12 Top Programmatic Advertising Platforms in 2023
Programmatic advertising is witnessing an impressive growth rate in recent times with global ad spending approaching 557.56 billion U.S. dollars.
Programmatic advertising has a track record of helping marketers reach relevant customers throughout their path to purchase, effectively accelerating conversion and boosting revenue. Other benefits include reduced ad cost, better optimization, improved ad management, and more.
If you're looking to invest in programmatic advertising, the first thing on your mind would be to determine the best platform to partner with.
This guide explores 12 of the best programmatic advertising platforms that can help your business achieve marketing success in 2023 and beyond. We'll compare platforms based on several criteria, including pricing, ad inventory quality, audience targeting, and anti-fraud/safety measures.
What Is Programmatic Advertising?
How Programmatic Advertising Works
Here's a great scheme by Publift that sums up how programmatic advertising works:
- When a user lands on a website with programmatic ad placements, the website sends the visitor's data to an ad exchange.
- The ad exchange evaluates the user's data, including browsing behavior and demographic details. This data is then presented to advertisers in real time, and an auction begins.
- Advertisers, using demand-side platforms (DSPs), review this information and determine the value of displaying their ad to this particular user. They then place a bid based on this evaluation.
- Once the bidding is completed, the ad exchange chooses the highest bid and grants the winning advertiser the ad space.
- Almost instantaneously, the chosen ad loads onto the user's webpage, ideally aligning with the user's interests and behaviors.
- After the ad is displayed, feedback metrics such as clicks, impressions, and conversions are collected. This data helps advertisers refine their future bidding strategies and targeting criteria.
The Challenges of Programmatic Advertising
While programmatic advertising offers numerous benefits, it also poses substantial challenges. Marketers often face issues with data integration, campaign tracking, and reporting. Here, we’ll explore these challenges in more detail and discuss potential solutions.
Inconsistent Taxonomy of Marketing Campaigns
One of the biggest challenges in programmatic advertising is the inconsistent taxonomy of programmatic campaigns. Campaigns can have different naming conventions and UTM structures, making it hard to accurately measure the effectiveness of marketing efforts, optimize campaigns, allocate budgets effectively, and make data-driven decisions.
One solution to this challenge is to use a marketing analytics platform that standardizes and consolidates campaign data from multiple programmatic platforms. For example, Improvado integrates with popular programmatic platforms like MediaMath, AdRoll, Criteo, and marketing and sales services to help you get all performance data in one place and make sense out of it.
Our data shows that about 7-30% of marketing campaigns tracked through Improvado use improper or incomplete UTM tags. It leaves a significant part of ad spending unattributed to any conversions and interferes with properly tracking the marketing budget’s effectiveness.
Improvado’s UTM quality dashboard shows how much of your ad spend can't be attributed to conversions and which campaigns are marked with poorly structured UTMs. The dashboard also helps teams verify that each UTM tag has all the required parameters in place and is written correctly.
Difficulties Pulling Data from Numerous Ad Accounts
It’s common for marketers to run programmatic campaigns across multiple ad accounts and platforms, each with its own unique data format and API. This makes data collection and consolidation challenging, especially for marketers who lack the technical expertise to build and maintain their own data pipelines.
As a result, marketers spend up to 30% of their time manually pulling data from multiple ad accounts, which can be a tedious and error-prone process. Moreover, it leads to delays in data processing and reporting, making it difficult to spot important trends and optimize campaigns.
Lack of Cross-Channel Performance Visibility
The inability to analyze both organic and paid performance in a single view is a strong disadvantage of programmatic platforms. Usually, teams are limited to the platform’s native analytics tools that don’t take data from other channels into consideration. That’s why marketers have to manually aggregate data from organic and paid channels to get the complete picture of the customer journey and understand which channels are the most efficient.
Manual data aggregation not only eats into valuable time but also leads to incomplete or inaccurate data, hindering decision-making processes.
Marketing analytics platforms are invaluable for teams that need to track the performance of their efforts across different channels. Improvado, for example, not only helps teams automate data collection across channels but also provides ready-made dashboard templates for cross-channel analysis.
Top Programmatic Platforms by Category
Programmatic advertising relies on four categories of platforms to function: Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs), Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs), Ad Exchanges, and Data Management Platforms (DMPs).
Advertisers make use of DSPs to bid for digital ad space, while publishers make use of SSPs for selling their ad spaces.
