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Ad Placement Deep Dive: What You Should Know as a Publisher [+ Quiz]

May 11, 202318 min read
Stepan Krokhmal
Stepan Krokhmal, AdTech Writer
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"As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is the Internet to the ads" – William Blake if he lived in 2023.

Truly, the number of ads and the forms they take is enough to start an encyclopedia. The variety of ad placements often makes publishers clutch their heads in despair, thinking about which unit goes where and how to optimize this ad placement mess.

Fear not, avid reader; we are here to sort things out. This article will shed some light on the basics of ad placement, explain its mechanics with some neat examples and teach you how to place ads with an ad server.

What Is an Ad Placement

Before diving deeper into how exactly you should place your ads, we need to figure out some fundamentals.

An ad placement is the group of ad units where advertisers can place ads; roughly speaking, these are certain locations where you put ads. This can refer to several things like a website, its specific pages, or a single ad unit somewhere on the page.

Ad Placement Example

What is an ad unit then? In its turn, an ad unit is a container where the ad is placed. It includes an ad tag – a piece of code that calls an ad server to request ads. Naturally, an ad unit contains characteristics of an ad, such as size and format. Think of it being a whiteboard that is colored with your ad creatives.

An ad slot is the ad unit's physical location on the web page. It is an HTML5 <div> element that performs the role of a frame for an ad unit.

All of the ad space you have for sale is called ad inventory. It is the number of ad units per page multiplied by the total number of pages. Ad inventory can be sold to advertisers directly, or you can use middlemen such as ad networks or ad exchanges to sell it.

Now that you know the basics, the answer to “why is an ad placement important?” should be obvious. Placing a proper advertisement in a visible and relevant page area is the key to high revenue.

Types of an Ad Placement

Our journey over theory is not over yet, as to understand what to post and where to post, we'll have to discover the species of ads on the web. Depending on the user's platform and the way the ad will appear on the page, the ad formats are divided into several categories:

Desktop Ad Placements

Let’s clear it out: desktop ad placements are spaces on the website meant for banner ads. You can obviously place videos or natives in these ad slots; it’s just how we’ll call them to make things more understandable.

Desktop Banner Format

Good old desktop banners have come a long way floating around the web over the last 30 years. Despite receiving plenty of "banner-blindness" criticism, in the first half of 2022, the global viewability rate of these was kept at 71.5 %. Display ad placements are the foundation for many business strategies that keep evolving.

Banner ad placement is probably the simplest way to squeeze extra dollars from your website. Still, even if it's difficult to screw up with these guys on board, ad sizes awareness is a must if you want your monetization to be truly profitable.

What ad sizes should I use for desktop placements?

Larger ad sizes perform better than smaller ones (what a surprise). Bigger ads = greater attention, but relying on that formula will only do you a little good in the long run.

However, Google provides more inventory of medium and small ad spaces. Bigger creatives are more difficult to implement, so despite overall better performance, medium, and smaller banners are more popular within the publisher’s club.

As a result, size matters, but not as much as a variety of placement does. The more ad sizes you use in a campaign – the better performance you get and the wider needs you cover. If you want to know which ad size brings the highest CPMs and get to know more about a monetary side of the matter – check out our ad banner size report!

Nevertheless, the Google ad network has some all-time-favorite sizes that show the best numbers. The big four consist of the following:

Leaderboard Ad Size

The leaderboard is an excellent choice for placement above the main content. It easily fits in the upper half of the screen, above the fold. Unobtrusiveness and high CPM is the reason why publishers adore this ad format.

One handy piece of advice – use one leaderboard per page. No need to oversaturate the page with these, as the leaderboard on the top gets the most views, and the leaderboard on the bottom – not that much.

Medium Rectangle Ad Size

Also known as MPUs (Mid Page Units/Multi-Purpose Units), medium rectangles are probably the most popular ad units. The reason is simple – it earns a lot for publishers. They fit well almost anywhere on the page and won't mess up your site's design, so feel free to place them within the text.

Such versatility, along with high CPM, does tempt us to use them as often as possible. Don't spam these everywhere, though; 3-4 units per page is enough.

Large Rectangle Ad Size

The trend towards large screen resolutions is slowly returning with the massive adoption of 4K; thus, the big bro of medium rectangles is back in the game. Large rectangles are rarely sold outside of AdSense, but within this network, it brings high CPMs and looks good with many site designs.

