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Analysis

How to Monetize Mobile Traffic Without Scaring Users Off

Many marketers lard their sites and apps with wrong pop-ups and buttons. It’s possible to achieve reasonable CPMs without driving away users. Learn how

Todd Wasserman
December 26 2018

Mobile has quickly evolved from a sideline player to the main attraction. Three years ago, Google reported that mobile searches exceeded those on desktop. Last year, BrightEdge found that 57% of traffic comes from smartphones and tablets.

Though methods monetizing desktop traffic are well established, they’re not transferable. Mobile is still relatively new terrain.

The good news is that there are multiple ways to make money on mobile traffic. The bad news is that some techniques will drive away users and negatively affect SEO rankings. An effective mobile monetization strategy maximizes mobilization without overly compromising the user experience.

As any mobile user knows, many marketers often cross the line. Frequently, marketers lard their sites and apps with pop-ups, incorrectly formatted ads, and the “dreaded X” button that’s almost impossible to tap. This doesn’t have to be the case; it’s possible to achieve reasonable CPMs without driving away users.

Use-Responsive Design

Responsive websites change their appearance according to device. On desktop, a site will fill a horizontal space, but on a narrow smartphone screen, it’s vertically oriented. While no one tracks the percentage of responsive sites, a 2017 Search Engine Land analysis found that over half of the 100 most-trafficked websites used responsive design.

Dynamic serving is an alternative to responsive design. While responsive design uses the same URL and HTML regardless of the user’s device, dynamic serving offers the same URL for each device but generates a different version of HTML based on the user’s browser. Another option is creating separate URLs for mobile and desktop.

One selling point for responsive design is that it’s Google recommended. Using Google’s AdSense-responsive ad units eliminates improperly formatted ads which compromise the user experience. Another alternative is AMP (accelerated mobile pages), which load faster than standard pages. AMP ads load 5 seconds faster than standard ads, yet look identical.

Finally, progressive web apps (which also look like web pages) are apps that users don’t have to download. PWAs are as fast as AMPs, just more expensive.

Sales Strategies

Once the ad design format is set, publishers can choose from several routes to sell their inventory. If the company has a sales team, it can save the best inventory for later use. Premium inventory might include ads on the home page, splash-up screen, or start page. Ads with rich media will fetch higher prices. Sales teams can sell their inventory directly or through private marketplaces (PMPs) – invitation-only forums that use programmatic technology.

Marketers can also go the mobile ad networks route, which aggregate inventory for publishers. Such ad networks have experience selling mobile ads, as well as relationships that single businesses might not be able to match. On the plus side, ad networks could earn higher CPMs than publishers would otherwise achieve. The downside is that the quality of ad networks varies. Some are biased toward certain inventory, and the networks often take a cut that limits profits. Publishers also lose control over who is buying their inventory.

Finally, publishers often rely on Google to sell their unsold inventory. While that is the path of least resistance, they can likely do better monetizing that inventory elsewhere. Using a yield optimizer to connect that inventory to multiple mobile ad networks can produce higher CPMs. This technique, known as waterfalling or daisy-chaining, can bring in more money, sometimes at the expense of load times. The same is true for header bidding, which lets multiple ad networks bid on the same inventory in real time.

Finding What Works

As with everything else in marketing and advertising, the best way to discover what works best is through experimentation. That means testing different ad units and sales strategies with a close eye on what yields higher CPMs and has the least negative impact on user experience.

Fortunately, there are many free tools that let publishers test their sites’ load times, including Google’s Test My Site. Another way is to make a habit of testing the site yourself and assessing the user experience. Does it load quickly? Are the ads intrusive and annoying?

Maintaining a good user experience will limit the amount you can make via mobile ads. But while overloading a mobile site might boost profits in the short term, it’s a disastrous strategy overall, promoting even loyal users to flee. That’s why the smartest mobile publishers aren’t necessarily employing the best tools on the market. Rather, they are banking on something that’s often in short supply these days: restraint.

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Todd Wasserman

Todd Wasserman is a journalist with 25 years of experience. He has been freelancing full time since 2015. Before that he was the business editor for Mashable from 2010-2015. From 1999-2010 he worked at Adweek's Brandweek, starting as a reporter and ending as editor-in-chief (2007-2010). He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, The Washington Post and The Economist, among other publications.

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