What Are The Biggest Ad Monetization Mistakes Publishers Make?
This article explores some of the biggest mistakes publishers make in ad monetization, drawing from our extensive experience and industry insights.
Jovan Ristic

We’ve been in the ad monetization game for a while now at GameBiz Consulting. With 41 companies and over 100 games and apps under our management, we’ve seen a lot of success stories, but also the pitfalls that many publishers stumble into.

Mistakes? We’ve spotted plenty. And it’s not just small slip-ups; we’re talking about the kind of errors that can really throw a wrench in your revenue. Now, we want to share these experiences with you!

This article explores some of the biggest mistakes publishers make in ad monetization, drawing from our extensive experience and industry insights. We'll explore various aspects, from misconceptions about the suitability of ads for different game genres to the technical nuances of ad implementation and optimization. More importantly, we will provide insights and actionable advice on how to avoid them. 

So strap in, and if you recognize yourself in one of these - we’re here to help!

Mistake #1: Believing Ad Monetization is for Casual Games

Working with a lot of publishers, one of the first things we’ve noticed is that there's a persistent skepticism among them about the value of ad monetization. This doubt isn't just confined to the belief that ads are solely effective in casual or hyper-casual games; it extends to a broader misconception that ad monetization isn't worth pursuing at all.

Our internal research data challenges this skepticism head-on. Our findings, backed by insights from AppMagic, reveal a striking trend in the top 300 grossing games: a vast majority, 91%, utilize ads as a significant component of their revenue strategy. This is a clear indicator that ad monetization is not just a fringe tactic used by a few but a mainstream strategy embraced by the most successful games across various genres.

Ad Monetization in Top 300 Grossing Games

Still, many publishers don't recognize the full value of ads, and because of that, they often overlook a significant revenue stream. Ads are a big chance to boost profits, especially when you consider the wide range of players out there. Looking at the highest-earning games, it's clear that smart ad use can really pay off.

Mistake #2: Being Too Cautious When Implementing Ads

The second major mistake often made by publishers is an overly cautious approach to implementing ads. The fear that ads will inherently harm the game's economy or player retention leads many to adopt a conservative strategy, integrating too few ads and potentially missing out on substantial revenue from a well-balanced approach.

This mistake stems from a common misconception: the belief that any ad presence will disrupt the player experience or lead to a decline in user engagement. However, this is not always the case. When ads are thoughtfully integrated, they can coexist with the game's design and even enhance the user experience. For instance, reward-based ads, where players receive in-game bonuses for watching ads, can actually improve engagement by offering value to the player.

The impact of this cautious approach can be significant. By not fully leveraging the potential of ads, publishers may not only lose out on direct ad revenue but also on opportunities to actually enhance player engagement and retention. Ads, when used correctly, can be a tool for balancing the game's economy, providing players with alternative ways to access in-game items or bonuses.

The key is finding the right balance. This involves understanding the game's audience, the points in the game where ads can be most effective, and the types of ads that will be most appealing to the players. It's about creating a harmonious relationship between the game's design and the ads, ensuring that each ad adds value to the player's experience.

Mistake #3: Not Understanding the Diversity of Ad Formats

Another mistake we’ve come across too often is treating all ad formats as if they are the same. This one-size-fits-all approach overlooks the unique characteristics and impacts of different ad types, which we discussed in a separate article here. Each ad format, from banners to offer walls, comes with its own set of advantages, disadvantages, and challenges that need to be carefully considered for effective monetization.

For example, rewarded ads (Video or Offer Wall) are popular for their user-centric approach, where players choose to engage with ads in exchange for in-game rewards. However, if not implemented thoughtfully, rewarded ads can cannibalize IAPs by leading players to rely solely on ad-based rewards, reducing their inclination to make purchases. 

Interstitial Ads, on the other hand, are more about timing and placement. These full-screen ads can be effective due to their prominent display, but they also carry the risk of disrupting the player experience. If interstitials are shown too frequently or at inopportune moments, they can lead to player frustration and increased churn rates. 

