The latest in the top ad formats for online publishers

Let’s answer a frequently asked question from start-up online news publishers: What ads should I put on my website? I’m not talking about which advertisers should you allow on your site – let’s hope your sales skills will be strong enough to allow you to make such decisions. Instead, we’ll talk today about which ad sizes and formats are worth placing on your pages.

The Internet Advertising Bureau publishes a standard for online ad sizes, but there have been some changes recently. And Google’s followed that by adding new ad formats to its popular Doubleclick for Publishers ad server. So it’s time for even experienced online news publishers to take a fresh look at their ad templates.

First, let me affirm my opposition to advertising that blocks editorial content, either on a website or in print. As a reader, I always despised front-page spadea print ads that blocked my first glance at the headlines of the day. Same goes for online. It’s one thing for an ad to expand and cover editorial content if I click on it. (If anything, that’s better than being sent off to another page or website with a click, IMHO.) But can’t endorse of suggest any ad format that blocks editorial content without a readers’ consent. So we won’t be talking about pop-up or takeover ads today.

Incorporating standard ad sizes in your website design is important because it makes it easier for larger advertisers (who typically run campaigns across multiple sites, and spend a lot of money doing so) to place an order on your site. If an advertiser has to create an ad especially for your site’s design, that increases the effect cost of advertising on your site to that customer. You can’t expect that unless you’re an established, major player in your market. And even if you are, it’s good business to try to keep costs down for your customers.

The IAB used to support dozens of ad sizes and formats, but in recent years, has cut down the number of its recommended units to four main “core standard ad units”:

  • 300-pixels-wide x 250-pixels-tall Medium Rectangle
  • 180 x 150 Rectangle
  • 728 x 90 Leaderboard
  • 160 x 600 Wide Skyscraper

(Yes, Internet old-timers, the 468×60 “full banner” has gone to the great server in the sky, along with the Netscape browser, Usenet and the Whole Internet Catalog.)

As it eliminates old standards, the IAB is implementing new ones. Six “Rising Stars” ad units are under consideration for official endorsement by the end of the summer. They are more interactive ad units, often incorporating Flash or advanced HTML to expand or move ad space upon user interaction, such as a click or mouseover.

  • Billboard – a 970×250 Flash banner that may be collapsed by clicking a “close ad” icon.
  • Filmstrip – a 300×3000 banner that is visible through a 300×600 space on a website. The filmstrip scrolls through the banner space, based on reader clicks or hovering the mouse over the banner.
  • Portrait – a 270×1050 space for the right side of pages, with defined spaces for branding, and defined areas for image galleries, video players, polls and social media interactivity.
  • Pushdown – a 970×90 banner at the top of the page that when clicked or moused-over expands to 415 pixels deep with advertiser content, pushing down site content.
  • Sidekick – a on-page wide vertical banner that when clicked expands to the right with ad content, pushing page content to the left, where it can be accessed via a horizontal scroll in the browser.
  • Slider – a banner anchored to bottom of browser window that, when clicked slides the publisher page to one side and brings in advertiser’s page.

Google’s free Doubleclick for Publishers ad server, popular among start-up and smaller Web publishers, recently added support for expandable and pushdown Flash ads, though a publisher would need to create a customer ad unit size within DFP to accommodate one of the specific “Rising Stars” formats. But the native support for expandable and pushdown ads is new to DFP, opening support for these ad formats to many more publishers.

As you consider which ad formats to support in your website’s design, also think about how you can place ads so that they will be seen and considered by a large percentage of your audience.

There’s no point in offering ads on your website if they lack the visibility that your customers need, just as there’s no point in offering news so buried that no one in your audience reads it. Google has offered some now-famous “heat maps” based on eye-tracking research that reveal the hot spots for ads on many typical webpage designs. (I’m still looking for similar research that incorporates the new rising stars formats, so if anyone has access to some that can be shared, please send that link.)

Finally, if you’re one of those new or aspiring publishers who also needs a quick overview of banner ad pricing terminology, check out the Wikipedia entry for CPM, as well as the links to other ad pricing alternatives, at the bottom of that page.

Ultimately, selling advertising on a website ought to be one medium through which you, as a publisher, help a customer address its needs by providing additional, relevant and welcomed information to your audience. Smart use of standard formats and responsible placement within page design can help you achieve that goal, instead of stinking up your site design with awkward or inappropriate ads that serve neither your audience nor your advertisers.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at


  1. I think the best ad format (and what I use most) is the Leaderboard 728×90

  2. says:

    The only reason to care about IAB standards is if you’re going to carry non-local ads (ad networks, any kind of national ads) or think that you might. For the local publisher, it’s wise to not even think about non-local advertisers.

    Also, create compelling local content, put relavant local ads adjacent to it and you have a recipe for success.