mobile ad on post-it

We recently discovered how to radically increase our income from our mobile ads that were served by Google AdSense. As a result, we not only multiplied our mobile income, but a single mobile ad on our web app now also outranks the performance of all of the other banners like Skyscrapers or Superbanners on the desktop version of the same site. In this article I am not only going to reveal the basic trick, but also share the ideas behind it, including the tests we conducted and the steps we took to multiply our income from our mobile ads with simple pay per click optimization.

Update: AdSense and Sticky Ads

As Fedor pointed out in the comments, AdSense is now clearer in its terms of services stating that “fixed” or “sticky” ads are not permitted. I decided to neither remove nor change the content of this post for two reasons.

1. AdSense is still testing their own implementation of sticky ads, called “anchor ads”. Hopefully, every publisher can use this method without coding skills and worrying about the TOS in a few months. Moreover, as a beta tester, I can say: they seem to work great!

2. You might still want to use sticky ads with ads from other ad networks with click based payments. Just ask them if they will allow you to use sticky ads.

You're using WordPress and would like to get Advanced Ads for free?

Why even bother with mobile ads?

There was a lot of noise about mobile in 2012, but I didn’t have to listen to understand the importance of a mobile web app. I just had to look into the web statistics of our word game site to see the enormous growth in traffic that we achieved from mobile devices. Now, on both our German and English versions, the number of unique visitors from mobile devices is higher than from any other device.

I didn’t really bother with web app advertising until the first significant increase of mobile users before the holiday season in December 2011. I would have thought the increase might have happened AFTER the holidays, but it actually did so BEFORE. The same happened in December 2012, and so there must be a reasonable explanation. I always had Facebook’s more or less failed IPO in mind that analysts also saw as a result of a bad performance of their mobile ads. Anyway, Facebook managed to significantly increase its income from mobile ads, and so I felt that I had to give it a more serious try. It took me until fall 2012 to come up with a solution to include ads depending on the browser width so that I would be technically able to serve mobile ads as well.

Mobile Ads or Mobile Banners are 320 x 50 px and are designed to fit most smartphones. Google AdSense recently included them in their “normal” ad portfolio, and so, technically, there is no reason not to use this kind of ads for your desktop site.

Responsive ads

As a website owner, you probably know about responsive design. This means that the size of your site is adapting to the width of each visitor’s browser. When done right, your site just magically fits into every browser and device. Anyway, for a web developer this is quite easy to set up. The hard part is for any publisher to put ads on such a page and optimize these “responsive ads” properly. We use our own sites as sandboxes for testing different optimization methods. Whether you visit the pages with your desktop browser, tablet, or smartphone, you will always see the same content, but with a responsive layout and responsive ads that fit into the available space.

The solution I developed for WordPress is available as an add-on for my Advanced Ads plugin on wpadvancedads.com.

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Bad performance of mobile ads

wep app screenshot with mobile ad
Mobile ads are often placed in the content of a web app.

Imagine that you have already placed your mobile ads on your responsive website. There is a high probability that you placed them just where you might have placed your superbanner or another ad – in the header, footer, or directly within your content. This is what I did at first.

I didn’t really create new ad placements for the mobile version. Therefore, in a “normal” page, there were about two or three banners embedded in the content. This was working great from a technical perspective, but it monetized rather poorly. The click-through-rates and costs-per-click were below the numbers from the “desktop” banners. That wasn’t really a motivation to optimize the mobile banners because any slight improvements on the well performing desktop ads seemed to be more important than the mobile ads, until I came up with a great idea in December 2012.

Use sticky ads

If you have a smartphone, you might have already downloaded some free apps. A lot of them are financed by advertisements. I especially know this from a lot of word game apps out there. Where is this ad normally placed? Right, you can find it very often with a fixed placement, like in the portrait mode on the very top or bottom of your smartphone screen. And this is exactly what I did with my mobile ads in our web app. I cleaned up the content from any ads and placed just one ad at a fixed position at the bottom of the screen. I called them sticky ads, but I seem to not be the first one with this idea.

