Skip to main content

Be Better Blog

Strategy & Insights

Breaking Down the Google Display Network vs. Programmatic Advertising

December 2, 2019

Each year, it seems like hundreds of new digital marketing tools and platforms are introduced to the market, but the main techniques stay the same. Since 1994, display advertising has been front and center.

Display advertising consists of visual advertisements, often called “banner ads,” that can be seen on websites, apps and social media and can come in the form of text, image, video and animation. Display advertising offers a higher funnel approach as users are not explicitly searching for a need, but rather, going about their day. You may catch them while they are watching a video on how to play guitar or they may be researching hotels for their next vacation. Display advertising is seen by some as distracting, but because of its flexibility and reach, it is a great tool for building brand awareness while being a relatively inexpensive advertising option.

So, where do you start? With acronyms and jargon thrown around like GDN, programmatic and DSP, it can be easy to get confused about what each tool does and how to use them.

Before you start banging your head against your keyboard trying to figure it all out, keep reading because we did our fair share of headbanging and put together a quick guide so you can charge head on into display advertising instead. We will be talking about the differences between the two major ways to place display advertisements: the Google Display Network and programmatic advertising, including cost, targeting capabilities, ad types and cost-efficiency.

What is the Google Display Network?

The Google Display Network (GDN) is part of the Google Ads platform and allows users to place display ads on a network of advertising-supported websites. Google reports that its Display Network spans 2 million that are seen by 90 percent of global internet users. Because Google pretty much owns the internet, your ad could show up anywhere from a website to YouTube videos and Gmail.

Through GDN, you can target audiences using keywords or topics, but they also offer in-market and affinity audiences. In-market audiences are based on users that may be researching or actively considering products like concert tickets. Alternatively, affinity audiences categorize users based on their longer-term passions, habits and interests, for example, Fashionistas or Hockey Fans. In addition, they offer similar audiences, which takes your defined audience and finds users with similar search patterns who may not fall into the in-market or affinity audiences yet. This gives advertisers a huge pool to work with when defining an audience, but may be limited to just search behavior.

When you are ready to get started, setting up a GDN campaign is very similar to a search campaign in the way you determine your audience, location and budget. Within these settings, you can determine your bidding strategy. Depending on what you pick, this could mean that you are either using manual bidding by determining the maximum you will pay per thousand impressions, or you let Google control bids to try to get the most clicks or conversions.

The Google Display Network is the perfect option for smaller budgets and less intricate targeting. The platform has done a great job providing high value in-market and affinity audiences as well as the ability to easily create remarketing audiences.

What is Programmatic Display?

If you are sitting there thinking, “WTF is programmatic?!”, first let me commend you for getting this far into the article without Googling it. Don’t worry because we have all been there, so I will break it down for you.

Step into my time machine to the early days of advertising when media buyers and sellers would negotiate prices for placing an ad for an allotted period of time. (In some circumstances, this is still how it works.) There are many downsides to this way of buying media, but mostly it is inefficient and you could be paying more for your audience than you should be.

At its most basic, programmatic ad buying uses automated processes to bid on ad inventory in real-time. In this context, the demand side platform (DSP), or ad buyer, bids on placements provided by the supply side platform (SSP), or ad seller, in a matter of seconds.

While this is the process the GDN uses as well, it is far less transparent what audience lists and placements you are paying for. Therefore, if you choose to place ads programmatically, you are getting rid of GDN as the middleman and it will still give you access to GDN’s ad network in addition to all other ad exchanges, like Verizon and AppNexus, accounting for up to 95% of the web.

Programmatic offers keyword, topic, interest and demographic targeting similar to GDN, but offers more in-depth targeting leveraging third-party data. So if you wanted to target United Airlines flyers who searched for trips to Phoenix last week and have the app installed, you could do that!

What’s The Best Choice For Your Business?

If you are asking why anyone would choose GDN over programmatic, it comes down to cost in our minds. GDN has multiple bidding strategies available including Cost Per Click, Cost Per Acquisition or Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM).

On the flip side, programmatic only allows for CPM, and most third-party audience lists will have a mark up on the CPM to use their lists. Most DSPs will require a minimum spend of $5k-$10k per month to account for this complexity.

So for those that scrolled through this article to find a conclusion that summarized our thoughts, here are your takeaways.

If you have the budget and a complex audience to target, programmatic display provides more valuable and granular targeting whereas the Google Display Network offers a user-friendly and cost-effective way to place display ads. Heck, why not try them both and decide for yourself and let them compete for your budget? Or, Give us a call, and we can help you make the best decision for your business!

Up Next