May 15, 2013

Behind the banner - how digital ads are served?

Have you ever wondered how the digital ads that you see on any website show up? Does it not amaze you that those ads appear in practically no time, sometimes even before the web page has completely loaded! And then what about those Cleartrip and Flipkart ads which more or less connect with what's been on your mind for some time - noticed them? The world of online ads has grown a lot since Google introduced text links as one of the first AdSense units. Apart from text ads, there are the display ads, link units, video ads and mobile ads. Even if you're not someone from the digital field but have been blogging for some time, you would have been exposed to these ad units through your blogs dashboard. Next time when you login as admin, pay close attention.

Today I happened to see Adam (@adamostrow), the Chief Strategy Officer at Mashable sharing a link on how online ads works and upon visiting it, I just had one reaction - "Awesome!"

First as a blogger and internet enthusiast and now as a digital marketing professional, I have read numerous support pages, blogs, etc on digital ads, display units, etc till date. Adobe released an interactive visualization on how digital ads are served which illustrates the whole process with simplicity. They add on that the entire ad placement network is one of the most complex computational systems on the planet and Behind The Banner is an attempt to understand the underlying interactions that define this ecosystem, and how they impact our daily use of the web. The microsite introduces you to an arbitrary digital profile of a 32 year old woman whose anonymous information helps in understanding how the digital ads are served to her.

How digital ads are served?

The visualization takes you through seven distinct steps along with how much time in microseconds (ms) does it take to accomplish it. You will see below that a single ad placement takes only 150 ms which is incredibly fast!

1. Reaching web page (0 ms)
  • When the user visits a web page, a request is initiated for an advertising impression. 
  • An impression request is generated based on what the web page knows about the user.

2. Ad request to publisher (28 ms)

3. Direct sold attempt (40 ms)

4. Impression sent to one of several exchanges (65 ms)

5. Real time bidding (100 ms)
  • Next, an auction takes place in which third parties bid on the chance to fulfill the impression.

6. One bid wins the auction (125 ms)
  • The impression is sold to the highest bidder, for the second highest bid price.

7. Ad delivered to user (150 ms)
  • The creative content for the impression is sent to the web page and appears to the user. Even the choice of creative can be an entire data-driven process in its own right.
  • This single ad placement event can be one of thousands happening every second on the web page.
  • And one of hundreds of thousands of impressions being served every second across the web.
  • Dozens of sophisticated servers can be involved in a single ad placement, which takes less than a quarter of a second.

Go ahead, see the visualization first hand at Behind The Banner and leave a comment below if you found it useful. In case you know someone who may benefit from this, then do share with them.

Keep clicking,

Image Source: The Next Web, CM Summit - Behind The Banner


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