6 Types of Ad Tests and How to Run Them

Reading time: 9 minutes

You won’t find any one specific method when it comes to yielding the highest possible revenue for your ad revenue. Therefore, publishers typically default to switching up their ad types and sizes to see which generates more impressions as a means to test their ad placement options. 

However, this doesn’t usually garner any finite data that would contribute to the publisher[9]’s side of the ad tech[10] ecosystem. This is because the overall user experience (UX) is always shifting, which means optimization efforts for programmatic advertising are also always shifting.

Ad testing, in general, is a type of A/B testing. It’s what we use to compare the performance[3] of two developments in the digital world. In the ad tech world, ad testing has a wide range of variables to play with, such as ad type, content, colors, and so on. What’s more, this type of testing has evolved into something that can offer publishers like yourself more unique data to help you strategize better.

Each element on your website can be tested in various ways and each has a different purpose. However, every publisher has the same goal and that’s to increase their ad revenue, which is also the collective purpose of running these tests. 

For example, you can run an A/B test on two different ad types that both have the purpose of garnering more impressions. However, the purpose of increasing your impressions is directly related to targeting[11] a higher click-through rate (CTR[1]) — which directly increases your ad revenue.

There are plenty of tests out there that publishers can use to get the best results for their ad revenue goals. However, most publishers will have different needs which means different results will benefit different publishers. Therefore, the main takeaway here is that as a publisher, you must continuously run ad tests to see what works best for you, as opposed to not testing at all. 

Let’s dive in and discuss the six most common ad tests and other things to consider for the best results. 

1. Ad Format Testing

With ad format testing, you’ll be specifically testing which ad type or format garners the best CTRs. 

For this test, you’ll want to choose a web page and ad type/format and then start creating variations for them. For example, if the page has a display ad on the sidebar, try using a variation of a text ad in the same location to see if your CTRs change for the better or worse.

If this is your first time with ad testing, it’s recommended to run your preliminary tests on a page that gets significantly low traffic. This way you can generate data and insight without disrupting the UX or anything on a higher-tracking page. 

2. Ad Size Testing

With ad size testing, you’ll be looking to see which ad sizes or dimensions get the highest number of impressions.

For this test, it’s important to know that there are a few particular ad sizes with proven results. For example, the 728×90 leaderboard and the 200×250 small rectangle. However, you’ll also need to consider your website layout as it could affect the performance of these ad dimensions.

If you have a clean-cut layout with an emphasis on more white spacing, you can complement that aesthetic by using bigger ad sizes just below the navigation. Adversely, if your website has a layout with more attractions and click points, a smaller ad size placed above or in between content may work better.

Pay close attention to the current spacing on your website. This should give you a better visual understanding of which ad sizes can fit where — without disrupting the UX.

3. Ad Placement Testing

With ad placement testing, you’re testing to see which ad placements see a better CTR.

Using the knowledge that we humans read from left to right, it’s fairly common to keep your page content on the left-hand side and your ads to the right. The only caveat is that this setup allows your users to predict where the ads will be on your site so they can more readily ignore them, which directly affects your CTR.

Therefore, you’ll want to carry out this test by placing your ads on the left side of your page while maintaining their alignment with the main content. Just make sure your ads and content don’t overlap.

You can also play around with above-the-fold ads as long as you make sure the main attraction of your page remains above the fold[4] as well. For instance, if you run a site that offers downloadable resources, make sure your call-to-action (CTA) can be found above the fold.

4. Ad Layout Testing

Ad layout testing is used to figure out which ad combinations will maximize ad revenue.

This test is a little tricky as it involves testing one ad size against another and one ad format against another — for your entire layout. It requires that you use ad layout testing tools to create different possible variations of entire layouts with different combinations of ad formats, sizes, and placements. 

This test will enable you the unique ability to create variants without disrupting your page too much. You can choose the variants you like best (or all of them) and test each layout to see which performs the best. 

5. User Device Testing

User device testing helps you determine which ad variation gets better impressions and CTRs based on the user device.

Generally speaking, it’s essential to keep track of your traffic as it correlates with various user devices. As of August 2022, 62.06% of all user traffic comes from mobile devices. This means the remainder of internet users are split up among other devices, including desktops, tablets, and so on. 

To carry out this test, it’s a good idea to use Google Analytics[2] or a similar analytics tool for publishers to track the division in your traffic based on the user device. Wherever your traffic numbers are highest is where you need to focus your optimization and formatting attention. 

Keep in mind that user device testing will also be directly related to the type of website targeting you do. If you’re targeting your audience specifically via mobile device, then you can expect to see higher traffic numbers in that area. You can go even further, however, to break down the formatting by the device brand, operating system (OS), browser type, and even viewport size to get more granular insights.

6. Ad Color Testing

For ad color testing, you’ll be looking to see which text ad presentation receives the highest CTR.

Text ads are plain, which allows them to generally blend in better with web pages and garner higher CTRs compared to your standard display ads[5]. This is especially true — and beneficial — for publishers with content-rich websites. If you use AdSense for your publishing, then you know the dashboard offers you the option to choose and set the style for your text ads, which includes the font family and colors used.