When placing this ad format, use a multi-sized ad slot that fits 336 * 280 and 300 * 250. That will save you time in editing the page structure.

Wide Skyscraper Ad Size

Despite bringing more modest results than the sizes above, you can still expect reasonable CPMs with this one. Wide skyscrapers won't require an above-the-fold placement, so feel free to position them on the side of the page. This ad format gives plenty of space to come up with something creative.

A wide skyscraper (160 * 600) is the better-performing successor to a skyscraper (120 * 600). But since it's often difficult to fill, make the ad slot meant multi-sized for both.

Besides these, AdSense serves more ad sizes, but since they lose in terms of performance and popularity, we'll touch on these real quick:

  • Billboard (970 * 250) – for preferred deals and private auctions;
  • Super leaderboard (970 * 90) – for regular usage in multi-sized ad slots;
  • Banner (468 * 60) – for smaller spaces that don't suit leaderboards;
  • Half-page (300 * 600) – for multi-sized ad slots with a medium rectangle, it is rarely used, but this monster delivers very high CPM;
  • Square (250 * 250) – for all text and display ads possible, delivers worse performance due to limited supply;
  • Small square (200 * 200) – same situation as with his bigger brother;
  • Small rectangle (180 * 150) – for placement into small places, has very limited supply;
  • Button (125 * 125 / 125 * 60) – for freemium listings; otherwise poor performance;
  • Vertical banner (120 * 240) – guess what? Small size and limited supply;

And since we're covering every hole possible with this article, we'll also mention the most popular regional ad sizes. What's that? Well, AdSense has ad sizes that are only available in particular countries. These include

  • Poland – triple billboard (750 * 300) and double billboard (750 * 200);
  • Norway – netboard (580 * 400);
  • Denmark – top banner (930 * 180);
  • China – stationary bottom (950 * 90);
  • Sweden – panorama (980 * 120) and triple widescreen (250 * 360);
  • Ukraine, Belarus, russia – vertical rectangle (240 * 400);

Static vs. Animated

We've already covered animated vs. static banner ads, so there's no point in copypasting deeper research. But as we can't just skip this crucial part of digital ads placement, let's briefly cover the main thesis:

  • Animated creatives come in the form of a ZIP archive that you place in the HTML5 ad tag on your website;
  • Ad sizes are the same both for static and animated ads;
  • Animated HTML5 ads deliver higher revenue from monetization;
  • Animated ads allow for dynamic content optimization;
  • Static ads can be served in larger volumes than animated ones;
  • Static banners are cheaper and easier to serve.

Tip: with Epom ad server templates, you can serve HTML5 banners within your placements. Don’t sleep on these high-performers; expand your inventory with ease.

Video Ad Placements

The number of video viewers rises every year. In 2022, video ad spending accounted for 30% of total display ad spend. In 2023, 91% of businesses use video as a marketing tool.

High engagement (for obvious reasons) and multiple formats are the reasons why both publishers and advertisers have a crush on video advertising. Yeah, the chance of campaign failure grows dramatically with improper placement and timing, but the benefits are worth it.

On the tech side, things are slightly different from banner advertising. Regular video ads are served with the help of a VAST tag – a modification of a regular ad tag that calls an ad server to deliver videos seamlessly. Video Ad Serving Templates tags differ depending on the marketer's needs, but generally, they consist of:

  1. Media file with the ad creative;
  2. Tracking pixels that gather info on conversions and user behavior;
  3. The video format that, you guessed it, dictates video format.

As for the types, there are two main categories of video ads: in-stream and outstream. The second is relatively fresh, so there's still some confusion about which ad belongs to which category.

According to the latest guidelines, an in-stream video is an ad placed inside the video player that someone requested and played with the sound on by default. When in-stream launch, the main video is paused(like on YouTube or God to Forgive – TV).

In-stream Video

Every other video ad that lives outside the main video player is considered an outstream video ad. Which one is less obtrusive, and which one gains more conversions? Well, we've already discussed that in our outstream video ad guide.

