Best practices: Where to place an interstitial in your app

Interstitial ads best practices

While it may be your only stream of revenue, advertising can also damage your in-app experience. From heavy ads that freeze your game, to ads that run during inopportune moments interrupting the experience for users, it is essential to know the right ad specifications, formats, and placements for your game in order to maximize your ROI while preserving an enjoyable in-app experience.

A popular ad format with a continuously high impression rate is interstitial ads. Interstitials are full-screen banner ads that engage users with relevant content at natural pauses in an app’s flow. These pauses are generally when a user is most likely to welcome and engage with an ad, resulting in better ad performance and higher eCPMs.

However, ad optimization does not end with choosing the right ad unit. While interstitial ads utilize a larger space (since they’re full-screen) and thus have a high impression rate, they can also be highly intrusive when placed at a bad time, or when placed too frequently. You need to ensure you put enough effort into analyzing the flow of your app, and how users respond to interstitial ads, in order to define their proper placement.

Below, we’ve gathered the top 3 things to consider when determining best practices to embed interstitials in your app:

Timing interstitial ads

When it comes to ad placement in your app, timing is everything. If your game is a timed game (such as a puzzle game that gives the user 60 seconds per level to advance), it is ideal to show an ad at the end of each timed segment or level. The same applies for a turn-based game - show an ad at the completion of each single game (not each turn). If your app is a level-based game, however, it is considered a best practice to show interstitial ads with each level increase (i.e. at the end of every level and before the progression to the next level).

In order to really measure the perfect time and place to embed an ad, you need to use interstitial ad best practices in order to have robust data management capabilities that allow you to see granular data on user behavior. Upopa Games, ironSource's in-house gaming studio known for its popular horror game series Hopeless, recently used Atom, our own data flow management system, to do just that - A/B testing the most optimal place for interstitial ad placement in an app’s funnel.

Using Atom, the gaming studio was able to measure retention, session length, ads shown per player, ads clicked, and CTR among users, comparing the results of each KPI across all the different possible ad placements in their app. The data management solution enabled Upopa to analyze the data at a user level, as well as improve the accuracy of the data by discarding exceptional players, receiving unbiased and accurate results.

The results showed that timing is crucial. Interstitials placed at the start of a game’s level showed the highest CTR, while static ads placed solely at the start of a level had a 6.5% higher second-day retention rate compared to static ads appearing in multiple placements in an app. In other words, timing does matter - and ads displayed at the start of a level are golden.

Interstitial frequency capping

An interstitial ad is often loaded in between content, like before, during, or after game levels, or when a user enters or exits your app. It is possible, however, to run too many ads, overwhelming your user and bombarding them with ads. Showing many interstitial ads in a short period of time creates a bad user experience and results in lower retention, fewer impressions, and bad reviews in the long run. To avoid this issue, it’s critically important to cap the frequency of your ads by analyzing the ratio of impression/time.

The frequency of your ads, as measured by tracking the ratio of ad impressions over a certain period of time, is the most important indicator helping you measure the effect of interstitial placement on retention and CTR. Generally, in order to optimize ROI of your ad placements and keep users happy, it is best practice to cap the frequency of ad impressions a user sees per session to 3-4 ads (or a maximum of 10 ads per day). By capping the frequency of ads shown per user per day or in-app session, you can ensure that a user is not overwhelmed or feeling spammed with too many ads over a short period of time.

User segmentation for interstitial ads

A major benefit of interstitials is their ability to engage users in-between the stages of an app, ensuring minimum disruption to the user experience. Interstitial ads should complement the natural flow of user engagement, but each user engages with your game differently. When it comes to showing ads in your app then, it’s best to segment ad type, frequency, and placement based on your users, catering to each segment differently. Your high-paying users, for example, should be receiving fewer ads than your non-paying users, or no ads whatsoever, in an effort to minimize interruptions and maintain retention and quality in-app experience for your most valuable users.

In order to drive the optimal number of impressions, it’s also important to segment ad placement by users’ average session length. If you show your first interstitial ad to all your users during the 4th minute of a session, you miss out on potentially monetizing users that spend less than 4 minutes in your game. This is why it’s a good idea to insert your first ad as soon as possible, while still fitting in within the app’s flow and making sure it’s not disruptive. Segmenting users is essential, whether the flow is based on factors such as paying vs. non-paying users or a users’ time spent in app, it is critical to formulate ad placement based on your users.

Interstitial ads are a basic and frequently used ad unit in the app industry - particularly when it comes to gaming apps. The variety of placement options throughout a gamer’s app experience however - from game-over and game-winning to start/finish and pre or post-level loading - makes it all the more important to optimize the placement of your ads in order to maximize revenue while not disrupting the user experience. At the end of the day, the best thing to do when monetizing your game app is to experiment with different networks, ad formats, and placements in your app in order to see which combination gives you maximum ROI.

Read more about ironSource's interstitial ads here.

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