App ad revenue options

A screenshot from thebus.ca (a mobile first transit information site, from Transit One, for Peterborough, Ontario) showing a local ad banner.

I get this question a lot about what’s the best way to understand mobile and web app revenue. From pricing to platform to type of ad. It’s different depending on the what your app offers, the experience you are creating and your purpose for advertising. Here, I break down what kinds of ads there are, what services offer in app ads and what to look for when deciding what to use.

Depending on the platform, there are many ways to monetize/show ads, common ones include:

  • Ad banners- either at the top or the bottom of the page, or between sections of content. Common examples are blogs, media sites, listicles or ad banners at the bottom of many common apps, on larger screen these may appear to the side
  • The famous interstitial - where the background is greyed out and there is an ad taking up a large part of the screen, great for highlighting new features or sponsors or sales and add more direct value as opposed to a maybe, this is also great for when pages take time to load up
  • In page transitions - when a page is loading up or when a game level is complete, many free games employ this technique and some media companies like Forbes do while loading their content
  • As a reward - e.g. watch a video or download an app to earn points or access content or towards a milestone, these are usually part of a list and have a page of their own that the user has a choice to access
  • Partnering with companies - there are many companies that would benefit from marketing to the same demographic, integrating their products into your app/site experience is a great way to not only increase your credibility but also to make money, some examples include location based mapping like Waze that highlight or display brands along the way or real estate apps like Kavtek highlighting new furniture and directing people to make purchases
  • Have users pay for non ad versions. Many times we forget that this is an option, and a viable one, however do not forget, over crowding your free app with ads to get people to buy the ad-free version isn’t too smart.
  • having related app notifications when the app isn’t onscreen or running to promote something, Startbucks and Ribitt do this really well when sharing new offers or store related promotions
  • In some rare cases - I’ve also seen some apps that give points for visiting everyday and the messaging for that has a brand logo of sorts

There are many companies that have the infrastructure already in place for in app ads for games depending on how specific you want the ads to be and where, some include:

  • AbMob (by Google for mobile)
  • Adwords (by Google)
  • Firebase Notifications
  • Unity Ads (Unity being the game dev platform)
  • Chartboost Ads
  • Vungle
  • InMobi
  • App loving
  • Build your own- usually takes the most time and resources but has the most control and does what you need.

All of the above (except the last one) have toolkits to help developers integrate them.

You’d need to do some research to find one or some that works best for you on things like:

  • what code platform you are using i.e. web, Android, iOS and what coding language you use in the app
  • what kind of ads you want and where you want to place them e.g. banner, full screen, interstitial, etc
  • how easy they are to integrate i.e. developer skill level or how much coding is required
  • how often it’s updated and what the experience is with updating (from a development side) e.g. you don’t want it breaking your app every time there’s an update
  • what really meshes with your app, understand what your goal is and what experience you want to provide before selecting one. Some people try to put it all to get people to purchase the ad free version and it destroys the experience of the app. You want it to be annoying to some extent but you don’t want people to hate your app
  • How much you’ll be making per click, per view, and such, this will help with the overall picture of revenue, DO NOT depend solely on ad revenue if this is not a supplementary source of income. It usually takes a long time to reach the stage you expect it to

I’m sure there some things that I’ve missed here so feel free to sound off in the comments or share your thoughts about using one or another.

NB: the products and services mentioned in the article are not endorsements and simply used as examples.