If you have ads on your blog and do not have a Backfill Waterfall set up, you can instantly start earning more ad revenue by putting one in place. It is very simple to do and once you have it set up there is very little maintenance going forward.
Why You’re Missing Out on Ad Revenue
The reason why you’re missing out on ad revenue if you don’t have a Backfill Waterfall set up is because most Ad Networks will not display an ad on your blog all the time. This might be because the Ad Networks don’t have ads to display, or choose only to display certain ads during particular hours of the day. Or perhaps the Ad Network is only showing ads when the blog is being viewed by a reader from a particular country or region.
So for the period of time that a paying Ad is not displayed in each of your Ad spaces, you are missing out on ad revenue.
When an Ad Space Is Not Filled
Unless you have a Backfill Waterfall set up, whenever your ad spaces are not filled, you are missing out on potential ad revenue because that space will show one of the following:
a blank space. You earn nothing;
a “House” ad. This is a default image or an ad for the Ad Network. You earn nothing; or
a Backfill ad arranged by the Ad Network. This occurs if the Ad Network (Ad Network A) has arranged with another Ad Network (Ad Network B) to backfill Ad Network A’s ads. You may or may not earn ad revenue. It is out of your control because your Ad Network has arranged the Backfill.
Set up a Backfill Waterfall, and you will instantly start earning more ad revenue.
A Backfill Waterfall is where you set up a chain of ads so when ads from your first Ad Network are not displayed, then it will automatically display ads from your second Ad Network. And when ads from your second Ad Network aren’t displayed, ads from your third Ad Network are displayed. And so on.
I typically have 3 to 4 layers set up for each ad space, depending on which Ad Networks I am using, and my overall fill rates are pretty close to 100%.
To maximise ad revenue, you set it up so the highest paying ad network is first, then the second highest paying next, then the last layers are the lowest paying but with a very high fill rate.
Don’t worry, it’s really easy to set up! I’m no tech head, and I did it! I explain how to set it up step by step – just keep scrolling down. 🙂
4 Easy Steps to Set Up a Backfill Waterfall
1. Group Ad Networks into Tiers based on what rate they pay for ads. Your objective is to fill as many as you can impressions with the highest paying ads. To do this, you need to be clear on which Ad Networks, and which a Ad Types, pay the highest.
2. Check the ad restrictions and rules of each Ad Network. Make sure you don’t breach any Ad Network policies (eg. Google Ad Sense only allows 3 ads on each page. Make sure that by setting up a Backfill Waterfall you don’t end up in a position where sometimes more than 3 are displayed.)
3. Design your Backfill Waterfall. It’s like putting pieces of a (simple) puzzle together. It’s kinda fun!
4. Implement the Backfill. Don’t be scared! This is the easiest part – a copy / paste job.
Step 1. Group Ad Networks into Tiers
Group Ad Networks into Tiers based on what they pay. Tier 1 is the highest paying, Tier 2 next highest and Tier 3 the lowest paying but with the highest fill rates.
1. This diagram is just a sample of Ad Networks for indicative purposes only.
2. As at the time of writing, Blogher has a default backfill set up with another Ad Network so you are unable to set up your own backfills. However, I do understand that bloggers that have been with Blogher for over a year (or so) still have the option to set up their own backfills.
To group Ad Networks into Tiers, compile a list of your Ad Networks and list the following:
List each type of ad (Ad Types) you use by Ad Network. eg. Medium rectangle 300 x 250, Skyscraper 300 x 600, Leaderboard 728 x 90 etc;
For Ad Networks that pay on a CPM basis, note the CPM Rate (i.e. the rate you are getting per 1,000 clicks);
For Ad Networks that pay on a CPC (Cost Per Click) basis, note that average CPCP and the CTR (Click Through Rate – being the % of people that see the ad that click on it); and
Fill rate. This is the % that represents how often an Ad is displayed by that Ad Network for that particular type of Ad.
Typically all the Ad Types of an Ad Networks will be in the same Tier. But to do the Tier classification thoroughly, you should do it by Ad Type as well as by Ad Network. This is because the performance of ads can differ depending on the type of ad. For example, typically Leaderboard Ads (the banners on the top of websites) pay more than medium rectangles because they are more prominent. And some Ad Networks will have higher paying higher fill rate skyscraper (600 x 300) ads than medium rectangle (300 x 250) ads.
Typically, the Ad Networks that pay the highest rates have lower fill rates, and Ad Networks that pay lower rates have higher fill rates. If you find an Ad Network that pays high rates and has high fill rates, you’ve hit gold :).
Step 2. Understand Ad Network Restrictions and Requirements
This is important. You have to understand the requirements of each Ad Network before you set up your Backfill Waterfall so you can make sure you don’t accidentally breach their policies. Do it once and do it right, because once you set up a Backfill Waterfall, it can be easy to accidentally breach an Ad Network Policy because you can lose visibility of your ad codes and which ones are being used where.
