RTB (Real Time Bidding)

Real-Time Bidding in Programmatic Advertising: Unveiling the Power of Data-Driven Decision Making

In the dynamic world of digital advertising, programmatic advertising has revolutionized the way marketers connect with their target audiences. Within this ecosystem, real-time bidding (RTB) has emerged as a game-changer, empowering advertisers to optimize their campaigns in real-time and make data-driven decisions that yield remarkable results. Let’s delve into the depths of RTB in programmatic advertising and explore its unique capabilities.

RTB serves as the backbone of programmatic advertising, enabling advertisers to buy and sell ad impressions in real-time through an automated auction-based system. This innovative approach brings together advertisers, publishers, and ad exchanges on a unified platform, where impressions are bought and sold instantaneously, taking into account vast amounts of data.

At the core of RTB lies the immense power of data. Every second, a colossal volume of information is generated from diverse sources, such as user behavior, demographics, browsing history, and contextual data. RTB harnesses this data and employs sophisticated algorithms to evaluate and bid on ad impressions based on the likelihood of achieving campaign objectives, maximizing the return on investment (ROI).

What are the Types of Real Time Bidding?

Organizations can choose between two types of real-time bidding.

Open exchange: A public marketplace where publishers auction ad impressions to eligible advertising buyers, making an equal opportunity exchange.

Private marketplace (PMP): An exclusive marketplace where publishers offer premium ad inventory to select advertisers.

What Are the Advantages of Real-Time Bidding?

When compared with the more traditional forms of display advertising, real-time bidding offers loads of benefits. Some of those are mentioned below:

Improved Inventory Pricing

Publishers get to set a floor price for their inventory which they can change at any point. This benefits publishers in optimizing the price of their specific ad units as per the demand, allowing publishers to extract the exact value of their inventory in real-time.

Handling Remnant Ad Units

Remnant or unsold inventories is a concern for most publishers. Real-time bidding helps publishers get a fair price for remnant ad units by making them available at various auctions. 

Ad Unit Modifications

Publishers maintain control over their inventory. They can change the floor price, ad unit placements, and targeting options anytime at the ad unit level. All of this helps with ad testing to get a better price by placing ads on sites.

Better User Experience

With real-time bidding, publishers can closely examine the response of users toward the ad placements.

Using this data, publishers work on improving their user experience. Also, web cookies dropped by sites can further help to know more about these users. Moreover, this data can be shared with advertisers to run targeted campaigns.

Quick Solutions

Everything about real-time bidding is so fast-paced that both publishers and advertisers get to see results instantly. This idea can be leveraged into improved the ad delivery process.

The Main Components of the RTB Process

The main components of the RTB process in the context of advertising are as follows:

  1. Publisher: The website or app owner that has ad inventory available for auction. Publishers make their ad space available to potential advertisers.

  2. Advertiser: The entity looking to display their ads to a specific target audience. Advertisers participate in RTB auctions to bid on available ad impressions.

  3. Ad Exchange: A digital marketplace that facilitates real-time auctions for ad impressions. Ad exchanges connect publishers and advertisers, providing a platform where they can transact programmatically.

  4. Demand-Side Platform (DSP): Advertisers use DSPs to manage and automate their ad buying process. DSPs allow advertisers to set targeting criteria, budgets, and bid strategies.

  5. Supply-Side Platform (SSP): Publishers use SSPs to manage and optimize their ad inventory. SSPs connect with ad exchanges and provide information about available ad impressions to potential buyers.

  6. Data Management Platform (DMP): DMPs collect, organize, and analyze data to help advertisers target their ads effectively. DMP data can be used to inform bidding decisions based on user behavior and characteristics.

Working Methodology of Real-Time Bidding

At its core, real-time bidding is an automated auction-based system that allows advertisers to bid on digital ad inventory in real time. Unlike traditional ad buying methods that involve pre-negotiated deals, RTB facilitates a dynamic and instantaneous process. It operates within the larger framework of programmatic advertising, wherein ad impressions are bought and sold using sophisticated algorithms, data analysis, and automation.

The User Journey Begins

The real-time bidding process commences when a user visits a website or an app containing ad spaces. This can occur across a plethora of devices, ranging from smartphones and tablets to desktop computers. Each page load triggers a series of events that initiate the RTB process.

