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Programmatic Advertising for Law Firms: A Plain English Guide to Real-Time Bidding (RTB)

by Talia Schwartz • June 3rd, 2021 • Digital Marketing | Blog

Programmatic Advertising for Law FirmsProgrammatic advertising continues to be a popular strategy for law firm marketers. Programmatic ad buying technology is highly targeted, less expensive, and more transparent than traditional advertising. That being said, programmatic advertising and Real Time Bidding (RTB) concepts can be confusing, and therefore intimidating to many law firm professionals. Here, we’ll cover the basics of this method of purchasing advertising inventory online. 

What is Real-Time Bidding? 

RTB is a type of programmatic advertising that involves the buying and selling of ad impressions in an auction-style bidding process. Transactions happen quickly – in only the time it takes for a web page to load. 

Before we dive into RTB, let’s cover a few basics.

An “impression” is each time an ad is shown on a user’s screen, and it’s the currency used in this type of advertising. Publishers are the websites and mobile apps that display the advertising, and they charge for a set of impressions (typically per 1,000 impressions that an ad gets). This is known as Cost Per Mille (CPM) and advertisers place their bids based on the value of each impression. The value is determined by evaluating users against targeting parameters (which we’ll cover below). 

Do Real-Time Bidding Platforms Exist? 

There are no such platforms because real-time bidding is a method of buying impressions, not a channel. Since this can be kind of confusing, let’s compare these concepts to a car auction. For example, say you want to buy a car. If you hire someone to attend a car auction for you, that’s a demand-side platform (DSP). The individual who puts the car up for auction is the publisher, and the place where the auction is held is the marketplace. When you see something you like and raise your hand to bid, that’s the real-time bidding process. 

Therefore, to purchase ad inventory using RTB, you need to use a DSP – a media buying platform on the advertiser’s side that facilitates the purchase of ad campaigns and tracks its performance.

The Real-Time Bidding Algorithm

Before we dig into the algorithm, let’s talk about the elements involved. On the advertiser side, marketers use a DSP to create campaigns. Publishers use supply-side platforms (SSP) to list their ad spaces (or inventory) and the associated prices. SSPs will have minimum bid requirements in order for the publisher to maximize how much their ad space sells for. The difference is that DSPs are for marketers and SSPs are for publishers. The DSP and SSP will “meet” at the ad exchange, or the marketplace where real-time bidding will take place. 

To help them know which ad inventory to bid on, advertisers set targeting parameters. For example, your firm might only want to advertise to users who have recently visited their website (retargeting) or find users with very specific demographic and psychographic attributes. In this way, DSPs help advertisers by evaluating ad potential in real time and determining whether or not to bid and for how much.

In a real-life example, let’s say that your firm is offering a new practice area and wants to run a campaign. Your marketers set up a programmatic advertising campaign on a DSP and want to target a certain geographic area in a specific age range. A user visits a publishers site, and the SSP sends a bid request to the ad exchange where the DSP will evaluate the value of one impression. If the user meets the targeting parameters your law firm set up, the DSP will submit a bid. If the bid wins, the user will see an ad once the web page loads. Over the course of the overall campaign, this process will happen thousands of times.

Benefits of Real-Time Bidding in Programmatic Advertising

The RTB process offers several advantages, including: 

  • Better tracking – Law firm marketers can monitor their campaigns without a third-party vendor. Marketers can simply pull info from their DSP. That means you can make informed decisions and quickly alter campaigns if needed. 
  • Improved targeting – Since RTB purchases one impression at a time, every single website or mobile visitor is evaluated (in milliseconds). Their particular profile is assessed to see if they are a good fit for your law firm’s advertising campaign. This is very helpful in ensuring your ads reach the right people at the right time. 
  • Cost-effective – The RTB algorithm offers precise targeting and the ability to spend on high-value impressions. That means your spend should experience a higher ROI. Plus, RTB takes a lot of the manual effort out of online advertising, which frees up resources. 

Challenges of Real-Time Bidding

As beneficial as RTB can be when it comes to programmatic advertising for law firms, there are a few things to be aware of in order to advertise effectively and efficiently. For one thing, where your ad shows up is very important because consumers judge brands based not only on their ads but on surrounding content. There is always a risk that your ad will appear on a site with content that you’d rather not be associated with. Additionally, ad fraud costs digital advertisers billions. Some unethical publishers might fabricate impressions to steal from advertisers.The increased use of bots can also cause firms to gather inaccurate data on campaigns. It’s important to choose a DSP with fraud detection software. 

Related: 7 Key Programmatic Advertising Trends Law Firms Should Know


Though it sounds complicated, RTB can actually make law firm digital advertising faster and easier. Legal marketers are able to skip much of the “back and forth” exchanges and focus on monitoring results to optimize campaigns. 

If your firm would like to pull the lever and make the switch to programmatic real-time ad buying, contact us for help today.


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