The most used shady practices of website monetization

The online advertising industry is extremely competitive and publishers are always on the lookout for ways to increase their ad revenue. But do you know what metrics influence your earnings? Do you know how much your traffic is really worth? Are you sure your monetization partner isn’t cheating? We are about to shed light on some shady practices that might seriously affect the process of picking your monetization partner. A bit provocative? Read more and find out if you’re getting fooled!

What metrics influence publishers’ earnings?

Before we can get to the “juicy” bit about shady practices, we need to go back to basics. Firstly, publishers have to know what metrics are important to analyze their overall performance. Knowing that publishers will also have an easier time choosing the right partner to work with.

Publishers tend to use earnings as the key performance indicator (KPI) when comparing different networks. However, it is also necessary to know more about other important variables that influence publishers’ earnings such as ad impressions and eCPMs.

Publishers earnings formula

Impressions also known as ad views, is a term used to show how many times an ad has been displayed to the user. The total number of ad impressions depends mostly on the website’s audience size (eg. number of page views/visits) as well as the number of ad placements on the site.

Also, fill rate is a metric that indicates the ratio of the number of ads displayed divided by the number of ad requests.

Alongside these two important metrics, publishers need to think about frequency capping. With more intrusive ad formats, most publishers tend to enable frequency capping to control their negative impact on user experience while maximizing their earnings. That being said, it’s important to note that frequency capping settings need to be taken into account when comparing ad statistics against your website analytics.

Lastly, let’s talk about eCPM (sometimes called “eRPM”). It represents the publishers’ average earnings per 1000 ad impressions. The eCPM of a specific ad placement mostly depends on the chosen ad format, its placement and how users engage with the ad. To get a more thorough overview of website monetization details, read our monetization guide.

ecpm publisher formula

What are the most common shady practices used in website monetization?

Understanding the monetization performance is key to having a good balance between user experience and earnings. Therefore, having a good content and high number of visitors isn’t simply enough to start monetizing. It is vital to find an advertising partner who understands the importance of user experience and offers you the most efficient monetization strategy.

However, the highly competitive online advertising landscape has triggered some players to adopt shady practices in order to achieve a competitive edge. Don’t let yourself be fooled – let the evidence reveal the truth!

Networks disrespecting frequency capping agreements

As previously mentioned, advertising platforms offering intrusive ad formats are usually recommending their publishers to set rather restrictive frequency capping. That is done to find the sweet spot between performance and user experience (eg. Pop-Under limited to 1 impression per IP/day).

That being said, it is an “open secret” that in order to generate more revenue, many networks who offer such intrusive ad formats aren’t respecting the frequency capping rules that they agreed on with the publisher. Oftentimes, the network should show 1 impression per IP/day, but this capping is only respected in some countries including the country the publisher is actually located in. Meanwhile, visitors from other GEOs (i.e. the USA) are seeing 2 or more Pop ads per day instead.

In this case, the publisher benefits from this shady practice by getting paid for those extra ad impressions. However, it will hurt the site’s user experience in the long run and the publisher might lose more visitors.

There are ways to ensure that your monetization partner isn’t cheating. Use a VPN to check the behaviour of the chosen ad format in different locations (we’d recommend using a residential IP to do so).


Context: is testing 2 different platforms offering the Pop-Under ad format.

Advertising platform 1: Generates 100K ad impressions
This is a legitimate platform that respects the frequency capping agreed with the publisher.
Statistics shown on your publisher account: 100K ad impressions, $100 earnings, $1.0 eCPM.

Advertising platform 2: Generates 130K ad impressions
This is a misbehaving player that doesn’t respect the frequency capping the publisher agreed to.
Statistics shown on your publisher account: 130K ad impressions, $130 earnings, $1.0 eCPM.

In such a scenario, a publisher that’s not familiar with such malpractice will definitely end up picking Advertising platform 2 since it seems to provide higher earnings. Yet, it’s important to remember that the misuse of frequency capping often results in loss of visitors. Also, in such a context, the earnings generated via Advertising platform 1 and 2 aren’t comparable as they’re not given the same chance to perform.

Frequency capping gif

Impressions shaving

As stated earlier, “understanding the monetization performance is key to have a good balance between user experience and earnings”. While this is true with any type of advertising, this logic is further reinforced when it comes to more intrusive ads. For instance, it’s obvious that a website having an abusive usage of full screen type of ad formats, should expect some of its visitors to:

  • Leave the website due to overwhelming ads
  • Find an alternative website that provides the same content with better user experience
  • Keep on using the website as their main access to such content but not engaging with the ads

With that in mind, most publishers understand that eCPM is the metric they should look at to understand whether or not the financial return is worth the impact on the user experience.

