What's the Difference Between Google Display Network and Programmatic Advertising?

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  • 4/21/2020
    Tomato, tom-ah-to. Potato, po-tah-to, Google Display Network, programmatic ad buying. It’s all pretty much the same, right?
    Not quite! It’s a common misconception that these two platforms are interchangable. While they both work toward the shared goal of getting your message in front of a targeted audience, each has its pros and cons.
    When choosing a platform for your digital ads, it helps to be aware of the key differences between each option and how they can help or harm your campaigns. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to Google Display Network vs. programmatic advertising.

    What is the Google Display Network?

    While you may not be 100% sure what the Google Display Network (GDN) is, you probably come across it every single day. It’s a system that allows you to reach your audience while they’re surfing the web — checking their email, watching YouTube, browsing around or using mobile apps. 

    The sponsored content in this example is a native ad on the GDN. The network, which spans more than 2 million websites, will show your ads to a targeted audience, allowing you to find new customers or engage existing ones. Ads you can run include:
    • Responsive Display Ads allow you to upload your imagery, logo and text to create an ad that can be shown in several formats. These ads then appear in between paragraphs, on sidebars and blend throughout a site. 
    • Uploaded Image Ads can only be shown in the format you upload them and are treated as one image rather than an image with separate text elements. This gives you more control over appearance but can lead to formatting issues.
    • Gmail Ads are simply the image ads shown at the top of inboxes for users with Gmail accounts.
    • Engagement Ads are more advanced visual ads. They include an element of engagement that can better catch the audience’s attention. For example, a B2C company could run an ad that looks like a regular image advertising one product, but when you roll over the ad it expands to show their full product line.
    In this platform, marketers bid on their preferred ads spaces, all of which auto-optimize over time for better results. We say “preferred” because while the network involves over 2 million websites, you don’t necessarily want your ad to appear on all of them. You can select different website tiers, blacklist certain sites and be conscientious of where your ads are popping up.
    The GDN is a great choice because it integrates visually rich ads throughout the user’s regular web experience rather than just displaying easily overlooked text.

    What is programmatic advertising?

    Programmatic advertising is the automated buying and selling of digital ads using software. Many formats and channels are supported with programmatic advertising. Ads can be placed on mobile, desktop, tablet, connected TV and more. They can be placed in several formats:
    Image ads containing text and image, similar to the Google Display Network above.
    Audio ads that appear in podcasts, internet radio and music streaming platforms like Spotify.
    Video ads which can appear as native ads blended throughout a webpage or in-stream within certain video players. Note that they cannot be placed on YouTube as it is strictly part of the Google Display Network.
    Programmatic ad buying is not a free or open platform. To access programmatic ad buying, you must tap into the SaaS (software as a service) industry. We suggest going directly to an agency that has the necessary software for programmatic ad buying through an existing partnership with platforms like Centro, TheTradeDesk or Simpli.fi.

    How are the GDN and programmatic advertising similar?

    There are a few key elements these networks have in common.
    • Concept: Both the GDN and programmatic advertising are auction-based bidding platforms that utilize display advertising to reach a targeted audience.
    • Placement: With both options, marketers are able to reach mobile applications and domain placements.
    • Targeting: At their core, both platforms have shared basic targeting options. Users are able to target a specified audience based on demographics, behaviors, interests, site topics and remarketing.
    With a basic explanation of each platform and knowing what they have in common, you may be thinking “Hey, aren’t these the exact same thing?” 
    Not quite! Despite their similarities, the GDN and programmatic advertising are vastly different and each one has its pros and cons. Stick with us and we’ll help you decide which option is right for you.

    Advantages of advertising on the Google Display Network

    The Google Display Network is an excellent choice for beginners and marketers who want to keep it simple. 
    It’s easy to use and doesn’t have a huge cost barrier. There are fees to access the GDN platform and minimum bids you must make on your ads to grab space in the automated auctions. Overall cost is manageable, making it a great option for marketers on a budget.
    The GDN also directly integrates with the Google Product Suite. If your business is steeped in Google Drive, Gmail and Google Calendar, you can use your existing Google account to access GDN and better track your ads with tools like Sheets. 
    Additionally, with GDN you can target users based on their Google search history and interest. This data is not directly accessible by programmatic ad buying software and may require an added CPM cost.

    Disadvantages of advertising on the Google Display Network

    Before you start immediately sending cash to Google via carrier pigeon, remember the platform does have its share of disadvantages, too.
    The GDN does not have access to many premium private marketplace (PMP) deals that programmatic ad buying software companies make with certain sites. While it does encompass 2 million sites, keep in mind the internet has 200 million active websites currently running.
    There are also restrictions on your ad formats. With GDN, you’re better off sticking with image ads. Video ads can only run on YouTube and you can only run audio or TV-based ads through YouTube apps. 

    Advantages of programmatic advertising

    Lamenting GDN’s inability to get your video ad to reach the masses? Then programmatic advertising might be your cup of tea!
    Programmatic advertising has an increased distribution scale, reaching over 20 ad exchanges. In contrast, the GDN is just one ad exchange. This means more available inventory and space for your ads to show. It also allows for use of creative formatting options not available with GDN like audio ads, connected TV and native video. 
    With programmatic, you have increased control over audience targeting, creative placement and retargeting options. For example, you have the option to use multiple creative types to run retargeting ads based on user completion percentages for your audio and video ads. If a user watches or listens to more than 50% of your ad, you can show them another video. But if they listen to only 25% you can show a different image instead.
    In a similar vein, programmatic ads come with integrations allowing for advanced targeting options like location-based advertising, behavioral advertising and in-store attribution. With in-store attribution, the audience can receive ads after visiting a store’s physical location, known through mobile device tracking. These options go above and beyond GDN’s available targeting methods.
    Unlike GDN, programmatic advertising software also gives you access to private marketplace (PMP) deals and premium inventory spots that software partners have reached or purchased on their own.

    Disadvantages of programmatic advertising

    Programmatic advertising is like that song from Aladdin - a whole new world of automated ad buying! But its biggest disadvantage is that it comes at a cost.
    It’s generally more expensive to enter the world of programmatic advertising space due to platform costs. These costs can be offset by working with a vendor or agency who already has the platform, leading to a lower financial barrier to entry.
    Another disadvantage is that the CPM (cost per thousand impressions) model means that you pay for impressions and not engagement. Because of this, targeting must be thought out strategically, using a little more data and brain power than is required with GDN. Actually, there’s a much wider learning gap in general when it comes to programmatic advertising in contrast to Google’s user-friendly setup.

    Which should you choose?

    Despite the cost and learning gap, programmatic advertising is always the best option if your budget allows for it. It gives you increased control, a wider scale and better targeting capabilities.
    But this doesn’t mean the GDN is a “bad” choice. Especially if your budget is limited, Google’s Display Network is an excellent alternative with a lower cost of entry.
    Whichever option you choose, the most important thing is that you have a clear message, great imagery or video content and a strong strategy behind your advertising efforts.
    About the author::Dan Lyons is a Digital Marketing Team Lead at thunder::tech. He develops and implements well-rounded digital campaigns that help clients achieve their business goals. He's best described as a positive, hard-working person who enjoys working out and a good laugh.
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