Apps

Mobile ad formats for Android apps

Android developer Tim Mackenzie explains the differences between on-screen ads, intermittent content, and out-of-app ads, and discusses what to consider when selecting an ad format for your app.

The Android app ecosystem thrives on free apps and games. While users do pay for some content directly, they flock to free options in much larger numbers. Many developers are still able to make money from these apps -- the monetization methods are simply different than the traditional purchase model.

One good thing about advertising is that it can be fairly easy for developers to insert ads into an app and release it for free. With a number of self-serve advertising networks available, the barriers to entry are low.

Advertising basics

The most basic ad unit is the common banner ad. The ad size for mobile apps has more-or-less standardized to 320x50. You'll see a few slightly smaller variations of that, but in general banner ads fit within a space of that size.

Banner ads can often be very easily added to an app or a game. While it can take some work to optimize ad placement and not obstruct the use of the app, most developers should be able to get advertising up and running fairly quickly. Read my previous article on implementing banner ads in code or XML layouts for examples.

Most ad networks have how-to guides with sample code to get you started. Not all of the ad networks that I have researched make it easy, however, and I generally recommend avoiding companies that make it extra difficult for you.

The good thing about the size being standard is that a lot of ad mediation is possible with this common format; you can even display some banner ads without using any SDK at all -- for instance, I recently wrote a tutorial on implementing HTML banner ads in just an Android WebView.

More ad formats

There are many more ad formats besides the small banner. I'll break advertising down to three categories:

  • On-screen advertising, such as banners and rich media that exist on the same screen as the content.
  • Intermittent content, such as interstitial ads, ads at an activity's start and end, or pop-up ads while in the app.
  • Out-of-app advertising, such as push notifications and homescreen icons.

I previously covered the difference between cost-per-click and cost-per-action ads -- that just covers what happens after the click. Both types of ads can be displayed in each of these formats.

On-screen advertising

Banner ads are on-screen advertising. The user may be tempted by the ads displayed while they are using the app, and can touch/select them at any time.

There are other sized ads, such as 300x250 and square ad units. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the larger ad formats are not nearly as well standardized as the 320x50 banner format, which means different ad networks may offer different sizes. With tablets and larger Android devices becoming more common, the larger ad formats may be more appropriate to fill up the space without getting lost, as a small banner might.

So-called rich media ads contain video or other interactive elements, and some of them can be configured to jump up from a small banner to a full-screen ad. This can combine elements of on-screen and intermittent advertising formats.

Intermittent ads

Intermittent ads might include full-screen ads, videos, and a number of ad walls (also known as offer walls, unlockers, and a number of other proprietary names). There are also pop-ups and other event-driven ad displays.

Interstitial ad formats are often used with apps and games that have an episodic flow -- i.e., a user completes one screen, and there is a natural break while moving to the next screen. One advantage of this method is that the user is expecting a break, so they may be more receptive to advertising before they return to the next screen. This can also make it easier to lay out the app, since content and ads don't need to compete for space.

Pop-ups and other event-driven ads may appear at any time, or be tied to specific user actions where users may be more receptive to advertising. These kind of ads may require more planning to not disrupt the flow of using the app or the game; this task may be more difficult for some games and apps than others.

Out-of-app advertising

Out-of-app advertising takes advantage of having access to the device even when the user is not inside your app. Not surprisingly, many users do not expect the ads to continue after their use of the app is closed.

To help clean up some shady practices, Google recently made changes to the developer policy, which should help prevent both accidental or intentional violations of the good faith of users. Ad networks offering these ad formats generally require a statement in your app's description to notify users that your app is supported by this kind of advertising.

All the same, consider the user's experience with using their device, not just while using your app. Many users may not read the description fully and may be surprised when these ads appear. If they spend time tracking down what app has injected these ads, they may be more likely to leave a bad review when they find it. Be very careful with these kinds of ads.

Read about considerations in selecting an ad format.

About

Tim Mackenzie, author of the Android Income Series books, is a software engineer that escaped the cubicle world at a large company to go solo with Android app development. He uses this freedom to teach others how to make money with Android apps. Visi...

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