Jon Fletcher 2020-06-09

The most valuable ad placements (that don’t annoy users)

On TV, you know when the adverts are coming. The pressure builds to a natural break in the story. Characters are not interrupted mid-line for sudden important words from Budweiser

Yet online, it seemed like the goal was to be as intrusive as possible. It was like advertisers wanted to stun users into clicking ads. Until they realized that readers exiting the page was not an ideal outcome. 
For advertising to be effective where and when matters just as much as what. And for digital publishers, ad placement and ad formats matter now more than ever. 

Marfeel places around 5 billion ads per month, so we’ve tested placements and formats that work and the ones that don’t. With this ad placement research in mind, we’re sharing the most effective ad placement strategies for revenue growth and reader retention.  
In this article you'll learn: 

  • What is ad placement
  • Ad placement practices to avoid
  • Ad placement best practices
  • How to balance ads and content 

What is ad placement? 

Ad placement is the shape, size, and location on the page where an ad will display. Placements can be a single unit on a single page or multiple units across an entire site. You can group ads together to create a single message and define the pages of the site that these ads will appear on. Placement can also be a broader term, covering the format and type of ads shown in that space. Unlike more regulated forms of advertising, online publishers are able to define their own ad placements. This means they can offer advertisers prime real estate on their pages. 

From Google Adsense, the map below darkens areas that are more likely to be effective spots for ads.

 But, finding the balance between effective and disruptive is a science that requires data. The sure sign of bad ad placement is an ad that costs you more in reader loyalty than the revenue it generates. 

Ad placement bad practices

There are some well-tested examples of ad placements that perform better for publishers and there are some that should be avoided at all costs. Not only have these placements been proven to be disruptive, but browsers like Chrome can automatically filter them out to save their users from seeing them. 

Ad placements to avoid:

  • Pop-up Ads
  • Prestitial ads
  • Ad density over 30% 
  • Flashing animated ads
  • Auto-playing video ads with sound
  • Post-stitial ads with countdown 
  • Full-screen rollover ads
  • Large sticky ads 

These are all formats that are too disruptive for the reader, and make them close the page. While they may generate revenue in the short term, and even appear effective, publishers lose more in lost readers than these placements generate. 

To stay up to date with the worst ad placements and formats, it’s advisable to check the Collation for Better Ads, a collective aiming to improve consumers’ experience with online advertising. 

Ad placement best practices

Now we know the ad placements and formats to avoid, we can start to look at which ad placements users can live with—while also bringing in revenue for publishers. The following ad sizes have been tested and approved for Marfeel publishing partners in the sizes specified. 

Medium Rectangle

A classic for a reason. A well-placed rectangular ad, given room to breathe in the body of the article, feels natural. It feels like an element of the content, not an interruption because there is not enough space around it to bleed into the content of the article. 


Banner ads

With banner blindness, it’s hard to make a banner ad placement stand out. Avoid the temptation to add disruptors or overload sizes and stick to strong, viewable locations for the best results. Banners of 320x50 currently account for 52% of all mobile ad impressions. 

Sticky ads

Any sticky formats should occupy ‘edge’ space on the page and they shouldn’t exceed 50px in height. As a sticky bar, readers are going to see it, it’s not necessary to cover up actual content or overload the size. Less is more. 

Native Ads

Traditionally served at the end of articles, native ads should follow the same sizing and placement rules to avoid disrupting the reader experience. 

How to balance ads and content 

With the dos and don’ts of placements set, publishers then need to consider the frequency and location of their ad placements. 
Over the course of testing the effectiveness of different ad placements for 5 billion monthly ad impressions, Marfeel has built a set of heuristic rules that define where and how frequently ads can appear. 

This testing has shown that there are no hard and fast rules for ad placements. You can’t say a news article should always have X amount of ads. There are best practices and guidelines but the secret to effective ad placement is balance

Here are some of the rules Marfeel applies to strike this balance between advertising and content: 

Keep ad density below 30% 

According to the Collation for Better Ads , this is the highest density of ads to content before a reader starts to feel overwhelmed. Based on the pixel amount, your ads should never account for more than 30% of the total page content. 

Top impression

First impressions have a much higher likelihood of being seen. So,  the temptation is to put an ad as high above the fold to ensure viewability. But, ads need to be viewable for at least a second, so if they are too high in the viewport, a user will scroll past them in an instant. 

Marfeel determines the ad placement of the first ad, such as a 300x100 after the fold, based on the number of words between the top of the article and the ad. Our rule places the first ad after 16 words if there is a featured image, and after 50 words if there are no media.


Reduce placements in longer articles

As users become more engaged in the content, the less receptive they are to ads.
Increase the space and content between ads further down articles. You only sacrifice low-value placements and make it much more likely that users will continue to engage with your page. The goal is they click another story and make more valuable first and second place impressions. 

Add enough words between Native Ads

If you feature native ads, it’s important to maintain a ‘visual block’ between the last ad position and the native advertisement. This can be text or images, or both but a minimum amount of content helps avoid confusion and ‘ad blindness’ that comes from clustering too many ads. 

Disable ads placement before and after videos


Videos are designed to capture attention and they may also contain ads. Placing ads directly after videos has been shown to be overkill and will turn your readers away. 

Disable ads placement inside html elements.

A table should be a complete unit of information. No reader wants to pick out information from in between ads crammed into a table, list, or blockquote. 

With these ad placements, formats, and guidelines, you will be able to create a system of advertising that is able to deliver revenue without disrupting your readers. If you want to learn more about reader-tested ads, we compiled 5 more tactics any publisher can try to boost viewability, page views, and revenue. 

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