So you’re thinking of trying out targeted display (retargeting) and you want to know: “On what sites will my ads appear?”

I actually hear this question a lot. And that’s to be expected based on what advertisers understand about display advertising before programatic buying and RTB (Real Time Bidding). So here’s my best answer.

Most DSPs (demand side platforms – basically, the companies that sell targeted display) work with several different exchanges that represent thousands of websites – or said another way – a huge percentage of the world wide web. And most publishers who are unable to sell out their guaranteed inventory (nearly every publisher) sends a portion of their inventory into the real time bidding networks.


That means that your targeted display ads have the potential to show up on just about any site that sells display and participates in RTB. If you really wanted to know where your ads might appear, you could just surf the web, find sites with banner ads, and create a list of sites where our ads might appear.

But as you can guess, because there are so many publishers using RTB, there’s a very small chance that your ads would actually appear on any list you come up with. There are simply too many sites participating for you to get lucky enough to figure out which ones will end up running your ads.

And here’s the most important part of the equation – – – it doesn’t even matter. What I mean is, it doesn’t matter what sites the DSPs target because what they’re really interested in is the user. If the user is in Mexico City, and that’s the city you’re targeting, who cares if he’s surfing on or or some random blog that you and I have never heard of. If he has shown interest in your products and services, that’s reason enough to serve ads to him on whatever sites he is on.

If you were to compare targeted display to billboard advertising, it might look something like this: instead of placing your billboard on the most popular highway in Mexico City, the billboard company would find all the users who are interested in your products and services and put billboards in front of them on whatever roads they drove, highways and remote little roads alike. Does that make sense? (Of course that would be impossible with billboards, but is done every day with targeted display.)

So instead of trying to figure out which sites on which your ad might appear, try to understand how targeted display works. Know that it’s the authentic audience you are targeting, not the individual web properties.

Thanks for reading.

David McBee