The Simple Reason You Need to Switch to Responsive Ad Units

You’ve probably heard many times before in the last couple of years that you should be focusing more of your attention on mobile. This makes sense, because regardless of the niche you want to specialize in, more and more people are accessing the Internet on their mobile devices. Unsurprisingly, they can be turned off when a website isn’t optimized for viewing and navigation on the smaller screen of a smartphone.

That’s only part of it, of course. We’ve talked many times before about why you want to have a mobile-friendly theme on your blog and, better still, you should be utilizing a responsive theme so that the look is consistent regardless of whether someone is accessing your site on a high-resolution desktop monitor, a lower-resolution tablet screen, or the much smaller-sized smartphone. A responsive theme will adapt to the size and resolution of the screen on which the site is being viewed.

Banner Ad Sizes

Now, if you are a regular reader of John Chow dot Com, then you’ve likely learned at this point that traditional “banner” style ad networks aren’t necessarily the most lucrative way to monetize your blog. John doesn’t run AdSense on this site any more and for good reason, but we also have to recognize that for the overwhelming majority of sites on the Internet with less traffic and a lesser known brand, it doesn’t get much more accessible than AdSense. We have Google to thank for that.

By extension, we have grown to be familiar with many of the most common ad sizes. You probably know about the 728 x 90 pixel leaderboard that might appear at the top of some sites you visit. You’ve surely seen the 160 x 600 pixel skyscraper ad that is commonly placed in sidebars. These are great and all, but they all come at the price of one very significant weakness: they’re restricted in size.

Those are very specific, pixel-based dimensions. What if someone is viewing your site on a smartphone that only has a 720 x 1280 pixel display? While the 728 leaderboard may have some pleasant white space around it when viewed on a desktop, it won’t even fit across the screen of that phone. You could switch to a 468 x 60 banner, but then that might not look as good on a higher resolution computer monitor.

Thankfully, there’s a simple solution that’s been right under your nose for a very long time already and, if you haven’t already figured it out from the title of this post, it’s using responsive ad units.

Adapting to Fit the Screen

You build these ads the same way you build any other AdSense ad unit. In an ideal world, every other ad network that you work with also provides you with the option to implement a responsive ad unit but, surprisingly, many of them don’t. And so, your mileage may vary.

When building the ad, you still get to pick your colors, you still get assign custom channels for tracking, and you still get to pick an alternate URL for the ads if Google comes back empty. That’s all the same. The only difference is that you are not defining a specific set of dimensions for the ad unit and Google will intelligently figure out what would work best in the space you place the code.

Even if we put user experience aside for just a moment, there is at least one other very critical reason why you need to switch to responsive ad units with AdSense too. Google is really starting to crack down on websites that are not complying with its current terms and conditions. A big part of this is that the ad unit should not overwhelm what the webpage looks like above the fold.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the preferred best practice to maximize click-thru rate (and thus optimize your eCPM) was to place an ad unit above the fold in a prominent position. If you use a pre-defined ad size, you could run into the problem of having the ad overtake the above-the-fold view, thus violating the AdSense terms and conditions, and thus risking not only having your ads not appear but also the potential to get banned. And you don’t want that.

A Small Change for a Big Difference

You may or may not have moved on from AdSense at this point. Whether you have or not, you need to be especially mindful of how your ads appear on your site and responsive units can address a lot of common problems.

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