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GDN (Google Display Network) vs DSPs (Demand Side Platforms) | Digital Media Jobs

Google Display Network (GDN)

GDN is Google’s ad network of AdSense publishers, accessible via Google Ads (formerly AdWords).

GDN is one of the largest, easiest, but simplest ad exchanges, making it a good choice for those who are new to the industry, or who only want to run basic programmatic marketing campaigns.

Experienced Programmatic Traders will typically avoid GDN since its options are limited, however, compared to more modern DSPs.

Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) 

DSPs offer advertisers access to a wide collection of the available display, video, native and mobile inventory in real-time.

In addition, many DSPs offer more advanced programmatic advertising technology, such as geofencing and IP address targeting capabilities, as well as access to a large bank of third-party data providers.

Leading DSPs examples include The Trade Desk and DV360. Typically, DSPs are a better option for more advanced campaigns with restrictive or specific targets.

GDN vs DSPs

GDN has basic audience and content targeting capabilities, but the DSPs have additional targeting capabilities and sophisticated optimization tools.

With more targeting options, advertisers using DSPs are typically better able to reach the exact group of people who will respond to their marketing efforts, making DSPs more effective than GDN.

GDN isn’t bad though, it’s just better for small advertisers with limited budgets, while DSPs are best for large advertisers who require advanced targeting capabilities and greater reach.

Using GDN & a DSP Simultaneously

One thing virtually all programmatic trading experts agree on is that it’s best to NOT use both a GDN and a DSP simultaneously, as there are problems to running both systems at the same time, including:

  • Inability to Control Frequency Capping – When running both GDN and a DSP, it becomes impossible to effectively control frequency capping, which can be a big problem as this is an effective way to reduce waste, avoid audience burnout and negative brand associations related to over-exposure. With a single DSP, it’s possible to cap frequencies, but with more than one DSP, or a DSP & GDN, frequency cannot be easily controlled.
  • Multiple Bids on the Same Impression – DSPs participate in auctions for placements, and the highest bid wins each impression. If two DSPs are used to bid on the same audience (or cookie pool) then there will be competing bids from the same advertiser on the same impression, meaning advertisers using two DSPs, or DSP and GDN, will be bidding against themselves, needlessly driving up the price of each impression.
  • Attribution Dilemma – Using more than one DSP, or a DSP and GDN, makes attributing and ROAS determinations much more difficult, especially when targeting a limited audience (like with a retargeting campaign). It’s likely that both DSPs will have ad exposures to many of the same converters, but only one will receive credit for the conversion. This makes it difficult to determine which platform is performing better, due to the randomness with which attribution gets assigned.
  • Reach – Running two DSPs, or a DSP and GDN may lead to a slight increase in reach, but most top DSPs have access to nearly all of the same inventory, so the incremental increase in reach is probably not worth the other negative issues outlined above. Note: GDN has less inventory than the top DSPs (discussed below) and niche DSPs like Amazon are an exception, with exclusive inventory, but in general, all of the top DSPs have enough reach that advertisers don’t need to worry about running two platforms at once.

For all of the reasons above, we recommend picking a single DSP and running with it. If you’re not happy with the results of the campaign, and want to try another DSP, it’s best to pause the existing campaign before starting up again on a new platform.

Reach

DSPs are superior to GDN when it comes to reach, since they can access hundreds of exchanges/suppliers such as PulsePoint, OpenX, AppNexus, Sonobi, Rubicon, PubMatic, PMPs and others, while GDN is limited to primarily to just the Google AdSense network.

One example where DSPs are almost guaranteed to be superior to GDN would be running a re-targeting campaign, where you serve ads to customers who have already visited your site, but who have not yet converted.

In this case, you’re working with a relatively small targeted population of valuable potential converters, so you’ll want to reach as many of those individuals as possible, and typically, a DSP will give you much more penetration into that audience than GDN.

Any time programmatic traders are running retargeting campaigns, campaigns targeting a small geographic area, or campaigns focused on reaching a niche audience, using a DSP will typically produce better results than GDN.

Inventory Availability

DSPs distinguish themselves by having more premium inventory, whereas GDN inventory is primarily sourced from AdSense for publishers, which could include a lot of lower quality sites.

Many large, established publishers such as CBS and The New York Times are on DSPs, but these types of premier brands are often not found on GDN.

GDN is typically considered a good basic or beginner place for advertisers to start testing campaigns, just like Google AdSense for Publishers is considered a good place for publishers to start testing ad placements on their sites.

Large and established publishers almost always eventually navigate to making their inventory available on the open exchange or through Private Marketplaces instead though, away from Google AdSense and GDN.

Inventory Quality

DSPs can buy the inventory across all value levels, whereas GDN is open auction only and includes many smaller publishers who cannot qualify to sell their inventory elsewhere, including Google’s premium exchange.

This means that advertisers are probably getting a lot of “bottom of the barrel” inventory from GDN.

In comparison, with DSPs, advertisers are able to set up deals that provide access to higher-quality inventory higher up the food chain, which typically leads to better converting traffic.

CPC Vs CPM Pricing

GDN gives advertisers a choice as to how to pay, but even though advertisers will be invoiced on a CPC (cost-per-click) basis, the yield management algorithms inside GDN are calculating an effective predictive CPM when deciding where, and how often, to serve each ad.

In contrast to that system used by GDN, nearly all inventory purchased through DSPs is made available for real-time bidding on a CPM exchange, including Google and others.

This tends to make pricing more attractive on DSPs than GDN.

Targeting & Optimization Capabilities

GDN has basic audience and content targeting and optimization capabilities, but DSPs have additional targeting and optimization capabilities.

With more targeting and optimization options, there is a better chance for advertisers to reach the exact group of people who will respond to their ads, increasing the ROAS of the campaign.

GDN is limited to location and language targeting, keyword targeting, device targeting and retargeting, whereas DSPs offer all sorts of additional options.

DSPs have advanced capabilities, such as the ability to locate and target current and desired customers based on specific demographics, interests and their purchase intent, audience frequency caps for excluding users based on the number of impressions they have been served (across media, channels, and identity spaces) and advanced algorithms to adjust and optimize bids and budgets.

3rd Party Data

GDN does not have third-party targeting capabilities, meaning that you are reaching relevant users on  GDN only.

With DSPs, you can target based on demographics, interests, topics, and even seek out users currently interested in a specific product or service through display and search. 

Brand Safety/Ad Fraud/Audience Verification

DSPs have fraud protection and brand safety controls that are integrated with leading third-party verification providers. 

In contrast, GDN only offers Google Ads-only brand safety controls, without third-party integrations.

GDN also doesn’t offer any transparency, so it’s virtually impossible to conduct impression-level analysis to determine what is performing well, and if that performance is real, or potentially fraudulent.

GDN does self-grade the inventory that they are selling, but this isn’t transparent either, and GDN’s reporting is also only available through Google Ads, which further limits transparency for performance.

Basically, DSPs offer much better options for brand safety, fraud prevention, and audience verification.

Creative Options

Google Ads: Image, Text, HTML5, Dynamic Creatives and Video Ads.

Display & Video 360: Image, Rich Media, HTML5, Native, Video Ads and Dynamic Creatives.

Pick the Right Platform for Your Campaign

As this post established, simpler campaigns may be better suited for GDN, whereas more sophisticated campaigns are going to perform better on DSPs.

When determining which platform will work best for you, you’ll have to review the differences outlined above, weighing the pros and cons, and deciding which system is in your best interest.

But when it comes to deciding between running on the GDN vs. DSPs, typically, DSPs will win out thanks to their more-modern, more-sophisticated targeting, optimization and reporting capabilities.