How to Use Pre-Roll Ads

How to Use Pre-Roll Ads

Affiliate Marketing

Written by



April 4, 2018


Affiliate Marketing

The recent Chrome update and its focus on Google Compliant Ads has left some online marketers quite dumbfounded.

Can we really blame them? It’s one of the biggest changes in years. Of course there was going to be some confusion as we transition to 2018’s new advertising landscape.

Even before the update, we suggested moving to pre-roll ads. As you can see in the graph below, searches on how to serve ads in videos have been on the rise over the past decade

pre-roll ads google trends

Video Ad Serving Template & Ads in video searches since 2004 according to Google Trends

Video advertising amounted to more than $30 million dollars in revenue in 2017. Here’s a revenue forecast from 2016 all the way to 2022:

Revenue forecast for video advertising, Statista (March 2018)

Pre-roll ads are a huge part of this sustained growth.

Today, we’ll first define what pre-roll ads are and their advantages & disadvantages. Then finally, we’ll give you a complete step-by-step guide on how to use them effectively in your campaigns!

What are Pre-Roll Ads?

Also called in-stream ads, pre-rolls are short promotional clips displayed before the main content you intend to watch.

You might have also heard about mid-roll ads (video advertisements placed halfway through a video) and post-roll ads (video advertisements inserted after a video).

It’s technically all the same thing since in-stream ads can be served at any point in time during a video … however, pre-rolls are some of the most valuable real estate since every user has to start the video to watch it.

Not all of them make it to the mid-roll ad, though — with even less reaching the post-roll ad most of the time.

Typical pre-roll ad length is between 15-30 seconds, with 20 seconds being the industry standard (that’s not to say longer videos CAN’T also be in your wheelhouse! … they work just fine as long as they are engaging).

On YouTube, these clips can be served either as skippable ads after 5 seconds (or non-skippable ads for a maximum of 15 seconds). This is made possible thanks to the new TrueView video format.

Here’s a complete overview of a video ad as demonstrated by Google:


In the above example, you can see the channel engagement panel at the top left of the video player.

There’s also a call-to-action (CTA) near the play button and a “skip countdown” to the bottom right of the player as well.

Here's another example

Notice when the skip countdown is over, the user is allowed to watch the desired content by clicking on the button? Yep.


Pre-roll ads are plentiful online. Keep in mind that the advertiser controls the length, availability of the skip button, and its delay. On the other hand, publishers get to choose who they deal with and which restrictions they want to enforce.

Should you use Pre-Roll Ads?

This advertising technology is one of the most promising right now. Here’s why:


  • Brand awareness: you can’t miss a pre-roll ad because it plays before the content you really want to see. These guaranteed views are great if you have a creative mind to grab the attention of the user and you’ve done your homework targeting your ideal customers.
  • Brand recall: did you know that a majority of viewers skip pre-roll ads when they have a chance? In a 2017 study, Magna ran an advertising experiment with 11,338 participants. Of that number, 65% skipped pre-roll ads. Interestingly enough, 10% of the participants could still recall the brand even if they didn’t watch the ad to the end!

brand recall

  • Interactivity: users can choose to skip your ad, click on your CTA, share the content and more. You also have the possibility to add overlays or other tools inside the video for maximum engagement.
  • Easier to grasp: due to their brief nature, pre-roll ads don’t require the same effort from viewers than what airs on TV, for instance. You also only have one ad shown before the content, so your message doesn’t get lost in the mix either.
  • The future is video: “Globally, IP video traffic will be 82 percent of all consumer Internet traffic by 2021(Cisco). Videos are only going up, making pre-roll ads a prime advertising strategy going forward.

Pre-roll ads also have to face their fair share of challenges:

  • High Cost per thousand (CPM): a lot more advertisers are getting into the video advertising game, resulting in a price hike. Of course, it varies greatly depending on the ad network used and the targeted keywords. US and Canadian traffic is especially costly.
  • Higher production values: pre-rolls are harder to create than, say, static banners or GIFs. You have to invest more resources and time in conceptualization and production. You can leverage this disadvantage by promoting pre-rolls that have already been created and are optimized by the advertiser.

What About Ad Blocking?

Contrary to popular belief, pre-roll ads are just as susceptible to the effects of Adblocker as any other type of ad.

If for instance you browse YouTube or while having Adblock Plus activated, video ads will effectively be dodged. And now that Chrome has its own integrated ad blocker, It’s even more tricky. Hence the need to create content that is 1) short and 2) to the point — just like you would with banners, for example.

It's important to remember that pre-roll ads are one of the main reasons people turn to Adblockers in the first place:

pre-roll ads chart

Pre-roll ads Motivate 1 in 3 blockers to Stop Ads Altogether (Global Web Index)

How to Run Pre-Roll Ads on Your Website

Now that we know more about pre-roll ads, it’s time to put them to the test!

Step 1: Configure your player

In order to use pre-rolls, you need to first make sure your video player can actually run this type of ad.

Your player must be compatible with the Digital Video Ad Serving Template (VAST), an in-stream advertising protocol initially launched in 2008. VAST uses a universal XML schema to serve ads to digital video players.

Here’s a quick list of recommended video players that support VAST 2.0+ with their matching documentation:

Your video player should be compatible with HTML5 and Flash to serve mobile AND desktop users.

Step 2: Find an ad server solution compatible with VAST

Once you got your video player up and running, it’s time to look for an ad server that is actually able to deliver your content.

A quick search on your favorite search engine will give you multiple valid choices, be sure to select a service according to your budget and monthly impressions.

Step 3: Embed your unique VAST XML in the video player

Ok, so now that you have configured your video player and have access to an ad server, you must embed your unique VAST XML. If you’re not sure how, refer to the documentation from one of the recommended video players.

Good news: if you’re a CrakRevenue affiliate, simply copy & paste the following VAST XML into the player:[aff_sub1]&custom2=[aff_id]&custom3=[source]&custom7=[aff_sub2]

Be sure to replace the [aff_sub1], [aff_id], [source] and [aff_sub2] placeholders with your own values. Source is for tracking purposes.

Step 4: Customize

At this stage, your pre-roll ad should now be working.

To maximize conversions, make sure you customize your video player to match your site’s theme!

Be careful, though: some ad servers don’t have all features enabled. For example, it’s entirely possible for a solution to not offer a skip button at all due to various constraints. Shop around for the best product according to your needs!

Testing your VAST Ad Response

If you’d like to test a VAST ad in a HTML5 video environment, you can use this nifty tool from Google.

vast ad test google developer

Video Suite Inspector from Google

Simply remove the [aff_id] placeholder from your VAST XML with your actual aff ID to see a working example.

You can also use the ZEDO VAST Inspector to test your ad using either Flash or HTML5:


Interface from ZEDO’s Vast Inspector

Here’s Why Pre-Rolls Ads Are Your New Best Friend

With their many advantages, pre-roll ads are very effective at boosting your campaign earnings.

From greater brand awareness to higher conversions, there’s a lot of reasons to love them.

Which is not to say they are perfect; they can really come back to bite you unless you’re extremely careful.

So, have you ever used pre-roll ads?! What’s your experience with this technology? We read all comments, so feel free to chime in below!

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