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How to Choose a DSP for Programmatic Advertising: Top 5 DSPs

Apr 22, 202412 min read
Stepan Krokhmal
Stepan Krokhmal, AdTech Writer

To DSP or not to DSP, that is the question… This one is hardly an accurate (or grammatically correct) Shakespearean quote, but that fact doesn’t undermine the DSP dilemma.

We all know how dominant programmatic advertising is. Buying and selling ads has never been easier; we see that, and our natural ad player instinct to keep up with the competition whispers, “We need a DSP.”

Ok, but which one? Among dozens of competitors, each advertising a sea of features, it’s difficult to make a clear choice. Don’t fret; as always, Epom is here to help. Let’s discuss what makes a programmatic DSP, which features it should have, and whether or not you need one!

What Is Programmatic DSP: Short Course

Yeah, yeah, we’ve explained the DSP, programmatic advertising, and their satellites about ten times already, but ignoring this crucial part is not an option either. So, if you already know the basics, feel free to skip to the next heading.

Simply put, a Demand-Side Platform is an automated platform for programmatically buying ad traffic and creating, managing, and optimizing advertising campaigns.

If we go deeper, a DSP is an RTB-based software, an element of the programmatic ad tech stack (later on that).

The primary purpose is easy to grasp; a demand-side programmatic platform lets advertisers, ad agencies, and ad networks “buy ad inventory from multiple sources automatically.”

The second main goal of a DSP is uniting all media buying activities in one place, the platform user has access to analytics, optimization tools, and placement customization options.

DSP vs SSP: Programmatic Clash

“Wait a minute, if there’s a handy and easy-to-use platform for buying ads, shouldn’t there be one for selling them?” – There is! And its name is John Cena supply-side platform.

Just like Goku & Vegeta and Sherlock & Moriarty, DSP & SSP are both so similar, yet so different. Dumb allegories aside, a supply-side platform is an automated ad tech platform that publishers use to manage, sell, and optimize the ad inventory of their mobile apps or websites.

Just like DSPs, modern SSPs also help with effective campaign management and revenue optimization, but for publishers, not for advertisers.

Obviously, if you’re looking for a DSP, you need to buy ad placements, not sell them, so you hardly need one.

How Does DSP Programmatic Media Buying Work?

As mentioned, programmatic works with the help of real-time bidding auctions. This means that you, as an advertiser (or any other ad business), use a DSP to bid for an ad slot simultaneously with the others. The highest bidder wins, the auction happens in a literal blink of an eye.

Didn’t get it? Here’s a nice schema that explains how the programmatic auction happens:

  1. The user clicks on the site, and the RTB auction triggers.
  2. The site sends an ad request to the publisher’s platform (SSP) if there’s an opportunity to show this visitor an ad.
  3. The SSP collects the visitor’s data and analyzes whether there is suitable ad space. Let’s assume the publisher needs to fill a medium rectangle ad slot.
  4. The ad exchange helps to send this data to DSPs who want to place a medium rectangle ad.
  5. Based on the pre-set targeting options, the programmatic DSPs bid on impressions.
  6. Three hypothetical advertisers have CPMs of $3.50, $4.00, and $3.70. Ad exchange has determined the second to be the highest CPM, so their bid wins and has an ad placement on the publisher’s website.
How Programmatic Auction Works

Do You Need a Programmatic DSP for Advertising?

Kind of a strange question in the middle of the “How to choose a DSP ” article, ain’t it? This piece wouldn’t be different from dozens of others if we didn’t look at the programmatic situation from a different angle.

Right now, the answer to the question in the heading is “Yes, yes, definitely yes!” If you’re an advertiser, ad agency, or ad network, there is no way to roll and be effective in programmatic advertising without a DSP. Reading this article still makes sense🧐

But what about programmatic in general? You see, being a dynamic environment, the ad tech is bound to change a lot in the next 5-10 years or so.

For example, Google’s Privacy Sandbox, the company’s alternative to third-party cookies, will rebalance the roles, making the user’s browser the center of data operations. Supposedly, DSP’s fundamental features like frequency capping or data-driven buying will make less sense because the browser will already have this functionality or present even a more private alternative.

DSP Programmatic Choice Meme

Why rant about all of this? The technology is still a must, but in our next recommendations on DSP in programmatic, we’ll concentrate on its future-proof aspects and unique features that won’t leave you behind in any possible scenario.

Which Demand Side Platform Should You Choose for Programmatic: Platform Types Clash

Now for the fun part! Let’s choose the most balanced DSP type out of a myriad of options.

Round 1. Stack Model

In-house vs Outsource vs Hybrid Stack Model

There are three ways to implement programmatic media buying. You can either:

  • In-house

Create your own proprietary DSP + form an in-house media buying team = have a fully independent programmatic solution.

  • Hybrid

Form an in-house advertising team + subscribe to 3rd party vendor’s tech stack = have a bit less independent, but much more affordable and maintainable solution.

  • Outsource

This one’s an option that doesn’t have the benefits of the ones above, but it’s great for advertisers who don’t want to spend all the time in the world on finding programmatic specialists and discovering all the intricacies of ad tech solutions.

