For those that commonly follow our blog, you’re probably pretty familiar with the types of research, strategies, and tutorials we share. So you may be asking, “why do an entire article on how to monetize a website using only banner ads”? Simple. We get asked about it all the time and I see people asking the question in forums every day.
I thought it would be helpful to put something a little more comprehensive together for digital publishers and website owners that seriously want to know if they can generate 100% of their revenue from banner ads (aka displays ads, programmatic ads, native ads, etc.).
I watch thousands of publishers earn 100% of their revenue from the ads on website traffic every day, and I’ve seen all types and kinds of operations doing it. Below, I’ll share what these websites all have in common, what strategies work the best, and how I recommend websites approach this kind of business strategy…
How much do ads on websites pay?
It depends… on an almost innumerable amount of factors. However, if you really want to know if there are websites/digital publishers who generate 100% of their revenue this way the answer is: yes. A lot of them do.
If a pure programmatic model is implemented correctly, it is by far one of the most profitable ways to approach web publishing. Without the overhead of large direct deal teams (teams of people selling and implementing direct advertiser campaigns), publishers can focus more of their resources and time on things like content, SEO, social media, and other audience-building components of publishing.
We answer the question regarding how much a website should earn from digital ads in the article below:
How much traffic is needed to monetize a website?
It depends on the type of traffic, the visitor demographic, the context of your website content, and a number of other factors that can be deduced from the article above. The truth is, every website is different, but there are not many websites earning large sums of purely-programmatic-ad-dollars with less than a couple hundred thousand visitors per month.
Most publishers usually find that they specialize in a particular type of traffic. For example, a web publisher may derive the vast majority of their traffic from Google Search or Facebook. These techniques, content, and strategies for publishers that pull from a Google Search audience vs. a Facebook one are actually very different.
Both can be profitable audiences for the publishers but require different publishing strategies. I’ll highlight some examples below of how these publishers monetize a website.
How do you monetize different kinds of web traffic?
Visitors coming from Google Search may behave very differently than visitors coming from Facebook or a publisher newsletter. This plays a vital role in how you might want to configure your site’s pages, layouts, navigation, and more.
Understanding how these visitors behave may give you a very good idea of how to treat each user. But first, we have to understand how to properly monetize a website using visitor traffic.
The goal should be to authentically extend the user session for as long as possible. This means getting the visitor to stay on the site, engaged with content, visiting multiple pages in the process. The graph above highlights some of my favorite data, it is showing the increase in session revenue for each additional engaged pageview (a pageview with at least 15 seconds of engaged time).
The goal of every web publisher should be to optimize ad earnings for a user session… not the page. Instead of trying to figure out how to maximize the amount of CPMs on a page (the way many ad ops professionals still do it today), publishers should be focused on how they maximize the potential earnings from the entire visor session ( all the pages visited on a user session).
Example of this principle: A user comes and views a ton of ads on a page, they are annoyed and leave without visiting any other pages. That page may have earned solid revenue (because of all the ads); however, the publisher missed out on the revenue that could have potentially been earned from all the ads on additional pages that could have been viewed had the visitor stayed and visited those pages. That overall session revenue tends to be a lot more than the single page revenue.
This is essentially how publishers should be looking to monetize their traffic with ads. They should be finding that perfect balance between showing ads and affecting user experiences — this is how ad revenue is truly maximized.
The method by which you would extend user sessions for a visitor coming from a social media site and one who is coming from Google is different. Furthermore, ads themselves play a big role in this process as well (as we discussed above)
Ads can detract from a visitors experiences and cause them to visit fewer pages or even bounce form their session. By understanding all your different traffic sources, and how your ads might be affecting each of them, you can set your site up to optimally balance revenue with visitor experiences.
You may find that social users bounce far less when shown 5-6 ads, compared to organic visitors. Understanding how each of your traffic sources responds to ads is critical to maximizing overall session revenue.
Testing ads by traffic sources
The only way to ensure that you’re actually balancing all of these variables properly is to test ad combinations (placements, density) by traffic source. This means showing different ads in different locations to different types of visitors (Google Search vs. Twitter, etc.).
This will help you optimize the ad revenue by traffic source. This can actually add up really quickly; as optimizing towards averages can have a really negative effect on UX and revenue. For example… you may learn that the bounce rate on your site is relatively steady when showing 5 ads or less. However, if you then decided to just show all visitors 5 ads, you may be negatively impacting one traffic source that does not share the same thresholds. This would mean significantly less revenue from this traffic source.
So what should you do? Test. Monitor each traffic source, test ad placements, and density and see which ones perform best for different traffic sources (Ezoic users note: this is happening automatically).
Monetizing different types of content
Publishers with different core traffic sources usually have vastly different types of content as well. Some websites are tool-based (i.e. calculators, etc.), some feature popular contextual bite-sized content, and some may be evergreen material. All of these types of content require different types of strategies.
