The programmatic advertising landscape in 2021 is oversaturated - it is crammed with a large number of media buying and digital inventory monetization technologies. Naturally, developers of these market solutions are trying to come first in this big race for customer attention. Some programmatic ad solutions compete by delivering best in breed technologies and functionalities - real-time bidding RTB and direct (non-RTB) programmatic buying and selling, dynamic creative optimization, unique digital ad formats, first and third party audience data integration for audience targeting, advertising inventory optimization, header bidding (in SSPs), and the list goes on. Other programmatic ad platforms try to differentiate themselves with outstanding customer service or favorable payment approaches (or payouts in SSPs).

There are so many little details and subtleties that need to be taken into account while choosing a programmatic advertising platform in 2021. Given the abundance of options, publishers and advertisers are wondering what are those important criteria they need to consider when choosing a programmatic marketing platform. Let’s find out!

Programmatic advertising platform: functions and role in the ad ecosystem

What is a programmatic advertising platform? Programmatic advertising platforms are designed to automate the process of media buying or media selling. Each of these platforms falls within the programmatic ecosystem. In this programmatic ecosystem, they are closely interconnected and operate based on ad servers. Exactly these connections enable highly efficient, quick, and precise ad serving and media trading.

  • Demand side platform DSP - Programmatic advertising platform created for advertisers. They automate media buying, finding the right ad space and the right customer. They run programmatic ad campaigns optimization, and analysis (with deep insights).
  • Supply side platform SSP - Programmatic advertising platform created for publishers. Supply side platforms automate the selling of programmatic ad inventory, ad space-filling, adjustment, and results analysis.
  • Ad exchange works as an open marketplace (like supply side platforms and demand side platforms at the same time). Both supply and demand partners can join an ad exchange because it has functionalities for both selling and buying media.
  • Data management platform DMP - facilitates audience targeting by gathering first and third-party audience data (non-personal data). The data management platform organizes audience segments and transmits them to DSP so that advertisers could address the relevant customers. The audience data is organized into audience segments and is delivered by DMP data providers. 

In the picture below you can see how these programmatic advertising platforms interact (demand side platform, supply side platform, ad exchange). Major publishers use SSPs to monetize their ad placements. While they are doing it their SSPs collect all essential information about users (user's cookies) and send it in the requests to DSPs. With this information, an advertiser can target audience correctly (based on its characteristics). In case the information about the user (and info about ad placement) matches campaign criteria (selected by the advertiser in DSP), then DSP bids on such an ad impression along with other advertisers who take part in the real time bidding auction.

The highest bidder wins the programmatic advertising auction and their programmatic creative gets served to the user in a matter of milliseconds (the ad placement gets filled). With such optimization, buyers can get inventory quickly and at a low cost.

What is DMP for? In case the advertiser has additional requirements on targeting (and needs more options than DSP provides), they find data providers and integrate a third parties data management platform DMP with their DSP. Contextual targeting campaigns typically done require DSPs because they are using the context of the webpage for determining relevance (not personal data). Digital out-of-home technologies and billboards can also be powered by programmatic. Digital out-of-home format just like a dynamic creative also relies on user data for deep personalization. 

Below you can see the picture of how it all works together (example of full-stack SmartyAds programmatic ecosystem: demand side platform, supply side platform, and ad exchange). Check the programmatic advertising process in detail. 

full stack SmartyAds ecosystem

RTB and programmatic advertising, aren’t they the same thing?

Not really, it’s important to stop confusing programmatic with real time bidding. Even though the operation of programmatic platforms is based on real time bidding in most cases, you can buy and sell ad inventory programmatically without taking part in real-time bidding auctions.

rtb vs direct

What are 2 common types of programmatic deals?

Each one can be especially beneficial for specific cases and for specific purposes, let’s take a look at the most common programmatic advertising deals:

  • RTB programmatic is based on real time bidding RTB auction the algorithm of which is described above (in the section about programmatic ecosystem).
  • Programmatic direct advertising is based on direct trading between publisher and advertiser (there’s no auction).