Wait, I already expected this might result in a better performance of my mobile ads, but I didn’t expect what happened next. The sticky ad shot from being the lowest performer to my best ad, outranking all the others in its total income. In the rest of this article, I am going to explain the numbers that I experienced in detail. I can compare them quite well because of a split test that I conducted first.

sticky banner under word search results
Sticky mobile ads below the search results on word-grabber.com

 

Split testing our mobile ads

There is a lot you can do for pay per click optimization. I personally like to compare an old and a new version and totally understand it. For this reason, I am running split tests. In case of the mobile ads optimization, I was afraid that people might be irritated by the sticky mobile ad and leave the web app. Therefore, I didn’t just want to switch from ads places in the content to a single sticky ad at the bottom of the mobile screen. I also only implemented sticky mobile ads on our word search pages and not on pages with articles or other static content. This was based on my assumption that the tools are more like an app as well as on useful and free apps it is acceptable for users to have a sticky mobile ad.

When it comes to pay per click optimization, I use Google AdSense for tests, because it is very easy to handle. I already had different ad codes for the two existing banners – one above and one below the search results like from our Scrabble Helper. To be able to track the performance of sticky mobile ads, I created a completely new banner code.

Setting up a real split test

With a self-developed split test class for WordPress, I marked 30% of mobile visitors to see the new sticky banner and 70% still saw the old version. I performed a test on a visitor and not a page view basis, and so the surprise of switching banner placements would not affect the result. I also wanted to see how the test group reacted over time and if the click through rate would decrease. At first, I wanted to run the test for 3 weeks, but I already finished after 2 weeks because the results were really great and I didn’t want to “lose” more money by not switching completely to the new sticky mobile ads.

The result of our split test

The results of the split test were amazing. Due to the AdSense policy I am not allowed to share specific numbers, but the click through rate of the sticky version was eight times higher than the ad in the content. As the click prices were almost the same, the overall RPM raised by 800%.

chart with distribution of mobile ads

Here, you can see the ad requests compared to each other. The difference in ad requests is explained by the new sticky mobile ad to only show for 30% of visitors. The previous banners in the content were displayed on the same page view, and so they were almost identical. The difference is explained by the banner above the results that was only being shown when the search was successful. Remember from this pie chart that the new sticky mobile ad is displayed a lot less than the others due to the test settings.

chart with income from mobile adsThis pie chart shows the distribution of the income from mobile banners on word search pages. Despite the fact that the sticky mobile ad was displayed a lot less, it generates 2/3 of the ad income from mobile devices. Compared to the other ad blocks on the site, the mobile ad outranked a lot of well performing desktop ads as well.

Best performing ad in the long run

You probably understand now, as to why I didn’t wait the whole test period to change all the mobile ads on word search pages to the sticky version. The numbers were so incredibly good that even a medium decrease would have changed the fact that they were better than the previous version. Still, a month after I completed the test and switched banners, the sticky banner is the banner with the highest income on the whole site.

mobile ads earnings
development of our earnings from mobile ads

In the second week after completely switching to the sticky mobile ad, the income increased by 445% compared to the week before the first test with this new ad placement.

Even though the click through rate decreased by almost half, the sticky mobile banner has still one of the best click through rates. Visitors lost interest in the new banner position, of course, but they didn’t lose interest in our site. The bounce rate increased and visit duration decreased by just 1%. This might as well be unrelated to our changes with ads and related to the bigger increase of the rate of new visitors.

As another result, we started the test on one of our other sites. Why test again? We tested again because visitors are different and from our experiments we expected the other sites visitors to be more critical about such a change. In the meantime, the results were also positive and we switched to the sticky mobile ads. Still, the numbers did vary in a lot of ways.

Understanding sticky mobile ads

Even without thinking twice about changing my mobile ads to a sticky version, I am still curious about what the reasons for this are and how to improve the results. It seems like a no-brainer that people are interested in something new. Due to less space on mobile screens, people really notice the new ad and since it doesn’t “flash” them away and is quite short, they might even read it because they are really interested in the content.

At first, I also was afraid of a lot of people clicking by accident. Since Google AdSense reduces your ad revenue at the end of a month also for invalid clicks, I expected it to be a lot higher than it actually was. Perhaps well integrated and, laid out mobile ads really make sense to the visitor. I am definitely going to explore this in more detail.

Use sticky banners with caution

For all of those who read this article and who want to get started right away please be warned. I am still cautious about annoying visitors with sticky mobile ads. We only show them on pages that a visitor really wants to see. Therefore, there is no sticky mobile ad on any landing page. They just appear on search result pages after a visitor has actively used one of our tools. Here, we know for sure that he/she is interested in the results and is not being driven away by an ad that is not a popup or overlay.