Some dishonest players in the ad tech industry have started manipulating their statistical data to boost up their publishers’ eCPMs. How is that done? Simply by not showing 100% of the ad impressions, they have generated in their publishers’ panel statistics (aka “impressions shaving”). Let’s take a look at the examples below:


Context: is testing 2 different platforms offering Pop-Under ad format.

Advertising platform 1: Generates 100K ad impressions
This is an honest platform that doesn’t manipulate the statistical data.
Statistics shown on your publisher account: 100K ad impressions, $100 earnings, $1.0 eCPM.

Advertising platform 2: Generates 100K ad impressions
This is a shady player that manipulates the statistical data (shaving 60% of ad impressions).
Statistics shown on your publisher account: 40K ad impressions, $100 earnings, $2.5 eCPM.

In this case, a publisher that is not familiar with such dodgy practice will most likely end up picking “Advertising platform 2”.  Because it seems to provide similar earnings while having less impact on the user experience. In reality, Advertising platform 2 isn’t providing better user experience, they are simply misleading their publishers by manipulating their statistics.


Context: is testing 2 different platforms offering Pop-Under ad format. The publisher is expecting to get a “fixed CPM” offer from both platforms after the initial test.

Advertising platform 1: Generates 100K ad impressions
This is a trustworthy platform that doesn’t manipulate the statistical data. Also, they respect the frequency capping that was set in agreement with the publisher.
Statistics: 100K ad impressions, $100 earnings, $1.0 eCPM.

Advertising platform 2: Generates 130K ad impressions
This is a malicious player who doesn’t respect the frequency capping that the publisher agreed to. In addition, they manipulate the statistical data (shaving 30% of ad impressions).
Statistics shown on your publisher account: 100K ad impressions, $130 earnings, $1.3 eCPM.

Following the test period, the publisher ends up picking Advertising platform 2 since it has offered a fixed CPM of $1.3 to the publisher, while Advertising platform 1 made a fixed CPM offer of $1. In reality, a dropping user experience is hiding behind the higher earnings as it is received by showing more ads than the publisher allowed. Further, as Advertising platform 2 is shaving 30% of the publisher’s ad impressions, the actual fixed CPM the publisher gets is not $1.3 but rather $1.0.

By now, you should understand that in those 2 cases, the owner of is getting fooled again by “Advertising platform 2”.

impressions shaving

Misbehaving ad tag/ad script

Last but not least on the list, providing “misbehaving ad tags” to publishers is a shady practice that seems to be getting some momentum in recent years.

In order to create an environment where they can get a competitive edge over clean platforms, some players in the industry don’t seem to care about the user experience of their publishers’ websites. As well as thinking that it’s okay to provide their customers with ad tags that hijack their websites. For example, ad tags that allow networks to trigger Pop-Under or Pop-Up ads through a tag that was only meant to display Native ads.

Such deceptive practice allows the advertising platform to:

  • Show publishers higher performance than any other clean partner offering Native ads can provide.
  • In the worst case, not pay the publishers for the unexpectedly displayed Pop-Under or Pop-Up ads and make a lot of profit at the expense of the website’s user experience.

Similarly to the frequency capping case, we recommend using a VPN (with a residential IP) to test different locations and the behaviour of your ad tags. 

misbehaving ad-tag

So, there you have it! Now you have all the knowledge to spot the industry’s shady players and make sure that you’re not getting fooled by your monetization partner.

Here at Adcash, we believe in honest business principles and for the sake of transparency, we felt necessary to share those bad practices.


Are you being fooled by your advertising partner? 

Our publisher team is here to help you find out whether your earnings are being shaved and share more tips on how to be more profitable.

Let’s investigate together!

Join the conversation


Profile picture of Geoff Kukard

Geoff Kukard on Jul 27, 2020 at 9:54 am

Hi DD, Thanks for your question. The best tool to check if you fall into a shady practice case would be to compare your Google Analytics data with the statistics of your current ad provider. When doing this, it also pays to take note of the setup applied (frequency capping) If you need any additional support in this, please reach out to us at [email protected] and a member of our team would be happy to provide a consultation.

Profile picture of DD

DD on Sep 10, 2019 at 11:48 am

Is there any tool I could use to check how many ad impressions and impressions are actually generated? to check whether I'm being shaved?

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