It’s not difficult to guess which is the winner, in our opinion. Full in-housing is the most complete option, but it’s accessible only to multi-million corporations with top-notch workers. If you’re googling “How to choose a DSP,” you probably aren’t one, but don’t worry, neither of us is.

A hybrid platform is easy to afford, easy to maintain, and easy to control. The quality depends on the provider, sure, but there are plenty of good ones. Plus, if the asteroid falls on every DSP programmatic company in existence, you can simply cancel your subscription.

Now for the next round.

Round 2. White-label vs Self-serve

Subscription Model DSP Programmatic

A self-serve DSP is a classic representation of the “DSP.” It’s a programmatic platform for automated media buying with all the basic options of uploading creatives, adjusting settings, and setting your campaign off. The tech is (usually) free, but in return, you pay a large margin for every ad placement.

A white-label DSP is a less straightforward programmatic concept. You subscribe to a blank, ready-to-use, “white-label” platform and use it as your own. As a result, you get all the goodies like platform customization, more advanced features, and support.

main image

Why choose a white-label DSP as your main programmatic platform? Don’t make haste decisions; we don’t think self-serves are “bad.” They are perfect for programmatic-curious, those who don’t take all this tech stack deathmatch seriously and just want some tech to stay competitive.

It’s a different story with a white-label DSP. This programmatic technology requires commitment and a general understanding of what’s going on. And it rewards this commitment with independent and affordable ad placement.

What Are the Main Components of a Good DSP?

Okay, we chose a hybrid in-housing approach with a white-label (optionable, but preferable) DSP as our programmatic weapon; that’s good.

However, trust us, there are many of those in the ad tech wilds; the features is what distinguishes good products from mediocre. Let’s define what we find especially important in a product to later discover the winners of our DSP clash.

# 1. Usable UI
No matter how rich in analytics, reporting, and features the DSP is, it all just doesn’t make sense when the colors mismatch and the placement settings are hard to find.

The problem is that most DSPs (ours included) have crappy UI; that’s just how it goes with such complex technology. That’s why we called this criteria “usable UI,” not a “good” one 🙂

# 2. SSP Avaliability
A good programmatic DSP has to support a variety of SSPs to choose from. It’s kinda straightforward: the more places to buy traffic – the better offers you could find.

Ideally, a DSP should have an option of setting up custom endpoints, but few advertisers actually use it, so we won’t be too harsh on the products that don’t feature one.

# 3. Ad Formats
You’d be surprised how few DSP programmatic solutions have a decent amount of supporting ad formats. If the product doesn’t have the basics like native, video, or any rich media, we can’t include it on our list of the best. A custom ad format builder is a great plus, too.

# 4. Bidding Rules/Multipliers
Yeah, yeah, if you’ve been around, you know that bidding rules in some form or other auto-optimization features are hardly a rarity in this type of product. Still, there is a varying degree of how much the bidding rules actually work.

# 5. Roles & Permissions
Having a root admin account with an option to give less powerful accounts makes little sense for the average advertiser, but it’s a must-have feature for an ad network or an ad agency. We just can’t sleep on this one.

Top 5 DSPs for Programmatic Advertising

Best Programmatic DSPs

First of all, don’t consider this one to be a top, but rather a list of high-quality products that you should consider when opting for a DSP.

Secondly, nobody paid us for promotion (unfortunately), so each of these will have their list of pros & cons. Let’s go!

  1. Bidmind

Bidmind is a rather good self-serve DSP for programmatic that has numerous customization options and an accessible tutorial.


  • CTV focus – BidMind has a strong focus on CTV programmatic campaigns;
  • Smart onboarding – BidMind offers an in-built DSP tutorial, chat support, and a free trial;
  • Extensive customization – logo, custom login URL, custom colors, and custom platform set-up.
  • Single-pixel cross-device targeting;
  • Data solutions – supports 1st party client data and 3rd party LiveRamp data, providing valuable targeting options;
  • Integration variety – offers integration with numerous networks and platforms, including Adx, AdColony, Magnite, Amazon, and more, enabling advertisers to access a wide range of inventory sources;


  • Custom pricing and the final fee appear to be very high.
  • Lack of rich media formats – limits the creative options.
  • No custom SSP connections – limits the reach and variety of inventory sources available.
  • Basic website and poor tone of voice.
  • No info about admin panel, so we can’t make any conclusions about the level of control, user management, Request validator, Billing settings, or Traffic quality scanning.
  1. Eskimi

Eskimi is a full-stack DSP programmatic platform with one of the best rich media builders we’ve seen so far!


