Ad Layout Optimization For the Best Ad Unit Performance

Reading time: 6 minutes

If there’s one mistake that most new publishers make — and let’s face it, many not-so-new publishers do this too — it’s trying to cram their web pages with as many ads as possible and not prioritizing ad layout optimization. The thought process behind this is to generate more ad revenue. After all, more ads equal more ad revenue, right?


When it comes to generating more ad revenue, it’s all about quality, not quantity. In other words, it’s about getting more out of every ad, which is why you need to consider ad layout optimization when building your website and setting up your ad space. 

If you want your ad units to perform better, then keep reading. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about ad layout optimization, best practices, and more.

Let’s get started.

Ad Layout 101

Your ad layout is essentially a part of your website layout — and your website layout is the arrangement of all the visual elements on each webpage. This layout controls the relationship between your visitors and their experience on your web pages as the intentional position of page elements is meant to deliver the best possible user experience.

The layout is a key component of web design. It determines the sequence in which page elements and content are consumed. Therefore, it’s necessary to add elements that draw the most attention and elements that counteract that attention to create a balance. Together, these elements must enhance the brand’s message and the website’s usability.

Just as a good website layout will lead visitors toward the elements that matter most, a good ad layout will generate the necessary interest in a brand’s products or services without disrupting the user experience.

Additionally, an ad layout is meant to structure the advertising copy and elements in a way that fits in seamlessly with the website layout. Therefore, it should blend in with the website’s color scheme, content theme, and include ads that are most relevant to the user on the page. 

Key Challenges For Publishers

Simply having ads on your web pages or on your app isn’t enough to guarantee revenue, let alone good revenue. It’s common for publishers to forget to consider their ad layouts altogether, which is why many have yet to overcome the following challenges:

A Lack of Cohesion

Every publisher needs a solid ad placement strategy that takes into consideration things like user devices, traffic sources, ad performance (across geolocation), user reading and viewing patterns and so on.

Publishers that don’t think about their ad placement end up with bad ad layouts and ad placements that suffer from low viewability and a poor user experience which both equate to revenue loss.

Banner Blindness

Banner blindness occurs when users are bombarded with ads or frequently encounter bad ads that aren’t relative to them. They get sick of these ads getting in the way of their experience when browsing websites and consuming content. So, they purposely ignore them.

Or worse, they install ad blockers on their browsers. 

Either way, it means the ads aren’t seeing any engagement activity, such as views and clicks. 

Low Ad Earnings

Bad ad layouts plus banner blindness equals a recipe for disaster. Of course, irrelevant ads will also result in low ad earnings since they won’t get the reactions you want from the users. Either way, publishers have to continually test their ad layouts to ensure that their ad units are functioning the way they should and have a good click-through rate. 

Of course, testing ad layouts can be time-consuming, which is why many publishers don’t do it — and suffer for it.

So, how can publishers overcome these challenges? By following several sets of best practices:

Ad Location Best Practices

Ad location is incredibly important in digital advertising, especially when it comes to ad layout optimization. These are the best practices to follow if you want to ensure your ad locations ae primed for better earnings:

  • Keep ads away from navigational elements. Users especially don’t want to click on ads that they didn’t intend to click on. That’s why it’s essential to ensure that you’re keeping any and all of the ad content as far away from the navigational elements on your page as possible — which would include menus, scroll bars, etc. 
  • Pad your ads. In addition to keeping ads away from navigational elements, you’ll want to consider padding them as well. Padding around each ad unit will keep ads a fair distance from navigational elements and even content that you don’t want them interfering with, which will help avoid unwanted clicks and the risk of getting Confirmed Click by Google.
  • Stay above the fold but low at the same time. Staying above the fold means keeping your ads just before the “first scroll.” However, higher isn’t always better, which is why you want to be sure to place some ad units lower when possible. It may sound counterintuitive, but users tend to scroll past ads that appear at the very top of a page simply because they don’t want to see any ads to begin with. If you can put some ads below your content while still managing to keep them above the fold, you’ll see higher rates of ad viewability. If you can’t, try to ensure that your most important ad units stay low.

User Experience Best Practices

Never forget that it’s all about the user experience. In the end, if your users aren’t having a great experience on your website or your app, they’re going to leave — and they won’t come back. 

Therefore, when it comes to your ad layout optimization strategy, you’ll want to follow these user experience best practices:

  • Label your ads. Your users shouldn’t have to wonder whether or not they’re looking at an ad. If there’s any confusion at all, consider yourself in trouble. If you don’t clearly label your ads, not only will your users be unresponsive, but you’ll be in violation of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) and Google’s policies. Put simply, be transparent with your users about the ads on your page.
  • Keep an eye on your page load speed. It’s simple — if your pages are slow to load, users will abandon ship and you’ll lose traffic and impressions. This means you’ll also lose out on media partners since they aren’t receiving the outcomes expected from buying your ad inventory. 
  • Go above and beyond. Make sure you’ve created not just an ad layout that’s honest and aesthetically pleasing but also a website layout that users find enjoyable. Make sure your entire site is easy to navigate, easy to read, looks good, and fits ads into the overall design in a way that adds value. 

Ad Unit Best Practices

Ad unit performance is next in line when it comes to ad layout optimization. This means you’ll need to choose the ad units that will make the most positive impact — without interrupting the user experience, of course.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Sticky ads work best. Sticky ads — ads that stay in place as the user scrolls — are among the highest-performing ad units. It’s pretty self-explanatory and very effective, especially compared to ads that stay in one place and essentially disappear once the user scrolls further down the page.
  • Rail units can boost performance. Over the years, rail units have worked well for both publishers and advertisers. Rail units are ads that occupy the most visible place in a user’s viewport, and despite not being anything fancy, they still add an elegant touch that gets the job done.
  • Format for mobile. Mobile ad units are a bit more tricky since mobile screens are much smaller and therefore come with a significantly different user experience. The best thing you can do when it comes to your mobile ad units is to track your users’ behavior to determine the type of units you should use and where they should be placed. 
  • Use interactive ad units. Generally speaking, the more interactive an ad unit is, the more advertisers will pay for them and the more user interest you’ll establish. Therefore, you’ll want to think about using rewarded video ad units, gamified ad units, and other similar units.

Optimize Your Ad Unit Performance With Freestar

The programmatic world is a complex one, but you don’t have to navigate it all by yourself. When it comes to ad layout optimization, partnering with Freestar is the best way to ensure all the best practices above are followed and that your overall ad unit performance is on par.

With Freestar, publishers will get a fully transparent dashboard they can use to analyze data, a dedicated account and yield management team, SEO and traffic growth assistance, custom monetization efforts, and much more. Get started with Freestar today and let us help you optimize your ad layout to maximize your ad revenue and your brand reputation as a publisher.

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