When it comes to display advertising there is plenty of choice and not enough clarity. Budgets are stretched. Now, more than ever, every penny has to deliver value.

To realise that value, you need to consider whether GDN advertising or DSP advertising is the right choice for you. 

The Google Display Network (GDN) is an extension of the Google Ads platform (formerly Google Adwords) which allows people to target individuals when serving banner and video ads.

A demand side platform (DSP) is a platform that allows people to buy ad space programmatically online.

Here I'll be looking at the key similarities, major differences and showcase the ideal use case for each option.

Isn't it just banner advertising?

Both platforms allow you to serve banner ads on websites, and by using various filters, specify the target audience. You can target based on audience demographics, interests, habits, search history or previous interactions with your business.

The support page from Google highlights the targeting options available using GDN. The list is extensive and can be a bit confusing as DSP uses different terminology for similar functionality.

Both platforms have the same, or very similar, targeting options.

Key differences

Despite similarities, each platform has key differences that impact when and why you might use them.

Reach is a major factor when assessing both. After all, you can’t target an audience that isn’t there.

While Google’s claim to reach 90% of the internet seems impressive, there are limitations as to the sites where you can reach your audience. Only publishers signed up with Google are available to be reached. With an estimated 644 million websites, Google's network only represents 0.3% of active websites. 

A DSP plugs into a much larger network of ad exchanges which actually includes the GDN itself. So, considering reach only, the DSP is the clear winner.

Accessibility is another factor to consider. The GDN is an extension of your Google Ads account. As most businesses run a Google Ads account, adding the ability to plug into display advertising, whether that be internally or through your agency, is less daunting.

Meanwhile, a DSP involves bringing in a new platform. With it come training requirements. Furthermore, most require minimum spends, so if a committed budget isn't in place, a DSP is a non-starter.

Google allows for a multitude of possibilities within its targeting options, fed by your selections during audience creation. But, how it all works and how your choices interact with the algorithms is completely lacking in transparency.

A DSP provides access to third-party data, which are segments bundled together by multiple providers and sold. This offers a user the ability to test multiple data sources, directly talk to providers regarding custom segments and ask for a more transparent breakdown of how and where the data originates.

A DSP provides the option to run premium display direct with specific publishers and these rates can be negotiated directly and sit within the platform, which gives you quick access to more high-value inventory. The GDN doesn't have this feature at all.

"Total Number of Daily Active YouTube Users:

30+ million" - Omnicore Agency

YouTube is the biggest video platform right now, with millions of active users every day, The only way to access ad inventory on YouTube, which was acquired by Google in 2006, is via the GDN. 

Offering both banner and video inventory is a huge perk of the GDN. While a DSP has access to video placements on multiple sites, you can run the same video ads on sites within the GDN.

Remarketing is available in both platforms. Within the GDN you can create audiences with Google Analytics via site lands/page lands and use this as an audience to run remarketing. Within a DSP you can apply pixels to a website and create audience segments to target. In both instances this tactic is a great way to reach an engaged audience.

Data management platforms (DMP) are being more widely used by businesses and agencies. These platforms allow you to begin storing and potting your first-party data into categories, and targeting accordingly. You can then activate these various pots within a DSP. With a DMP platform supporting you, custom creative becomes a real option and fuels the incredibly personalised campaigns that you typically see used in B2C. You know, the ones where the exact item you just viewed on a site winds up following you, advertised to you absolutely everywhere for weeks on end.

GDN and a DSP both require budget to activate. However, both platforms can be activated using a CPM model (cost per thousand impressions) but, currently only the GDN supports CPC (cost per click) bidding which means you only pay when your ad is clicked.

What should I be doing?

First, asses what you are currently doing. As an agency, we most commonly see a client running pay-per-click using Google Ads, with occasional premium display advertising on a per-order basis.

1. In my opinion, the absolute next step should be remarketing. This is your already active audience. Reminding them you are there is a good idea. Activate this option in the GDN as your first step. Creating a few simple banners to drive them back to a contact form or your latest product release is a quick win.

2. After remarketing, the next step is to ask your PPC department or agency about additional means of targeting. This is the most accessible way to increase your audience reach and increase awareness among new prospects.

[Did you know Kingpin offer PPC audits? Find out how your PPC account could do with a shake up here]

3. Assess the GDN's performance. The audiences and data available might be slightly more aligned to B2C, based on the data Google regularly collects. Depending on budgets and marketing KPIs, this is when a programmatic channel should be considered. The B2B tech audience is niche and from experience at Kingpin, I’d say the GDN is slightly limited from purely a prospecting point of view.

4. Money for in-house DSP…? The final step would be to assess internal resources and budget commitments and look to take a DSP solution in-house. Be aware that this isn't ideal for most businesses. Within the B2B space, budgets vary quarter-to-quarter and this isn't always a practical option, no matter how desirable an always on-presence is.

At Kingpin, we have access to our own DSP, providing us with a programmatic trading desk, which allows us to plug seamlessly into all the benefits it can bring to our clients’ marketing strategies. Alongside that, we have a dedicated PPC department, with a wealth of experience in using the Google Display Network for B2B clients.

A valuable addition

Display advertising is a valuable addition to any marketing strategy. Activating the right solution for your business, be it GDN or DSP, can be a big Win.