Top Tips and Future of the DSP

By Paul Morris
DSP’s (Demand Side Platforms – a single RTB [real-time bidding] platform for advertisers to buy inventory across multiple sources) have ushered in a new era for banner advertising.

I remember the bad old days of banner advertising 8-11 years ago. Targeting was terrible and it was justified predominantly as a brand buy (most things are when they do not have positive ROI!)

Then circa 5 years ago there were the average days of contextual and behavioural banner networks. I dealt with networks such as VC Media, and 24/7 Real Media. The targeting & ROI was better but still not great.

And now we are in the betterer (I’m not going to say wholeheartedly good and yes I know betterer represents poor English) days of DSP’s.

They may be betterer days however the same rules apply as for any other media buy; get the strategy and the buy right. As a result here are some top tips for DSP success:


1/ Partner with the right DSP(s)

Choose the right DMP’s who are capable of knitting together disparate data sets and can maximise insights, audience segments, and lookalike modelling in real-time. 

Some good DSP’s include Invite Media, Turn, MediaMath, DataXu, X+1 and Triggit. Some good associated middle men include AppNexus, sitescout, Media IQ, Cadreon, Trade Desk, the exchange lab and jemm group.

However just be aware there is no one best network, management agency, integration specialist or sales buyer and success depends on many factors. E.g. spend, agency or client, hands on management or hands off, sector, etc.

Just make sure you get a DSP with quality ad exchange reach as this is essential to power retargeting at scale.


2/ Correct account set up

There is no perfect path to downright dirty DSP targeting however here are some basics:

a/ Know your audience and target them effectively; just be aware that generally the best you can get with DSP’s are industry based categories, geography and retargeting…

b/ The best audience you have are your own hence retargeting is highly recommended.

c/  Make sure you put the tracking tags on your site a couple of weeks in advance of the campaign going live. You then have a retargeting pool to go at and the DSP will also have chance to build up an upstream and downstream customer profile to aid future targeting.

d/ Control costs by starting cautiously until you know your price point (probably around £1 cpm but clearly depends on sector and ROI). Make sure the DSP has control over bidding time periods and has an informative/ responsive tracking and reporting suite.

e/ Get Creative – Focus on common sizes (728×90, 300×250 & 120×600), utilise common formats (flash, .gif and .jpeg) and have multiple creative’s at hand for A/B testing.

f/ Ensure there’s a working feedback loop, a healthy relationship and a watchful eye on KPI’s. You want control over your bids, insights into the type of traffic available, access to data and detailed reporting and you should expect pricing transparency – if there is little of these then walk away. Optimise against KPI’s such as total cost, average bid, CTR, view-through conversion results by campaign, network, audience segment, and creative version.


3/ Whilst the saying of “data is the new oil” is correct you also need to understand and apply the data. Audience buying, or “data-driven marketing”, is absolutely fundamental to successful DSP marketing however just make sure you/ they have experts to interrogate and apply joined up data research.

Often, good campaign optimisation comes down to the basics of understanding your audience, and why they are doing what they are doing.


4/ Understand cross-channel user behaviour

How you attribute display’s role in the buying cycle and attribute value is hugely important. You need to understand the customer journey and assign value to different segments of data.

As an example it is often common to have a 14 days post impression window i.e. you bought ‘just’ because you saw my banner ad. Clearly this is basic in the extreme and thus you need to report differently on these sales and consider multi click attribution weighting for post impression/ view through conversions.


The future of DSP’s

First party data

Greater use of first party data to ascertain the true value of each impression needs to be developed.

As an example, what has that person bought in the past, could we showcase complementary products in the creative, etc? We should also think more about sales cycles and how they inform the price paid, how many times does a customer see an ad per day, do we show that person different ads over the course of the retargeting period, etc? Ultimately there is often a wealth of data to hand and it should be all about how you utilise that data effectively.

Content Curation

The semantic web coupled with content curation should determine each biddable impression. Not only will it stop the fear of brands being showcased against ‘dodgy’ content but it will also ensure they are placed next to highly relevant content in addition.

The G Factor

Google is taking a leaf out of the DSP book by integrating a lot of DSP retargeting and creative optimisation techniques. Google is learning the trade by purchasing DSP’s (Invite Media) and creative optimisation companies (Teracent) and is clearly interested in display (was the name change from the content network to the display network not warning enough!?). Additional GDN (Google Display Network) targeting options in the form of retargeting and placement, semantic, behavioural and category targeting shows they are catching up fast.

If DSP’s do not innovate now and offer what agencies and clients want then the behemoth that is the familiar, all in one nice little interface, Adwords ecosystem will.

SEM learning’s

DSP’s need to learn from Google and take a leaf out of their book, as much as Google has from them. SEM experts can obtain a plethora of information from resources such as Google Analytics, Adwords, Ad planner, Marin Software, Kenshoo, SEM Rush, Majestic SEO, Adgooroo, etc. Where’s the DSP equivalent(s)? Nowhere that’s where! DSP’s need to gang up on Google and generally become more open and transparent or Google will swallow them up and spit them out and evolve the marketplace without them.