Ad Space Auction

Within milliseconds, the website or app sends a bid request to an ad exchange or supply-side platform (SSP). This bid request contains valuable information about the user, such as demographics, browsing history, and location (while ensuring user privacy is upheld). The SSP subsequently conducts an auction, inviting demand-side platforms (DSPs) to bid on the available ad space.

DSP Bidding Strategy

The DSPs, armed with advanced algorithms and user data, assess the bid request and determine the value of displaying an ad to that particular user. Factors such as targeting parameters, budget constraints, and campaign objectives come into play as the DSP decides whether to participate in the auction and, if so, how much to bid.

The Highest Bidder Prevails

Once the DSPs submit their bids, the SSP compares them and determines the highest bid. The winner gains the opportunity to display their ad in real time, leveraging the ad space on the website or app. This entire process occurs in a matter of milliseconds, highlighting the lightning-fast nature of real-time bidding.

Ad Display and User Engagement

With the highest bid established, the SSP promptly notifies the winning DSP. The DSP then delivers the ad creative to the website or app, ensuring it aligns with the context of the user’s browsing experience. The ad is seamlessly displayed to the user, enticing engagement and driving brand awareness.

Auction types in Real Time Bidding Process:

In the Real-Time Bidding (RTB) process, there are several auction types used to determine which advertiser’s ad will be displayed to a user. These auction types determine how the bidding process works and how the winning bid is selected. The most common auction types in RTB are:

  1. First Price Auction: In a first price auction, the highest bidder wins the auction and pays the exact amount they bid. For example, if Advertiser A bids $1 and Advertiser B bids $0.75, Advertiser A wins the auction and pays $1.

  2. Second Price Auction (Vickrey Auction): In a second price auction, the highest bidder wins the auction but pays the price submitted by the second-highest bidder. For instance, if Advertiser A bids $1, Advertiser B bids $0.75, and Advertiser C bids $0.50, Advertiser A wins the auction but pays $0.75 (the bid of the second-highest bidder).

  3. Hybrid Auction: A hybrid auction combines elements of both first price and second price auctions. The winning bidder pays the price they submitted, but it’s capped at a certain amount, often the bid of the second-highest bidder.

  4. Preferred Deals: In a preferred deal auction, publishers offer selected advertisers the opportunity to bid on ad impressions at a fixed price. This type of auction allows publishers and advertisers to establish direct relationships and pricing terms.

  5. Private Auctions: Private auctions are invite-only auctions where a specific group of advertisers is invited to bid on ad impressions. The highest bidder among the invited advertisers wins the auction.

  6. Open Auction: Also known as an open exchange, this is the standard auction format in RTB. It’s open to all advertisers who participate through their DSPs. The highest bidder wins the auction based on the chosen auction type (first price, second price, etc.).

  7. Programmatic Guaranteed: While not strictly an auction type, programmatic guaranteed allows advertisers to reserve and purchase ad inventory at a fixed price. This guarantees a certain number of impressions but lacks the real-time competitive bidding aspect of other auctions.

REAL-TIME BIDDING: Publisher Benefits

Real-Time Bidding (RTB) offers several benefits to publishers, which are website or app owners that make their ad inventory available for auction. Here are some of the key benefits that publishers can derive from participating in the RTB process:

  1. Increased Revenue: RTB allows publishers to monetize their ad inventory more effectively. Ad impressions are sold to the highest bidder, potentially generating higher revenue compared to traditional methods.

  2. Higher Fill Rates: RTB helps maximize fill rates, which refer to the percentage of available ad inventory that gets sold. With the real-time auction model, there’s a higher likelihood of selling available ad space.

  3. Dynamic Pricing: RTB enables dynamic pricing of ad impressions based on real-time demand. This means publishers can extract the maximum value from their inventory as prices adjust according to market conditions.

  4. Access to a Larger Pool of Advertisers: RTB connects publishers with a diverse range of advertisers from around the world. This expands the potential number of buyers competing for ad impressions, leading to potentially higher bid prices.

  5. Efficient Monetization: RTB automates the ad selling process, reducing the need for manual negotiation and insertion orders. This efficiency streamlines the monetization process for publishers.

  6. Targeted Advertising: RTB facilitates targeted advertising, where ads are delivered to specific audiences based on data insights. This increases the relevance of ads to users and can lead to higher engagement rates.

