7 min read

How to Earn More From Display Ads

Display ads are the necessary evil that allows our sites to generate revenue and keeps our content free rather than gated behind paywalls.

They are a primary source of income for countless online publishers—and a supplementary revenue stream for affiliate website owners who want to squeeze more earnings out of every page view.

Yes, ads look ugly, slow our sites down, and distract visitors from the content they came for in the first place. But they are also an integral—and frankly unavailable—part of the online publishing business model.

Maybe that’s why so many of us have such a love-hate relationship with the ads we place on our websites.

We treat the process of setting them up as this annoying, tedious task, and choose to outsource it to ad management partners, like Ezoic or Mediavine, or gladly give it to our VAs. And in doing so, we ignore opportunities for optimization.

If you’re approaching your ads this way, you may be leaving money on the table.

I’m not saying you can boost your RPM from $5 to $50 just by changing one-two things in your site’s design.

But I am saying that every dollar counts, especially when you multiply that dollar by hundreds of thousands of impressions every month.

In this week’s content drop, I’m sharing why and how I optimize my sites for high ad earnings.

By the time you’re done reading, my goal is to give you an idea or two for things that you can try and test out on your own.

"Try and test" are the keywords here.

What works for me may not necessarily work for you.

The only way to figure out if it’s working out or not is to make small changes, give them time, then look at the data.

Ready?

It’s About Placeholders

To make money from display ads, you need placeholders.

Placeholders are what allows advertisers to compete for ad space—and user attention—on your site.

One placeholder can serve many ad formats. For example, a placeholder under the first paragraph of your posts can serve a 728×90 leaderboard and 468×60 full banner on desktop, a 234×60 half banner on mobile, and everything in-between.

Knowing this, I’d argue that there are four things online publishers can do to optimize display ad earnings on their websites:

  1. Have enough placeholders
  2. Serve as many formats as possible in each
  3. Optimize placeholders for phones, then computers
  4. Talk to your ad management partner

Let’s dive in.

Have Enough Placeholders

Having more placeholders can increase your chances of generating revenue because there are more spots for advertisers to outbid one another for.

Of course, if you cram your website with ads after each and every paragraph, you’ll probably end up hurting your revenue rather than increasing it. (Don’t.)

And yet, all ad management companies, without exception, say how publishers rarely have enough placeholders for ads on their sites.

This should tell us something.

Serve As Many Formats As Possible in Each

Remember, advertising is a game of bidding, and different ad formats have different competition.

Advertisers outbid one another for ad space by setting the maximum bids they are willing to pay for a given advertisement.

And advertisers never, ever have all ad formats for a single campaign. To promote competition and always get the highest bids, make sure that every placeholder is configured to serve as many formats as it can.

For instance, Advertiser A may be willing to bid more for a 468×60 full banner ad than Advertiser B is for a 728×90 leaderboard. If your placeholder supports 728×90 banners only, you lose out. But if it supports both 468×60 and 728×90, you earn more by allowing the highest bidder to compete for the space.

Since competition for ad formats varies by niche, topic, country, state, city, audience, device, time of day and year, and even the weather, the only way to get the most out of every placeholder is to make sure that it supports as many ad formats as it possibly can.

Optimize Placeholders for Phones, Then Computers

These days, people search for information on their phones. And if most of your site’s visitors are on their phones, you should be optimizing your site’s placeholders for phones, not computers.

I can’t tell you how many publishers make this mistake.

When setting up placeholders for their sites, they preview those placeholders on their computers instead of on their phones.

Yes, if you’re using the Ezoic Chrome extension to place placeholders or inserting code snippets with a WordPress ad plugin, you will be working on your computer. But when you make a change, preview it on your phone.

What looks like too many placeholders on a MacBook will look like too few placeholders on an iPhone. Phones have narrower screens, and paragraphs span across more lines than on tablets and computers.

Tweak the position and density of your placeholders so it looks good on a phone.

It's what most of your site's visitors are using.

Talk to Your Ad Management Partner

When was the last time you talked to your Ezoic, Mediavine, or AdThrive rep?

When you’re done reading this, find their contacts and schedule a call with them. You’d be surprised by just how many tips they can give you, especially for the first time you two talk.