What is the difference then? Sometimes advertisers have established collaboration with certain publishers, they trust them and prefer to work with them. They also want to buy ad impressions straight from this publisher in bulk so they don't need real time auctions. That’s why they choose direct deals. In this case, programmatic platforms are still very useful - the advertiser knows who they buy impressions from and still, they can target audience according to the selected criteria (age range, geo, device, etc). Still, real-time bidding RTB auctions effectively fight the problem with unsold inventory. 

Many programmatic advertising platforms including SmartyAds DSP provide both types of deals as it makes media trading more flexible for advertisers.

CPC or CPM - what to choose on a programmatic advertising platform?

CPM (cost per thousand of impressions) and CPC (cost per click) are those pricing models that are most common and popular in programmatic advertising. You can use a wide range of DSPs and ad exchanges operating on CPM. Both DSPs and ad exchanges are good for display advertising but they can suit better certain types of programmatic ad campaigns.

For example, advertisers often give preference to CPM advertising for running brand awareness campaigns. The cost per impression is fairly cheap compared to the cost per click. Plus, there’s no reason to overpay because the initial purpose of the display campaigns is to get the ad seen and memorized by users.

CPC is used more often for performance campaigns in programmatic advertising. User clicks matter most for advertisers in this case - they need proof that their audience takes action here and now. In this case, advertisers pay only for clicks, no matter how impressions were shown to the users during their programmatic display advertising campaigns.

Worth pointing out that CPM ads, undoubtedly also generate clicks on programmatic ad platforms. CPM programmatic ads are typically more affordable than CPC. The difference is formal - how the advertiser pays for it - in clicks or in impressions. Theoretically, 1000 impressions can generate up to 1000 ad clicks (if the offer is very useful and interesting to the users).

In this case, the cost per click with the CPM model will be so much cheaper than with CPC. At the same time, with CPC advertisers will know beforehand how many clicks they obtain.

Top SSPs in 2021

Programmatic ad technologies in the SSP niche are represented by the following companies in 2021:

  • SmartyAds
  • Xandr
  • Google Ad Manager

Why exactly we selected these options? Each of these options can help publishers sell programmatic ad inventory effectively: publishers can configure where they want to display ads, in what sizes. Also, on these platforms, they can trade display ads only with particular advertisers after applying filters, they can set the floor prices for their ad inventory (to aim only for advantageous deals).

Top ad exchanges in 2021

An ad exchange is a good programmatic advertising option for both - advertiser and publisher. They are a kind of hybrid solution that can suit both demand and supply ad tech partners.

  • SmartyAds
  • Xandr
  • DV 360

Each ad exchange option on the list makes it possible to buy and sell programmatic ad inventory in real time. If you have particular needs regarding ad space you can choose ad network or ad exchange options that specialize in certain kinds of digital advertising.

For example, there are best video ad networks, best native ad networks - ad exchanges can also aggregate ad space by format or traffic type (e.g specializing in serving pre roll, mid roll, and post roll video ads or formats for mobile apps). They have a variety of functions from dynamic creative optimization to different types of formats, so let's save time and review how various DSPs simplify ad buying in real time.

Let's see what each DSP makes for the programmatic advertising ecosystem and what each DSP offers using the list of 10 best DSPs.

Top DSPs in 2021

There is a bunch of leading programmatic platforms (top DSPs) in 2021. We’ve shortlisted top DSPs to give you a general impression of what’s trending.

  • SmartyAds
  • Adform
  • DV 360 (Google)
  • The Trade Desk
  • Xandr
  • Adobe Advertising Cloud
  • BidTheatre
  • MediaMath

You can find all of those demand side platform DSP options with descriptions and features on G2 - a website where users leave their genuine reviews about the software they use. Let’s take for instance SmartyAds DSP review page. After aggregating and comparing reviews across different platforms, the system makes it easy for you to pinpoint the strongest sides of each option.