A classic example of a problem that many bloggers fall into is displaying more than the permitted 3 Google Ad Sense ads. Many bloggers use Ad Sense as their lowest Tier backfill because it always has a ~100% fill rate so by having it at the bottom of your Backfill Waterfall chain, it means that your ad space is practically guaranteed to be filled almost 100% of the time. So what I often see are blogs and websites with way more than 3 Ad Sense ads, presumably because people forget where they’ve put Ad Sense as backfills (in addition to using it as the primary ad in some slots). Sometimes you can end up with every single ad space displaying an Ad Sense ad. Oops!
These are the sorts of rules you need to check for each Ad Network. Jot them down in a quick to access place.
How many ads from that Ad Network you can display on your page;
Where their ads must be displayed. For example, some ads require that their ads are displayed “above the fold”. (Typically Tier 1 Ad Networks); and
If you are signed up to an Exclusive Network (BlogHer, Glam, Martha’s Circle), then you must comply with their restrictions regarding what other Ad Networks you can work with and/or whether you are allowed to display ads from other Ad Networks “above the fold” with their ads (which you are not allowed to do); and
Whether ads are allowed to be next to each other. Some networks require ads to be separated by a non ad image or widget (even social media icons is enough).
* Note: Worth remembering that you don’t have to backfill with Ad Network ads. You could backfill with your own ads, whether it be for one of your own products (ebook etc) or from a promotion or giveaway you are doing etc.
Step 3. Design Your Backfill Waterfall
This is the fun part! It’s like putting the pieces of a jigsaw together – a really simple one. I use an excel spreadsheet to organise my Ad Networks into Tiers as well as creating a table which I then use to design my Backfill Waterfalls. It looks something like this (summarised, for illustrative purposes):
Using an excel spreadsheet, you can just cut and paste the cells to move the ads around, so it really is like putting together your own jigsaw!
Here is how to design your Backfill Waterfall:
Step 1 – Start with your most profitable / highest paying ad positions. These are (typically): leaderboards in the header and top of pages and ads in the sidebar “above the folder”.
Step 2 – For each ad position, scan the list of Ad Networks that offer ads of the same size.
Step 3 – Order the ads from highest to lowest paying.
Step 4 – Put the highest paying Ad Network in the “Primary Ad” position, followed by the next highest in the “Backfill 1” position then the next highest in the “Backfill 2” position. Repeat with all ad spaces.
Step 5 – Check to make sure you aren’t breaching any requirements of any of the Ad Networks you are using. If you are, then replace it with the next highest paying Ad Network.
Once you’ve designed your Backfill Waterfall, it’s time to put it in place. This is the easiest step!
Step 4. Implement Your Backfill Waterfall
Using the Sidebar Top ad space example in the image above, this is what you do to implement your Backfill Waterfall:
1. In your blog admin, insert the ad code for Ad Network A.
2. Get the ad code for Ad Network C. Go to the Admin section of Ad Network A. Insert the ad code for Ad Network C in the backfill section. You have now told Ad Network A that if they don’t have an ad to display, then display ads from Ad Network C.
3. Get the ad code for Ad Network F. Go to the Admin section of Ad Network C. Insert the ad code for Ad Network F in the backfill section. You have now told Ad Network C that if they don’t have an ad to display, then display ads from Ad Network F.
Note: The members area works differently for every Ad Network. To insert the backfill, locate the ad, then locate the field or button to insert your own backfill. It might be called “Redirects”, “Passbacks” or “Default Ads”. Some Ad Networks don’t give you the ability to add your own backfills (eg. Pricegrabber.com). For these ones, you need to email your rep and get them to upload the backfills for you.
KEEP TRACK OF YOUR BACKFILLS!!!!
I can’t stress this enough! Once you start using a Backfill Waterfall, it is so easy to lose track of which ads you have put where because ad codes are in different places rather than all on your blog admin. So make sure you keep a record of your Backfill Waterfall set up and which ads are where! Otherwise you will end up in a confused mess wondering what is where. Trust me, I’ve been there! I ended up re-implementing my Backfill Waterfall from scratch because I was so confused!!
Get into a routine of checking the performance of your ads and make adjustments where necessary. Depending on how Ad Networks and types of ads are performing, you might readjust which Tier they are in, and then make adjustments to your Backfill Waterfall.
When you first set up a Backfill Waterfall, it’s tempting to check it every day and see how your ads are performing. My recommendation is to let them run for a week, preferably a month, before assessing how they perform. For many reasons, but mainly because ads can fluctuate a lot. And in particular when you first sign up to a new Ad Network, it can take time before you a properly set up and start getting all available ads allocated to you.