By recognizing the distinct characteristics and challenges of each ad format, publishers can more effectively integrate ads into their games. This not only enhances the player experience but also ensures a healthy balance between ad revenue and other monetization methods, ultimately leading to a more successful and sustainable game.

Mistake #4: Avoiding Certain Ad Formats When Planning a Strategy

Publishers often overlook certain ad formats, particularly when their revenue strategy relies on In-App Purchases (IAPs). Commonly overlooked formats like interstitial or banner ads are often labeled as unsuitable based on the assumption that they might detract from the game's user experience or IAP revenue. However, most games can successfully integrate multiple ad formats without compromising their core monetization strategy.

The key to incorporating various ad formats is thoughtful system design and settings. It's a delicate balance, ensuring that ads complement rather than compete with IAPs. For instance, banner ads, often perceived as less intrusive, can be strategically placed in non-critical parts of the game interface. They provide a steady ad revenue stream without significantly affecting the player's experience or their propensity to make in-app purchases.

The misconception that certain ad formats are universally unsuitable stems from a one-size-fits-all mindset. Each game has its unique audience and gameplay dynamics, which means what works for one may not work for another. The challenge for developers is to understand their specific game environment and audience preferences deeply. This understanding allows for a customized approach to ad integration, one that respects the player's experience while maximizing revenue opportunities.

Mistake #5: Not Optimizing Ads Following Implementation

Developers invest considerable effort in optimizing their In-App Purchases (IAP) economy, features, and user acquisition strategies. However, when it comes to ad monetization, there's a tendency to implement ads once and then leave them unchanged, without ongoing optimizations, improvements, or even basic maintenance.

Ad performance metrics such as ad ARPDAU, fill rate, engagement rate, usage rate, eCPM (effective Cost Per Mille) can change based on various factors like player behavior, market trends, or even the introduction of new game features. 

Regular analysis and adjustments are essential to ensure that the ad monetization strategy remains aligned with these changing dynamics. Moreover, the lack of maintenance can lead to technical issues or outdated ad content, potentially harming the user experience and the game's reputation. 

Mistake #6: Adopting a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Applying a universal ad strategy is akin to expecting a single key to unlock every door. It's a common mistake that more often than not leads to underwhelming outcomes. The real key to unlocking ad monetization's true potential is user segmentation, a tactic that's been a game-changer in the world of In-App Purchases (IAPs). Yet, strangely, it's often overlooked in the advertising domain.

User segmentation involves categorizing players based on various criteria such as behavior, ad engagement levels, and preferences.This allows developers to tailor ad experiences to different player segments, thereby maximizing both user satisfaction and ad revenue. For instance, frequent players who never make IAPs might be more receptive to rewarded video ads, while occasional players might find less value in rewarded video ads and should, therefore, be monetized with interstitial ads.

The one-size-fits-all strategy often fails to consider these variances in player behavior and preferences. As a result, it can lead to a mismatch between the ad experience and user expectations, potentially harming both engagement and revenue. Implementing user segmentation in ad strategies requires a deep understanding of the game's audience and a willingness to continuously analyze and adjust the ad setup based on player feedback and behavior. 

Mistake #7: Not Conducting Market Research

Navigating the complex terrain of ad monetization in mobile gaming, developers often stumble at the very first step: market research. In the rush to implement ads, developers often overlook the value of tailoring their strategy according to market insights, often opting in to adopt a strategy that may have worked for other games. The consequences of skipping this step can be far-reaching, affecting not only the effectiveness of the ads but also the overall health of the game's economy.

The essence of thorough market research lies in understanding the landscape of ad networks and mediation platforms. By not engaging in conversations with fellow developers or researching the market, many developers end up partnering with ad networks that may not align with their game's needs. These misaligned partnerships can lead to a host of issues, including excessive revenue shares, technical problems, inappropriate ad content, or simply an inferior product compared to other available options.

Another critical aspect often neglected is the selection of an appropriate number of ad partners. This decision should be informed by various factors, including the number of users, their geographical distribution, and specific metrics observed within the game. A common mistake is either overloading the game with too many ad networks, which can lead to a cluttered and technical issues, or having too few, which might result in missed revenue opportunities and lack of ad diversity.