  7. Reduced Wasted Impressions: RTB helps reduce wasted impressions by matching the right ad to the right user. This improves user experience and ensures that ads are more likely to resonate with the audience.

  8. Control over Advertisers: Publishers can exercise control over which advertisers can bid on their inventory. They can set criteria and approve advertisers, ensuring that their brand’s image is maintained.

  9. Data Insights: RTB provides publishers with valuable data insights about their audience, including user demographics, behavior, and preferences. This data can be used to refine content and improve the overall user experience.

  10. Flexibility: Publishers have the flexibility to set minimum bid thresholds and reserve prices to ensure that ad space is sold at a certain value.

  11. A/B Testing: Publishers can conduct A/B testing by allowing different advertisers to bid on the same inventory. This helps them determine which ad creatives and campaigns are most effective.

  12. Ad Quality Control: Publishers can maintain control over the quality and relevance of ads that appear on their platforms, ensuring a positive user experience.

  13. Monetization of Remnant Inventory: RTB enables publishers to monetize ad impressions that might otherwise go unsold. This helps generate revenue from remnant inventory that might not have been sold through traditional methods.

REAL-TIME BIDDING: Advertiser Benefits

Real-Time Bidding (RTB) offers a range of benefits to advertisers, who are entities looking to display their ads to specific target audiences. Here are some of the key benefits that advertisers can gain from participating in the RTB process:

  1. Precise Targeting: RTB allows advertisers to target their ads with precision based on various criteria such as demographics, location, interests, behavior, and more. This increases the chances of reaching the right audience with relevant ads.

  2. Real-Time Optimization: Advertisers can optimize their bids and campaigns in real-time based on performance data. This flexibility enables quick adjustments to improve ad effectiveness and return on investment (ROI).

  3. Access to Diverse Inventory: RTB provides access to a wide range of ad inventory across websites, apps, and platforms. This diversity allows advertisers to reach their target audience wherever they are online.

  4. Data-Driven Decision Making: Advertisers can make informed decisions by leveraging data insights from the RTB process. They can analyze user behavior and engagement to refine their targeting strategies.

  5. Efficient Ad Buying: RTB streamlines the ad buying process, reducing manual intervention. Advertisers can set up campaigns, targeting criteria, and budgets in their Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs) and let the automated system handle the rest.

  6. Cost Control: Advertisers can set bidding strategies and budgets that align with their financial goals. This control over spending helps prevent overexpenditure on advertising campaigns.

  7. Real-Time Reporting: Advertisers receive real-time reporting on campaign performance, allowing them to monitor key metrics like clicks, impressions, conversions, and ROI. This data helps in making quick optimizations.

  8. Competitive Bidding: Advertisers have the opportunity to bid competitively in real-time auctions. The auction environment can lead to favorable pricing for ad impressions.

  9. Brand Safety: Advertisers can use RTB platforms to control where their ads appear and avoid placing ads in inappropriate or low-quality environments.

  10. Flexibility: Advertisers can test different ad creatives, messaging, and strategies in real-time, allowing them to adapt quickly to changing market dynamics.

  11. Global Reach: RTB enables advertisers to reach audiences beyond their local markets, opening up the potential for international campaigns and expansion.

  12. Retargeting and Personalization: RTB facilitates retargeting, where ads can be shown to users who have previously interacted with the advertiser’s website or app. This enhances personalization and encourages conversions.

  13. Data Integration: Advertisers can integrate their first-party data and data from Data Management Platforms (DMPs) to enhance audience targeting and campaign effectiveness.

  14. Transparent Reporting: Advertisers often have access to detailed information about the ad placements, websites, and impressions they’re bidding on, ensuring transparency in the process.

What are the drawbacks of RTB?

While RTB is a powerful tool for streamlining ad purchasing, there are some potential drawbacks advertisers should be aware of:

Ad fraud: Scammers can use bots to trick ad networks into selling false impressions, which reduces the likelihood of your ad being seen. Using an SSP that verifies media buyers, like Emodo Access, can significantly reduce your risk.

Brand safety: Due to the randomized nature of RTB, there is a chance your content could appear next to content that doesn’t align with your brand. Fortunately, you can reduce this risk by buying through an intelligent end-to-end ad exchange like Emodo Exchange, which connects media buyers to the right publishers for their brands.