An ad exchange serves as a marketplace for connecting advertisers and publishers through their respective platforms. A DMP collects all kinds of data related to an advertiser's ideal customer.
Now, let’s explore some of the best programmatic ad platforms in each category.
Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs)
A DSP allows advertisers to bid for ad impressions on publisher websites. It also enables advertisers to filter their target audience based on specific criteria like location, age, past online behavior, gender, and more.
Here are some of the most popular programmatic DSPs:
Adobe Advertising Cloud DSP
Adobe Advertising Cloud DSP prides itself as “the only omnichannel programmatic DSP that supports connected TV, video, display, native, audio, and search campaigns.”
Mentioned as a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Ad Tech, Adobe provides features that help advertisers launch, manage, and optimize campaigns. This includes inventory management, personalized marketing, search management, and more.
- Pricing: Custom. Pricing depends on different factors like company size, requirements, and the number of tools purchased
- Supported Ad Inventory: Display, video, audio, mobile apps, Digital out of Home (DOOH), TV, native, and social
- Audience Targeting: Audience segment, device type, location, browser, and more
- Anti-fraud/Safety Measures: Offers page screening for detecting faulty inventory and pre-bid filtering for detecting fraud, suboptimal viewability, and brand violation.
Launched in 2007, MediaMath is recognized as one of the earliest programmatic advertising platforms (DSPs) in the industry. Today, it partners with over 3,500 advertisers to help them run omnichannel campaigns across mobile, display, OTT, native, video, audio, and more.
Its SOURCE ecosystem is designed to help advertisers achieve better supply-path optimization and algorithm decision. MediaMath is also recognized as a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Ad Tech.
- Price: Custom
- Supported Ad Inventory: Connected TV, display, mobile, video, audio, native, and DOOH
- Audience Targeting: Audience segment, contextual, first-party data, site list, location, daypart, technology, video, and audio.
- Anti-fraud/Safety Measures: Uses its SOURCE ecosystem to ensure supply-chain trust through pre-bid IVT protection and onboarding tools.
AdRoll is loved by its users for its simplicity and the quality of its ad templates. The platform focuses on helping brands expand their reach through video, social ads, display, native, email, and more.
Recognized as a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Ad Tech, AdRoll uses a broad spectrum of data to determine where and when to deliver ads to prospects.
- Price: Offers a free package for starters as well as a custom pricing package for enterprises
- Supported Ad Inventory: Video, social ads, display, native, and email
- Audience Targeting: Contextual, lookalike, demographic, interest, lookalike, and CRM targeting
- Anti-fraud/Safety Measures: Has a Trust and Safety Team for automatically and manually filtering invalid traffic
Supply Side Platform (SSP)
An SSP focuses on helping publishers (website owners) sell ad space on their apps, websites, and other digital properties.
These platforms use automation to determine the optimal price for each ad space and sell to the best bidder. SSPs work with ad networks to connect publishers to a broader pool of advertisers.
Let’s take a look at a few of the leading SSPs in the industry.
PubMatic offers services for both media buyers and publishers. As an SSP, it provides an impressive collection of tools to help publishers optimize the monetization potential of all their digital assets.
This includes tools for header bidding, RTB advertising, Private Marketplaces (PMP), and ad quality.
- Supported Ad Inventory: CTV, OTT, display, video, addressable, mobile, native, and more
- Anti-fraud/Safety Measures for Publishers: Uses real-time scanning and strategic partnerships to safeguard publisher’s audiences across ad formats, channels, and screens
Google Ad Manager
Programmatic publishers utilize an average of 6 SSPs to sell ad space to advertisers. Despite this, Google remains the most popular SSP among publishers, claiming 51% of the industry’s market share.
In fact, 75% of ad impressions in the US come from Google Ad Manager. More insights in the Twitter thread below.
Google Ad Manager exists for large publishers with significant direct sales. Some of the tools it offers include server-side header bidding, managed PMPs, advanced dashboard and reporting system, and more.
- Supported Ad Inventory: Video, mobile, display, and native.
- Anti-fraud/Safety Measures for Publishers: Google supports popular safety standards, initiatives, and protocols such as the IAB ads.txt standard, SafeFrame, and HTTPS to protect against unsuitable ads and invalid activity
Criteo offers a retail media service to help publishers monetize their site content by leveraging first-party data and audiences.
