Continuing from part 2 of this series, the next topic is about using ads for monetization. This is one of the most popular methods, especially with free apps, but you should also consider using them in trial versions of paid apps. As described in part 1, trials should frequently (but appropriately and respectfully) remind the user of the app’s trials status and invite an upgrade. Ads really serve the same purpose when you have a paid app as well: just as you might feature-limit a trails, having ads in a trial is a feature that many users would like to remove! In other words, running the app ad-free is a “feature” that’s enabled with purchase of the full app.

But let’s talk more of designing around ads. This is one place where I see many apps being somewhat lackadaisical.

First, if your app is always going to be free, then the whole purpose of using ads is to not just display them, but to get uses to click on them which should increase your revenue. In this way they should be placed invitingly, but not obnoxiously. For this I think you can find quite a bit of guidance in researching best practices for ad placement on web sites, as those are essentially free apps themselves.

Personally, I think the use of ads is most effective when you also have a path to a paid app, even if the paid app’s only added feature is removal of the ads. This way you give the users a choice of dealing with the ads, or ponying up a little cash for the privilege of removing them.

Here, then, is where you have many design approaches that could help increase your revenue (again, these are ideas and observations, not necessarily ones I’ve personally tested):

  • With static placement (within the app’s layout), ads needs to be visible, of course, and if you offer a means to get rid of them, you want to think about making the ads a distraction from the real content of the app. This encourages conversion.
  • As I suggested for trial reminders in part 1, use dynamic placement of ads to break up the flow of the app–to again be just annoying enough but not obnoxiously so, as an encouragement to get rid of those ads. This is what TV shows excel at doing: build up to a near-climax, but then break away so that your attention is transferred from the program to the ad. I’ve seen this strategy often with web games where you’re playing along and finish one level. You’re looking forward to the next but then app tosses in an “interstitial” ad that makes you wait for 15-30 seconds for your next dose of the game. You can’t make the user wait too long, of course, but a little wait makes them hungry and again more likely to upgrade.
  • An app can build some more intelligence around frequency of ad insertion within the flow too: an app can keep track of total elapsed usage time, such that at first the ads don’t appear as often, but as the user gets more and more involved with the app, you can increase the frequency of disruption. A friend of mine wrote a game that just displayed ads statically, and I suggested that he insert an interstitial between every 4 -5games, which meant about every 5 minutes of play time. It would not be difficult to say that after 30-60 minutes of total usage time, the ads showed up once every three games. After another 30-60 minutes, every 2 games, and then after another 30 minute have an ad show up after every game.
  • And don’t forget, when you show an ad, provide a link to your app’s page in the Store with a reminder that you can get rid of ads with an upgrade!

More thoughts? I’d love to hear your comments!


One Comment

  1. Posted May 29, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Some really good points there. I use a Win 8 App for reading blogs and it has an ad at the very top prompting me to buy it to remove the ad. I never have bought it because it doesn’t distract from the use of the app. Again on the Evernote web site, there are adverts in the bottom left when you view your notes. It doesn’t detract from usage so I have never took any notice. It is finding the right balance of placement and price point I think.