What Are IAB Standard Ads and Why Are They So Important?

Reading time: 6 minutes

The ad tech[10] industry is at its peak with digital advertising, and it’s only going to continue to grow. However, to grow successfully all of the parties involved must work together like a well-oiled machine to deliver the most engaging ads at the right times and in the right places. This takes a certain amount of rules for everyone to follow, otherwise there would be digital mayhem.

That’s where the Interactive Advertising Bureau[1] (IAB) comes into play. The IAB is a governing body within the ad tech industry that creates standards and guidelines for all parties to work together seamlessly. This would include taking on the responsibility of establishing the standards and guidelines for all ad units and sizes to ensure that the buying and selling process of ad inventory[11][5] runs smoothly. 

In this article, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the IAB standard ad units and what makes them so important.

Read on to learn more. 

The IAB New Ad Portfolio

When we talk about IAB standard ads, we must first address the New Ad Portfolio developed by the IAB Tech Lab in 2017. This new portfolio essentially released the new standards in ad size with a focus on enhancing the entire advertising experience across all platforms, which would include mobile apps, mobile websites, desktop apps and websites, and even social media.

There’s also a focus on “new media experiences” which refers to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) ads for a more “immersive” experience.

Additionally, user intent as well as user privacy provoked the need for most of the changes that have been occurring within the ad tech world. For example, the emergence of heavy privacy laws including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR[2]) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CPRA) have created stringent rules and regulations to protect users from ad fraud[12] and other cybercrimes. This also applies to reducing the need for third-party cookies, putting users’ interest at the forefront of the new IAB standard ad portfolio.

The key takeaways of the new IAB portfolio are as follows:

  • The user’s primary goal is to consume website content, therefore, advertisements should not be disruptive to the user experience in any way.
  • The user experience is the number one priority and can therefore be enhanced by providing users with control over the type of advertising experience they’d prefer, i.e., using obvious “close” buttons in creatives. This allows them to stop the ad creative[13] or get rid of it altogether. 
  • Ads should also render as quickly as possible on a webpage to not slow down the user experience, which is why the IAB’s new ad portfolio considers faster load times.

It should be noted that the new IAB ad portfolio replaces any former ad creative display guidelines for all devices and platforms. This would include the Universal Ad Package (UAP), rich media[6] units, and any other type of ad unit[14].

It also includes two new features:

Flexible Ads

One of the new ad units described in the new IAB ad portfolio is characterized by aspect ratio as opposed to the former fixed-pixel sizes, hence flexible ads.

Users today are extremely active, often using multiple devices at one time for browsing. Therefore, screen sizes vary greatly from desktop to mobile device. This created a need for better adaptability for advertisements as they needed to perfectly fit into a multitude of screen sizes, which is what makes flexible ads so important.

A flexible ad unit will ensure that all ads are delivered perfectly across the various screen sizes and can also be integrated with even the most responsive web designs. Essentially, these types of ad units maintain their aspect ratio so that they may adjust according to screen size —which is something that fixed pixels couldn’t do. 

Additionally, flexible ads improve operational efficiency for publishers as they maintain the original value of the ad creatives, ensuring the ads delivered look good to ensure a good user experience


In addition to flexibility, the new IAB ad portfolio has also put an emphasis on LEAN ads — which is an acronym for light, encrypted, AdChoice supported, and non-invasive ad units. Once again, the user experience is the top priority in the ad tech world, and the IAB wants to ensure that users have complete control over the content they consume and to show respect for their choices.

This is ultimately accomplished by serving users with LEAN ads. For example, a lightweight a will make sure that any page latency is minimized as the ads are rendered quickly. Non-disruptive ads ensure that users are able to enjoy the main web page content without any interruptions.

To get a better understanding of the flexible and LEAN ad specifications, publishers can view the IAB New Standard Ad Unit Portfolio at length.

What Are IAB Standard Ads?

IAB standard ads refer to the new standard ad sizes, which are characterized by ad units that are seen on most web pages. Currently, there are three different sizes that are considered/ standard ads:

  • Leaderboard ads at 728×90 pixels
  • Medium rectangle ads at 300×250 pixels
  • Skyscraper ads at 160×600 pixels

These three ad unit sizes are used the most within the ad tech world as they’re considered to be the most profitable ad creative sizes. Publishers can easily implement these ad units because there’s always a high demand from advertisers since they increase the potential for ad revenue.

