Ad Refresh Explained

If you are exploring ways to increase your ad yield, you’ve probably stumbled upon ad refresh as a tool that can help you earn incremental revenue from the same users that visit your site. But what exactly is ad refresh and is it right for your site? In this article, we’ll answer these questions, as well as discuss some best practices and implications of its implementation.

What is ad refresh?

Ad refresh allows publishers to load new ads in a single user session without reloading the entire page. The refresh is activated on a specific trigger (such as time, event, or user action) and practically increases the ad impressions that publishers can monetize.

Types of ad refresh

Depending on the trigger that will activate the refresh, we differentiate between the following types:

Time-based ad refresh

As the name suggests, time-based ad refresh simply means that a new ad will be loaded after a predetermined time interval, such as 30, 60, or 90 seconds. The trigger will usually activate regardless of whether the user is browsing the page or not, which means they might have another tab open and not be looking at the page at all. This directly impacts ad viewability in a negative way and respectively results in lower rates for ads as advertisers are not willing to put their money on placements that are not being seen. 

Event-based ad refresh

An ad refresh is considered event-based when a trigger is an event initiated by the publisher. Most commonly, this would be reloading the page to display new content, such as game scores, sports stats, etc. 

Action-based ad refresh

This type of ad refresh is triggered when the user completes certain actions. For example, clicking on an element of the page, reaching the end of an article, or scrolling the page. Having user actions as a trigger ensures that the website visitor is actually on the page and viewability scores are higher than those for time- and event-based refresh. However, the ad might still be off-screen and therefore not viewable for some of the cases, enter smart refresh. 

Smart ad refresh

Smart ad refresh, or in-view refresh, uses a combination of triggers to determine whether the ad to be reloaded is actually viewable. At PubGalaxy we have our own tool for that, Smart React. It works with high-quality demand and detects user engagement to only refresh ads that are considered viewable, according to IAB’s definition. This ensures that any extra impressions will be worth the additional browser load and drive stable revenue growth.

Ad refresh best practices

Know your provider policies

…and comply with them. Different providers have different policies regarding ad refresh. Make sure you are familiar with the policies of demand partners you are using for refreshing ad units and declare the inventory accordingly. AdSense, for example, does not allow ad refreshing. Other networks have minimum time interval requirements. Most require you to clearly specify the inventory that you are refreshing. Get familiar with your partners’ policies and follow them to avoid possible network bans.

Measure what matters

Collecting data on the relevant metrics at the relevant time will help you set your baseline and determine how you are doing once you get started. Measure and monitor CPMs, page RPM, revenue per session, engagement, fill and viewability rates pre and post ad refresh implementation. Another important piece of information you need to understand is which demand partners are bidding for your second and third impressions. Their performance may wildly vary between first and second impression and therefore you need to measure and optimize your setup accordingly.  

Test, test, test

As with anything in ad tech, A/B testing is crucial to determine what works for your site when it comes to ad refreshing. You can test various triggers, time intervals, demand partner setups, as well as inventory segments, and different ad placements that are being refreshed. It is important to monitor the effect on your overall revenue if you get more impressions but your CPMs are declining, then you need to determine if this is due to inappropriate implementation or if ad refresh simply is not the best choice for your website. 

Ad refresh implementation implications

While refreshing ads on your website may seem like a straightforward way to grow your revenue, things are a bit more complicated. Implementing ad refresh does impact your website performance in several ways.

First of all, to refresh an ad the page needs to send a new HTTP request to the ad server, which translates into higher bandwidth usage and somewhat inferior user experience, the extent of which depends on the user’s geolocation. However, this shouldn’t be confused with initial page load times, which are not affected by ad refresh in any way. 

Another implication of ad refresh implementation is how it affects your CPMs. As advertisers would prefer that your audience spends more time looking at their ads, they are likely to value more inventory that doesn’t refresh. This drives CPMs down over time, even though your overall revenue may be growing. Therefore, it’s important to select the right placements for this practice and to A/B test various setups. In general, if your audience has a high average time on site and session time, a proper ad refresh implementation will only drive your total yield up.

Is ad refresh right for your site?

Whether or not ad refresh is right for your site would depend on a number of factors, such as your audience specifics and your monetization strategy.

We already mentioned that longer user session time and average time on site are good indicators of whether ad refresh is a good idea for your site. Another point to consider is ad viewability. Ad placements with high viewability, such as sticky banners are more appropriate for ad refresh.

Don’t forget to factor in your monetization strategy. If you rely primarily on direct sales, then you’d want to maximize your ad viewability scores and boost your inventory value. If you want to maximize your programmatic ad revenues, implementing ad refresh makes sense and is worth testing on the right ad placements.

Wrap up

Ad refresh can be a great tool to maximize your earnings if you use it right. There are a number of things to consider when deciding if, how, and where to implement it, so if you need help to decide whether it would be a good fit for your inventory, get in touch with us for an evaluation.