The Author

Comments

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Thank you for your valuable comment. Technically, you can separate the website in a part that is in general scrollable and one part that is not without using position fixed. Put the content in the scrollable part and your AdSense account should be fine. Anyway, I have a direct conntection to AdSense now and will ask them to be sure.

      1. Richard

        Hello Thomas,

        did you have a chance to ask about this “scrollable content “?
        I used to have also fixed sidebar. Google stopped my ads (initially because ads appeared on error page) and it looks like the fixed side bar was a also a violation.

        If there is a way to make site steady and content scrollable I will do it. I consider fixed sidebar much better solution than put ads within content itself.

        Thank you,
        Richard

        1. Thomas Maier Article Author

          Hi Rainer, in fact I did, but didn’t get the response as clear as I had hoped for. I personally think, a scrollable container for the main content might work and not violate the AdSense policy, when the outside content including the sidebar stays put. As I am more interested in the mobile sticky ads, I can’t await the announcement of Google AdSense mobile anchor ads (see the link in a comment below).
          Best wishes
          Thomas

          1. Javier

            Hey Thomas,

            Did you hear anything else from adsense regarding the use of sticky ads? I emailed them myself (I too have access to email support) but haven’t heard from them yet. This site (viralnova.com) does use sticky ads as you suggest and they’ve been online for a while, however I would like to be really sure that it’s allowed.

            I only found in their TOS that sticky sidebar ant top ads weren’t allowed, but haven’t found anything about the bottom.

            BTW, do you happen to know how to check in wordpress or php when the site is mobile so I can change the ad blocks?

          2. Thomas Maier Article Author

            Hi Javier. No feedback yet – my personal customer manager is on vacation. If you want to be a 100% sure, don’t use this technique.
            I might be of better help for the second question: there is wp_is_mobile().

          3. Fedor

            It is definitely against the policy . Any ad that does not move with the text is in violation.
            https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/3394713?hl=en
            That link specifically mentions “sticky” ads.

            “These ads are referred to as “sticky ads” and they are not permitted. We will take action when we come across this kind of implementation.”

            Horizontal sticky ads are the worst offenders. I knew there was a downside to implementing these ads and getting your account shut down isn’t worth it.

          4. Thomas Maier Article Author

            Hi Fedor, thank you for your comment. Finally, AdSense doesn’t leave any space for speculation about sticky ads anymore. I added a warning box to the article but keep it open, because I still see some value in it.

          5. James

            That’s strange that Adsense says sticky ads are not allowed. I still see popular websites like 9gaga using sticky ads without problems.

          6. Thomas Maier Article Author

            Not allowed does not mean that no one can. I guess that Google just has no other way than manual reviews to discover who uses this technique.
            Still, there are some publishers who have access to the – still in closed beta – anchor ads that AdSense announced almost 2 years ago.

        1. Thomas Maier Article Author

          Rhetorical question? I would be happy to have the official version of sticky ads finally coming out of beta and help publishers to set it up.

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Rainer, glad you liked it! I must confess I was working on a follow-up to this post where I planned to go deeper into the technical issues. As always, time is short and I got caught up in daily work. I can’t promise anything, but this article is still on my short list.
      Thanks for your patience.
      Thomas

  1. Kamran

    Hi Thomas,

    I am also using a scrolling ad, it is in the sidebar in way that it does not get in the way of the content. That should be fine right.

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Kamran,
      does the sidebar itself scroll? There are indeed a lot of different views on this topic. Some say if the content around the ad is floating it is ok to have an ad, some say it might be ok in a manual review if no real content is blocked with the ad. I recently stopped most experiments on mobile devices when I read about the upcoming mobile anchor ads. So, finally AdSense noticed the potential of such a solution…
      Thomas

  2. Pnr Status

    I have recently changed my site designed and switch to HTML 5 responsive design. And i have replaced the old adsense code with the new responsive one. I know, i am taking risk but it worth a try. Let see, it prove beneficial for me or sudden drop in earning or increase in earning. Whatever happen, i will share my experience with you.

  3. Ivan

    That’s a good article!
    And even better is you mentioning Mobile anchor ads, which I wanted to try. At a first glance, I have to wait a bit more to get those ads on my sites, but wanted to ask if anybody knows if there’s any difference in the Adsense code for the anchor ads, or basically, how can I guess when I have them?

    Thanks and Happy Easter!