What’s more, the IAB’s new ad portfolio also recognizes a few other ad sizes in their standard collective. This would include the following:

  • Billboard ads at 970×250 pixels
  • Smartphone banner ads[7] at 300×50 or 320×50 pixels
  • Portrait ads at 300×600 pixels

However, these aren’t used as widely as the previously mentioned ad sizes because they don’t stand to bring in as much revenue. Of course, it’s still necessary for publishers to experiment with different ad sizes to determine which will bring in the best returns. It should also be noted that by using different ad sizes, you can avoid banner blindness — which is an ongoing problem with common ad sizes. 

You can learn more about the IAB standard ad specifications right here.

Why Are IAB Standards So Important?

With all roads leading back to the user experience, when it comes to the new ad standards put forth by the IAB, there are two incredibly important things that publishers and advertisers alike must consider: Viewability[8] and consistency.


Traditionally speaking, the ad tech world used viewability measures as a focus for brand advertising. Research shows that viewability has indeed become a valuable metric in brand awareness campaigns, as there’s a consistent relationship between the amount of time an ad is viewable and the increase of awareness that the brand exists — as well as its subsequent consideration. 

However, performance[9] advertising also has a major stake in the value of viewability. Recent research also shows that there’s a link between performance outcomes and brand outcomes. That link is higher conversion rates.

When you take into consideration the new ad standard specifications, you can see why those specific sizes generate more viewability and higher outcomes. Ultimately, ads that have the best chance of being seen are the ones that drive the most results.


When you take into consideration the ad viewability standards put forth by the Media Rating Council (MRC), you’ll understand that when these standards aren’t consistently applied across the industry, inflated conversion numbers tend to crop up from ads that were never clicked on or actually seen.

While an ad doesn’t have to be clicked on to be effective in a marketing campaign[15], there is still a need for accurate calculations in regards to view-through conversions. If publishers and advertisers include these inflated conversions from ads that were never seen across multiple media sources, then their cost per acquisition[3] (CPA) calculations would be overvalued and therefore incorrect. 

This would lead to making poorly informed spending decisions for the next advertising campaign, which is something all marketers want to avoid. That’s why consistency in ad creative sizing is so important, as it provides a more consistent measure of what all parties within the ad tech world can expect when it comes to calculating these metrics to make future decisions.

Ultimately, consistency paves the way to higher rates of viewability. When all the players in programmatic advertising[4] are on the same page — as in adhering to the new IAB standard ad specifications — everyone has a chance at offering the best user experience possible. This ensures that the ad tech world can continue to deliver more ads, creating brand awareness, higher conversions, and ensuring that everyone involved has a chance at increasing their bottom line.

1. Interactive Advertising Bureau. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) empowers the media and marketing industries to thrive in the digital economy. Its membership is comprised of more than 650 leading media companies, brands, and the technology firms responsible for selling, delivering and optimizing digital ad marketing campaigns. The trade group fields critical research on interactive advertising, while also educating brands, agencies, and the wider business community on the importance of digital marketing. In affiliation with the IAB Tech Lab, IAB develops technical standards and solutions. IAB is committed to professional development and elevating the knowledge, skills, expertise, and diversity of the workforce across the industry. Through the work of its public policy office in Washington, D.C., the trade association advocates for its members and promotes the value of the interactive advertising industry to legislators and policymakers. Founded in 1996, IAB is headquartered in New York City.
2. General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR] ( GDPR ) GDPR which is also known as the General Data Protection Regulation is a set of personal data regulations created for EU citizens. It changes the way businesses stores and collects data from its users from the EU.
3. cost per acquisition. Cost per action/acquisition. A payment model in which advertisers pay for every action, such as a sale or registration, completed as a result of a visitor clicking on their advertisement. Note that an "acquisition" is the same as a "conversion".
4. programmatic advertising. Programmatic advertising entails using machine learning and technology suites to buy and sell ad inventory with a data-driven process.
5. ad inventory. Ad Inventory refers to the number of ad impressions available for sale on a publisher’s website or mobile app. In other words, these are the commodities available for the advertisers to buy on the website.

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