Optimizing these partnerships is just as important as selecting them. It involves continuous monitoring and adjustment to ensure that the ads are effective, relevant, and non-intrusive. This process is not a one-time task but an ongoing effort that requires attention and refinement.

Mistake #8: Updating the Technical Components

Developers often overlook that technical components like app-ads.txt lines, SDKs and adapters, as well as seller.json files, have to be updated regularly to ensure ad monetization success. This oversight, seemingly minor in the grand scheme of game development, can have far-reaching implications for the effectiveness and security of a game's ad monetization strategy.

App-ads.txt is a simple, flexible tool designed to help publishers and distributors declare who is authorized to sell their digital inventory, thereby preventing unauthorized inventory sales. Neglecting to update these files can leave the door open for ad fraud, where unauthorized parties sell ad space and dilute the publisher's revenue. 

Similarly, keeping SDKs and adapters up to date is crucial. These updates often include critical improvements, bug fixes, and enhancements that can significantly impact the performance and reliability of ad delivery. Outdated SDKs can lead to technical glitches, poor ad performance, and even security vulnerabilities, all of which can harm the user experience and the game's reputation.

Configuring seller.json is another important aspect. This file provides transparency in the digital advertising supply chain, allowing buyers to verify the entities that are selling or reselling ad inventory. By not setting this file, publishers might inadvertently contribute to a lack of transparency in the ad marketplace, potentially leading to trust issues and reduced ad revenue.

Just as a game needs constant updates and patches to keep it fresh and engaging, the ad components require regular updates to ensure they are effective, secure, and transparent. This ongoing attention to detail can significantly enhance the efficiency of ad monetization and protect the game's revenue stream.

Mistake #9: Not Communicating With Ad Networks

Ad networks are more than just platforms for ad delivery; they are reservoirs of valuable insights, advice, and updates. They accumulate vast amounts of data on ad performance, user engagement, and market trends. By not engaging in regular communication with their representatives, developers miss out on insights that could refine their ad strategies, enhance user experience, and ultimately boost revenue.

Neglecting this line of communication can also mean missing out on important updates about policy changes, new features, or technical improvements that could significantly impact ad monetization. Take for example the latest TCF & CMP regulations implemented by Google. By communicating with their representatives, we were able to not only stay ahead of the change, but compile a detailed report on the compliance requirements and criteria for choosing a CMP that is Google-approved.

Mistake #10: Blocking Too Many Competitor Ads

The rationale behind blocking competitor ads seems straightforward: why give a platform to potential rivals on your own turf? However, this approach fails to consider the broader dynamics of ad monetization. Ad networks operate on the principles of supply and demand, and more restrictions on the types of ads allowed can lead to a smaller pool of potential advertisers. This limitation often results in lower competition for ad space within the game, which can directly affect the eCPM rates.

Furthermore, competitor ads are not always detrimental. Players who enjoy a particular game genre are likely to engage with ads for similar games. This engagement can lead to higher click-through rates, which in turn can increase the eCPM. By blocking these ads, developers might be turning away a valuable segment of advertisers who are willing to pay more for engaged users.

Navigating the Complexities of Ad Monetization with GameBiz Consulting

As we wrap up this exploration of the most common ad monetization mistakes publishers make, it's clear that the path to successful ad integration in mobile games and apps is fraught with challenges. From misconceptions about ad suitability to the nuances of ad format selection and the critical need for ongoing optimization, the journey is complex. But it's also filled with opportunities for those who navigate it wisely.

Our team is dedicated to helping publishers avoid these common mistakes. We offer tailored solutions that align with your game's unique needs and audience preferences. Whether you're struggling with choosing the right ad formats, optimizing your existing ad setup, or seeking to understand the intricacies of user segmentation, we're here to guide you through every step.

Remember, ad monetization is not a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. It requires careful planning, continuous optimization, and a willingness to adapt to changing market dynamics. And that's where GameBiz Consulting shines. We bring not just expertise, but a commitment to staying ahead of the latest trends and technologies in ad monetization.

So, if you recognize your game or app in any of these common mistakes, don't hesitate to reach out. Let's work together to turn your ad monetization challenges into success stories. 

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