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Ivan, there will probably be a new “ad size” option when creating a new AdSense item. AdSense might call it something like “mobile” or “overlay”.

  4. Garrett

    Hey Thomas,

    Amazing post! Great to see how granular you get with the optimization of ad units to maximize yield.

    I was curious about the fill-rate of Adsense and whether it neared 100%. Do you mediate with other ad networks to get a higher, guaranteed RPM?

    Thanks,
    Garrett

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Garrett, thank you for your question. Its a yes for both.
      Thomas

  5. dan

    Hey Tomas,

    It was a nice description of what we can do. But how about if I have an application working like a browser, having a webview implemented in it (if you know). Why don’t we send the ads through the website instead of create mobile ads? Could be this a violation of Google’s AdSense policy ?

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Dan, thanks for your comment. I don’t really understand what you mean. An app, a web app? Anyway, I am not an expert on apps, but AdSense itself doesn’t seperate between in-app ads and mobile apps anymore. Their policy section improved a lot so you might find what you need very fast there. If you come across the answer, I would be thankful if you could post it here.
      Thanks, Thomas

  6. Camila

    Hello am trying to implement these technique into my website but I can’t seem to find a way, am trying to use this plugin Nmedia Sticky Header/Footer Plugin and then paste the responsive ad code and display:none but it still appears a blank space con my homepage… I’m not very experienced doing this but if you can maybe provide me with some more information on how to do it I will appreciate it and maybe we could find some sort of arrangement, thank you.

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Camila, maybe the blank spot is just the ad not yet delivering content? My solution is a custom one and not yet publically available. I might be able to find an agreement with you if you contact me. Best, Thomas

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Sunil, I know I am behind with this, but since I already implemented this for clients I will soon be able to publish a plugin for this.

  7. Dough MacQuaid

    Hey Thomas.. thanks for such a useful article, well we all know how much sticky ads can boost your income through. But still i’m pretty afraid to use them 🙂 suffering from adsensephobia. Can u help we out with some relating article to boost up my ad performance?? i will be really thankful if you respond.

  8. Rajeev Joshi

    Hey Thomas That’s a great post I have very low AdSense earning I think your post have boosted my knowledge not only about Mobile AdSense earning but also cleared a lots of fact about AdSense earning. Thanks for sharing. I have a question are these techniques are not violating AdSense policies?

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Some of these methods might indeed violate the AdSense policies. That’s why I added the note at the beginning of the article.

  9. Rehana

    I have android app blog with good traffic with 0 adsense earning no body click my ad and i was disturbed about it cause 80% of traffic generate from mobile search. But i read your article and i am following your methods to increase my earning. Thanks for sharing this wonderful trick

  10. Pavel

    Hi Thomas, thanks again for the useful post. I’m trying to evaluate the risk of the implementation and would like to ask can you please share (maybe approximate) number of sites on which you implemented this sticky ads and whether some of them had a problem like account suspension or ban after that?

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Pavel, when I can say is that I have seen an AdSense warning recently for an ad that was placed in a sidebar that stopped scrolling at the end. This is a very common feature in themes nowadays, even in themes with AdSense support, but is still against the AdSense terms. The warnings give you 3 days time to fix it and if you do, your account is safe.

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Maybe, but first Google AdSense has to solve all the issues with that ad size.

  11. Pavel

    Hi Thomas!

    Is my understanding right that for your websites the mobile sticky ads have much higher CTR in comparing with “not sticky”? Is this still actual now on your sites, any changes in the performance of sticky ads? I implemented them a week ago but the CTR is still extremely low: less than 0.1%.

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Yes, click rates are still higher, but decreased over time because visitors got used to them.

  12. Pnr Status

    I am here to share my experience as per our previous conversation. I prefer to use asynchronous code instead of responsive beta. I have tried it but it’s not worth to try. I loose lots of bucks in this experiment but finally come to conclusion that old is Gold. Now i am using asynchronous code as responsive on my site http://www.pnrstatusbuzz.in/. You can see it, on desktop you will see 720 banner whereas on mobile you will 366 banner and it’s far more better than responsive one.

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi, what do you mean by “asynchronous code”? The difference between a synchronous and asynchronous ad tags does have nothing to do with the responsive behaviour of an ad.

