Promise Media
Online Advertising Rates: Tips and Guidelines
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Online advertising rates are set through a combination of ad size, ad location, ad performance and market demand.

Optimizing this key ad sales tactic results in higher revenue, increased advertiser acquisition and increased advertiser retention, which in turn influence the price on the online rate card.

Ad Size and Dimensions


he size of the ad is a major factor in Website advertising rates because of the amount of space each one takes up on a page. Just as broadcast sells time and print sells space, online sells pixels.

keyboardHere are the total pixels for the three Internet Advertising Bureau sizes that dominate the universal ad package for online display advertising:

  • 728 x 90 – 65,520 pixels
  • 300 x 250 – 75,000 pixels or 14 percent larger than the 728
  • 160 x 600 – 96,000 pixels or 28 percent larger than the 300 and 47 percent larger than the 728

Based strictly on space alone, the 160 x 600 skyscraper should command the highest premium on the rate card, followed by the 300 x 250 and then the 728 x 90.

Dimensions via the ratio of height to width matter because they impact the creative. As a result, the 300 x 250 often gets the best rate and highest demand because it works better for creative, despite the larger size of the 160 x 600.

Ad Location

Ads located above the scroll perform best. Whether they also work best on the left, in the center or on the right depends in part on what else the page contains.

However, a leaderboard (728 x 90) does not perform well above the site logo. It usually performs better to the right of the logo and even better below it.

Although the skyscraper is the largest size, what is known as the pillow or rectangle — the 300 x 250 — often is seen as having a strong clickthrough rate and location when it is placed within the body of an article and the article wraps around it.

Ad Performance

Online advertising rate card

A simple example of an online rate card from Memphis magazine.


ize, location and the quality of the ad contribue to ad performance — in other words, the clicks. Performance increases with targeting as well. An ad about job openings for nurses will perform well in an employment section for nurses.

But that same ad is likely to perform less well if it runs in other employment sections.

Therefore, the ad might command a premium on price in the most targeted section and a discount in other sections of a site.

Market Demand

The perception of better performance and location leads to higher market demand. For many sites, that higher demands results in a premium on the online ad rate.

A publisher will find that setting a rate card at a level low enough to sell out the bulk of the inventory will increase retention for advertisers and drive up rates in the long run.

Content sites will find that a careful balancing of the above four factors will drive higher sellout rates and advertising market share.

Unit CPM Rates


PM is cost per thousand impressions. A review of 13 online newspaper rate cards showed the following average run-of-site (ROS), open-contract rates for the three major banner positions:

  • 728 x 90: $14.88
  • 300 x 250: $16.12
  • 160 x 600: $15.25

Most of the 13 newspapers charged a similar rate for each position. Most major media sites charge at least a $10 CPM and some go as high as $25-30.

Targeted advertising commands a higher rate. Discounts are often available for high-volume and long-term contracts. Sites typically with the highest rates also have the steepest discounts and vice versa.

But it’s worth noting that CPM and CPC rates are declining over time as the total number of Web sites and pages is increasing faster than the amount of online advertising.

Page CPM Rates

The average CPM rate for a page is an effective tool for an online business to measure how efficiently a Web site is performing for both revenue and audience.

Anyone who uses Google AdSense to generate extra site revenue will recognize this metric in their account reports.

To arrive at page CPM, divide total site revenue by total site page views. Then multiply the result by 1,000. The formula is simple:

Total site revenue / total site page views * 1,000 = Page CPM

A few more realistic examples will make the usefulness clear.

  • Example A — Assume a medium-sized site has $5,000 in revenue and 500,000 page views in a month. The average page CPM for the site is $10 using the formula of $5,000 / 500,000 * 1,000.
  • Example B — Assume a small size has $1,000 in revenue and 50,000 page views a month. The average page CPM is $20.


Online rate card

This rate card for a travel publication shows high CPMs because of its targeted audience with high income demographics.

What is a good page CPM?

I did two studies for clients that revealed average page CPMs of about $12 for a group of small, underdeveloped sites and CPMs ranging from $30 to $40 for another group of large and advanced sites that also had multiple revenue-generating products such as classifieds, directories, mobile and video.

A $12 CPM is too low for the underdeveloped sites to make a profit, while the larger sites have CPMs more in line with their true potential.

Some major national sites I analyzed have a page CPM of nearly $100, but they also have high marketing and production costs.

A page CPM can be both too low and too high. A CPM that is too high can mean that a site is running the risk of selling out all available ad inventory and must focus more attention on boosting site traffic.

Although there is no perfect number, page CPM is a useful metric in striking a balance between revenue and audience performance.

If average CPMs are declining, one way to make up the difference is by increasing volume of impressions, usually by taking audience market share away from other sites.

CPC Rates


n advertiser who uses Google AdWords management tools will instead likely pay based on a cost per click or CPC.

A CPC rate card is fair to an advertiser based strictly on response rates, but it is unfair to the publisher if a great deal of inventory is used for a poor ad that generates no response.

As a result, a CPC campaign can have a wildly unpredictable cost.

It becomes even more unpredictable based on the category — auto, real estate and employment have a high CPC for advertisers because of intense competition for inventory and because a $4 CPC for real estate could result in a $20,000 commission for a Realtor.

So a CPM campaign should be judged based on impressions with an emphasis on branding and response. A CPC campaign should be judgeted based on conversion rates.

Impact of CPC on CPM

Some studies are showing that cost per click advertising is driving down CPMs.

In fact, some buyers of search engine advertising are finding that when CPC is calculated on a CPM basis, the rate is closer to $2 to $3.

CPC delivers superior performance at lower rates if done right. As a result, the advertiser benefits, but the publisher does not.

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  • TiredSage

    Lots of interesting data here, but it is unclear when this was written…other than January 18. If this is current data, you reference studies done on behalf of clients that show an interesting disparity on rates by size of site – all else being equal. Can you share more?

    • Scott Bateman

      The rate cards and studies are a bit worn, but I’m surprised at the number of sites that are still trying to charge above a $10 cpm. I know some of them go off rate card depending on the situation.

      I agree that there is a disparity based on the site of the site. Other factors that contribute to the disparities include the amount of competition for each site and how deeply they specialize in a particular topic or geographic location.