With text ads being the more subtle option with a text-like aesthetic, they’re better able to catch users’ attention. You can play around with your text ads by changing the color and presentation to make them blend in better with your website’s content and overall layout — just be sure to create test variants to see what works best. 

Some More Ad Testing Considerations

Ads prove to be most effective when everything works seamlessly throughout your entire website. This would include the overall design, content, layout, UX, etc. Therefore, when conducting your ad tests, you’ll also want to consider the following:

The Webpage Layout

While it’s necessary to conduct tests on the ad sizes, formats, and placements, you still need to ensure that your website as a whole is benefiting from that testing. This means you’ll also need to run A/B tests for your web page content, among other elements to see which ad-element combination works best for your goals. 

There are plenty of ad layout testing tools out there, including Optimizely and VWO, both of which can help you create variations to test against. What’s more, these tools will automatically send user traffic to the most effective variation, which makes your life easier and gives you the data you need to make your on-page improvements.

The Content Type

The point of creating content is to match what your target audience is searching for. Therefore, you always need to ensure that your page content is optimized for relevant user searches. By optimizing your content, you’re ensuring that your pages get more traffic which equates to higher impressions and a bigger bottom line.

You can test out the content type by seeing which type — long-form, listicles, short-form, resource-guide, infographic, review, case study, etc — to see which your audience responds to the most. The goal is to garner better engagement rates, but you’ll need to pay attention to your on-page metrics, like session duration as well.

Ads By the User Interface 

Depending on your priorities at the moment, you may want to start by testing your ad types, sizes, and placement based on your current user interface design (UI). 

For example, if your website sees more engagement above the fold using video ads[12], you can try out pre-roll or even rich media[6] ads in that same section. Additionally, if you have infinite scroll enabled, you can use sticky ads[7]

Take the time to get to know the characteristics of your website to figure out which ad types and placements you can play around with. This will help you come up with the best variations to test out for the UI.

The Browser and OS

The primary browsers used include Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. While the majority use Chrome, your users can really be coming from anywhere — which means you’ll want to use Google Analytics or a similar tool for the traffic split regarding your users’ browsers and operating systems.

Using this data, you can perform a browser-wide test to see where you need to optimize your website’s performance. You can also use it to make sure your ads are properly rendered across all browser types.

The Ad Networks

Demand is one of the biggest factors in ad revenue, which means you’ll need to go beyond ad tests and run additional tests on the ad networks you’re partnered with. This will allow you to figure out which ad network[8] helps you generate the most ad revenue for your inventory[13].

If you use AdSense, you’ll have the option to work with multiple ad network partners at once. Many other ad networks offer this same option, and they all allow you to generate reports to gain better insights into which ad networks are worth your time and which aren’t.

Bad Testing Habits to Avoid

Testing is not only necessary but it’s effective. However, with all the different types of ad tests, you can use, there’s a lot of room for error. 

Here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind or avoid altogether when conducting your ad tests:

  • Have patience. Ad testing in all of its forms takes time, which means you can’t expect hard data after just a day or two. Once you get solid data, you’ll have a benchmark to compare your future ad tests to, so it’s worth waiting for.
  • Don’t over-optimize. In other words, you don’t want to test everything at once. Running the above six tests simultaneously can skew your results and give you false data. It’s best to select a few tests and run them one at a time. 
  • Keep the UX in mind. If an ad test is going to compromise the UX in any way, then skip it for the time being. It’s one thing if you’re conducting a website overhaul, but the last thing you want to do is cause latency or other issues on your pages because this will cause your users to abandon your website completely.
  • Keep testing. What’s working now may not work later on because your ad test results will always be based on your users’ responses to the changes you’ve made. However, traffic volume and user behavior will continue to change, which means the results you got three or four months prior won’t yield[14] the same results down the road.
  • Don’t run blind or random tests. In other words, evaluate your historical data before you start conducting ad tests so you can see if any tests have already been performed and what their results were. You need to know where you stand before you can create a goal.
  • Run the run tests at the right times. Again, don’t just randomly start running ad tests because we’ve told you that you need to do so. Evaluate your historical data first and consider whether you have a peak and off-peak traffic season. Essentially, you’ll want to avoid running ad tests during the days or months when you garner the highest revenue from your ad inventories. 

Wrapping it Up

Ad testing will undoubtedly help you see an increase in your CTRs, CPMs, and even your page RPMs. Keep in mind that your result will differ from that of other publishers — even your competitors — which is why you need to use your own historical data as a jumping point.

Whether you choose to use automation tools, conduct manual tests, or both, ad testing will help you to deliver the best possible user experience and continue to increase your ad revenue over time.

Terms
1. Click-Through-Rate [CTR] ( CTR ) CTR relates to how many times users clicked on an ad divided by the number of times that ad was displayed to users.
2. Google Analytics. This is Google’s traffic tracking and analytics tool that gives publishers insight into traffic origins, popular pages on their website and much more.
3. performance. A form of advertising in which the purchaser pays only when there are measurable results.
4. above the fold. Typically the upper half of a website or any part a user can view without having to scroll down. Automatically viewable.
5. display ads. Display ads are a term used for traditional banner advertisements that serve on mobile or desktop web pages. Like video ads, many variations, types, and sizes exist.

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