Anyone who publishes a mobile-friendly site often finds that one of the greatest challenges is getting it to produce a decent amount of revenue.
Mobile text ads help solve that problem by providing an alternative ad type to mobile sites that seem to rely so heavily on display.
Visit numerous mobile sites with a smartphone browser to see what kind of advertising types they provide. The great majority have display ads, but most do not offer text ads.
The Revenue Challenge
Mobile sites usually have fewer display ads than desktop sites. One reason why of course is that mobile screens are much smaller and site visitors won’t scroll forever.
Search engines understand those limits and are making a point of upgrading fast sites and downgrading slow ones. For example, Google has announced that it penalizes sites that are not mobile friendly and is emphasizing the need for quick downloads.
As a result, it is common to see a mobile site with at most two or three display ads. Some of them offer only one.
Revenue suffers because the mobile site has fewer display ads. It suffers even more because mobile CPMs in general are much lower than desktop CPMs. Various sources estimate the average is 25 to 50 percent of desktop.
Size Matters: Smaller May Be Better
Mobile display advertising began with standard sizes of 320×50 and 300×50 to fit the width of a phone with a vertical display.
That was great for the user experience because the size was non-intrusive. It was not great for advertisers because the sizes were so small that they were easy to overlook.
Sites then began experimenting with a depth of 100 pixels and found that the click rates improved. Larger is better in the digital advertising environment.
So it was only logical that 300×250 would perform even better. That it does, but the depth takes up a great deal of screen space. User experience starts to decline because they can see less content and because they have to scroll more.
Text ads don’t have that problem because they require less depth that the 300×250. But the logical question to ask is: How is a simple text ad any different than a 320×50 display ad?
The difference lies in the creative. Mobile display ads use a graphical image that often is hard to see in a 320×50 space when it also has text. A mobile text ad has no graphic, therefore it can use much larger text. It also isn’t limited to a 320×50 space. It can use any space dimension that works, including a vertical inset.
Just as importantly, a text ad requires less bandwidth for downloading, which means more of them can be used than display ads without triggering a penalty from the search engines or creating a weaker user experience.
Mobile Text Ad Testing with AdSense
As always, it makes sense to test various combinations of text ads to see which fonts, colors and placements work best.
Someone can get started by using Google AdSense link units as a first step. Link units is the term that Google uses to describe the text ads they provide publishers to put on their sites.
Coincidentally, Google has an article titled “Make the most out of limited space with link units” that applies equally well both to desktop and mobile sites. Space is certainly limited on mobile sites.
AdSense has a limited number of size options. The 728×15 and 468×15 are too wide for a mobile phone. That leaves 200×90, 180×90, 160×90 and 120×90.
Publishers who have an AdSense account should create link units and give them titles that are easily identifiable as being used for mobile, i.e., “Mobile 200x90a” and “Mobile 200x90b,” to track the results for two different units.
Again because of width limitations, the best options are a single 200×90 centered, a pair of 120x90s side by side or any of the options set next to other content.
Placement rules follow the same pattern as display ads.
The bottom of the page gets the worst results because people usually don’t scroll that far. In my experience, a mobile ad of any kind at the bottom of the page is a waste of bandwidth.
Ads at the top of the page also do poorly.
That leaves various points in the middle of the page.
Direct Sales of Mobile Text Ads
Larger sites that sell directly to advertisers rather than relying only on an ad network can use the results of the AdSense units to find the best placements, track click rates and establish a rate card price for mobile text ads.
If a site doesn’t use network ads, the alternative is using house ads that promote various features and sections on the site.
Taking this approach has a much lower risk than selling a new type of advertising with no track record to an unsuspecting advertiser who may end up disappointed, never to return.