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 advertising platforms compete by delivering best in breed technologies and functionalities - RTB and direct (non-RTB) buying and selling, dynamic creative optimization, unique digital ad formats, first and third party data integration for targeting, ad inventory optimization, header bidding (in SSPs), and the list goes on. Other advertising 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 tech 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 advertising ecosystem, they are closely interconnected. 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, ad campaigns optimization, and analysis.
  • Supply side platform SSP - Programmatic advertising platform created for publishers. They automate the selling of programmatic ad inventory, ad space-filling, adjustment, and results analysis.
  • Ad exchange works as an open marketplace. Both supply and demand partners can join ad exchanges.
  • Data management platform DMP - facilitates targeting by gathering first and third party data organizes audience segments and transmits them to DSP.

In the picture below you can see how these platforms interact. Publishers use SSPs to monetize their ad placements. While they are doing it their SSPs collect all essential information about users and send it in the requests to DSPs. With this information, an advertiser has a chance to target the audience correctly (based on its characteristics). In case the information about the user (and info about ad space) 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 and their impression gets served to the user in a matter of milliseconds.

In case the advertiser has additional requirements on targeting (and needs more options than DSP provides), they integrate a data management platform with their DSP.

Below you can see the picture of how it all works together (example of full stack SmartyAds ecosystem: DSP, SSP, and ad exchange.)

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 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 a bulk. 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).

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 them. Both are good for display advertising but they can suit better certain types of 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 campaign is to get the ad seen and memorized by users.

CPC is used more often for performance campaigns. 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.

Worth pointing out that CPM ads, undoubtedly also generate clicks. 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 advertising platforms in the SSP niche are represented by the following companies in 2021:

  • SmartyAds
  • AppNexus
  • DoubleClick

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 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 option for both - advertiser and publisher. They are a kind of hybrid solution that can suit both demand and supply partners.

  • SmartyAds
  • AppNexus
  • 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 inventory you can choose 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 inventory by format or traffic type.

Top DSPs in 2021

There is a bunch of leading programmatic advertising platforms in 2021 when it comes to DSPs. We’ve shortlisted them to give you a general impression of what’s trending.

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

You can find all of those demand side platform 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 campaigns, geo-targeting, etc). Thanks to this our platform 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 to the comparison list. The website will compare programmatic advertising platforms automatically.

What you can do with a demand-side platform

Sure, we’ve discovered earlier that DSPs are designed for programmatic buying. This software automates ad buying process and optimizes so that programmatic campaigns could reach desired KPIs. In order to find out how it is happening, 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 arms you up with essential tools so that you can:

  1. 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 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.
  2. Fine-tune campaign look and feel. Yes, with DSP you can also define how your future ads will look like. DSP allows advertisers to select different formats for different campaigns, choose from different ad sizes and decide what kind of inventory they will be shown at (filters, white and blacklists, etc). Also, you can select how many times one user can see your ad per day (to avoid irritation) - just apply frequency capping.
  3. 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 budget configurations in DSPs like SmartyAds. With those leverages, you can limit daily and overall spend, adjust distribution evenly and precisely, instruct the system how it should spend your advertising money.
  4. Optimize and analyze. Optimization is an essential part of 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 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.

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 ad tech 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. Programmatic software is based on AI and self-learning ML 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 DSP 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

  • It 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 DSP has 25K+ top global desktop, mobile web, and in-app partners who deliver traffic across channels & verticals, and formats (for in-app, mobile web, desktop, and CTV).
  • Campaign optimization is a must. Again, here everything boils down to smart self-learning algorithms. In 2021 platforms don’t only automate ad campaigns, they optimize them based on performance data derived from previous experiences. 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.

adaptive cpm dsp dashboard

  • It should have great targeting. There are demographic targeting, targeting by interests, behavioral targeting, targeting according to social-economic status, and more. You can run multiple ad campaigns each of which can target your particular segment of users. It is important that the 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 retargeting feature. 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 visited your site 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).
  • 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. 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 it properly. 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 or need extra support and guidance.

To wrap it up

Programmatic advertising platforms play a very important role in the organization of advertising processes today. The features that a typical 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 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. SmartyAds is a full stack programmatic developer that has a decade of experience and expertise in the ad tech 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