One of the fastest ways to look at this in the traditional sense is by looking at content type in the form of long or short. We wrote an article about monetizing short and long-form content a while back (see below).
Short Form vs Long Form Content Monetization Tips
Ultimately, you should monitor how your content performs in multiple formats. This means delivering it several ways i.e. video, gallery-style, blog posts, single page format, and more. Use segments and filter in Google Analytics to determine how different types of users respond to things like content recommendation widgets or tools and other types of embedded content.
The moral of the story is this (for monetizing all of your content): Test different formats on different audiences. See how each performs and give each audience exactly what they want (don’t optimize for averages).
And… don’t forget that the ads themselves are often the biggest variables. Ensure that your ads are not negatively impacting UX on all your different user segments.
These principles could see you earning 50-100% in ad revenue — maybe more. I see publishers every day that are blown away by the impact that simply showing different ad combinations to different user can have on the bottom line (most still just show the same ad placements to every visitor). This was one of the major motivations for creating our platform, Ezoic.
What about native ads, should I include them or not?
At this point, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing, ‘it depends’. Unfortunately, that’s true for just about every question you could have in this space. The best web publishers educate themselves around the unique aspects of this space that are applicable to their sites.
For those unfamiliar, traditional native ads are those ads that typically sit before/after —or in the sidebar of content — that pose as sponsored content or content recommendations. There are usually specific networks that provide these types of ads and usually include links to articles outside of the publisher’s website.
Not only do native ads have their own impact on user experiences — they impact the potency of other ads as well. Native ads almost always have some kind of effect on bounce rate, session duration, and pageviews per visit.
This information on its own is not good or bad. Publishers should only be showing native ads in the proper context (visitors that aren’t affected by native, people from social media sites, etc) and not to everyone (organic search visitors, etc). These are some generalities but it’s part of what we’ve learned. Native ads make more sense for certain types of users than others (social vs organic visitors being a common one).
It’s vital that you measure the impact that native ads have on each type of visitor you have coming to the site to determine whether or not they make sense on your site. remember, native ads are designed to get clicks (that’s why so many include clickbaity titles); however, if a user clicks on one they immediately leave your site. Sometimes this is a bad tradeoff; both for long-term site health and short-term revenue.
Read more using the article below:
Are Native Ads Good or Bad For User Experience?
What are the main keys to monetizing with only banner ads?
Since I have visibility to thousands and thousands of sites that monetize their websites with only ads, I have a pretty good look at what many of them have in common and what a lot of them do differently from everyone else.
These sites often have different primary traffic sources (social, organic, direct, e-mail, etc.), and completely different types of content, but almost all of them have three things in common with each other.
1.) They have valuable content
This seems sort of broad but it actually is fairly definable. The content these publishers have is valuable because it attracts a large number of viewers. This means valuable not only in the eye of the reader but also in the eyes of Facebook, Google, Twitter, or [insert platform here]. Producing content that is both valuable to readers and the platforms the content is distributed is key.
The best publishers I know, know their audience and platform inside and out. That means understanding the latest algorithms, policies, etc. from those platforms and knowing exactly how to reach their audiences within those constraints.
2.) They know how to best monetize their traffic
Once you have valuable content that is generating abundant traffic, you have to know how to monetize that traffic properly. I can;t tell you how many publishers out there are making close to 1/4 of what they could be if they were actually testing and improving their site to be more in line with their visitors (some even have dedicated ad ops teams).
The most successful publishers we work with know how to tailor their site to different visitors — obviously, this is a big part of what our publishers use Ezoic for — but they recognize that different visitors need different treatment. This is the entire principle behind optimizing ad revenue. However, In the case of publishers, it’s really more about balancing revenue and visitor experiences.
3.) They know how to analyze what matters most
A lot of website owners get bogged down in silo’d industry metrics like CPMs, RPMs, and traditional user experience metrics. The publishers we see excel the fastest are those that use data the best.
This means knowing how to calculate EPMV (or total session earnings) and measure authentic user experiences (avoiding Fake UX). Those that fully-understand their traffic, visitors, and revenue the best are most poised to keep a handle on how these things are trending — and most well equipped to affect these things quickly if they’re headed in the wrong direction.
You can learn more about analyzing traffic here.
Using Ezoic To Do Website Traffic Analysis
Wrapping it all up
There are untold amounts of website publishers that earn the vast majority of their digital revenue from banner ads. The most successful ones understand their visitors and traffic sources inside and out and know how to apply a flexible ad strategy that allows them to maximize the value of each visitor session.
My personal opinion on this is that many of these publishers are able to spend much less time worrying about multi-faceted monetization strategies and focus more on building more traffic and creating better content. The publishing field is becoming more and more competitive, and those with the highest quality product will be poised to benefit the most from the recent surges in digital advertising.
Thoughts, opinions? Share them below.