Digital Marketing Glossary 101: Words You Wanted to Know About but Were Too Afraid to Ask

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Programmatic advertising is a word jumble of often-confusing terms and uncertain definitions. Perhaps you've found yourself nodding along in a meeting, too afraid to ask "What's that mean?" The space, which at the most basic level concerns how digital ads flow online, is constantly evolving. What was programmatic yesterday is not the programmatic of today or tomorrow. Here's a look at the terms and practices that are essential to know as a digital marketer on the way to 2020.

Attribution. Determining which part of a marketing campaign had the greatest effect on the consumer. If someone buys a car, attribution helps the automaker understand when the person made the decision. Was it prompted by a Facebook video, or an ad served after a Google search? A related term is last-click attribution, which often gives credit for a purchase to the last ad that a person saw beforehand. But brands are looking to understand the impact of all ads in a sequence in order to know where best to spend their money.

Audience. A group of people identified by a brand for ad targeting purposes. Facebook and Twitter, as examples, offer Custom Audiences and Tailored Audiences, respectively. To reach them, brands provide email addresses of consumers they want to target on those platforms. Some audiences are also known as "segments," groups of people that share the same characteristics or took the same online actions.

Cross-device. Involving multiple screens—those of laptops, tablets, phones, desktop computers or TVs. Marketers are trying to understand when their messages reach consumers on different devices throughout the day, identifying users accurately as they switch screens. Cross-device data lets marketers avoid repeating messages to the same person on different screens more than they want to, among other things.

Deterministic. Data that can accurately identify a consumer for targeting ads, such as a visitor's login information for a website. Other deterministic data points are credit cards, phone numbers and addresses. (See "Probablistic.")

DMP (Data-management platform). The systems that brands use to make sense of any information they can find about consumers and the marketplace. Brands upload first-party data (consumer emails, sales figures, etc.) to a DMP and combine it with other data sets to make better decisions for their marketing.

DSP (Demand-side platform). A demand-side platform is one of three key technologies used in the buying and selling ecosystem. Commonly referred to as a DSP, this software allows marketers and agencies to buy digital ads in automated fashion. Without it, marketers would have to call publishers to buy ads manually. A DSP is often coupled with a data management platform (see "DMP") for additional help reaching key audiences. The DSPs are where the advertisers manage their digital campaigns, setting up their automated bids, the types of impressions they want to buy and the ad creative they want to disseminate. They plug into ad exchanges and ad-supply platforms known as sell-side platforms (see "SSP").

Hashing. A way to hide personal information when it's shared between ad-tech partners. For instance, if a brand asks a publisher to target ads to its customer email list, the emails can be masked, kind of like translating them into a different language that only the computer knows.

Header bidding. An innovation that recently took off, in which publishers offer ad inventory to multiple ad exchanges at the same time. It was developed mainly as a reaction to Google, which works with many publishers through DoubleClick to sell ads at auction. Google also works with advertisers, which gives it some advantages in winning ads at auction. Header bidding leveled the playing field for other ad exchanges to better compete for ad impressions, increasing earning potential for publishers.

Interstitial. An ad that pops up while a user is clicking to a new page online. An interstitial can take over the home page on a website or occupy the whole screen when someone clicks on a link in an app and opens the mobile web. Most of these types of ads have been flagged by companies like Google as too disruptive of the user experience, and websites that use them face penalties in search rankings.

Lookalikes. People who are not the exact ones a brand wants to target with an ad, but look and act like them in certain ways, suggesting an openness to the brand's sales pitch and product. Brands seek lookalikes, for example, for their most loyal customers, whom they already know how to reach.

Pixel tag. Code that brands put on their ads before placing them online so they can track performance and view who sees the ad. Pixels also help brands track who visits their websites and target those consumers with ads later. Pixels are sometimes blamed for slowing down the web and cause some privacy concerns.

PII (Personally identifiable information). This is any data that can be directly connected to a consumer and reveals who they are. Many ad-tech companies and platforms take measures to avoid sharing any PII from their users.

Private marketplace. An exclusive auction that is invite-only. The publisher makes inventory available to only select brands, who then buy through real-time bidding. It's different from programmatic direct, because it's still an auction-based system.

Probabilistic. Using data points to guess who the consumer is on the other side of the screen. Knowing where a person is, what time it is and the device in use help, but not with nearly 100% confidence. This type of data is considered less accurate than deterministic (see "Deterministic"), though many say a blend of the two yields the most accurate results.

Programmatic direct. When a publisher sells ad inventory directly to an advertiser for a set price, meaning it's not sold through an auction. This also is known as programmatic guaranteed. It gives the advertiser assurances over where ads run, and the publisher price stability. The ads are still served programmatically.

SSP (Sell-side platform). While marketers use DSPs to buy digital ads, publishers use SSPs to sell them. Publishers use SSPs to offer inventory to ad exchanges, networks, trading desks—anywhere that has a pool of demand. They also use SSPs to set the terms of the auctions and manage private auctions, known as private marketplaces, where select advertisers are invited to participate. An SSP gives them control over who can advertise and the types of ads that run. Like DSPs, SSPs also plug into data-management platforms.

Sequential messaging. Hitting a consumer with one message, then a different one and then another to guide them toward buying or taking some other action. Sequential messaging, also known as sequential targeting, often requires cross-device capabilities to accurately reach the same consumer across screens when they visit different digital properties.

Trading desk. Where agencies enter into the equation, via in-house programmatic buying platforms for their advertising clients to buy ad space online. The trading desks work through demand-side platforms to buy digital inventory. The agency trading desks often buy large pools of digital media and re-sell it to clients, theoretically getting a better price buying in bulk.

Contributing: George Slefo