Programmatic Ad Network or Google Display Network?

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It was way back in 1994 when HotWired became the first website to sell banner ads in large quantities. Digital advertising has come a long way since then, with programmatic ad networks and Google Display Network walking away with the prize as two most effective forms of digital advertising. But the question that gets thrown around a lot is which of the two forms is better — programmatic ad network[4] or Google Display Network?

We set out to find the answer.

What is the Google Display Network?

Google Display Network is an older form of advertising that is more familiar to advertisers and publishers. It’s a part of a triad of three major display networks — the other two being Yahoo! and Bing. Google Display Network allows advertisers to buy ads based on the number of impressions their ads receive. The network is made up of more than 2 million websites, and Google can place ads on any one of these sites. Google displays ads from its own inventory[8] or from other ad networks like DoubleClick, AdSense or AdMob, and has integrations with Google Analytics[1] and other Google platforms.

  • Price – The network has both free and paid options.
  • Targeting[9] – Advertisers can target an audience by location, device, demographic, or interest.
  • Offers better understanding of the target market – With data from Google Analytics and Google Search Console[2], advertisers can better understand their audiences to make better decisions about how to reach them.
  • Ad scheduling – With ad scheduling tools like Dynamic Ads, advertisers can create campaigns that automatically change based on the user’s interests or behaviors.
  • Measure ad performance[5] – Allows you to see how your ads are performing, which can help you make better decisions about your marketing strategy.

What is a programmatic ad network?

Programmatic ad network is a new kid on the digital advertising block and has been around only for the last few years. Think of it as an automated method of buying ads using computer algorithms that decides what ads should be displayed on which websites.

Programmatic ad networks are the most popular way to buy ad space. They allow advertisers to buy ad space in bulk with the help of a computer algorithm, rather than having to go through individual publishers one by one. This process has been revolutionized by advances in technology and has become the most popular method for digital advertising.

  • Targeting – Using machine learning algorithms, these networks help advertisers to identify their target audience by using demographic, psychographic, or behavioral data
  • Ease of use – These networks allow advertisers to create campaigns easily without having any technical knowledge about how these platforms work.
  • Optimized campaigns – The network uses target data to automatically optimize your ad campaigns.
  • Real-time purchases – Allows advertisers to access the inventory of publishers and to buy and sell ads in real-time.
  • Efficient targeting – Programmatic ad networks use algorithms to match advertisers with the right publisher[10] based on the advertiser[6]’s target audience. The process is automated, and it allows for greater efficiency in targeting.

What should I choose to get a wider reach?

While both use Internet-based ads such as banners and text links to promote products, services, and websites to reach their target, it’s how they do that is what matters.

Google Display Network:

  • Uses a bidding system to match advertisers and publishers. The publisher sets the price they want for each impression[7] (how many times an ad is displayed) and the advertiser has the option of placing bids on those impressions.
  • Goes beyond the standard keyword-targeting, such as related topics and user’s interests.
  • Apart from the Google results page, the ads also appear in target websites and allow choosing where in the target websites the ads will appear.
  • Advertisers can select how often the ads will be shown.

Programmatic ad network:

  • Allows advertisers to buy ad space across the internet. They use computer algorithms to automatically find the best-performing ad placements and optimize their content.
  • It automatically purchases advertisements from publishers that have agreed to participate in this type of advertising, without any human interaction between them.
  • It can distribute ads to a variety of Display Networks.
  • The algorithm figures out the most effective placements for the ads, such as where they would appear on a website or in an app.
  • When deciding which ad should appear where, the algorithm looks at advertiser-supplied information about the target audience, location, and demographics.

Knowing the difference in how these advertising methods work puts us in a better position to evaluate the potential of their reach.

With Google Display Network, you can only display your ads on websites that are a part of the network. Sure, getting your ads across on 2 million partner websites is dandy, but the total number of active websites runs into billions, and you can’t reach more websites unless they partner up with Google Display Network.

Programmatic ads, on the other hand, have the potential to reach as many websites as the algorithm and advertiser’s preferences permit. Programmatic ad networks provides advertisers access to all major Display Networks and not just Google’s.

