Get Rich Slowly or, Mobile Advertising: how to monetize your mobile site, Part 2

As promised in our previous feature (Mobile advertising: how to monetize your mobile site) we're following up our experiments with some findings. As you may recall from part I of this article, rather than talking about mobile advertising in theory, we decided to actually try it out on mobiForge to see how well it works in practice. Now, one month after starting this experiment, it is time to tell you what happened. To recap, we have been randomly rotating banners (with equal priority) on the mobile version of mobiForge for one month now. We are serving ads from Admob and Decktrade.

mobiForge (the mobile version) got about 80K page views over the last month. We believe that quite a chunk of this traffic is mobile search bots, but it difficult to tell how much exactly, since they masquerade as common phone types (they won't even be able to see the mobile site unless they do this). The figures from the ad networks for this period are as follows (using their own terminology).

Decktrade

Views: 10,449
Clicks: 56
Revenue: $3.98

Admob

CPC Impressions: 37,076
Fill rate: 93.89%
eCPM: $0.29
Total revenue: $10.73

Discussion

Not a good time to give up the day job. We made a total of $14.71 in a one month period with a reasonably busy mobile site. Admob earnings were over twice those from Decktrade. On the surface of it this sounds really dissapointing but if you look into the details a bit more, it is perhaps not as bad as it seems. The main point to bear in mind here is that mobiForge is a developer site with a very narrow and focussed audience. The ads that are served up by the current mobile ad networks are still have a very broad consumer focus — the market has not yet matured to the point where there are good relevant ads for mobile web developers. As an example, the ads served by Decktrade (according to their own stats) were in the following categories: Ringtones, News and Sports, Photo, and Video, Chat and Community, Games, TV and Movie. Clearly none of these categories are particularly relevant to a mobile web developer who is browsing mobiForge. There is almost no intersection between these categories and mobiForge users. This goes a long way towards explaining the low revenues. A broad consumer-focused site with the same ads and traffic would surely do a lot better.

Overall, I was quite surprised at the lack of sophistication of these mobile ads. As an example, quite often (presumably when my phone model was not recognised) I would see ad banners saying "Get free ringtones for your 1.0" (1.0 being its guess at my phone model) This seems lame — why not say "phone" instead of "1.0" when the device is not recognised? This happened regularly, even when using reasonably common Samsung and Nokia phones. There is no excuse for not recognising a phone — this is a solved problem and we have articles about it right here on mobiForge.

Secondly, the ads showed no hint of being sensitive to the phone model in the sense of the type of person likely to own them. As an example, if an ad is served to a Nokia N95, you can make certain assumptions about the user with a good chance of being correct e.g. they are unlikely to be a child or a student (or if they are, they are very well off). In this case the user could be served a more targetted ad for their likely income bracket/profile. Equally, a person using an old Sony Ericsson T610 surely belongs to a different advertising segment. But no, the ad networks we tested seemed to treat everyone as equals, which seems like a huge wasted opportunity. This is something that is unique to mobile but is not yet being utilized.

Finally, the ads showed no signs of being sensitive to the country that the phone was in. I would often see ads targetted at Spanish speaking users, hardly a major demographic in Ireland (Polish or Lithuanian would be a much better guess). Again, this seems like a real wasted opportunity. Geographic IP address databases are widely available – why not use them?

Overall, the self-serve mobile advertising space feels wide open and full of opportunities. There are lots of areas to innovate and there is plenty of space for newcomers to raise the bar.

I've attached a few screenshots of the ads as displayed on various handsets below.

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