  13. Pnr Status

    As we know, previously there were only one type of ad script which is synchronous, and later they introduced asynchronous ad script to offer improved web latency and a better user experience for your site’s visitors. The users will be able to load the content of your pages, even if they are having trouble loading the ads. It’s guaranteed that it never get in the way of other parts of your web page loading. We can use it in form of responsive ads on responsive website. We can define on which screen size; we want to display what.

  14. Learn to Friggin Write

    I still have no idea what you mean by Sticky Ad.

    I want my 2 minutes back.

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Ashok, there is probably always something to improve, so reading my blog is a good start 🙂 However, for a site with traffic from India this might already be a good cpc.

          1. Ashok

            Hello sir I want to ask one question that is how we can add adsense link ads into any blog mobile version ? please give me some instruction ?

          2. Thomas Maier Article Author

            Are you referring to Link units? In general there is technically no difference between AdSense on a mobile optimized site or a normal desktop site.

    2. Dog Accessories

      CPC is depend on product types and location , if you are in US so you will get high cpc and if you have insurance related top so also get good earning 🙂

  15. iklan malaya

    Great post, I just get my adsense acc, and Seeking a earning trick, Thanks for this great article Thomas

  16. Immi

    Hi Thomas,

    2.5 Years back when i have applied for adsense with my travel website i got approval but after some time that got banned . After that i have applied many times but not get success , please help me how can i get approval.

    Thanks
    Immi

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Immi, it is a difference to get approval and to overcome a bann. What is it in your case? However, I am not specialized in both and you might rather want to read up on some real experiences from others.
      Thanks, Thomas

        1. indianask

          Can i once again use my Google adsense website for earning . Using new adsense account ?

          Some one says me you can but don’t share complete information.

          Thanks

          1. Thomas Maier Article Author

            You can, if the reason your previous account was banned was removed from that site. You should not count on Google not noticing that a previously monetized site has AdSense again.

      1. Proforbes

        Thanks @Thomas Maier
        Now my client asking to activate adsense on his domain. But i don’t think so his domain is much healthier for adsense. Can you please suggest about it?

  17. Brad Lunt

    Can you use iAds on websites? Has Google came out with anchor ad placement yet? What about all the other networks that do app ads (ad colony etc.) do none of them offer website ads

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      iAds seems to be limited to apps only. Google has page level ads now, which include an implementation of anchor ads too. Other ad networks vary. Some are for apps only, some for websites and maybe some have mixed offers, but there is no general answer to that.

  18. Vaibhav

    Hey Thomas,

    Amazing post! Great to see how granular you get with the optimization of ad units to maximize yield. I was curious about the fill-rate of Adsense and whether it neared 100%.

    Regards,
    Vaibhav

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Vaibhav, AdSense has a fill rate close to 100%. If not, there is often something wrong on the target site.

  19. Arun

    Hi Thanks for showing a way to increase adsense revenue using sticky ads but as we know this technique violates adsense policies . You have mentioned in the comments that you are waiting for the reply from adsense team ,have you got any clarification from them regarding use of sticky ads for mobile users in the end ?

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Hi Arun, there is no discussion about a custom implementation of sticky ads, but with the new Page Level ads, there is an implementation AdSense offers itself. Read more about my experience with it in this article.

  20. Vrushali

    Thank you for your Information. However, based on my experience as a blogger, I have noticed a high CTR on downloads niche blog and a very low CTR on a blogging niche blog. But the CPC is more on blogging niche and less on downloads and tech niche.

    Some people are saying, using fewer ads will increase the revenue. I am not sure about it when Google itself providing the facility. Since my inception of the blog, I have placed ads in the same place by utilizing all the ad space, even I know my blog is eligible for matched content ads. If you don’t have content and have ads placed ..it’s hard to earn, if you have content and even if you don’t place ads correctly, your income may be little less…

    Anyways, after reading your post I changed few things on my blog. Those are very useful in increasing my CTR. Now I am getting CTR 3% to 4%. That feels good to me.

  21. Ramesh

    Interesting post. Did you also compare the bounce rate of users with and w/o sticky ads? When I tried it few months back, I noticed higher bounce rate with fixed ads on mobile and had to remove it.

    1. Thomas Maier Article Author

      Sure, there is a reason (better performance), but indeed, Google does not permit a Medium Rectangle on the initial display of a mobile website, because it moves the content below the fold. You can use a 320×100 instead and implement a Medium Rectangle below the fold.

  22. Kiril

    Sticky ads? I can’t quite get it… Have you got any specialised articles about that?