Mark is a talented Account Manager with over 3 years of radical marketing experience. He recently moved to Calgary from Edmonton citing chinooks and cowboy hats as the main reasons. When he's not clumsily learning to line dance, he likes to take in live shows and explore forgotten mountain trails.

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Display Advertising: What is it, how does it work, and how do I do it right?

The Skinny on Display…. For Now Anyway

I was new to the world of digital display advertising not so long ago, and with the breadth of knowledge that I have gained I thought it would be good pass the information along to you. I’ll start off with a basic explanation of the display landscape and I’ll finish off with some key advice that I wish I had in the beginning. Here she goes!  Display Advertising

Display Run Down

Publishers are websites, or are companies that own many websites, that sell advertising space. There are two main channels that publishers can use to distribute their inventory. They can sell directly to the buyers with a team of sales people, or they can choose to sell to ad aggregates.

These aggregates are normally known as ad networks, which are basically companies that compile lists of various websites’ ad inventory and then sell on behalf of their member websites. These websites are always looking for the highest bidder, so many will tap into multiple networks to increase their ad revenue.

The next step up in the funnel of display advertising is usually an ad exchange, which basically combines or compiles the lists of different networks. The main advantage of the ad exchange for the ad seller is scalability and advanced targeting; for the ad buyer, the exchange extends the reach from one single source. Basically this system provides the ability to purchase more inventory on a breadth of websites in an easier manner.

Lastly, the newer (and some would argue greater) Demand Side Platforms or DSPs. This is (usually) where programmatic bidding comes into play as many networks and exchanges have algorithms or optimization practices built into their service—many but not all…

Where It Gets Complicated

Each company that consolidates ad space online to sell it, never operates in quite the same way. Some play in single spaces, some in multiple ones, and others in all of them. Some provide nice dashboards that you can log into and follow your progress. Others just send an excel file with some numbers when you request it. All are very different on many different levels, and for this reason you should always hedge your bets and go with a selection of different companies, or networks and exchanges.

One important note to consider is what in-house technical optimization horsepower your company possesses. Networks and ad exchanges take care of the ‘optimization’ for you, while DSPs need a lot more hands on management time on a day to day basis. So, if you want to go full programmatic, make sure you can handle the set-up and management, or contract someone who can.

Your Take-Aways On Display

1) Optimization – Each different type of display advertising company will ‘optimize’ to different levels and objectives. This is something that you need to evaluate and decide on before signing any contracts. Display ads work best for branding and awareness, so keep that in mind when planning.

2) Tracking – In this day and age it is important to fully understand what is happening on your website. Different networks, exchanges, and DSP’s will all have different tracking requirements and capabilities. Also, there is no consistency between the different types of tracking, so make sure to give as much lead time as possible before the campaign launch date to get tracking in place and tested. A safe bet would be a minimum of 1 month, but the more time you can give yourself as a buffer the better off you will be.

3) Hedge – Hedging is tried and true, and any good financial planner will tell you to diversify your investment portfolio. This advice applies directly to display advertising as well. To keep from getting burned, I recommend having many different buys, of many different sizes, with many different networks. If you do have in-house optimization ability, try throwing a DSP into the mix too. Ultimately, you never ever want to put all of your eggs into one basket!

4) Always Double Check The Numbers – Because there is no consistency in tracking numbers, the data will always be ‘off’. Trust your own data above all else and try to come up with a consistent and accurate place to pull numbers from your buys. Generally, I would say look at what the ad server is saying as networks and exchanges sometimes try to inflate numbers and paint a rosier picture then may actually exist. Therefore, double check the numbers and ask your reps lots (and lots) of questions.

5) Click Fraud – It happens… Even when working with a great network or exchange, make sure to always be looking for funny or weird looking stats. If something seems really off compared to other networks with a similar buy then it’s time to investigate! There will be differences in performance but if there is one that is really killing it, or conversely, dragging down the averages check it out.

6) Cut, Shift, and Change – Try to set-up a relationship with your client where you can move or shift budget between networks and exchanges. Most have out clauses that will allow you to cancel a buy part way through and move that budget to a much better performing area. This is a more rudimentary way to optimize, but you should always strive to get the best results possible for the client, or your company.

This is my snapshot into the world of online display buying. There is a lot to learn, and as the industry is evolving so quickly I am sure the landscape will look different by the time I hit publish! If you’re interested in Display Advertising, get in touch! I’d love to chat with you about it.