Questions to get you started:

  • Am I missing out on ad revenue in some way?
  • Is there anything about my site’s structure or theme that may be hurting my ad earnings?
  • Do you have a WordPress theme I can use, or at least a theme that you can recommend for consistently good ad revenue?
  • Are my site’s articles and sidebar too narrow for certain ad formats? If my theme allows, should I change them? To what?
  • Do I have the right placeholders—above the fold and below the fold—on my site? How am I doing with placeholder density?
  • Do I have enough placeholders? If not, where?
  • Are my placeholders serving all of the ad formats that they could be serving?
  • How can I use the reports or tools offered by your ad platform for decisions that could help me make more money?
Pro tip: On desktops, give your articles a width of 728 pixels and your sidebar, 336 pixels. This is wide enough to accomodate 728x90 in-content leaderboards and 336x280 in-sidebar large rectangles.

It’s Also About Engagement

If your site’s visitors keep coming and going, which you can tell by a low engagement rate in your Google Analytics 4 dashboard, your site may have a problem.

You generally want to see two things when it comes to your site’s traffic from the perspective of display ad revenue:

  1. More visitors;
  2. Increasingly engaged visitors.

It’s simple, really. The further down visitors scroll on a page and the greater interest they have in the content, the higher the likelihood that the page will generate a decent RPM.

Helpful, well-written content is a must.

EEAT isn’t just for SEO.

If visitors trust your site and the content that’s published on it, they are likely to stick around longer.

And if they stick around longer, they will almost certainly see more ads. One engaged visitor won’t make much of a difference. However, hundreds or even thousands of engaged visitors every day will.

This doesn’t mean that you should go all-in on the best writers and start spending hundreds of dollars for each article.

You can still use AI to generate your first drafts. It’s how most of your competitors are probably doing it, anyway. But add facts, quote experts, share stories from personal experience. Give that content some good editing, so it sounds… human.

Don’t just use HARO to build backlinks. Use it to seek out experts with credentials who want to get featured in your articles. Build a relationship with those you like to work with the most until you have a full roster of contacts to send your queries to.

Cite the most reputable sources, such as federal agencies, academic institutions, and industry organizations, more prominently. This tells visitors that you’ve done your due diligence, making them more likely to trust what you have to say and keep reading.

Adding a free stock image from Pexels or Unsplash under every heading is okay… ish. Go the extra mile when you can—give your VA access to Canva Pro and teach them how to create good enough infographics. If you’re a Canva or Photoshop whizz, set aside 20–30 minutes a week to create 1–2 illustrations for your most visited posts.

Recommend relevant articles using 1–2 sentences starting with, "Did you know?" in a font that stands out. If the average reader reads more than one article on your site, they are also exposed to a greater number of ads, and thus generate more revenue.

I can go on, and on, and on. But you get the drill.

Good content is content that keeps visitors engaged. And content that keeps visitors engaged tends to bring in more from display ads than just word-spun crap.

Don’t forget formatting.

Let’s go back to the basics of web content:

Write in plain language and keep jargon to a minimum.

Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Each paragraph should consist of no more than 1–2 sentences.

Use headings, bolded and italic words, and ordered and unordered lists to make your content more digestible for readers who skim.

Use bigger fonts so that shorter sentences take up more space, allowing you to increase ad density.

Highlight key takeaways with contrasting UX elements, like boxes and icons.

Finally, There’s Content Strategy

Not all content is created equal.

Just like certain niches have more advertisers than others, certain topics written about on a website will be more profitable than others.

I have a 3+ year old cooking site with 800+ posts. Unsurprisingly, articles about kitchen appliances and cookware, even if informational, have a much higher RPM than recipes or ingredient guides.

Why?

A manufacturer or retailer of stand mixers is more likely to advertise their products in an article about stand mixers than a smoothie recipe. They are also more likely to have competition, bringing RPM up.

As this site’s publisher, I have a greater incentive to prioritize content that answers questions about appliances and cookware than equally informational content about cooking in general.

Sometimes, it isn’t about the topic, but visitor geography.

I also have a tech site. That site covers all sorts of topics from UX design to web development to digital marketing.

Programming is a topic with a lot of low-competition keywords. From an SEO perspective, it’s a gold mine. However, it brings in a lot of visitors from India, Poland, and the Philippines—where advertisers are fewer and RPMs are lower.

From a profitability point of view, I’m much better off writing about digital marketing, where competition is higher, but so are RPMs. In other words, it’s worth the grind.

Video content is all the rage these days.

So are AI-powered video builders that take your articles and produce videos that nobody wants to watch.

If you have a blog about cooking, get a good phone mount and shoot a few faceless videos with your favorite tips, tricks, and recipes. Better yet, focus on appliances and cookware.

If you’re reviewing project management software, record a few screen-share videos with project management tips and voice them over (hire somebody from Fiverr to do it if you don’t want your own voice on the videos).

Focus on what’s most profitable and go the extra mile. Stop when your content is good enough to be better.

This is one of the best ways I know to stay in this business in the long run.