Key Points

  • Finding the right ad density for your website is as much an art as it is a science.
  • Managing ad density and staying away from ad clutter is incredibly important in maximizing your ad revenue.
  • There are a few best practices our team has identified that will provide a good starting point for avoiding issues with ad clutter, but managing it correctly will require ongoing work and testing.

“I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” 

This very well-known statement perfectly applies to the conversation of ad clutter and ad density. While it is very difficult to define, it is painfully obvious to see when you run across a website that is overly cluttered with ads.

Our ad yield management team has seen thousands of publisher websites and collected plenty of data on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to ad clutter. Our direct sales team spends much of their time on the front lines with advertisers, where the subject of advertising clutter comes up frequently.

So, we’ve decided to distill all of that tribal knowledge into some best practices for publishers.

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Ad Yield Management Guide

Read the Guide: How to Build Your Target CPM and Price Floor Strategy

Ad Density and Ad Clutter Basics

Let’s start with the basics!

What is Ad Density?

Ad density refers to the percentage of the visible area of the screen that ads take up at any given point.

What is Ad Clutter?

Ad clutter is generally a term used to describe ad density that is too high, or too many visible ad units on a page at a given time.

Ad Density Mobile vs. Desktop

While there is a very well-defined measure for ad density on mobile devices, there is very little guidance for desktops.


Mobile Ad Density

The Coalition for Better Ads has a very clearly defined standard for ad density on mobile devices. They recommend:

“Ads take up no more than 30% of the vertical height of a page. Ad density is determined by summing the heights of all ads within the main content portion of a mobile page, then dividing by the total height of the main content portion of the page.”


Desktop Ad Density

Desktop experiences, on the other hand, have no such clearly defined guidelines. This is where you find yourself at the intersection of an art and a science.

Because there are so many different ad units out there, and so many different ways to incorporate them into the content of your website, it is very difficult to strictly define what makes an experience too “ad dense.”

Why Ad Density Matters

There are a couple of key reasons why every publisher should be concerned with ad density, and most of them tie directly back to your ability to earn revenue.

User Experience

The first, and foremost concern when it comes to ad density is user experience. Users hate an experience cluttered with too many ads. They’ll happily accept experiences that incorporate ads so long as they don’t interfere too deeply with their ability to digest content.

Ultimately, ad clutter will result in unhappy users, which leads to reduced page views, which significantly alters your ability to drive ad revenue.

Supply vs. Demand

Supply and demand create a very delicate interplay in how they influence your total revenue. Increase your supply (e.g. volume of ads) and the demand for that supply will go down (e.g. your CPMs).


You want the perfect balance between that supply and demand to maximize your top-line revenue. Increasing ad density increases your supply. Crossing the line into ad clutter pretty much always increases your supply to the point that demand drops precipitously and ultimately starts to decrease your top-line ad revenue.

Direct Advertising

When our direct sales team is working to sell inventory directly to brands and agencies, one of the most common areas of pushback on individual publisher websites is ad clutter. If a brand or agency views a publisher's website as overly cluttered with ads, it has no hope of earning direct advertising deals, which are huge drivers in increasing ad revenue.

Black Listing Concerns

Because advertisers don’t love overly cluttered sites, programmatic players like SSPs and DSPs may black list sites that are overly cluttered with ads in an effort to keep advertisers happy and willing to spend on their platform.

Getting black listed on one of the major players in the online advertising supply chain can have huge implications on the amount of ad revenue a publisher can ultimately earn, as it cuts off vast swaths of buyers with the push of a single button.

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Best Practices for Ad Density

Some of the things that our team has found works best for walking the delicate ad density balance to maximize revenue include:

  • Follow the 30% Rule for Mobile: Quite simply, on mobile devices, make sure you are following the 30% ad density or less rule provided by the Coalition for Better Ads.
  • Use a Mix of High-Impact and Standard Ads: An easy way to keep ad density in the right place is to use a blend of standard display ads and high-impact ads. This keeps you from using too many display ads (which will start to lead to clutter) and strategically works in high-impact units that increase ad revenue much more with each impression.
  • Incorporate Adhesive Ads: We’ve found that using adhesive ads can make it easier to find a happy ad density balance. Using a single adhesive unit that follows the user down the page and refreshes on a certain interval, rather than many different display ads scattered around the page, can provide a better experience for users and greater revenue for you.
  • Make Use of Rails: Over our years in the digital advertising industry, we’ve seen that rail units just have a way of working well for both publishers and advertisers. These are relatively simple ad units that occupy a highly visible place on users’ viewports. They’re elegant and effective — nothing fancy, and they get the job done well.
  • Opt for Interactive Units: Infusing your ad mix with interactive units can also help. If you’re looking to drive up your CPMs with fewer total ads, interactive is the way to go. That means you will want to consider all kinds of gamified units, rewarded video, and similar units.
  • Pick the BEST Positioning for Display Ads: Reducing your total number of display ads shown (to keep clutter to a minimum) means that you need to pick the best possible positioning for those display units to drive the maximum CPMs from them. Some guidance includes: keeping ads away from navigational elements, ensuring there is plenty of padding between ads and content, and keeping ads above the fold but lower on the visible portion of the screen (e.g. don’t place an ad right at the top of the page where the user will immediately scroll away from it).

You can get deeper insights on each of these recommendations in our article that provides best practices on ad layout optimization. It will also help to review different types of ad units and what they are best for.

Test, Test, Test

While the best practices provided above create a great starting point, they should not be considered an endpoint. You should be testing ad unit placements and watching the effect they have on user behavior and ad revenue to find the perfect mix for your website.

A “set it and forget it” mentality when it comes to the strategy for your ad layout will hinder you from reaching your full ad revenue potential. Make sure you are regularly testing ad placement and keeping a watchful eye on how each change affects your user data.

Get Expert Guidance

Every publisher is different, and what works for someone else might not work for you. There are clear general best practices to follow, but iterating on those best practices and finding the perfect match for your unique website will take your strategy to the next level.

Get access to a team of experts, all focused on increasing your revenue and maintaining your user experience. Learn more about what Playwire can do for your website by applying now.

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