Skip to main content ↓
Promotional webpage with the message 'Get more from your ads' above a graphic of a laptop displaying an advertising performance dashboard.

What is Real-Time Bidding? Beginner’s Guide to RTB

Transcript: Two dollars going once…going twice…sold to the highest bidder! Hey there! You might have guessed it, but in this video, we’re going to be discussing real-time bidding in advertising. What is real-time bidding?

How does real-time bidding work? 

Keep watching to find out. 

What is real-time bidding?

Real-time Bidding Definition: Real-time bidding (RTB) is an automated digital auction process that allows advertisers to bid on ad space from publishers on a cost-per-thousand-impressions, or CPM, basis. 

What is Cost Per Thousand (CPM)?

CPM is what you pay for one thousand people to see your ad.  Like an auction, the highest bid from relevant ads will typically win the ad placement.

What is real-time bidding in marketing? The process

The RTB process occurs in milliseconds before a website even loads. You won’t even notice it happening! That’s faster than I can even say this sentence!  RTB in advertising is a part of the programmatic advertising process. It involves three platforms for ad buying: 

  1. Supply-side platforms (SSPs)
  2. Ad exchanges
  3. Demand-side platforms (DSPs)

These different platforms work together to get ads in front of the user.  Before explaining how the different platforms work together for real-time bidding, let’s talk about what each platform does. 

What is a demand-side platform?

A demand-side platform allows an advertiser to buy ad space and manage their ads. It’s a place for advertisers, who have a demand for ad space.   An example of a demand-side platform would be Google Ads Google ads homepage

What is an ad exchange?

In between the advertiser and the publisher is the ad exchange.  You can think of the ad exchange like a market with vendors and buyers.  Here, you have a ton of ads waiting to be bought and sold to the most relevant and highest bids. Google Ad Manager includes an ad exchange, formerly known as DoubleClick Ad Exchange.      scrolling gif of google ads homepage

What is a supply-side platform? 

A supply-side platform is what publishers or website owners use to help them sell their ad space to advertisers. Publishers use the supply-side platform to supply the space for ads. Google Ad Manager also includes a supply-side platform, known previously as DoubleClick for Publishers. 

How does real-time bidding work?

The RTB process starts with you.

When you click a link to go to a site, real-time bidding begins.

  1. When you arrive at a site, before the page loads, the site’s publisher sends available ad space dimensions to the supply-side platform.
  2. Then, the supply-side platform looks at your cookies. This is data from your web activity, your interests, demographics, and more. This data helps determine what ad would be relevant to you. 
  3. Next, the demand-side platform assigns a value to the user and places a bid on the ad space based on that information. 
  4. Just a reminder, this happens between the time you click on a search result and the page loads.
  5. Finally, the supply-side platform receives the bids and picks a winner based on the highest and most relevant bid. 

Once an ad gets chosen, the website loads, and you see the winning ad on your screen.  That’s a lot of complex steps in a short period.  I’ve never been to an auction that operated that quickly, for sure.  Let’s put this into perspective. 

Say you run an automotive business that sells parts for sports cars, and you want to use real-time bidding to get your company’s name in front of people looking to buy new parts for their car.  You set your targeting options and your budget. Someone in your target audience who frequently researches parts for sports cars visits a popular racing blog that just so happens to have ad space. If your ad has the winning bid, it will be on that website in front of someone interested in what you’re selling. 

You’re able to target an ultra-specific audience with real-time bidding, which can help you deliver an excellent ROI for your business.

How much does real-time bidding cost?

The cost of RTB varies, depending on other bids and what you’re targeting with your ad, like: 

  • Keywords
  • Location
  • Demographics
  • Interests

It’s all about what you want to invest in your ads.  You can pay anywhere from $2500 to upwards of $15,000 for a campaign, but you’re not limited to that range. Keep in mind that real-time bidding operates on a CPM basis, so your bid can be something like $1 or $2.

You control your budget with real-time bidding. 

Benefits of real-time bidding

Here are our top benefits of real-time bidding:

  • It saves you time: RTB can save you valuable time when it comes to your ad campaigns. The process is automated, so once you’ve set your parameters, you let it work for you.
  • It’s cost-efficient: Real-time bidding is also cost-efficient because you set your budget. Google used programmatic advertising, for example, and saw their CPM decrease by 30%.
  • It ensures that your ad is relevant: With real-time bidding, you’re also making sure your ad is relevant to the user. You’re not spending money on people who have zero interest in your business.

Still want to know more about real-time bidding?

So those are the basics of real-time bidding. If you still have questions about real-time bidding, real-time bidding advertising, or even just the definition of real-time bidding, WebFX is here to help. Feel free to give us a call at 888-601-5359or contact us online if you’re interested in starting your own campaign! If you liked this video, check out another one of our digital advertising videos: What is Digital Advertising?  Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for videos covering a TON of digital marketing topics.  See you soon!

Try our free Marketing Calculator

Craft a tailored online marketing strategy! Utilize our free Internet marketing calculator for a custom plan based on your location, reach, timeframe, and budget.

Plan Your Marketing Budget
Marketing Budget Calculator