User privacy: RTB allows advertisers to home in on specific users, which has created concerns over the security of sensitive user data. Anonymous audience segmentation solutions like Emodo Audiences strengthen respect for user privacy without sacrificing targeting accuracy.

Real Time Bidding VS. Programmatic Advertising

Here’s a table comparing Real-Time Bidding (RTB) and Programmatic Advertising:

CriteriaReal-Time Bidding (RTB)Programmatic Advertising
DefinitionAn auction-based system for buying/selling ad impressions in real-time, where advertisers bid on ad impressions in millisecondsAn automated way of buying/selling ad inventory, leveraging data and algorithms to target specific audiences
ProcessAuction-based bidding in real-timeAutomated buying and selling based on algorithms and data
Ad InventoryPurchases specific ad impressionsPurchases ad inventory in bulk
TargetingGranular targeting based on real-time dataAutomated targeting based on audience profiles
CostBidding system determines ad priceAutomated bidding and price determination based on data
EfficiencyEfficient use of ad spendStreamlined buying and selling of ad inventory
ScaleLarge-scale ad campaignsLarge-scale ad campaigns
BenefitsHighly targeted ads and cost-efficiencyAutomated buying/selling and audience targeting

RTB offers granular targeting based on real-time data, while programmatic advertising relies on automated targeting based on audience profiles.

Real Time Bidding VS. Demand Side Platform

Here’s a table comparing Real-Time Bidding (RTB) and Demand Side Platforms (DSPs):

CriteriaReal-Time Bidding (RTB)Demand Side Platforms (DSPs)
DefinitionAn auction-based system for buying/selling ad impressions in real-time, where advertisers bid on ad impressions in millisecondsA platform that helps advertisers automate the process of buying ad inventory from multiple sources
ProcessAuction-based bidding in real-timeAutomated buying from multiple sources based on algorithms and data
Ad InventoryPurchases specific ad impressionsPurchases ad inventory in bulk from multiple sources
TargetingGranular targeting based on real-time dataAutomated targeting based on audience profiles
IntegrationTypically integrated with Supply Side Platforms (SSPs) or ad exchangesIntegrates with multiple ad exchanges and SSPs
CostBidding system determines ad priceAutomated bidding and price determination based on data
EfficiencyEfficient use of ad spendStreamlined buying and selling of ad inventory
ScaleLarge-scale ad campaignsLarge-scale ad campaigns
BenefitsHighly targeted ads and cost efficiencyAutomated buying/selling, audience targeting, and optimization of ad spend

RTB focuses more on real-time auction-based bidding, whereas DSPs automate buying ad inventory from multiple sources. RTB offers granular targeting based on real-time data, while DSPs rely on automated targeting based on audience profiles.

Header Bidding vs. Real-time Bidding

Header bidding is a part of real-time bidding, so it doesn’t make sense to differentiate between them. Just like real-time bidding brought improvements to programmatic buying, header bidding was an improvement to RTB. 

 Real-time BiddingHeader Bidding
1It’s a part of Programmatic Buying.It’s a part of real-time bidding.
2It improved the process of programmatic buying.It improved the process of real-time bidding.
3It solved the inefficiencies of selling inventory in bulk to multiple ad networks.It solved the inefficiencies of the waterfall model.
4It provided better targeting.It provided increased revenue for publishers and better targeting for media buyers. 
5The latency in serving ads is higher as the bidding can be sequential.The latency in ad serving decreased once simultaneous bidding started.
5Bidders had to wait for their turns.No waiting was needed by the bidders.
6Lower revenue for publishers.Higher revenue for publishers.
7It was ideal only for remnant inventory.Even premium inventory can be sold for higher rates.


The future of Real-Time Bidding (RTB) in the adtech industry looks promising. With the increasing demand for programmatic advertising and the rise of digital ad spending, RTB is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.

According to recent studies, the RTB industry is projected to reach a market value of over $50 billion by 2028.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in RTB are also expected to improve ad targeting, leading to higher conversion rates and ROI for advertisers. Furthermore, integrating RTB with other ad tech technologies like Header Bidding and Programmatic Direct will enhance its capabilities and drive its adoption. As the ad tech industry continues to evolve and innovate, RTB is set to remain a key player in the programmatic advertising landscape.


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