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Ad Refresh – A Beginner’s Guide For Publishers

Ad Refresh
From what is ad refresh to how to do it right, here's a comprehensive guide for publishers.

Publishers have always tried to procure the best out of their user sessions – Some publishers experiment with the increased number of ad units and bidder partners while the rest try to multiply the pageviews (higher pageviews ~ higher revenue). Among all of the techniques, ad refresh is the most popular way of increasing the earning per session. However, it wasn’t appreciated by the industry at first. 

Fast-forward to 2018, we can see thousands of premium publishers refreshing the ads on their site. What has changed?

Ad refreshing standard. 

Back then, there wasn’t any standardized system/technology to refresh ads. Today, several ad tech companies offer/accept ad refreshing. In fact, Google AdX ads can be refreshed under certain conditions.

Table of Content:

Let’s start with the basics. What is ‘Ad Refresh’?

Ad refreshing or simply, ad refresh is the process of requesting and rendering a new ad while the user is on the page. The new ad will replace the existing ad. Typically, ads can be refreshed based on time period, user actions, and events. 

What’s pulling the publishers in? It’s obvious. When it comes to monetization, the total time users spent on the page has been ignored completely. Ad refresh capitalizes on the time and lets you increase your revenue. 

Will refreshing ads reduce the CPM?

Short answer: 

No, not at all. If you’re refreshing ads based on the accepted preset conditions, your CPM will not be affected.  

Long answer: 

Ad refresh looks like the easiest way to increase revenue. Isn’t it? You just have to hold a user on the page and start rotating the ads one after another, thus, rocketing your revenues up. 

Wait, hold on! What about the advertiser?

Advertisers pay to run their ads on your page as long as the user stays in. They assume the ads will be displayed until the user leaves the page. But, now you’re planning to refresh the ad contents. Will they agree to bid for your impressions? 

It depends. Let us explain. 

Case 1: You’re refreshing ads without any standard and violating a ton of policies set by Google and other exchanges. 

Result: Little to no ads. You won’t be getting any ads for your impressions. Even if you’re lucky to get one or two, the eCPM would be extremely low. 


DSPs and ad exchanges are smart enough to know the ROI of your inventories. In this case, viewability and expected CTR would be low as you’re not allowing the user to view the ads properly. 

Case 2: You’re refreshing ads based on a preset (standard) conditions accepted by Google and all other exchanges. 

Result: You’ll be receiving the ads as usual and getting an incremental revenue too*. 

*We’ve personally worked with both premium and mid-market publishers across the globe and experienced the revenue uplift. 

So, you obviously want to follow the second case. Now, what are those preset conditions and how can you implement ‘ad refresh’ in the right way? 

Triggers and Implementation

You can refresh your ads based on a set of preset conditions. These conditions are commonly known as ‘triggers’. Basically, there are three types of triggers (as offered by Google). As a publisher, you can use any one of them to refresh the ads. 

– User trigger

User triggers are based on user navigations. A few examples include user engagement with the content by clicking a CTA, filtering the content on the search results, and forwarding the slides on a slideshow. So, if a user is viewing a hidden content by engaging with your CTA, you can refresh the ads. 

– Event trigger

As the name implies, event triggers are solely based on events initiated by the publisher. For instance, refreshing the page to update the content (scores and current stats) can be considered as a valid event.

– Time trigger

Time triggers rely on the time the user stays on the page. You can refresh your ads after a certain time interval (60 sec, 120 sec, etc). 

How to implement Ad refresh?

You can implement ad refresh on your site(s) using:

a. Google DFP (Google Ad Manager):

To be frank, Google Ad Manager’s refresh is the de-facto option for publishers to refresh their ads. With the help of Ad Manager settings, you can declare the ad inventory that refreshes based on the aforementioned triggers. Or else, you can use the refresh function of the GPT tag. 

Surprisingly, Google isn’t the best choice for both publishers and advertisers. 

Best Option to refresh ads

Now that you know Google offers ad refreshing, it’s time to look into the next option.

b. Header Bidding Wrappers/Sell-Side Platforms:

As a publisher, you might be working with an SSP or a header bidding wrapper to run header auctions (If not, you should). At present, a few of them help publishers refresh their ads with the help of proprietary technologies. Similar to Google, they can refresh ads by measuring a set of on-page factors and browser events. 