According to users ratings, SmartyAds DSP has one of the highest ratings when it comes to ease of use (9,0) quality of support (8,2), and the number of outstanding features (in-app programmatic advertising campaigns, geo-targeting, etc). Thanks to this and the fact that our platform is GDPR compliant, we won the title of the high winter 2021 and summer 2021.

G2 platform also gives you the opportunity to compare these options between each other so that you could choose the best option that suits your needs. For this, you just need to add the DSP you are interested in the comparison list. The website will compare programmatic advertising platforms automatically. As well, you can choose let's say any mobile DSP and compare it with alternatives (bigger or smaller companies). 

What you can do with a demand-side platform

Sure, we’ve discovered earlier that DSPs are designed for programmatic buying. This software automates the programmatic ad buying process and optimizes so that programmatic campaigns could reach desired key performance indicators (excluding human negotiations and tiresome manual process of ad placing). But how to make programmatic advertising work for you?

In order to find out how to make it happen, we suggest you dive into the short function description so that you could understand what exactly you can do with DSP. A demand side platform DSP arms you up with essential tools so that you can:

Find your perfect customer

This becomes possible thanks to the targeting features on the platform. Every impression your platform bids on is evaluated from the standpoint of relevancy. If the chosen display ad campaign criteria match the characteristics of the user your offer will most likely fall within the interest pool of the user. Result - the platform will bid only on ‘relevant’ impressions so that you could address potential customers.

Fine-tune campaign look and feel

Yes, with a programmatic advertising platform like DSP you can also define how your future programmatic ads will look like (display ad campaign, video ads, native ads, banner, and CTV). DSP allows advertisers to select different formats for different programmatic ad campaigns, choose from different ad sizes and decide what kind of publisher's inventory they will be shown at (filters, white and blacklists, etc).

Also, you can select how many times one user can see your programmatic creative per day (to avoid irritation) - just apply frequency capping and decide how often your ad runs in front of one viewer.

Decide how to spend ad budgets

Advertisers who never used programmatic platforms often fear that automation may spend all their money but this assumption is very far from true. There are more than enough advertising budget configurations in DSPs like SmartyAds. With those leverages, you can limit daily and overall spending, adjust distribution evenly and precisely, instruct the system how it should spend your advertising money, adjust your programmatic creative, and so on. 

Optimize and analyze

Optimization is an essential part of video ads, banner, CTV, or display ad campaign management. If you want your campaign to reach the best possible results you have to monitor it every week, analyze and apply necessary changes. In addition to this, on platforms like SmartyAds DSP, you can apply automatic optimization features that will increase the effectiveness of your digital campaigns over time.

With such platforms you can also generate detailed data-driven reports across various metrics: impressions, conversions, ad spend, to make changes to all your campaigns real time. Plus, you can choose among various formats and programmatic creative types: banner, video, native ads, CTV, and display advertising formats. 

What platform qualities to look for in 2021?

Programmatic advertising platforms all have their unique functions, strong and weak sides depending on the vendor. Especially it becomes a challenge when advertisers choose DSP, this platform contains so many features that it is easy to get lost or prioritize a feature that is not really that important in the big picture. So what really matters in programmatic marketing on DSP? Let’s look at the most important details.

The programmatic platform should be self-learning and up to date

Programmatic software is based on artificial intelligence and self-learning machine learning algorithms, which means that with time it must identify patterns and existing dependencies on the basis of which certain actions will be taken.

For example, the click booster on SmartyAds demand-side platfrom is made to analyze the clickability of each taken source depending on past experiences. Then it will automatically single out the sources that have the best clickability level for the advertiser.

click booster settings

The right platform should be omnichannel and have lots of formats

This point goes without saying and many explanations - the more environments and ad formats your platform supports the more opportunities you have as an advertiser.

For instance, SmartyAds demand-side platform is a programmatic advertising platform that has 25K+ top global desktop, mobile web, and in-app partners who deliver traffic across digital channels & verticals, digital screens, and formats (for in-app, mobile web, desktop, and CTV).

