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GDN vs. AdX: Which is right for you?

Joseph Kerschbaum
Joseph Kerschbaum
SVP, Search & Growth Labs
5 min read
8 June 2016

When it comes to display advertising, there is no shortage of inventory sources. There are DSPs and DMPs, ad exchanges and ad networks, and trade desks and site-direct buys.

Most people who have worked in digital media, specifically display advertising, are familiar with the always-evolving landscape and all the different options available.

Because of all these options and choices, unfortunately, there is always the risk of inventory overlap when purchasing millions of impressions across the web. It’s in a website or publisher’s best interests to sell as much inventory as possible, therefore they will often make their inventory available across multiple networks and exchanges. To maximize media dollars and drive efficient ROI metrics, it’s in our best interest to minimize accessing overlap and potentially competing against ourselves.

This brings up a huge point related to a huge player in the display game: Google. What’s the difference between the Google Display Network and AdX, Google’s DoubleClick ad exchange? Isn’t there an inventory overlap there? Should we be buying both, accessing the GDN through AdWords and AdX through DSPs? Won’t we be bidding against ourselves, going after the same customer or ad space – just from different angles? The short answers are: yes there is inventory overlap, and to potentially be present on both.

Truth be told, GDN and AdX are very similar. Both have advantages and disadvantages. The biggest difference is that AdX is the larger of the two, offering more scale and reach in terms of inventory. The GDN’s entire inventory is available in AdX, along with other inventory sources and ad networks. On the other hand, GDN offers some more advanced targeting capabilities. To help decide if you should be using only one or both, I’ve broken out more information (and the pros and cons) of each below.


GDN has been often referred to as Google’s SEM version for display. Google repurposed its AdSense network from the original text-based advertising to a display advertising environment, giving advertisers easy and direct access.


  • GDN is great for advertisers with smaller budgets or advertisers that do not run with a DSP
  • There are no serving fees or platform fees, equating to a better return on investment. All of the money spent goes directly to advertising
  • GDN has a few targeting features that AdX does not at this time. Examples include 100% viewability, CPC bidding, and in-market targeting
  • The stat is always changing, but as of now, ~92% of the web allows advertising in some form with the GDN


  • GDN is technically programmatic buying, but most people do not consider it to be
  • If you have a DSP available, it’s easier to buy and manage AdX and other exchanges that way, since all your campaign management is centralized within the DSP
  • There are always discrepancies with 3rd-party tracking, Omniture, etc.


Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange (referred to as AdX) is the result of Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick in 2007; it provides another way to access display inventory. AdX is an RTB system connecting publishers/sites to agencies, ad networks, and 3 rd -party technology providers in a programmatic way. Through AdX, you can bid on each impression from hundreds of advertising networks.


  • True programmatic buying (it can fit into all your DSPs)
  • More centralized campaign management
  • It should almost be at parity with GDN in terms of targeting features within the year
  • Larger, with more scale and reach than the GDN


  • Often, if you are tapping into AdX, it means you are using a DSP. This means platform fees and other marked-up costs
  • Very technical so should only be bought by experienced advertisers
  • Does not have 100% viewability
  • Have to bid on CPM. They have ways of essentially doing a CPC bid, but it still is a CPM bid

In the end, the answer to whether you should be using one or both options is dependent on specific goals, scale, and needs. An SMB doing advertising in-house may find the GDN an easier, more affordable and accessible option, while a Fortune 100 company would probably use (and have the budget to support) a combination of both the scale that AdX provides and the targeting capabilities of the GDN.

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SVP, Search & Growth Labs

Joseph Kerschbaum