads in the market. They generally looked the nicest too, due to Apple’s high design standards, so filling your banner ad space with iAds was an easy decision.
The ad market has changed dramatically since then. Other ad networks started showing full-screen interstitial ads, which monetized better than banner ads. Banner ads have continued to hang around, but they’re largely a relic of the early App Store. In 2016, Apple discontinued iAds. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend banner ads.
Static Interstitial Ads
Known to some as pop-up ads (although that name has a bit of a negative stigma), static interstitial ads pause your app and display across the entire screen. They’re more intrusive than banner ads, but generally look nicer and aren’t on the screen the whole time. If used in moderation, I think they make for a better user experience than banner ads do. They also usually monetize better, since users are more like to tap them. Most mobile ad revenue is based on users actually installing whatever app is featured in the ad. Therefore, the higher click-through rate of interstitial ads is critical.
There are many players in the static interstitial ad field. TapJoy and Flurry have been among the largest players for years. Chartboost is another large player, who is one of my favorites. Their interstitial ads don’t take up quite the whole screen, and you can design a custom frame around the ad. It’s a nice feature for making the ad blend naturally into your app.
There are also tons of smaller players. It’s not unusual for one of these small players to offer outrageous revenue potential compared to the other networks, although this is often a short-lived phenomenon. When I first got into mobile app development, Revmob was that high-return network (I never actually used them, as their advantage was fading by the time I started to work with ads). They were delivering $10 CPMs (cost per impression) when nobody else seemed to be above $3 CPMs. The mobile ad market was and still is rather inefficient, so it’s worth staying abreast of which networks can make you the most money.
Rewarded Video Ads
In more recent years, rewarded video ads have become one of the most popular ad formats. The idea is that users voluntarily choose to watch a video ad in exchange for some sort of reward, generally in-game currency. These ads have the highest CPMs, often around $10. Unlike other ads, users actually want to see these, so they can get rewards. It’s a win-win situation for both you and your users!
There are a couple downsides to consider. Streaming video ads in your app does use cellular data, and your users might not like that. Whenever you incorporate third-party ad networks into your app, you increase the risk of bugs from different libraries not playing nicely with each other. Rewarded video ads tend to be a little more complex than other ads, and have a greater chance of error. Most notably, however, you need to be careful not to cannibalize your in-app purchase revenue. If you’re giving away too many rewards from watching ads, your users might not be as incentivized to buy things. In general, there’s more money to be made from in-app purchases than ads, so be careful.
There are several ad networks to consider in the rewarded video ad space. AdColony, Vungle, and Unity only do video ads, and they’re the first video ad networks people generally integrate. They each have their benefits. AdColony is nice, because revenue is based on views instead of installs. That gives you a smoother revenue steam. Vungle has a good ad inventory outside of the US, which is good for making sure you always have an ad to deliver your international users. Unity specializes in game ads, so if you think game ads are a good thematic fit for your app, they’re a good choice.
In addition to the major video ad networks, there are a number of small players that focus on different niches with high CPMs. MediaBrix only shows ads for major US companies, not the usual sort of ads for other apps. Their ads are more similar to the ads you see on television, except that these are sometimes interactive. They delivered us $20 CPMs, so it’s worth taking a look at some of these smaller players. Keep in mind that small networks don’t have as much ad inventory, so fill-rates won’t be as good.
So how do you stay on top of the rapidly changing ad landscape and know which network to integrate in your app? Make an ad waterfall! You can integrate several networks into your app at once, then show whichever ads are performing best. If your ad inventory with your best networks runs out, then you can show an ad from a different network. By combining multiple networks, you can effectively get the best CPM and a near 100% fill-rate. Some ad networks provide APIs for this waterfall functionality. If you’re setting up a rewarded video ad waterfall, I recommend Fyber. They’re equipped to show ads from all of the other rewarded video ad networks I mentioned earlier.
The sheer number of ad networks is daunting. If you’re a developer, you probably get emails on a regular basis from new ad networks promising you the best CPMs you’ve ever seen. Despite all of the noise, as long as you have a waterfall with the major players plus one or two smaller high CPM networks, you’re doing great!