Digital advertising is like getting a new iPhone. By the time you upgrade, Apple is putting out a newer, more advanced phone. Sure, you can stick to your old ways — clinging to the past like a piranha. But eventually you will become less savvy as the world advances. You’ll fall into a point of no return, like people who still have AOL email accounts.

Technological advances have completely reshaped the way we as digital advertisers think. Even the way we define our digital media terms and processes is changing. It can be hard to keep up with the constant evolution. To lend a hand to the marketing community, I have comprised a list of digital advertising definitions every marketer should know.

Ad Exchange (also known as ad auction or 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 (also known as a third party ad serve) — A 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 — The practice of targeting and serving ads to groups of people who exhibit similarities not only in their location, gender, or age, but also in how they act and react online. This involves tracking and targeting specific subjects, content, and shopping categories that consumers have registered themselves or requested automatic updates and information from.

Blacklist — A list of domains that an advertiser will not permit their ads to be placed on. These sites usually contain content that does not align with the advertiser’s brand image. The opposite of this is whitelist.

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 on, etc.

Click-Through Rate (CTR) — A metric that measures the number of clicks an ad gets per number of impressions. Clicks / Impressions = CTR. For example, if 10,000 people see your ad and 20 people click your ad, your CTR is 0.2%.

Conversion— An action that’s counted when someone interacts with your ad (clicks, video views) and then takes an action that you’ve defined as valuable to your business. This includes online purchases or a calls to your business from a mobile phone.

Cookie — An information file stored on a user’s computer by a website as an identifier. Cookies are often used to manage user preferences to increase personalization on websites.


Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA) — The measurement of the cost of acquiring a customer who clicks on a website link or completes any action — in other words, the return on marketing investment. Cost / Acquisitions = CPA

Demand-Side Platform (DSP) —  A tool used to manage the buying of digital advertisements  by putting all of a programmatic partner’s available sites on one interface that allows for advertising space to be bid on.

First-Party Data — First-party data is generated when a cookie is placed on a website by the owner (publisher) so that the owner can recognize return visitors to the website.

Geotargeting — Delivery of ads specific to the geographic location of the searcher. For mobile, this requires the device’s location services to be enabled. For standard computers, the IP address can be utilized. Geo-targeting allows the advertiser to specify where ads will or won’t be shown based on the searcher’s location, enabling more localized and personalized results.

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 — The ad format most commonly connected to digital video and similar to a TV commercial viewing experience.


Lookalike Audience — A targeting option for paid media where you can target users who are similar to your existing target audience. This will help increase awareness, consideration, and conversion.

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


Optimization — A method of improving campaign performance through automated and/or manual means.


Pixel — A piece of code placed on landing pages that 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 — The use of technology to automate and optimize the ad buying process in real-time.

Programmatic Direct (also known as direct-to-publisher) — Ads purchased directly with the publisher through the buyer.

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

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

Quality Score — A search engine’s rating of the relevance and quality of keywords used in SEM campaigns. It is largely determined by the expected CTR, the relevance of ad copy, landing page quality and relevance, and other factors.

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

Retargeting — A form of marketing used to find previous website visitors by using ads to lead visitors back to the website. This allows marketers to target users who have already been to your site and have experience with your brand or service.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) — An advertising model that pays for each time an ad is clicked and drives traffic to the advertiser’s website. Most common SEM is through search engines by bidding/paying for a product or brand to be advertised in conjunction with specific search terms and results.

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.

Third-Party Data — Generated when a cookie is placed on a website by a third-party, such as an ad server or data provider. Information from these cookies is collected and can be used to place users in one or more segments, based on their online activity. These cookies are used to target advertisements and segment audiences.

Unique-User/Device ID — An 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.

Whitelist — A list of websites that an advertiser will permit its ads to be placed on. Websites not on this list will not be used to display ads for the advertiser. The opposite of this is blacklist.

Win Rate — The number of impressions won over the number of impressions bid.

About Two Rivers Marketing

Two Rivers Marketing is a full-service business-to-business (B2B) marketing communications agency. Email us with your thoughts or questions at blog@2rm.com.