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What is a Pre Roll Ad?


A pre-roll ad is a promotional video advertisement that plays before the content of an online video. These ads are typically 6 seconds, 15 seconds or 30 seconds. Pre-roll ads on YouTube and Facebook are the most common type of pre-roll advertisements.

It’s possible that pre-roll video advertising may just be the most powerful form of marketing there is. Don’t believe us? Take a look at these stats:

  • Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video compared to 10% reading a text.
  • 52% of consumers believe watching a product video makes them more confident in online purchase decisions.
  • 59% of senior executives prefer video over text.
  • Animated explanation videos increase conversion rates by at least 20%.

Do you see how we just sparked your interest there? This is the basic concept of pre-roll ads: to immediately show the viewer why they need your business. And hopefully, to spark their interest enough to make them click for more.

What do Pre Roll Ads Look Like?

Using Google-AdWords, you can usually roll any of your YouTube ads to play before any YouTube video that your target audience is watching.

You’ve probably experienced this yourself. Those ads that pop up before a popular YouTube video you want to watch. You know, the ones you are forced to watch for at least 5 seconds before you can actually watch the video you clicked on? Those are pre roll ads.

what is a pre roll ad

On most platforms, such as YouTube, pre roll ads are skippable, which is why it’s imperative that you grab your audience’s attention from the start (within five seconds). You want your potential customer watch your entire ad. More so, you want them to also click on your ad, which will lead them to your landing page designed to convert them into a customer.

Pre Roll Ads on the Buyer’s Journey

If you want your ad campaigns to have maximum effectivity, you need to take the buyer journey stages into account.

What is the buyer’s journey?

It’s what every prospect goes through before converting. Targeting your ads to the correct stage gives you a better shot of hitting the consumer with the right message at the right time.

A YouTube pre-roll advertisement is at the top of the funnel, in terms of the buyer’s journey.

It’s going to fall right into the awareness stage. In this stage, the buyer either:

  • Doesn’t realize they have a problem or need
  • Realizes something isn’t right, but they aren’t sure what, just yet

How do you market to this kind of potential buyer? You address your buyer persona’s pain-points, all while creating awareness about your brand.

This is where Preroll advertising comes in.

As internet marketing professionals, we use pre-roll ads to raise brand awareness or drive website traffic.

Even though you could potentially get some immediate sales from using pre-roll ads, the conversions won’t be as numerous as running a search campaign. With search campaigns, though, you are targeting keywords, meaning that more often than not, if the campaign is executed and managed correctly, the intent to purchase or convert is already there.

When running a pre-roll ad campaign, one must keep in mind that the intent here is to raise awareness, position yourself as a potential vendor, and to intrigue the prospect. It is later that the prospect may decide to search for your company or see a retargeting ad and convert into a customer.

How do Pre Roll Ads Work?

Like any other marketing campaign, if managed and executed correctly,YouTube pre-roll advertising can be easy, budget-friendly, and extremely effective.

Typically, users are aware of pre-roll ads, even if they aren’t sure what they mean, how they work, or what they’re there for. So, they know that in order to watch the desired content, they must at least watch a few seconds of whatever ad is showing.

Since they know that they will eventually have the option to “skip” said ad, they will actually be watching, even if it’s just waiting for the “skip” button to appear. This is more than can be said of other traditional forms of advertisements out there. For this reason, we feel as though a pre-roll campaign can be very practical, even for small businesses trying to raise brand awareness, brand engagement, and even purchase intent.

pre roll advertisement
Source: thinkwithgoogle.com

To start advertising on YouTube, you’ll set your daily budget in you AdSense account, upload your video, and start rolling…Much, much easier said than done.

YouTube provides an array of ad types that feature a number of specific and important targeting options that will directly affect who will see your ad, and just how far you can stretch that ad budget.

How Long is a Pre Roll Ad?

Pre-roll ads can be anywhere from 5 seconds to 60 seconds, depending on the advertising platform, and are shown on both desktop and mobile interfaces. Just like many other types of advertising, pre-roll advertisements are interruptive and if not used correctly, can annoy your audience more than they actually help them.

However, with a little knowledge and tact, you may be able to provide your prospect with an interesting, entertaining, or even helpful break that could potentially turn them into a customer.

One positive note for pre-roll, as opposed to interrupting content, is that even if your ad is “skipped”, the viewer has still been exposed to your brand, even if it’s only for five seconds. When it comes to skippable versus non-skippable, a non-skippable pre-roll advertisement is naturally going to achieve a higher completion rate, as the viewer has no choice but to view the entire ad in order to continue watching whatever video they were in the process of watching.

On the flip side, skippable ads are much more user-friendly and your audience is more likely to be genuinely interested in what you have to offer because they do have the option to skip the ad.

There is no one size fits all here in terms of placement. What works for one company, for one ad, or for one campaign, may not always be the best option. This is something a digital marketing company will constantly need to tweak and keep a careful eye on.

How Much do Pre Roll Ads Cost?

Just like any other form of content marketing, one of the biggest obstacles one must overcome is having a good quality video.

