A beginner’s guide to programmatic advertising

If you’re considering crossing the threshold from hobby blogging to food blogging as a business, you’ve likely heard one particular buzzword a lot lately: programmatic. And if you’re new to the world of online advertising, it probably begs the question, “WTF is programmatic?”

We feel you. There’s a lot coming at you once you make the decision to treat your food blog like a business, and getting to the bottom of what programmatic means may not have been at the top of your to-do list.

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But since it could make a huge difference to the future of your food blog, we’re here to help with an easy-to-understand breakdown.

What is programmatic, exactly?

Programmatic is used to describe an evolving form of advertising in the digital space. When someone refers to programmatic in the blogging sphere, it’s essentially shorthand for programmatic advertising.

So, really, what is programmatic advertising?

To understand programmatic advertising, you must first consider the traditional methods of media buying and/or marketing. Historically, if you wanted to promote your blog, a particular post or a new campaign, you would have to take a multi-pronged personal approach — it would likely include proposals, quotes and human negotiation to place ads on different sites and platforms across the web.

However, programmatic advertising utilizes software to purchase digital advertising. Through computer algorithms, it calculates bids for ad placement in real time. And because those bids are per individual ad placement, based on parameters set by you, it eliminates the need for the tedious back-and-forth manual negotiation.

Are there other benefits?

In a word, yes. Programmatic advertising seems to offer a way to minimize the chance that you might waste money and media promoting your content to the wrong people. You have more freedom to optimize and target your advertising with keywords — and targeting can make or break how effective your advertising is.

Because programmatic advertising runs on real-time, it’s easier than ever to adjust your ad campaigns while they are running, based on the data you’re constantly receiving (praise technology!).

Does it have drawbacks?

You may have read about the big fuss that occurred when ads for Verizon Wireless wound up on YouTube videos of extremist clerics. Clearly, Verizon was not happy — and neither were other sponsors who feared a similar fate.

There is also the question of quality. In an interview with AdExchanger in 2015, lucrative food blogger Pinch of Yum’s Bjork Ostrom, who oversees the business end of the blog, touched on some of the growing pains with programmatic.

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“The filtering technology has yet to catch up. We’re constantly having to monitor ads that are playing with audio or really poor-quality ads,” explained Ostrom. “We don’t mind autoplay video, but if it’s autoplay audio, that gets a little invasive and annoying and we think that will turn people off really quick.”

Because the traditional model of ad campaigns meant ads had to be approved before they ran, it could be argued that quality control was more seamless.

Not to mention, entering the world of programmatic advertising can be daunting and particularly full of costly mistakes if you aren’t careful. Which brings us to our next point.

Where do I start?

In 2017, eMarketer predicted that programmatic display spending would reach nearly $33 billion that year alone. That estimate is only expected to rise in coming years. And you know what that means: The more ubiquitous it becomes, the more companies will want to get a piece of the pie. This means many companies, unfortunately, play fast and loose with the definition of programmatic (and their commitment to you).

The best thing you can do when wading into the programmatic world is to ask the right questions before picking a programmatic advertising software partner. You’ll want to know if they invoice with a dynamic CPM (which you want), and what variables you’ll be able to adjust your bid based on.

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Do your research, pinpoint what’s important to you and don’t be afraid to ask any and every question that comes to mind before making your final decision.

Not sure where to go from here? Programmatic expert Bryan Gaynor wrote a fantastic guide for PPC Hero on how to choose a programmatic vendor.

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