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Ad Refresh – The Complete Guide for Publishers

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Ad Refreshing. We’ll look at the different types of ad refreshes, the effects on overall advertising revenue, the effects on CPMs, and best practices for implementing an ad refresh on your site.

What is Ad Refresh?

Ad refresh is a technique to increase the number of impressions (views) an ad receives. It works by automatically reloading an ad on the page at regular intervals so that the same ad is shown to the user multiple times. This technique can help publishers to increase their ad revenue, as it the advertising shown receives a higher number of impressions. However, it can also be seen as intrusive by users, so publishers need to use ad refresh in a way that doesn't negatively impact the user experience.

Ad Refresh Example

Let’s start with the problem.

Some publishers find they have an excellent time-on-site but a low number of ad impressions.

For example, a user might spend a few minutes reading an article, watching a video, or playing a game but only generate one impression per ad unit for that visit.

Ad Refresh Not Working

This leads to lower revenue because publishers can only serve ads once – when the page first loads.

To get around this problem, publishers started using a variety of Ad Refreshes. These tools allow publishers to call the ad server for new creative without reloading the entire page.

Here’s what a refresh looks like:

Simple Ad Refresh (GIF)

The ad refreshes without the entire page reloading

An Ad Refresh allows publishers to continue to gather impressions when users remain on the site but don’t reload the page. More impressions lead to more revenue, right? Actually, it depends on your traffic patterns and the type of Ad Refresh you’re using.

Which Ad Refreshing method should I use?

Time-based refresh

A time-based refresh is a simple trigger which calls the ad server to load new ads at a set time interval. The minimum interval allowed by Google is 30-seconds. The recommended interval is 60-seconds.

The problem? Most time-based refreshes trigger regardless of whether the user is actively browsing the page or not. The result is a surge in the number of impressions but a dramatic decrease in ad viewability (the amount of time an ad is on a user’s screen). Advertisers are not interested in paying for ads that users don’t see and offer lower bids for sites with poor viewability.

The result is many publishers have actually lost revenue when using a time-based refresh. Luckily, this technology has evolved and there are now better Ad Refresh tools for publishers.

User Action Based Refresh

This refresh is based on an action taken by the user on the web page. The action could be a:

  • Click
  • Scroll

By waiting for an action before running the refresh, publishers can at least be sure that the user is on the page that is refreshing. However, the ad might still be off screen.

Event Based Refresh

The ads are refreshed when a content event occurs. For example:

  • A news ticker finishes a cycle
  • A game finishes loading
  • Smart Refresh

A Smart Refresh uses a wide variety of triggers. This includes event-based, action-based and time-based triggers such as:

  • Click
  • Scroll
  • Content render event
  • Screen position change
  • Predictive behavior
  • Cumulative events with mutual dependencies
  • Viewability on refresh

A good Smart Refresh can use up to 20 different signals to determine if a display unit is currently on screen and therefore if it is worthwhile to refresh it. This tool actually increases ad viewability and publishers are able to generate more revenue.

Word Hippo Refresh

here the refresh is triggered by the user changing tabs

CPM vs Overall Revenue

Even though a good Smart Refresh increases viewability, advertisers will pay less for space in a display unit that is refreshing. They want their ads to be displayed as long as possible, and Smart Refresh limits this. Smart Refresh will therefore lead to lower CPMs. However, because you are now gathering more impressions, the net effect is an increase in revenue. The correct metric for success here is therefore page revenue per thousand impressions (RPM) or earnings per thousand visitors (EPMV).

Here’s a breakdown showing how it works:

Smart Refresh CPM Table

Does Ad Refreshing affect page load times?

No, it doesn’t. The initial page load will be the same independent of whether a refresh is enabled. The browser will only make a new set of requests to the ad server once the refresh is triggered. This will use some additional bandwidth. So, while the ad refresh does consume additional data, it doesn’t slow down the initial page load.

Some publishers have implemented a page refresh instead of an ad refresh. This leads to continuous page reloads, resulting in poor user experience and a high bounce rate. We’d highly recommend not doing this.

Do all demand partners allow ad refreshes?

Some demand partners do not allow websites to run Ad Refreshes. Be sure to read your demand partner’s policy and, if they allow a refresh, make sure your refresh is compliant with their triggers, declarations and time intervals. AdRefreshes are most commonly used in header bidding. Check out our what is header bidding guide to find out more.