Outstream Video

What is the most effective video ad placement? Outstream ads are easier to implement, don't require a dedicated player, and can be skipped and customized. On the other hand, they are not intended to be on the site, so pubs can't list such ad units on SSP platforms, plus poorly written templates can ruin the user experience.

In-stream ads are unskippable (at least to a certain point) and require an HTML5 video player. At least, due to their predictability, the user knows when to expect those and is more likely to watch them till the end + they are CTV & OTV compatible.

Outstream Video Ads In-stream Video Ads
Don’t require a dedicated player Require HTML5 video player
Can be skipped Can’t be skipped (at least immediately)
Can’t be listed on SSPs Can be listed on SSPs
CTV & OTV non-compatible CTV & OTV compatible

Mobile Placements

Mobile advertising has grown exponentially in recent years, matching its desktop counterpart in online spending with $327.1 billion. With no signs of slowing down, mobile advertising is a choice of numerous brands looking to tap into the potential of the mobile-first world and optimize their ad placement.

What does that mean for publishers? It’s time to prioritize mobile web development and concentrate either on responsive or mobile-compatible placements.

Two types of mobile ad formats monetize best: in-app and mobile web banner ads. From a technical standpoint, the latter are similar to their desktop counterparts, so there’s not much to discuss. Diversity of ad sizes is once again the key to user engagement, and the top performers will ring a bell if you’ve been reading attentively. They include:

Mobile leaderboard Ad Size

A mobile leaderboard is not the largest ad; there’s always enough inventory for these. Despite the size, its overall performance is great, and it’s suitable for beginners.

Medium rectangle Ad Size

The mobile medium rectangle is large, and it grabs the user's attention. MPUs look great both on desktop and mobile screens.

Large mobile banner Ad Size

As the name suggests, large mobile banner is a big boy and it’s good for splitting text-based mobile pages and being displayed at the bottom of the page acting as an overlay.

Square mobile banner Ad Size

Squares generally lose in competition to rectangles on desktops, but this one shines on mobile due to its versatility and size. It easily performs the roles of skyscrapers and half-page ads but without compromising user experience.

As for the in-app placements, the situation is a bit more interesting. Besides mobile banners and in-stream pre-rolls, the list consists of two other types of placement:

Interstitial Video Ad

Imagine you’re playing Archero/Subway Surfers/BrawlStars; it doesn’t really matter. You lose, and your screen is filled with a large ad of some F-tier crappy mobile game that lasts 30 seconds which you can’t skip. That’s mobile video interstitials.

These have to work in theory because you watch them till the end (no skip button, duh). But the absurdity of random ads covering the screen was memed so hard on the web that there’s no point in further discussing user engagement.

If you want to evade cringe, your mobile ad placement strategy should put user experience first. Make the “Exit” button accessible, and don’t flood your app with these ads.

Rewarded Video Ad

Now, this one is a much smarter implementation of the same concept. In this case, the user willingly presses the “View Ad” to receive a second life, game currency, or power-ups. There’s little genuine interest in the ad shown, but getting fancy stuff for watching an ad is a driver to high conversions.

Rewarded ads show good results. 68% of mobile gamers like this format, and 24% of users on Facebook Audience Network find this format the least intrusive. Moreover, players who watched a rewarded ad are 6 times more likely to make an in-app purchase.

Native Placements

Native ads are ads that don’t look like ads. They blend in with the visual design of their surroundings like chameleons offering the best possible user experience.

The market share of native ad spend is lower than desktop and mobile banners, but it doesn’t mean you should put them in low priority. Quite the opposite, native ads attract 53% more user impressions, users consider them the least intrusive of all the other paid ad placement options, and they bring up to 5-10x higher CTRs. These ads differ in their looks and purposes.

In-feed Native Ad

In-feed native ads have the same layout and design as their surrounding platform, being a part of the organic feed/grid/listing.

However, they include hints that inform the user of their sponsored nature. This can be a “Sponsored” tag on Forbes or Amazon or a “Paid post” tag on New York Times. Many of these are delivered programmatically; but it doesn't mean you can't serve it with ad server.

Content recommendation Native Ad

At the bottom of the page, you’ll often find a whole pleiad of “recommended,” “paid,” or “you may also be interested in” kinds of posts. These look exactly like the site's content, with the only difference being grouped in such categories. Clicking on one of these posts will lead you to an external site.