Unlike Google Ads Manager, Criteo makes its services available to publishers with lower traffic numbers. As an SSP, Criteo focuses more on retargeting.
More info in the thread below:
- Supported Ad Inventory: Social media, video, display, web, and mobile
- Anti-fraud/Safety Measures for Publishers: Criteo uses advanced image recognition technology to filter unsafe content from publishers’ digital properties
Ad Exchanges position themselves as the intermediary between advertisers and publishers.
Publishers come to ad exchanges to submit ad impressions which are then presented to advertisers for bidding in real-time.
Here are some of the best ad exchanges in the industry.
Originally called AppNexus, Xandr is a leading programmatic advertising platform offering a full stack of programmatic advertising services. This means it provides services, such as a DSP, SSP, and an Ad Exchange.
As an Ad Exchange, Xandr serves over 11.4 billion ad impressions daily.
One of its most notable features is its header bidding wrapper, which makes header bidding more convenient and efficient for publishers. The platform supports different ad inventory, including video, banner, audio, native, and more.
Xander partners with White Ops, an MRC-accredited company, for ensuring brand safety across its marketplace.
SmartyAds provides a white-label ad exchange platform, Smart Hub, which has recorded over 25,000 publishers and 2 billion impressions daily.
It also serves as a full-stack programmatic ad tech platform, offering services as a DSP and SSP to both advertisers and publishers. The platform is compatible with a wide range of traffic types and ad formats, including video, banner, audio, native, push, pop, and more.
Compared to Xandr, SmartyAds offers a more comprehensive collection of security and anti-fraud features and partnerships to make the marketplace safer for publishers and advertisers.
PubMatic makes a second appearance in this guide, thanks to its incredible capabilities as a full-stack ad tech platform.
As an ad exchange, PubMatic has established itself as an industry leader with over 171 billion ad impressions per day. Publishers benefit from its ease-of-use, DMP integrations, and open-source header bidding.
On the advertisers' side, PubMatic offers integration with various security tools to prevent fraudulent practices and ensure brand safety.
Data Management Platforms (DMPs)
DMPs are less talked about in programmatic advertising platforms realm. But they're equally as important. Advertisers use all kinds of data when developing a campaign strategy to ensure their ads are relevant to their prospects.
DSPs automatically place bids for ad spaces in the marketplace, but to ensure that the purchased ads are aimed at the right demographic, these platforms take advantage of data supplied by DMPs. Publishers, on the other hand, use DMPs to store and analyze user data to get a better understanding of their website visitors.
Here are some of the most popular DMPs in the industry.
Audience Studio by Salesforce
Salesforce is widely known for its CRM system. However, the company also offers a Data Management Platform for advertisers.
Formerly known as Salesforce DMP, Audience Studio allows advertisers to capture data from any source and segment this data using machine learning algorithms. It also offers a native consent management framework to help advertisers maintain transparency and trust with their customers.
Lotame is an industry-leading DMP that offers a wide range of services, including audience management, data marketplace, and identity resolution.
It allows its users to access first-party data from sources like emails, CRMs, social media, apps, and more. It also provides the opportunity to expand on available data through its data marketplace.
Lotame’s DMP, however, lacks live reporting features and loads relatively slowly.
The Trade Desk
Alongside a DSP, The Trade Desk offers a DMP to help advertisers and publishers collect, manage, and activate their data in one place.
One of its most popular features is its lookalike modeling which allows you to discover new audiences based on insights from your existing audiences. It also offers a data marketplace where users can access high-quality audiences from data providers.
TheTradeDesk is actively expanding in the DMP sector. For example, TikTok and theTradeDesk launched a partnership not long ago. This collaboration will drive more brands to the platform and stimulate the growth of advertising on TikTok.
Moving Forward: Automating Programmatic Analytics
Programmatic advertising, with its variety of platforms and ad placement options, generates a large chunk of data that marketing teams have to work with. Without a well-thought analytics marketing analytics system in place, it becomes overly challenging to understand which campaigns or platforms drive your growth and which of them just drain your marketing budget.
A marketing analytics platform can save you time and resources, and point your campaigns in the right direction. By eliminating all aspects of manual reporting, you can save hundreds of manhours on manual data collection, ensure the correctness of your reports, and spot trends with ease with automated dashboards provided by the platform. Here’s a 3-step guide on how you can automate your programmatic analytics today:
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