Does AdSense allow Ad Refreshes?

With AdSense, it is generally safer not to run a refresh. Google states:

“Publishers are not permitted to refresh a page or an element of a page without the user requesting a refresh.”


This clearly rules out time-based refreshes but potentially leaves the door open to refreshes based on user actions. For example, if a user clicks through a slideshow a refresh might be compliant. If the slideshow plays automatically the refresh would be noncompliant. Most publishers choose to not gamble here and use Ad Exchange instead. Google Ad Exchange (AdX) allows ad refreshes, along with OpenX, Rubicon, and many others.

Ad Refresh Best Practices

As you’ll see from the list below, implementing a Smart Refresh is not straightforward. We’d highly recommend using an experienced advertising technology company with proven results. If you’d like to find out how our Smart Refresh has delivered results for over 200 publishers contact us here.

Don’t over refresh

It’s important not to refresh too aggressively. As the number of refreshes on your site increases, so will the number of ad impressions. However, your CPMs will also decline (as mentioned above). In the middle is a sweet spot where you can gather more impressions and still achieve high CPMs. Every site has a different sweet spot so it’s best to run A/B tests with different refresh triggers to determine the best refresh setup for you.

Run A/B tests

Your refresh will work differently based on the inventory segments you are refreshing, the refresh triggers and your audience segments. For example, Snigel only refreshes ads for select Geos for most of our partners because we’ve found this maximizes revenue.

It’s also important to test the ad refresh in different placements. High viewability units, like sticky units, tend to produce better results.

Implement event listeners correctly

An event listener is a function or procedure that waits for an event to occur. For example, the user clicking or moving the mouse. A Smart Refresh uses event listeners to determine where the user’s screen is on the page and when to refresh the ad units.

Memory leaks and high CPU usage are a common issue when using listeners. For this reason, it’s important to ensure the listeners are running correctly on all major browsers.

Limit your listening events to not log sensitive data

There’s an obvious security issue with keystroke listeners here. If your users input a password and a Smart Refresh is listening for their keystrokes you can steal the password. Make sure to ask your advertising technology partner about this.

Determine baseline eCPMS and bidder selection

It is vital to understand which demand partners are bidding for the 2nd or 3rd impression. Some demand partners have strong demand for the first impression but their bids for the 2nd and 3rd impression are low.

Create different sets of demand partners to bid for impressions 2 and 3. Exclude demand partners with low bids.

Furthermore, if you are running a native video unit, make sure to calculate whether it is better to inhibit a refresh by looking at your CPM behavior.

How to set up an Ad Refresh for Google Ad Manager Ad Exchange

Below are the step-by-step instructions for setting up a refresh for your site if you’re using Ad Exchange and Google Ad Manager.

First, a warning:

While Google offers a number of triggers to initiate an ad refresh, it does not take viewability into account. The problem is that a website may keep refreshing ad units that are off screen. This will negatively affect viewability and could lead to a decrease in your overall revenue. Contact us to find out how Snigel’s Smart Refresh only triggers on ads that are in view – increasing viewability.

With Google Ad Exchange (AdX), you can automatically refresh ad units as long as you declare this behaviour. The declaration allows buyers to choose whether to have their ads appear in your refreshing ad units. Failing to declare which inventory will auto refresh might be a violation of Google’s terms and conditions.

  1. Sign in to Google Ad Manager
  2. Click Inventory > Ad Exchange rules > Publisher declarations
  3. Click on the appropriate inventory type sub-tab (for example, Display)
  4. Click New [inventory type] publisher declaration
  5. Enter a name for your declaration
  6. Decide which inventory to include

Full details from Google here.

You can implement the refresh via Google’s Publisher Tag (GPT) – instructions from Google here.

Should you be using a Smart Refresh?

It depends on the setup of your site and your traffic patterns. If you’d like to find out whether your site is suitable, don't hesitate to get in touch with us here. We’ll provide a full analysis of your site and determine whether Smart Refresh can increase your revenue.

About the Author

Ben is one of Snigel's Co-CEO. He works on business development and marketing - spreading the word about how Snigel can help publishers supercharge their ad revenue.


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