A beginners guide to programmatic buying

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Programmatic buying is often described as the future of online advertising.

It’s an alternative to traditional ad buying, but not “the beginning of the end for all manual processes in digital advertising” as some may claim.

The trouble with a lot of existing guides to programmatic is that they assume an awful lot of jargon is already known by the reader: ad inventory, real-time bidding (RTB), demand-side platforms… uh… programmatic.

That’s fair enough, being as there’s a large probability that if you’re in a position where you need to research programmatic buying, you’re probably going to already know a lot of this stuff anyway. However, if you’re working in digital and have brushed up against the terms programmatic buying and RTB and need a basic guide to what the heck it all means, you’ve come to the right place!

The Internet Advertising Bureau has decreed that there are two types of programmatic buying: programmatic direct and programmatic RTB.

Let’s take this one step at a time:

Programmatic buying

‘Programmatic’ quite simply means ‘automatic’.

Programmatic buying refers to any ad space bought automatically on a web page, either through bidding for the space or buying it directly so that it’s guaranteed to be yours.

Programmatic RTB

Display advertisingProgrammatic RTB is like Google AdWords, except that it’s for display ads rather than search results.

Real-time bidding is used for serving internet users with display advertising around the web.

As a webpage loads, if it has ad space on it that’s available for real-time bidding, information about the webpage and the user viewing it is passed on to an ad exchange (an ad exchange is a platform that auctions off the available ad space to the highest bidder). The winning ad will then appear on the webpage when it has finished loading.

These auctions are held in the milliseconds it takes for a webpage to load.



This available ad space is also known as an ‘impression’. Every time an ad loads this is one impression. Some impressions are more valuable to certain marketers than others, depending on the particular website it appears on, it’s relevance and the likelihood that a user will click-through on the ad.

The cost of an impression is determined by what buyers are willing to pay in real-time.


Demand-side platforms

Advertisers often use demand-side platforms (DSPs) to help them decide which ad impressions to purchase. A demand-side platform is a fully automated piece of software that bids on impressions from an ad exchange.

This removes the need for human sales people, negotiation skills and a huge amount of time, as the decision to bid on an impression is made immediately and the highest bidder simply wins.


Ad inventory

As an extra bonus piece of jargon busting, you may hear the phrase ‘ad inventory’ a lot. Ad inventory is the amount of ad space a publisher has available to sell to an advertiser.

The use of RTB means that advertisers no longer have to purchase display ad space for a set amount of money over a set period of time on a website they assume will bring it traffic.

Instead, ads can be specifically targeted to relevant people across a wide range of sites, and budgets can be managed in real-time.

Programmatic direct

No auctionThis is also known as ‘automated guaranteed’, ‘programmatic guaranteed’ and ‘programmatic premium’. These are all the same thing, so don’t worry about the jargon.

Basically, this is an automated process of buying guaranteed ad space that doesn’t involve an auction.

The typical process for buying ad inventory was notoriously inefficient before programmatic, often taking up to 42 steps for an ad to go from conception to its eventual display.

An agency would have to research the best space to place an ad, rely on an admin heavy process of sending requests to discover pricing and availability from publishers, transact deals with paper insertion orders and manually add the advertisement into the ad server. This is before the ad has even begun running.

Now that more automatic solutions are available – thanks to the rise of programmatic advertising (RTB, Google AdWords) – marketers can now have faster access to ad inventory, complete pricing control, immediate and seamless delivery and various performance analytics.

This article was originally posted by eConsultancy. To view the original post, click here.



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