Digital Ad Rates and Seasonal Trends

At the start of new months and / or new quarters, publishers may find themselves asking, “Why are my rates low?”  One big factor is seasonality.  Digital ad rates follow a pattern year-over-year, driven by seasonal events (fiscal year end, summer vacation, and winter holidays, for example) and the associated expected consumer spend for that time period.  Below is a breakdown of the expected yearly cycle of industry-wide rate fluctuations, and quarterly sub-cycles, where rates generally increase as the quarter progresses. 

*Please note that rates for individual domains vary by a complex matrix of factors, including site content, page format, ad format (type, size, configuration and density), viewability, browser, device-type, traffic source, user behavior, user location, and seasonality.  So, this article addresses only one component of the larger equation that determines what ad space on your domain is worth.

Q1 – January, February, March :

In the first quarter of the year, consumer spend is low and ad agencies are planning and loading their spend for the upcoming quarter, and year.  Rates reflect this “reset”, especially when compared to the high ad spend in the fourth quarter that occurs around Black Friday, Cyber Monday, the winter holidays and the closing out of yearly ad budgets. Once frozen advertiser budgets are loaded and ad spend “thaws” for the new year, rates will start to increase into January and continue to progress in February and March.

Q2 – April, May, June :

At the beginning of each quarter, there’s a dip in rates as budgets conclude for the previous month/quarter.  April rates may see a drop, but don’t despair, May and June will rebound as ad agencies finalize their fiscal year and offload the remaining ad spend for that period.  

Q3 – July, August, September :

The start of another new quarter, July’s rates may remind you of January’s. Rates dip in July for a few reasons.  Some agencies’ close out their fiscal year at the end of June, so another round of budget planning and loading happens at the beginning of July and can take several weeks to a month to be fully implemented.  In addition, summer months mean schools are out, travel increases, and as a result there is a noticeable decrease in internet traffic and the associated rates that advertisers are willing to pay.  This quarter follows the same trend of the previous two, with rates increasing the further you get through the quarter.  Back-to-school ad campaigns help rates climb into August and September, as well.

Q4 – October, November, December :

The fourth quarter usually brings with it the highest rates of the year. Following the same trend as the previous three quarters, however, October may start out with lower rates.  Conversely, November usually has the highest rates of the year, peaking around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, in anticipation of consumer spending for the holidays.  December may decline slightly into Christmas, and even further between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and then the whole process starts over again.

These quarterly trends provide a general guideline that can help you when planning the monetization strategy for your domain, as well as optimizations to capitalize on periods of high rates.  That said, the digital advertising industry is ever changing and evolving, and seasonality predictions are not set in stone.  Additionally, rates can be impacted by a number of external factors, including – large geopolitical / news-worthy events, fluctuations in financial markets, natural disasters, sporting events, elections, etc.