Content recommendation Native Ad

The goal of branded content is to inform an average user of the brand’s existence in an informative and entertaining manner. Branded content is an organic part of the web page and is often produced by the publisher.

Promoted Listing Native Ad

Promoted listings work the same way and have the same purpose as paid searches, but unlike the latter, these appear on e-commerce sites. Promoted listings get good results, which occasionally exceed organic placements.

Non-Standard Placements

Sometimes, we all hit the “rebel phase” and want to try something different. In the case of non-standard ads, they are the non-standard (hehe) way of fighting “banner blindness.” They are more expensive but may give you a much better engagement.

Think of non-standard display ads placements as “risk-reward” units for experienced web page owners; they include:

Interscroller Non-standard Ad

Interscroller is a valid alternative to interstitials. It is an expandable banner that takes over the screen once you scroll to reveal 85% of ad placement. It’s easy to skip, it adapts its size to the user’s devices, and it provides a sort of native experience.

Pop-under Non-standard Ad

Pop-under is a less-annoying evolution of pop-up ads. They appear on the full screen behind an active browser window. Pop-under ads bring good eCPM, but they are still irritating as hell, so most ad guidelines advise against using those.

Interstitial Non-standard Ad

The floating ad that lasts for 15-30 seconds and kind of floats in the same browser window is an interstitial. These are yet another attempt to replace pop-ups, but floaters look significantly better and bring high revenue.

In-image Non-standard Ad

In-image ads are great for expanding your inventory, especially if you use contextual targeting. As the name suggests, they are placed inside the images on the page, partly/wholly overlaying the picture.

Multi-HTML5 Non-standard Ad

If you don’t mind using the space behind the main content, multi-image and multi-HTML5 skins are just for you. The first serves a static set of images, and the second – is a dynamic creative, but both are relatively non-intrusive ways to add some extra inventory.

Which Ad Placement Strategy is Best for Your Business?

Phew, that was a lot to cover. By now, you probably have an overdose of information; at least, I certainly did while preparing this article. This heading aims to organize all that mess in the reader’s mind and clarify everything by giving ad placement examples and tips for websites.

Ad Placement Strategy for the News Blog

Let’s start with the most common and popular media type – news blogs. The content of those usually consists of text articles diluted with occasional videos. The best ad formats for news blog resources are:

  • Banners

The 4 horsemen of desktop banner ad placement are the foundation of successful ad placement. Remember our advice on each of those. Don’t overuse a single banner ad size; put leaderboards above the fold, put rectangles within the text, and place wide skyscrapers at the sidebar.

Multi-size your ad slots to save the pain for your frontend team and better manage ad inventory. Specific regional ad sizes are also welcome, and sometimes it’s a good idea to use the ad sizes from the “Other ad sizes” section for diversity(looking at you, half-page).

  • Outstream video

Forbes does that, so why shouldn’t you? In-feed outstream videos work best for websites with editorial content like articles. The bottom right corner on mute – is the perfect placement for these guys.

  • Interscroller

Instead of using interstitials, try using interscrollers. These ads fluidly adapt to the user’s device, are easy to fill, and they don’t mess with the user experience too much.

  • Native

In-feed and content recommendations are indispensable for content-focused resources. They are easy to buy and implement. Branded ads will probably require a content maker’s professional hand, but users like these above all else.

Ad Placement Strategy for Video Streaming

Advertising on video streaming platforms is a bit more complex. It should be sharp, accurate and unobtrusive. Otherwise – users won’t be happy. The safest options we recommend are:

  • In-stream videos

Firstly, in-stream videos are 100% compatible with CTV and OTT. Secondly, users expect to see them, so they won’t get discouraged from watching another YouTube pre-roll. Moreover, most streaming platforms today use in-stream ads so you won’t stand out negatively.

Using Epom’s non-standard VAST formats would be a great idea for this scenario. There are three effective options for you:

VAST non-linear Ad

VAST non-linear are clickable images that overlay the video player while it keeps playing. They are more lightweight than regular video ads and less intrusive than in-stream.

VMAP video sequence Ad

VMAP video sequence will let you run multiple ads within a single video which obviously brings higher revenue.

YouTube VPAID videos use Youtube videos as a creative. If you have an active YT channel – this one’s an easy win.