So, you can either partner with them or implement ad refresh with Google. Remember we said Google isn’t the best choice for ad refreshing? Here’s why:

With Google, you can refresh ads based only on the triggers. And, that won’t work for many publishers. Let’s say your users stay on an article page for 3 minutes (avg). Clearly, you can’t utilize user trigger and event triggers in a typical article page. So, refreshing ads based on time intervals is all you have left. This has proven to be ineffective for both publishers and advertisers.

How so?

The ads are being refreshed without considering many other factors. Even when the user isn’t active on the page, ads will keep on refreshing after a minute. This means the likelihood of a user engaging with the ad is minimal. So, depreciated CPMs for publishers.

On the other hand, SSPs let you refresh ads only when the user has given an opportunity to view and click the ad. They do it by measuring various page-level events including scrolling, ad placement viewability, and other user activities. For instance, ads are refreshed when an active user has seen the ad for 60 seconds.

At Automatad, we have an intelligent ad refreshing product ‘Active Exposure Time‘ that can help you refresh ads based on page-level events, viewability, and user activity. Install our extension and see how it works on any website.

AMP Ad Refresh

Similar to normal web pages, you can refresh ads on AMP pages too. If you would like to know the technical implementation, here’s a quick overview.

Page-level configuration:

You need to add a meta tag for AMP pages where you’ll be refreshing ads.

<meta name=”amp-ad-enable-refresh” content=”network1=refresh_interval1,network2=refresh_interval2,…”>

Here refresh interval denotes the refresh rate and it should be more than or equal to 30 seconds. And, regardless of the refresh interval, you can’t refresh the ads if it isn’t viewable for at least a second.

Slot-level configuration:

Now you need to decide what particular slot on the page you want to refresh and then add  “data-enable-refresh=refresh_interval>” under amp-ad div. If you want to exclude any ad slot, you can add:


Header Bidding setup:

Apparently, you need to setup header bidding to get demand partners for your ad impressions. We have a complete guide here.

IAB Ad Refresh Guidelines

1. While IAB doesn’t have any specific guidelines regarding refresh rate, it requires measurement vendors to detect site-initiated ad refresh* so that they can disclose the same to advertisers. As a publisher, you can make the basic information regarding refresh (examples include parameters, relative volume, and setting) – available for measurement partners. It isn’t mandatory as third-party tend to develop techniques to detect site-initiated refresh.

2. IAB requires publishers to refresh ads reasonably (based on the niche). Refreshing ads in very short time intervals can lead to low-quality impressions that no advertisers want to bid on. In fact, demand partners can block you from their exchanges because of increased ad requests per user/per session.

*Third-party measurement providers don’t need to detect user-initiated as the user-initiated refresh is equivalent of a regular ad impression.

What’s Next?

You are now ready to refresh your ads. However, we’ll take a quick look at the best practices to follow while implementing the technique. As always, we want you to be a pro! 

  • In article pages, time triggers will yield you more impressions than other triggers as both user-actions and events are little to none in them. 
  • There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. Experiment with ad refreshing feature from your header bidding wrapper and compare it with the impressions and revenue generated by Google ad refresh. 
  • Run A/B testing to find the optimal placements for ad refreshing. Refreshing non-viewable ads will yield you no bids and reduce the viewability score on the buy-side. 

Note: AdSense ads cannot be refreshed as it is a policy violation.

Is ad refreshing right for you?

We can’t say a simple yes or no. As a matter of fact, the answer ultimately depends on your readers and how they typically react to the ads on a page. Analyze the time-on-site and page load speeds with/without ad refresh. If you’re seeing any significant decrease in session duration, you might need to reconsider the way of implementation*. 

*From our experience, If you’re maintaining page load time and number of ad units at an optimal pace, then you’ll see better results with ad refreshing. 

Automatad Team

At Automatad, we help publishers to monetize better without hampering the user experience. Our products are live across hundreds of publishers, earning them incremental ad revenue with every passing second. You can request a free audit to get an estimated revenue uplift today.

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