Between the two, programmatic ad networks have the potential to give you a wider reach. Industry estimates suggest that Google Display Network can provide targeting access to 70% of the web, while a programmatic ad network can target more than 95% of the web.

Who offers better targeting?

For all intents and purposes, a programmatic ad network beats Google Display Network hands-down. Here is how:

  • Programmatic ad networks are also more flexible than Google Display Network, which is limited by its search algorithm and its reliance on human curation.
  • Programmatic ad networks provide better targeting than Google Display Network, as they use advanced data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to target the audience with the most effective advertising.
  • Programmatic ad networks allow advertisers to target their audience with the most relevant and cost-effective ads. This is something with which Google Display Network inherently struggles, as it can often place ads on the wrong website targeting the wrong visitor[11].
  • Programmatic ad networks offer more variety of targeting options than Google Display Network.
  • With programmatic ad networks, advertises get granular control over targeting options.
  • Programmatic ad networks uses targeting data to place ads on websites or mobile apps in real-time. Google Display Network depends on and pre-set options and doesn’t deviate from it.
  • Programmatic advertising[3] is more targeted than other forms of online advertising because it uses algorithms to analyze data about web users to deliver ads that are likely to be more relevant for them.
  • Google Display Network casts a wide net and displays ads to even those who may not be the intended target audience. Programmatic ad networks follow a laser-focused approach and displays ads only the relevant customers and the intended target audience.

Cutting to the chase: a programmatic ad network delivers better targeting than Google Display Network.

What about the cost?

Programmatic ad networks are becoming more and more popular due to their ability to provide a higher bang-for-buck than Google Display Network. Thanks to programmatic ad networks, advertisers can target their audience more accurately and efficiently. Digital advertisements globally are expected to spend a whopping $123.22 billion on programmatic advertisements in 2022, with as much as 90% of all digital ads going through programmatic ad networks.

The reason all digital advertisers are betting on the same horse is simple: programmatic ad networks provide better reach at lower overall costs and higher cost-efficiency.

Choosing a cost-effective platform depends on how much money you intend to invest. Beginners can use the Google Display Network because there is no minimum payment requirement. Most advertisers start out with the Google Display Network, which is an advertiser-friendly environment that charges you only when someone clicks your ad. It can be a low-cost way to learn the ropes before you decide to take your campaign[12] live. To save some money, you can set a maximum daily limit and let the platform bid for impressions. 

If your campaign demands quality advertisements, and you have the budget to get it, programmatic advertising is the right choice. Programmatic advertising is like using a fully automatic espresso machine. Once adjusted, the machine will begin to brew at the right time and in the right amounts with the right ingredients. Compared to traditional advertising, programmatic advertising is often more efficient and effective.

Since it’s automated, it doesn’t require manual input like a traditional ad campaign. It’s also less likely that your ad would be targeted at an audience who aren’t interested in your service or product, since it’s being targeted automatically by the algorithm based on real data.


Programmatic ad networks can offer a much better ROI because they have access to all the data needed to target and deliver ads in a very granular fashion. Nowadays, companies of all sizes are opening their purse strings and spending more money on programmatic ad networks versus the old, more traditional online advertising methods. And that’s a good thing; programmatic ad networks are, after all, far better at reaching customers than Google Display Network can ever hope to be.

1. Google Analytics. This is Google’s traffic tracking and analytics tool that gives publishers insight into traffic origins, popular pages on their website and much more.
2. Google Search Console. Google Search Console, formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, is a dashboard where publishers can check their website’s SEO performance within the Google search engine. Publishers can see statistics such as traffic, clicks, links and more.
3. Programmatic advertising. Programmatic advertising entails using machine learning and technology suites to buy and sell ad inventory with a data-driven process.
4. ad network. A company that serves as a broker between a group of publishers and a group of advertisers by aggregating inventory and audiences from numerous sources in a single buy. Ad networks traditionally aggregate unsold inventory from publishers in order to offer advertisers a consolidated and generally less expensive pool of impressions, but they can have a wide variety of business models and clients. In the context of ad trafficking and ad tech, the term "network" is generally taken to mean an ad network.
5. performance. A form of advertising in which the purchaser pays only when there are measurable results.

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