What is good, though?

Opinions on this can be so subjective, that we feel it’s best to recommend shooting multiple videos and testing them for your pre-roll campaign. And once, after time, your analytics shows one video outperforming the others, then make more videos more similar to the “winner” and test those.

Isn’t that expensive? It can be. Short and sweet.

A company can easily spend ten grand or more producing quality videos. However, if this is a hurdle that you can overcome but your competitors can’t, well, you’ll be ahead of the game in this realm of marketing for the next few years because, let’s face it, video marketing isn’t going anywhere.

As technology progresses, more and more tools are becoming available as inexpensive aids for video marketing. A few of these are:

  • PowToon– Even though there’s PowToon branding on the clip, PowToon makes it super easy to create a video in a very short period of time.
  • Promoshin– This is more of a company that creates custom explainer videos. But, these can easily be under $2000, which is fairly inexpensive for video content.
  • GoAnimate-It’s not free, but it is a lot more inclusive than the others. For only a couple hundred dollars a year, you are able to create your own videos, with the help of custom tutorials.

How Much Does it Cost to Show a YouTube Pre Roll Ad?

Since pre roll ads on YouTube are billed by the CPV (cost per view) system, you must set the amount you’re willing to pay for someone to see the ad.

The fluctuations in the CPV market make analyzing the actual cost of one topic practically impossible. However, you can play with your max CPV bid and see what kind of ROI you’re getting to help get more from your marketing budget, going forward.

A great way to lower the cost of your preroll ad is to include topic exclusions. There may be certain demographics or areas that aren’t relevant to your CTA. So, you’ll want to make sure that they don’t eat up your budget with views that won’t eventually lead to conversion.

To further target your ideal customer, add exclusions by following these steps:

  1. Sign into your AdWords account (or child account for marketers).
  2. Click “Campaigns”.
  3. Choose the video campaign you want to edit.
  4. Click on the ad in “Ad Groups”.
  5. Select “Topics”.
  6. Follow the instructions given and click “Save”.
  7. Select the green dot next to the topic or demographic you want to exclude. You’ll see a red dot in place of the green one.

Applying targeting exclusions will narrow your potential audience. However, quality over quantity, especially when you’re paying for every view.

How do I Manage a Successful Pre-Roll Advertising Campaign

1. Capture Your Audience Within the First Five Seconds

Even though your ad can be up to sixty seconds long, the average attention span is only eight seconds. Yes, that IS shorter than that of a goldfish, in case you were wondering.

So, it’s best to assume you need to capture your audience within the first five seconds and before, on some platforms, they have the opportunity to “skip” your ad. To do this, you may have to “dumb your content down” and then dumb it down, again.

Whatever you have to do to entice your target audience to want more, or at least, watch more.

pre roll advertisement

2. Educated Targets and Mastering Retargets

Honestly, with digital marketing, you have way too many resources available at your fingertips that are able to help you analyze your customer to EVER waste money.

You should know what your “hot customer” looks like, like the back of your hand. If you don’t, spend some time looking at your analytics and conducting more testing.

The information is there, you just have to continue to educate yourself, when it comes to ideal personas. For more information on what metrics you should be looking at, check out our blog: Marketing Metrics.

As important as targeting is, retargeting is equally as important. The conversions for retargeted audiences are almost twice that of normal audiences, if not more.

what is a pre roll ad

If a prospect adds your product or service to their shopping cart and doesn’t purchase, or if they visit your site, fill out a form and don’t respond, keep following them, everywhere (online, that is). You should have enough ad layouts to show up with a different ad multiple times, until they finally make the right decision, to buy into what you’re offering!

3. Provide Value

It’s not about you; it’s about what your company can do FOR them. Always, always, always keep this in mind with any sort of marketing efforts.

Yes, you want to fill your pockets, but that mindset is NOT what’s going to do that for you. Think service industry. When you’re promoting your brand, service, or product, focus on its value. Then focus on the added value your viewer could have, if only they had your brand.

You can be super engaging and really peak interest without ever even mentioning your company’s name. People don’t like ads, duh. However, they do appreciate an answer to a problem. This holds true even if it’s a problem they never knew they had, until you brought it to their attention. Paint the image of the problem and how your company can remedy it, in under 60 seconds.

Like mentioned before, the object is to create a mini commercial that doesn’t feel like a commercial. The goal is to keep the ad interesting, different and short.

4. Provide Specific Landing Pages

Nothing is more irritating as a buyer or even just a researcher than to think you are about to be directed to valuable information, only to be misled or have to look for it in every corner of a website.

If you are going to spend the money on video advertising, take the time to create a custom landing page specifically for the ads you are running. We cannot stress this enough. You could have sold a customer, only to lose them by directing to a useless (to them) page.

Keep in mind that you are supposed to guide your customers through the buyer’s journey.

If they’re at an ocean and you provide them with a bicycle to reach you, you’ll never see them again. The same concept applies to your landing pages.

