GDN vs. DV360: Choosing The Right Display Media Platform

Google offers several different choices when it comes to display media. The most common choice for marketers who are already committed to SEM and want to tap into display reach is Google Display Network (GDN). The alternative choice is Google’s demand-side platform (DSP), DV360, to programmatically buy media in real-time. Many marketers have a difficult time choosing which platform to run their campaigns. This post will teach you about basic differences between the offerings and capabilities both platforms provide to help you decide which route to take when running display media.

What is GDN?

GDN is an ad network that allows you to run display ads on Google inventory. Through the GDN, you can target users using topics, keywords, in-market audiences, and affinity audiences. In-market and affinity audiences are captured using Google behavioral data. In-market audiences are composed of users who are actively searching a product or service, whereas affinity audiences have displayed an overall interest in a product or service over a long-term time period. These targeting options make it simple for you to create custom segments and form remarketing audiences.

What is DV360?

DV360 is a DSP used to buy and optimize media across ad exchanges. DV360 also taps into Google inventory, but the platform also accesses non-operated Google inventory though 50+ supply sources, such as Smaato and PubMatic. Through DV360, you can target users using the same tactics as GDN-with the addition of first-party and third-party data segments. First-party data is data collected from your audience, such as converters, and third-party data are segments from data providers such as BlueKai and eXelate that are bought at a CPM price. These targeting options allow you to create combined audiences across custom Google segments, along with first and third party data. DV360 also has a direct integration with DCM, Google’s ad server, for hosting ads, presenting visibility in user cookie overlap, and audience discovery reports. DCM assists DV360 in providing deeper insights for marketing dollars.

Differences between GDN & DV360

Advertising on GDN and DV360 differs significantly, especially regarding reach and scale, transparency, targeting, performance and cost, and flexibility.

1. Reach & Scale

GDN is more of the middleman representative between advertisers and publishers, and only has access to serving on Google’s partner sites, which covers approximately 70% of the web. GDN serves approximately 10 billion impressions per week. On the contrary, DV360 can access more than 90% of sites, including AdX inventory; the platform serves about 90 billion impressions per day.

2. Transparency

Fees are integrated for both GDN and DV360, but play out differently for both platforms. In DV360, you have the ability to view and adjust all the fees of the campaign. In GDN, the same fees exist, but you are fixed into the desired CPM or CPC. Additionally, the transparency on audience segments is not that in-depth for GDN. They are general and less descriptive, whereas DV360 provides specific information per segment. DV360 also gives marketers the ability to create Private Marketplace (PMP) deals with publishers for priority access to premium inventory.

3. Targeting

The standard targeting for GDN involves individual sites, page category, interest category, and keywords. It is also common to layer on targeting tactics within an ad group. For DV360, the standard targeting includes first or third party data segments, ad environments, markets, and demographics. Layering multiple types of targeting within a line item restricts scale; best practices for targeting in DV360 are layering one or two types of targeting per line item for testing purposes and to maximize scale.

4. Performance & Cost

DV360 typically buys off a CPM (cost per thousand) model, but can also mimic GDN’s outcome based CPC model. Both DV360 and the GDN typically use CPA (cost per acquisition) to measure direct performance. With DV360, universal pixels are placed on the site to create retargeting audiences and track both click-through and view-through conversions. You can also optimize towards other metrics like viewability for prospecting to make sure your ads are in-view of a consumer while surfing the web.


Overall, DV360 is generally a more flexible platform for creative, frequency, and optimization purposes. DV360 can run the same ad sizes GDN can, however, it can also tap into custom creative to drive better performance over more of a variety of metrics. Additionally, unlike GDN, DV360 allows you to set line item frequency caps at a very granular level (i.e. per day, hour, or minute). It is common in the DV360 platform to optimize dimensions, such as campaign frequency, creative size, day of week, and time of day, to improve performance and successfully achieve the desired KPI.

It’s important to know in which situations to utilize DV360 rather than GDN. GDN would be the preferred platform if marketers are only interested in scaling across Google inventory with utilizing Google data. If marketers with larger budgets are interested in consolidating media buys, leveraging new inventory, creating private marketplace deals with premium publishers, or retargeting users anywhere on the web, running on DV360 is a good option. If you’re looking to grow your budgets and prioritize transparency, flexibility, and targeting, DV360 will give you the tools to do so. However, if you have lower display budgets, and are less concerned about control and granularity, GDN would be the platform for you.

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