Digital advertising and all its forms have been hot topics in the advertising world — and will continue to be. Types of digital advertising quickly change and evolve — each with its own definition and guideline for how it should be used. Oftentimes, advertisers will interchange the definitions or not have a clear understanding of how the different types of digital media can help their business.

Earlier this year, the Two Rivers Marketing media team set out to define the different types of digital ad placements. What we found through our research is that each type has many definitions. We complied all of those definitions and turned them into our own easy-to-understand digital advertising cheat sheet. In fact, we’ve already added to the list and anticipate it will continue to change over the years to come.


Ad Exchange (aka ad auction, ad bidding) — An online marketplace for advertisers to buy and sell digital ad space. Common purchase is via real-time auctions.

Ad Network — A company that that has deals with websites, publishers and advertisers to sell ad space across the Web. An ad network is required if advertisers are not going direct to the publisher.

Ad Server (aka third party ad serve) — Company that has the technology to relay an ad buy to a network of websites and report back on how the ads performed. An ad server is an online tool that can help manage and report the media campaigns.

Behavioral Targeting — Showing/presenting ads to Web users based on the types of sites they visit.

Click Tag — A parameter used specifically for Flash banner ads. A click tag enables an ad server to gain metrics for things such as amount of clicks, which websites the clicks have been made, etc.

Cookie — Simple identifier that is placed on a Web user’s Internet browser to track the sites they visit.

Geotargeting — Showing ads to people based on their location. For mobile, this requires the device’s location services to be enabled. For standard computers, the IP address can be utilized. This type of targeting can also be used by leveraging ZIP code information they have used when registering for a site/service on their device.

Geofencing — A type of Geotargeting. Virtual “fences” can be established for push notifications based on a defined geographical area. This is an opt-in method where the user has requested push notifications by a company/brand based on the GPS location of their mobile device.

In-stream (aka sponsored content, promoted content) — Type of ad that appears within a piece of content. Examples are social media–sponsored posts as well as sponsored space on websites or search portals such as

Native Advertising — Form of paid media where the ad format follows a content-based form and function that is consistent with the natural site content experience.

Pay-Per Click (aka PPC, RTB) — Advertising model that essentially pays for each time an ad is clicked and drives traffic to the advertiser’s website. Most common PPC is through search engines by bidding/paying for a product or brand to be advertised in conjunction with specific search terms and results.

Pixel — A piece of code placed on website pages that essentially trigger a cookie to be placed. The pixel and cookie work in conjunction to “tag” a Web user to allow for online retargeting through digital ads.

Programmatic Media Buying — Refers to any online media buying: It’s a catch-all term that includes numerous types of media placements ranging from digital display to social media ads to real-time bidding.

Programmatic Direct (aka publisher direct) — Ads purchased directly with the publisher through the buyer.

Programmatic Reserved — An automated ad buy that is only open/available to a specific set of advertisers. This restriction is set by the publisher.

Programmatic Non-Reserved — Typical and most common automated buy. Similar to an open auction where any advertiser can bid and buy ad space that’s available.

Query String — The main use of query string is to contain the content of an HTML form. A query string carriers the field data that is submitted in a form.

Real-Time Bidding (RTB) — Purchase and sale of ads through computer-run auctions that happen in milliseconds. This happens through an ad exchange (see definition above).

Retargeting — Showing an ad to a person who visited your website (and was cookied) while that person is visiting another site.

Short Message Service (SMS) — The text messaging service component of phone, Web or mobile communication systems. SMS marketing refers to the dialogue between a company and its customers.

Social Advertising — Placements on social networks (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) that rely on profile or behavioral information to generate, target and deliver ads to users.

Unique-User/Device ID — Identifier assigned to a device or user that lasts until the device is reset or the account is deleted. For example, Apple and Google create advertising-specific device IDs for every device running iOS and Android respectively.

Viewability — Measuring an ad to make sure that half of it appears on a device screen for at least two seconds. This is fluid but seems to be where the industry is heading to qualify it as an impression.

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