Optimizing your ads are only one piece of the puzzle, as you may have just learned. After the initial click, your website is where the conversion will happen. Therefore, it needs to be on it’s “A-game”, as well. For more information on this, check out our blog: Web Design Best Practices.

Where are the Best Places for Pre Roll Ads?

The best places to position your pre roll advertisements are on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Although the three platforms are extremely similar, they do have a few differences. We’ll go over the main ones.

YouTube Pre-Roll Ads


Most YouTube pre roll advertisements are around fifteen to twenty seconds long. These ads span across the entire “viewing screen” similarly to overlay ads. The difference is that they fill the entire space instead of spanning across just the bottom. Unlike some of the other platforms, YouTube ads can’t be skipped (unless they’re TrueView). So, include a CTA (call to action) at the end of your ad that leads visitors to a specific landing page.

Conversion vs Brand Awareness

The value of advertising with YouTube is that, firstly, it is owned by Google. So, all of the analytics you previously had set up, should flow fairly seamlessly. If you are more concerned with converting your audience than brand awareness, you can choose to advertise with YouTube for more narrow targeting options.

what is a pre roll ad

A few of these include targeting by:

  • Location
  • Language
  • Demographics
  • Topic
  • Keywords
  • Interest

Target Audience by Topics

If you’ve done general search campaigns in the past, the first couple should be no stranger to you. Knowing your target audience allows you to go ahead and employ that data with pre-roll, as well.

But on top of your general audience specifications, you can also target by topic. This is basically the category of videos your audience is currently watching. Interest is a little vaguer and harder to grasp, but basically, interest is the topic information, but it applies, even if that person isn’t currently watching something in that “topic category” at that moment.

For example, I normally watch videos on digital advertising, but today I want to watch a video about puppies. Because I typically watch digital advertising videos, a digital advertising advertisement could show even though I am currently viewing a puppy video.

what is a pre roll ad

The list of categories and subcategories is endless, so that’s something you’ll have to look into on a rainy day. When going through this list, on every subcategory, ask yourself, “Is this a category or subcategory that my target audience is likely to watch, but not so general category that everyone watches?” We all know it’s true.

You can’t avoid advertising to people who won’t convert or won’t even be interested. If you know what you’re doing and employ the analytics correctly, video content can help you avoid that mountain. Be firm on who the ad is targeted to and who would benefit from it.

Twitter Pre-Roll Ads

Twitter considers these ads “third party”, and displays the ads on auto-play and mutes on popular or premium videos. These show on timelines, profiles, and search.ads before videos

One perk of pre roll ads on Twitter is that they constantly update in favor of the marketer.

For example, the ad length has increased from six seconds to thirty seconds. While YouTube doesn’t charge for skipped ads, Twitter starts charging after an ad is viewed for three seconds.

Facebook Pre-roll ads

Capture Your Audience Within 3 Seconds

In order to get views and engagement, your video ads need to be too good to ignore.  For in-stream video ads, even though the platform allows up to 31 seconds, Facebook recommends your ads be 5-15 seconds.

With an ad potentially lasting only 5 seconds, get your brand name in within the first 3 seconds of your Facebook video ad.

According to Facebook IQ, consumers were 23% more likely to remember which brand made a given ad if the brand was featured within the first 3 seconds and 13% more likely if the brand was featured after 4 seconds.

Optimize Your Data

If you want your audience to actually watch your Facebook video ads, you’ll need an engaging title and description. These also feed information to Facebook’s algorithm about content and who the ad should be targeted towards. For this reason, you want to include any relevant keywords that relate to your ad.

Add Captions for Those Watching With the Sound Off

According to Digiday, even though Facebook hosts over 8 billion views daily, as much as 85% of those views happen in silence. So, you will want to tailor your ad for sound-off viewership.

Facebook recommends adding captions, and the data backs up their advice-adding subtitles increases your views by 12% on average.

Pre Roll Ad Specs 

Facebook isn’t vague when it comes to their expectations and recommendations for advertising, and video ads are no exception.

To start, your ad ratio should be between 9:16 and 16:9.

Also, you should aim for H.264 compression, a fixed frame rate, square pixels, stereo AAC audio compression at 128 kbps or higher and progressive scan.

Facebook recommends a 1080p resolution but ideally, we would use the highest video resolution available.

With mobile in mind, you’ll want to use a 9:16 (vertical) or 1:1 (square) aspect ratio. Why? Simple, real estate.

On mobile, the 1:1 or square ratio, takes up to 78% more screen space than their landscape partners.

Digital Logic Offers Pre Roll Ad Help

Pre roll advertising can be very beneficial. Especially with the right amount of data and expertise to back it. However, businesses shouldn’t consider this type of advertising a one stop shop, as it can’t really be used by itself to boost your business much.

Video advertising, in general, should be part of a much larger marketing strategy that works in tandem with other marketing tactics, such as SEO, to launch your business into a success. Are you tired of failed online marketing attempts that feel like a big waste of money?

If so, it’s time to give Digital Logic a shot! We offer a variety of PPC management services and a totally free, no-obligation free consultation!

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