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Programmatic Advertising vs Google Display Network – EXPLAINED

Published Date: 14 October 2021   

Categories: Programmatic

Confusion around the difference between programmatic advertising and the Google Display Network still plagues the digital environment. 

Google Display Network – commonly referred to as GDN, is Google’s network of publishers (websites). AdSense tags are placed on these sites in order to form part of the network. The common goal of these publishers is to make money by monetize their site through Google by enabling AdSense on their sites by adding a piece of code on all pages of their website, making it eligible to serve display ads.  

According to Google, GDN is the #1 global display ad network, reaching over 90% of internet users worldwide, with more than a trillion impressions served to over 1 billion users every month. 

How it works – You’ve seen it before, probably without realizing it as you trawl your favorite website where you get served a visual ad block that forms part of the GDN.  

GDN allows advertisers to carefully chose which websites to deliver on, what time of the day, what device and to where. In addition to that, you can choose the specific audience demographics you want to target including their interests. You can opt to serve on the Google Search Network or just serve on the Google Display Network.  

Programmatic advertising – an umbrella term of buying ad space on websites. Types of programmatic advertising include open auctions, private auctions, preferred deals and programmatic guaranteed. We will focus on open auctions… 

How it works – you’re able to buy ad inventory on multiple ad exchanges and networks. As an advertiser, software referred to as the ‘demand-side platform’ or in short DSP (like DV360 or TheTradeDesk) is used. As a publisher, you would make your publisher inventory available through the “supply-side platform’.  In the middle of the DSP and SSP is the ad exchange – the massive pool of impressions/websites that you can serve on.  

Programmatic advertising allows you to tap into multiple ad exchanges and networks whereas Google Ads only allows you to serve on Google Display Network websites. Like how an AdSense tag adds your website to the Google Display Network, an SSP adds your website to an ad exchange. 

Similarities – we’ve established that programmatic & GDN cannot be compared as the former is merely a buying method and the latter, a network of millions of publishers. Both platforms allow you to add your specific targeting & audience needs, for example, target only female users in Gauteng with Smartphone devices.  

Differences – Google Ads is free for anyone to use – you just need a Gmail address that allows you to access the GDN. Programmatic requires a DSP, which often has costs involved. Both options offer decent targeting capabilities but programmatic employs more in-dept data and targeting options, allowing you to target more granularly. In terms of reach potential, Google Ads is limited to the Google Display Network only. With programmatic advertising, you have reach across not only the GDN, but also multiple other exchanges, opening your reach drastically. Creatively, both options support all major ad types, however, the Google Display Network lags a bit behind when it comes to Rich Media ads. Many publishers in the GDN do not support this type of technology.  

Which to choose – It all depends on the client’s needs. Google Ads is free and relatively easy to use. If you are new to this world, consider this option. Targeting capabilities are decent and the reach is great.  

Along with increased reach and advanced targeting capabilities, programmatic gives you more control over where your ads are served and great retargeting options. Granularity is the main drawcard here and will offer you more bang for your buck – should your budget allow it. At the end of the day, it all depends on what you want to achieve. 

Pieter Brink – Head of Programmatic at Mark1