  • Full-stack offering – a comprehensive suite of programmatic services like DSP, DMP, and SSP;
  • Rich Media capability – strong emphasis on rich media and interactive creatives, including animated banners, in-game ads, and rich media interactive ads.
  • Facebook and Google APIs integration – that’s rare;
  • Hybrid approach – hybrid DSP and full-service agency approach, where clients pay only for traffic, coupled with services like ad ops, media planning, and creative development.
  • White-labeling – many flexible customization options;


  • Bidding model limitation – exclusive focus on CPM pricing.
  • Unclear fee policy – no price, no trial, that’s confusing;
  • No custom SSP setup;
  • User control limitation – despite offering sub-account creation, Eskimi keeps ultimate control over the accounts;
  1. SmartyAds

Our fellow Ukrainians can boast a nice-looking full-stack programmatic DSP with good optimization.


  • Extensive WL customization – many white-labeling options tailor the DSP according to the specific needs;
  • Many optimization features – including dynamic bid optimization, Second Price Predictor, and WinRate Optimizer, help to improve ad campaign performance and get higher ROI.
  • Full-stack offer – offers both DMP and SSP along with the programmatic DSP, making a comprehensive advertising ecosystem for clients;
  • Extensions – extra modules for additional functionalities;
  • Cross-channel campaigns – easier to reach target audience across multiple platforms and devices;
  • Custom feature development – helps clients to incorporate specific functionalities aligned with their business goals;


  • Pricing complexity – the pricing structure is complex and might be challenging to understand and calculate the costs accurately;
  • No free trial;
  • No multiple conversion tracking;
  • Limited ad formats range – no push or pop formats, no interstitial; also, no dynamic creative optimization (at least we didn’t find one);
  1. AdForm

With an in-house data management platform and impressive targeting, what more could you ask from a self-serve solution?


  • Advanced bidding strategy (CPA) – AdForm's bidding strategy based on CPA optimization can enhance campaign performance by automatically optimizing traffic towards specific CPA goals after gathering 100 conversions;
  • Diverse inventory – a range of ad formats is available, including banners, video, CTV, and DOOH;
  • Rich media constructor – in-built rich media constructor allows making interactive and engaging creatives without coding expertise;
  • Analytics depth – provides detailed analytics with over 100 metrics to gain deep insights into campaign performance across various criteria like device, format, and more;
  • Personal DMP is included;
  • Flexible conversion tracking – supports multiple conversion tracking methods and can integrate with popular attribution platforms like AppsFlyer, Adjust, and Kochava;
  • Regional CTV and DOOH traffic – offers CTV and DOOH inventory, particularly strong in European countries, providing opportunities for targeted regional campaigns;


  • No free trial;
  • Limited demo access – the inability to showcase all features without internal eligibility checks could make it challenging for potential clients to gain a comprehensive understanding of the product's capabilities;
  • Not a white-label programmatic DSP – we’ve talked about how limiting this is;
  • Limited SSP connections – only AdForm's own integrated exchanges and connections via Bidswitch;
  1. EpomDSP

You expected this, didn’t you? That’s a bit of a self-promotion, but we really make a cool product, + we have our set of cons as well.

  • Diverse ad formats – we offer a wide range of ad formats, including display, video, pop-ups, and push notifications, catering to various advertiser needs;
  • Multilayered optimization – included advanced optimization tools like bidding rules, multipliers, and capping, allowing to fine-tune ad campaigns for better performance;
  • Unlimited customization – extensive branding opportunities and powerful API to customize campaigns according to any brand identity;
  • Platform ownership – flexible account setup, permission settings, and admin panel extras, offering more control over campaigns;
  • Custom targeting – 30+ attributes, geofencing, and the use of SSP data for targeting.
  • White-labeling options – you can customize company info, logo, colors, images, text, and its position, etc;
  • Powerful retargeting – the support for pixel/fingerprint retargeting, smart filters, and segmentation enhances the effectiveness of retargeting campaigns;
  • Traffic quality scanning – anti-fraud detection, provided by GeoEdge, ensures high traffic quality and reduces the risk of ad fraud;
  • Free trial and onboarding – the 14-day free trial, along with dedicated onboarding and custom development, helps to get started smoothly;
  • The CPC/CPM bidding model – pricing model alternation in a programmatic DSP for better budget flexibility;
  • Powerful analytics – automated performance tracking and KPI adjustment guarantee valuable insights for optimizing ad campaigns;


  • UX/UI challenges – the user experience and user interface could be more intuitive;
  • The lack of audio and DOOH channels – limits the platform's capabilities in reaching audiences;
  • Limited targeting options – the lack of contextual, behavioral targeting, and partial availability of demographic targeting (only gender and age) might affect advertisers' decisions on buying the platform;
  • No dynamic creative optimization – it limits the ability to personalize and optimize ad creatives based on real-time data;
  • Integration gaps – the lack of significant integration, having DMP and other key tools on board might make Epom not so desired tech stack;

Programmatic DSP Clash Conclusion: Plenty of Choice!

As you might see, there are plenty of good DSP programmatic options to choose from, whether you need a self-serve solution or a white-label one.

Surely, we recommend the latter since it simply gives you more freedom as a brand and plenty of space to grow in the future. And since you’re here, why not check whether Epom’s WL DSP is as good as we state in the comparison? Just apply for the free trial and witness one of the best DSP programmatic solutions!

The essence of the programmatic experience is just one click away!

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