Programmatic advertising is soaring to new and exciting heights, with ad spend expected to accelerate to nearly $100 billion in 2022. This growing method for buying ads has quickly become a crucial component of an ecommerce brand’s successful marketing mix.

Marketers are now putting more than 50% of their media budget into programmatic advertising.

Programmatic is based on data-driven audience targeting and ad space is won through bidding. It’s the most efficient way to buy highly relevant digital audiences at scale and get your ads live in the current advertising landscape.

But before programmatic, there was Google AdWords, which runs ads through the Google Display Network (GDN). Unlike programmatic, Google ads rely more on keyword targeting and depend on impressions for cost.

How exactly do these two major methods of buying digital ads differ and what do they have in common? What are the benefits of using one over the other? Let’s explore the options.

Key Benefits of Programmatic

We dive into the key benefits of programmatic in our Programmatic Advertising 101 blog post. But for a quick recap, programmatic advertising:

  • Allows for advanced targeting such as location-based targeting and in-store attribution
  • Offers a variety of ad formats including streaming audio, native video, and out-of-home advertising in addition to cross-device display units
  • Provides access to premium ad inventory through deals available via platform partnerships
  • Uses DSPs that have fraud protection and brand safety controls that are integrated with leading third-party verification providers

Key Benefits of Google Display Network (GDN)

With all of the undeniable benefits of programmatic advertising, what circumstances would inspire a brand to go with advertising through the Google Display Network?

The GDN is a great option for smaller brands that are new to digital display. Its low cost of entry makes it ideal for brands that might have smaller marketing budgets. Cost per click is cheaper than on the default Google search platform, meaning brands can target shoppers with a high return on investment. Impressions are also commonly used to determine the cost per ad unit.

Another key benefit of the GDN is that it allows for targeting specifically based on a user’s Google search history, supporting highly personalized experiences.

Programmatic vs. GDN: Key Similarities & Differences

Programmatic and Google both have the potential to boost your brand’s profitable growth. However, there are some key similarities and differences to take into consideration when examining these options for your digital marketing strategy.

Ad Types

Programmatic allows for additional opportunities such as connected TV (CTV) and cross-device video across the web. Through GDN, you can only run video ads through YouTube.

78% of marketers say video has directly helped increase sales for their brand. With video becoming a more ripe avenue for reaching ready-to-buy consumers, having myriad options for the video-sharing route you choose to take helps ensure that you’re opening your brand up to as many profitable opportunities as possible.

The impact of YouTube advertising shouldn’t be underestimated, though. Over 90% of consumers around the world say they discover new brands on YouTube.

Despite some undeniable differences, advertising through programmatic and advertising through the Google Display Network have some key similarities. While programmatic offers more ad unit options than GDN, they both give brands the ability to use standard display banners ads to reach a targeted audience.


Google’s ad network, which includes around two million active sites, is only accessible via GDN. This is clearly a quite large database, but it does mean that advertisers have limited inventory space. A major benefit of programmatic is that it allows advertisers to tap additional data and inventory sources for increased scale. Inventory is limitless because advertisers have access to nearly every premium site on the web, meaning brands are not limited in terms of scale.

Programmatic and Google do have commonly shared open web inventory space for advertising. For example, provides space for ad units purchased both programmatically and through the Google Display Network.


With the onset of COVID-19, consumers flocked online more than ever before. As the pandemic subsides, consumers are increasingly adopting a more hybrid mindset.

Programmatic allows brands to reach shoppers out of their homes with highly visual creative on digital billboards and other outdoor displays through digital out-of-home (OOH) advertising. Data like time of day, weather conditions, and location can be used to target your programmatic OOH ad to the right audiences at the right time.

Programmatic digital OOH ad spend is expected to account for nearly 11% of digital out-of-home ad spend in 2021. While this may seem like a small percentage, it’s more than tripled since 2019 and is expected to approach 15% by 2022.

Google also has some strong offline to online capabilities, allowing brands to track when an online ad leads a customer down the funnel to an in-store purchase. Both programmatic and Google provide the ability to deliver ads based on a variety of targeting tactics including demographics, interests, and keywords.


Strong brand safety measures available on DSPs through leading services such as DoubleVerify allow for deeper integration with first-party, second-party, and third-party data.

Programmatic and the GDN both provide the ability to cap campaign-level frequency on a daily or monthly basis, meaning advertisers can ensure an ad is seen the optimal number of times across the entire campaign, wherever the ad is showing. Without this ability, your ad may be seen too many times, which can lead to oversaturation and cause the user to feel overwhelmed with and/or disinterested in your brand.

Undesirable inventory or websites can also be excluded with both programmatic and Google.

Programmatic vs. GDN: Where to Go Next

Whether your brand chooses to advertise through programmatic or the Google Display Network, ROI’s experts are ready to help lead your brand down the path to profitable growth. Send us a message and one of our digital marketing experts will reach out to share answers, insights, and opportunities to put your brand on the path to profitable growth.