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What Is Real-Time Bidding (RTB)?

Real-Time Bidding (RTB) is a digital advertising process that allows for buying and selling online ad impressions through real-time auctions. These auctions occur when it takes a webpage to load (typically a fraction of a second), and the highest bidder gets to display their ad.

RTB is part of the programmatic advertising landscape, which involves automating the ad-buying process. Advertising technology platforms facilitate it, primarily Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs) for advertisers and Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs) for publishers.

Here's a simplified step-by-step of how RTB works:

  1. Ad Opportunity. When a user visits a webpage with ad space available for real-time bidding, the webpage sends a bid request to an ad exchange. This request includes information about the user (such as their location, demographic details, and browsing history) and the webpage (such as the content, ad size, and location).
  2. Auction. The ad exchange takes this information and holds an auction among advertisers interested in showing an ad to that specific user profile. Through their DSP, each advertiser submits a bid, which is the maximum amount they're willing to pay to display their ad.
  3. Winning the Bid. The advertiser who places the highest bid wins the auction, and their ad is displayed on the webpage. The winning advertiser pays the price of the second-highest bid plus $0.01, a process known as a second-price auction. This ensures that the winning advertiser pays slightly more than necessary to win.

The entire RTB process is automated and takes place in milliseconds, between when a user clicks on a webpage and when the page finishes loading.

The benefits of RTB include efficiency, precision targeting, real-time analytics, and cost-effectiveness. Advertisers can bid on and purchase individual ad impressions, allowing for highly targeted, personalized ads, and they only pay what they believe each impression is worth. At the same time, publishers can sell their ad inventory to the highest bidder, maximizing their ad revenue.

However, like any technology, RTB comes with challenges, including concerns around user privacy, ad fraud, and brand safety.

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