Still, it goes far beyond programmatic display advertising capabilities. Aside from programmatic display advertising formats it server interactive formats for in-app, desktop, mobile web, and CTV environments (e.g rewarded video or playable).

Right DSP delivers campaign optimization

Again, here everything boils down to smart self-learning algorithms. In 2021 platforms don’t only automate ad campaigns, they optimize them based on ad performance data derived from previous experiences (campaign data). One example of such is adaptive CPM function on SmartyAds DSP. It keeps the CPM at the optimal level by adapting the bid price.

This way the bid price stays competitive enough to win impressions, still not too high which prevents advertisers from overpaying. Additionally, we are planning to launch soon a new feature that optimizes programmatic display ads and lets them fit more suitable ad spaces (adapts to the new screen size). This way your programmatic creative has all changes to be more effective. 

adaptive cpm dsp dashboard

It should have great targeting

Targeting is exactly what helps you to place ads effectively. There are demographic targeting, targeting by interests, behavioral targeting, targeting according to social-economic status, geo targeting, and more. You can run multiple ad campaigns each of which can target your particular segment of users. It is important that the programmatic advertising platform that you choose could offer those targeting options that you use to look for your audiences.

There are lots of options to target audiences on SmartyAds DSP (geo, OS, divide type, age range, etc). Aside from this, you can configure frequency, dayparting, filter lists, and limit your daily ad spend to stick to your programmatic marketing strategy.

SmartyAds DSP targeting

It should have a retargeting feature

Retargeting is an effective way of converting customers. Users who visit your site from a wide range of devices tend to bring in more profits in the long run than those who only use one device. Users who already know about your product and visit your site for the second time are also more likely to convert when they are exposed to your ad than those who see your brand/product for the first time. 

If you have access to retargeting technology (you can access it on SmartyAds DSP), then you can remind your users about your offer by running retargeting campaigns across different devices (mobile web, in-app, desktop, and CTV). This way you can launch your programmatic creative on a new medium. 

It should be safe by design

Demand side platforms and exchanges should provide good quality traffic with only human impressions. The common problem of poor quality traffic is that it contains bot impressions and bot impressions are never going to convert. Before choosing a suitable technology make sure it corresponds to be best traffic safety standards.

How to make it happen? For starters, verify if the platform implements the IAB safety standards like adx.txt or sellers.json and the rest of the established inventory and seller authorization measures. In addition to this, you can ask your vendor if they collaborate with traffic safety providers e.g like Pixalate, Geoedge, or Forensic.

It should provide timely customer support

Many words can be told about the importance of proper customer service and support in programmatic advertising. Even though it seems natural not all platforms can show off great customer service. Demand side platforms in most case are self-serve technologies and this means that advertiser has to have at least minimal competencies to operate them properly ad buy ad space through a single unified interface. 

However, recently many companies changed their approach. Some of them make customer service and consultations their main priority to help those who are new in programmatic advertising or need extra support and guidance during the campaign management.

To wrap it up

Programmatic advertising process is complicated and multilayered. Programmatic advertising platforms play a very important role in the organization of advertising processes today. The features that a typical digital marketing platform delivers today can be truly overwhelming. Sure, some technologies and functionalities that we described in this article are a must in 2021 because automation can bring your campaigns to an absolutely new level of operational efficiency.

Still, even when it comes to an algorithmic purchasing platform, people cannot be underestimated. It’s hard to create a successful digital marketing platform without professionals who carry sufficient expertise behind their backs. When you see a huge number of variables affecting the potential effectiveness of an ad campaign, it can be difficult to focus on the factors that are really important when you buy advertising inventory. 

SmartyAds is a full stack programmatic developer that has a decade of experience and expertise in the advertising industry. Our professionals strive to create an advanced, transparent, and predictable digital advertising ecosystem where every component complements the meaningful advertising experience. That’s why we are always here to assist, educate, and guide you to desired outcomes!

Technology + customer care are at the heart of our DSP solution. Grow your campaigns at SmartyAds DSP.

Written by
Irina Kovalenko, CMO of SmartyAds
October 2021