Outstream video ads will serve well too, but not every video streaming platform app supports these. Therefore, these display ad placements suit sites with free editorial/video content best.

  • Floaters

Yup, a semi-transparent floater at the foot of the video screen is easy to produce, easy to place, and it’s not that intrusive. Truly, a non-standard (you may be getting tired of this joke) way to drive revenue.

  • Skins

Multi-image and multi HTML5 skins are the perfect “men for the job.” Users view content in fullscreen anyways, so why miss out on placing some ads?

Ad Placement Strategy for E-Commerce

When scrolling through marketplaces, the user is surrounded by myriads of offers and price tags. There are two ways to place an ad in this scenario: either make it blend in or let the ad scream about its nature to draw attention.

  • Promoted listing

The stealthy method implies using promoted listings. The label “sponsored” or “promoted” doesn’t stand out to the extent it would in a different website type. Their effectiveness is beyond doubt; eBay states that promoted listings could generate more clicks than organic website placements.

  • Animated banner

Regular banners work too, but remember what we’ve told you about animated ads? They drive more revenue and attract more attention. Rich media ads can be served easily and are a great choice for e-commerce stores.

An extra bonus: in eCommerce, the most profitable ad placement strategy is rotating creatives while the user lingers on the same page exploring the product.

To do that, use an autorefresh custom code feature. It is an ad template designed for publishers that want to refresh creatives at a certain frequency and earn more money from a single placement.

Ad Placement Strategy for the Mobile app

In-app ads fit nearly every vertical, from news blogs and shopping to fitness and messaging apps. This allows for embracing multiple mobile ad placement strategies without turning the app into an advertising mess.

  • Mobile banners

Simple and effective, mobile banners are undemanding in terms of placement. Once again, the top performers are mobile leaderboards, medium rectangles, large mobile banners, and squares. Use them as you would use their desktop analogs, and don’t get too lazy with the variety of placement.

  • Native

High engagement, unobtrusiveness, and programmatic buying – native mobile ads bring all the advantages of the regular native format. Each type of native advertising works well on the mobile screen. After all, it’s the content that matters here.

  • Video

We are all familiar with in-stream YouTube pre-rolls, out-stream videos on Collider, and interstitials in every possible video editing app on PlayStore. Years of ad terror on TikTok, YouTube, and app marketplaces have made every mobile user extremely tolerable to video ads.

Nearly every app category (except lifestyle apps) works well with video ads. So place whatever video format you like; just don’t spam with these too much.

Ad Placement Strategy for the Mobile game

As for the games, our attentive readers have already guessed the winners here.

  • Rewarded video ad

Although playable interstitials work as well, our praise towards rewarded video ads is justified. There’s no better way to engage a customer with an ad than to give something in return for interacting with it. Nearly every free mobile game has implemented this ad format, so why not give it a try?

  • Mobile banners

Just paste everything we’ve told about mobile banners here. They perform in games as well as they do in apps.

How to Place Ads with an Ad Server

That was a long run. Now that we’ve answered almost every possible question regarding display ad placement, let’s go to the easy part: “How to place ads with an ad server?”

If you’re a publisher using Epom, the steps are:

  1. Go to the “Publisher” tab and click on “Create a new site”
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  1. Now create a new placement zone in which your creative will go.
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  1. Epom ad server will let you use any of the ad formats we’ve discussed in this guide. Let’s do a wide skyscraper. For this, tick “Create a New Placement.” In size, pick “Wide Skyscraper”.
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  1. Awesome! Now you have a ready template for your ad placement. You can generate an ad tag on this screen and set up banner content. Have fun.
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Note: The script below is called an invocation code (ad tag); you put it on a website in a place where you want to see the ad. If you manipulate the banner settings, the changes will be saved in the tag.

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Pick Your Ad Placement [Quiz!]

Props to you for sticking around till the end. Ad placement mastery could take a really long time, but we hope that this guide helped you make things more understandable.

Hungry for more? Behold, a 30-sec long quiz that answers every possible question as to which placement goes where in your campaign. That’s right, we’ll help you pick the best format based on your business model and preferences.

Pick your favorite format and try Epom software for placing ads to make the process easier and more accessible, and stay tuned for more content!

Choose from 30+ rich media formats to use for your placements available on Epom and beyond that!

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