Auto refreshing ads have existed for a long time, but it hasn’t really been a mainstream practice until recently. In the past, publishers would use auto-refresh as a “trick” to boost their profits. Therefore, it didn’t really appeal to neither advertisers nor users. The truth is, however, that auto-refreshing ad exists because there’s a necessity for it. There are many monetization challenges that media owners can encounter. At a certain point, traditional methods just don’t cut it. That said, this technology has evolved quite a bit over the years. Today we’re looking at full-featured solutions that address most of the concerns of the past. Of course, there are still some risks you should be aware of. Let’s take a deep dive into refreshing and see how it can be implemented correctly.
Auto Refresh as a feature
The feature may still be frowned upon by some people in the industry. Yet, it is important to understand that in certain situations it’s the only viable option. So why do we need auto-refresh at all? Well, the problem lies with the way platforms and monetization work as a whole. In many cases, ad revenue doesn’t always scale proportionately with website engagement, even though they are intrinsically connected. The basic model for programmatic is set up so that publishers benefit the most from retaining as much traffic as possible and encouraging visitors to create more page views. That certainly works for some. But what happens with publishers whose content is intended for maximum time spent per page instead of the amount of pageviews generated? It’s simple – the business suffers. Let’s explore two examples of such website types, that perfectly showcase the dilemma.
This publisher has a web app, which can be used inside the visitor’s browser; the website really has 2 pages overall, but they are highly interactive. An average user would spend around 5 minutes on the website. For that entire time, they would only see one or two ads the publisher was able to fit on the page. That doesn’t sound very fair to the publisher, does it? Well, this is where ad refreshing comes in. Publishers can create new inventory from the same pageviews, by utilizing it. Simply put, the technology is compensating it, through higher users’ engagement.
This publisher has a rather standard article layout, however, the publishing frequency is a lot less regular. Instead, each piece is long and comprehensive, which is usually the case with highly technical or instructional websites. This business model simply isn’t meant to deliver high amounts of various articles on a daily basis. But to drive deep engagement with every single post, which leads to a similar situation as with Publisher A. With only so many ads allowed per page and a bounce rate that’s naturally high the revenues are suffering. The conclusion is similar. By using refreshing ads, publishers can make more with that they’ve got available and still produce the type of content they desire.
Both these examples show that auto-refresh isn’t a trick to boost profits at the expense of user experience. It can rather be a valuable tool for specific publisher types. Without it, many media owners would be struggling to keep up the business and with staggering growth comes less incentive to experiment. As a result we’d be looking at a market with a lot less diversity, where most would prefer to play it safe.
Of course, it’s not recommended for everyone to be using refreshing ads. For some publishers, it may actually have a negative effect both on the user experience and profits. The specifics of which we’ll cover in a second. Auto-refreshing scripts can vary, but there are 3 main types based on their behavior. Let’s explore each one and where they should be applied for the highest effectiveness.
It is probably the most common type of implementation and is pretty much the default. A timer starts each time an ad is triggered with a predetermined duration. A different ad is displaying, when the time is up. This is an ongoing process, for as long as the session lasts. Most of the time the number of refreshes is set to prevent the loop from going on indefinitely. Especially when the tab is open passively. Most marketplaces also have restrictions on the refresh interval, so that ads are not rotating constantly.
This method is the simplest of all to implement but it’s not without its downsides. First and foremost viewability is going to suffer. Since most of the newly delivered ads are probably not going to be seen at all. Whenever users are browsing, they can usually keep one or two ads on the screen at most. This means that for each subsequent refresh the viewability rate for off-screen placement decreases. Naturally, rates also diminish as a result. Therefore, the advertisers still have reservations towards refreshing inventory. Network usage and data processing are also affected. Today, it is less relevant to modern technology available, but it’s still a factor to consider.
Nevertheless, in most cases, the increased amount of ad requests generated more than makes up for the limitations of this method and brings higher revenues overall. In short, it’s a simple way to start but it’s far from being the most efficient.
Event based (or action based) auto refresh
Strictly speaking, event-based and action-based refreshing are slightly different in definition. They behave almost identically so for the sake of argument we’ve put them in the same category. The bottom line is that the script is executing only after a user is initiating an activity. It serves as a trigger. In most cases the process is still pairing with a timer, to prevent consecutive refreshes stacking on top of each other.
There’s one major benefit to this model – it only occurs when there’s engagement. This means you won’t be wasting resources towards users that aren’t interacting, ruining your overall metrics. Although it still suffers some of the same limitations as regular time-based refreshing. This type is particularly useful in a number of situations. Including, any kind of website, usually kept open in the background for extended periods of time. Generally speaking, you don’t want to display ads whenever they won’t be seen at all. This is a pretty solid way to avoid that. Additionally, you can tie the process to specific events or actions. By doing so, the scrips would not affect the user experience in any way.
That said, the main issue here is that the ad refresh requires a suitable trigger. And it may be difficult to find if one exists at all. In case this method sounds like the solution for you, the best thing you can do is to first set up proper tracking of user activities so that you’re not shooting in the dark.
Smart auto-refresh is the most advanced technology of the three and definitely the most versatile. In its essence, it’s a combination of the time based and event-based methods, while also taking viewability into account. It’s highly configurable and gives you maximum control over when and how ads are refreshing. If you’re concerned with the user experience you can create a rather conservative setup. In case you’re struggling to reach any monetization goals you may want to go aggressive instead.
The biggest difference between smart auto-refresh and any of the other types is that it can track viewability. Also, it only reloads the placements when they’ve been in view for a certain amount of time. That’s extremely useful for publishers as it is preventing viewability rates to become completely obliterated. Once the damage is done, it could be difficult to reverse. The way marketplaces evaluate your inventory is complex and includes a lot of historical data. Even if you decide to go back to your original static setup it could be a while before things are back to normal. Not to mention that having to constantly balance between higher CPMs and additional inventory volumes, always wondering if you’re missing out, can be a stressful experience.
The bottom line is that with smart auto-refresh you’re getting pretty much all of the benefits but none of the drawbacks. The only limitation is compatibility with other custom scripts that control ads or their loading. Yet, it is not a reason to worry, as it can be overcome with a few adjustments.
If you’d like to find out more, check out our Smart React solution and sign up for a free trial. Our representatives will give you a comprehensive consultation to find out the best configuration for you and guide through the integration process. Get in touch and get going with the modern way to refresh ad placements today!