Building user-friendly ad experiences into your site and app isn’t easy, but if done right can lead to happier users and more control over your ad revenue.
To ensure you're providing good ad experiences, you'll want to lock down your responsive ad design strategy.
Please note: this assumes you have control over your ad platform code; if you are relying on third-party programmatic ad tags, then much of this responsiveness will be built into those scripts.
To paraphrase Smashing Magazine's definition of 'responsive web design', responsive ad design refers to developing ad experiences that respond to a user's behavior and environment, based on device type, screen size, platform, and orientation.
It can involve automatic resizing of ads, dynamic replacement of one ad for another, removal of the ad altogether, and so on, likely enabled through a mixture of CSS media queries, user agent string, and info you can pull via your mobile app.
Without a responsive ad strategy, you could be left with situations like below, where the ad doesn't dynamically adjust as the browser size is reduced, resulting in an ad experience neither the user nor the advertiser would be happy about (in this situation, the standard content is responsive, but not the ad).
People will be consuming your content across a variety of devices (desktop, table, mobile) and within each of those you have various orientations, screen sizes, and resolutions.
If there’s not some level of responsiveness built into your product, then these issues could arise:
In other words, without a responsive ad design strategy, you are bound to have poor ad experiences and broken ads. Optimizing your ad experiences will lead to less obtrusive ads and more engaging content.
There are a few ways to optimize your ads so they are properly formatted across various screen sizes.
In this case, any responsive code built for the layout of the site/app can be transferred to the ads too.
For example, as noted in this video, the sponsored listing ad units on the eCommerce site Chairish have the same responsive behavior as the organic listings.
We won't get into how this works; there are many resources for how to make images responsive. It's predominately a method that uses CSS media queries and HTML, such as
max-width: 100% to auto-scale, or
srcset that contains multiple images based on screen size:
<img srcset="small.png 1x, large.png 2x" src="large.png" alt="example" />
It's important you remember that (1) not all banner sizes can be resized automatically without issues and (2) inserting the same high-quality image for both desktop and mobile could lead to slow ad load times on mobile.
Here, you dynamically pull the screen size and send that in your ad request in, say, a
ScreenSizeWidth parameter. Meanwhile, in your ad server you set up campaigns targeting specific
ScreenSizeWidth values, such as
ScreenSizeWidth > 1200.
Then, when your ad decision engine is deciding what ad to display, it'll use the screen size parameter as a targeting metric. Campaigns targeting specific widths would be eligible only if the ad request contains a matching
For instance, you could set up your campaigns so that large, high-quality ads would appear only on large browsers, while the smaller, cropped ones would appear elsewhere.
That said, some responsive CSS may still be needed, as desktop users may decide to shrink the browser, which wouldn't necessarily kick off a new ad request. One approach is to make multiple ad calls to the ad server for different ad sizes and store them in the HTML (like in
data-small elements, or the aforementioned
If the screen is resized, the browser will then switch to the right ad without a separate ad request.
Dynamic ads are ad units where the various properties - such as text, image, call-to-action, etc - exist as independent content pieces that can be organized in different ways based on screen size.
You can see dynamic ads in action on Smashing Magazine in this video. As the screen resizes in real-time, the button and ad copy get rearranged to accommodate the new layout.
Dynamic ads necessitate that you aren't working with static image files. Instead, there will be one (or multiple) text-free images, with the text/logos/etc moved around dynamically based on screen size.
A good ad platform strikes the right balance between user experience and advertiser needs.
A sound ad responsiveness approach satisfies both: users get ad experiences that are tailored to their screen size and advertisers can ensure they aren’t paying for truncated or pixelated ads that could lead to low engagement rates.
Chris has worked in ad tech for over twelve years in a variety of roles - giving him customer support, PM, and marketing perspectives from both the advertiser and publisher sides. He's the VP of Marketing at Kevel.