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How to Set Up Your First Programmatic Ad Campaign in 3 Simple Steps

Oct 24, 201914 min read
Kate Novatska
Kate Novatska, AdTech Expert

If the definition of what is programmatic is the “A” in display advertising, the practical skill of creating an ad campaign is the “B”. You can't move any further towards achieving Zen in advertising without mastering the essentials like setting up an ad campaign.

When you've just unlocked the entry level of advertising, the first thing you do is create an ad campaign on a well-known platform like Facebook or Google. As your business grows, you start looking for ways to reach a wider audience and optimize ad spend. Curiosity will also start to pique your interest. You'll start asking yourself, “How do I make an ad campaign outside of familiar networks? Should I discover any alternatives?”

Facebook Ad Manager and some other popular solutions don't allow you to lower the spend in your ad campaign. You end up locked up in the Facebook ecosystem without the ability to serve ads outside of its product family. Google also has its limits — for example, targeting can be not as precise as you wish. And even though their mechanisms can be indeed effective, you'll inevitably stumble upon programmatic advertising as an alternative option.

Programmatic can be the next frontier in your digital advertising strategy. If you master it, the whole web can be conquered by your company, as you can serve your ads on any site or app that decided to opt for monetization.

Big victories start with small steps. Are you ready to learn the basics of how to create a programmatic advertising campaign from scratch? Then let us walk you through the whole process from preparation to optimization.

  • Disclaimer: If you already defined the goal of your ad campaign and have a creative ready, feel free to skip the preparation stage and go to the launch details section straight away.

Step #1 — Preparation

NASA says it takes 8.5 minutes for an average shuttle to reach orbit. For comparison, it takes 18 months to craft a satellite-carrying rocket such as Falcon 9, and over 5 years to build a shuttle that can transport people to the Moon. Launch stage = 8.5 minutes. Preparation stage = 788,401 minutes.

Even though these examples are very similar, creating a programmatic display ad campaign is not rocket science. You don't need to spend 18 months to get yourself ready for launching into programmatic space, but preparation will still take at least 10x more time than a sole ad campaign launch. Before you start examining the platform's dashboard, you need to:

Set Your Advertising Campaign Goals

According to Google, 76% of people mention precise targeting as the most attractive option of programmatic ad campaigns. 73% praise real-time reporting, and 71% are highly satisfied with increased ROI and performance. But it's still nonsense to follow the trend blindly.

Top Draws to Programmatic Buying

It would be best if you had a strong reason behind the launch of your first programmatic campaign. You can only test one for sure, but if you want to make it to at least some degree of success, define what you need to achieve first.

Your advertising goals can be the following but not limited to:

  1. Increasing brand awareness and reach new audiences;
  2. Improving ROI/performance of your ad campaign;
  3. Decreasing an ad spend and obtaining more control over your CPMs;
  4. Automating your media buying activities;
  5. Targeting audiences outside the familiar network;
  6. Get more installs on your apps or more in-app purchases;
  7. Building an in-app or mobile web presence;
  8. Re-targeting existing users on other websites they visit;
  9. Boosting sales, traffic, engagement, or any other advertising metric.

Your advertising goal determines the settings of your future programmatic ad campaign. If you want to increase traffic no matter what, you will choose wider targeting options and a very general message on your creative. And if you're going to decrease your ad spend, you need to select the sources with lower price floors.

Choose the Type of Programmatic Ad Campaign

You can't create an ad campaign without knowing its type. Most programmatic ad tech platforms allow for the traditional banner display, video, native, and in-app campaigns. Each aligns well with some specific advertising goals you could establish in the previous step.

Wondering when to use a banner or if a video is a better choice? Here is what the experts have to say:

Desktop banner icon

Programmatic banner ads are the least effective among other types of programmatic display. The average CTR is 0.35%, which means you need to serve it at least 350 times to get a click. These ads are also the cheapest — the CPM is $2.80 (Google avg., programmatic is lower).

When to use: If you want to build brand awareness and reach the widest possible audience. Also great for retargeting display campaigns.

                         banner icon

Programmatic video ads are in their heyday. The average CTR here peaked among digital ad formats and comprised 1.84%. Despite being more expensive, video ads are 5x more engaging than a traditional display banner.

When to use: If you want to drive better engagement and spark interest in your product.

Native banner icon

Programmatic native ads blend-in content of the website they're shown on. They have an editorial look and therefore are less annoying for the user. Those are viewed 52% more than regular display ads and have an avg. CTR of 0.2%

When to use: If you want to drive new quality traffic to your website.

Mobile banner icon

In-app programmatic ads are a special category of programmatic display campaigns run exclusively in mobile apps. Users spend 86% of their mobile screen time in apps. In-app ads have an avg. CTR of 0.58% compared to 0.23% for mobile browser ads.

When to use: If you want to promote your app via methods of paid mobile user acquisition.

Choose the ad campaign type according to your goals and start crafting a creative. This may take from a couple of hours to a few weeks.

Sign Up for The Right Demand-Side Platform

To “cook” a delicious programmatic ad campaign, you not only need to prepare your ingredients but also, to pick a “pot”. In the case of PPC, the pot is traditionally the Google Ads platform. In the case of Facebook, the pot is Facebook Ad Manager. What is it in the case of programmatic display ads?

The tool that is used by advertisers to create their online advertising campaigns is called the demand-side platform.

A demand-side platform (DSP) is a piece of software that automates media buying through real-time bidding technology. This means that you specify your bid while launching a campaign and then start competing with other advertisers for inventory. The one who placed the highest bid wins the impression.

There are dozens of self-serve demand-side platforms available on the market. Before choosing yours, you need to make sure that your DSP has all of the following:

  1. No platform fee. You can register, place a deposit, and start buying media right away;
  2. Basic targeting options: browser, OS, language, location, IAB category, etc.;
  3. Partnerships with reputable SSPs, at least 15 different sources are available;
  4. Real-time analytics. You can track your ad campaign without delays in reporting;
  5. Live chat with a technical support team;
  6. Support of all major IAB video, banner, and mobile ad formats;
  7. Easy-to-navigate interface, even if you're a newbie;
  8. Data transparency. You have unlimited access to your advertising data.

Epom Market DSP is a nice self-serve DSP pick for both first-timers and seasoned programmatic players, and we suggest you see it for yourself right now.

Step #2 — Launch

Spacesuits are packed, astronauts are ready, and the destination is the nebula of programmatic. Your shuttle is waiting to be launched. This is the moment to learn how to create an advertising campaign and finally kick off the unknown yet rewarding journey.

You can also skip the most of the further reading by watching this Epom DSP overview:

Set CPM and Budget Of Your Advertising Campaign

The best thing about a DSP is that you set a CPM on your own — it's not predetermined by the platform like on Facebook. You pay as much as you can afford (and as much as you deem is sufficient to win the impression).

Basic settings

The average CPM for programmatic ads is around $1.75, according to Epom research. So you can start from somewhere around this value. Later on, you'll test different CPMs and settle for the one which you find the optimal one.

In Epom DSP, you can also set a max bid price. This CPM will be applied if your ad campaign encounters the publisher with a higher price floor than the initial bid. Or, you can leave the value as it is to avoid overpayment.

After setting a CPM, specify the programmatic ad campaign duration by entering the start and end flight dates.

Then, enter limits for impressions and for ad spend. The limits of two types are available: lifetime and daily. So if you are going to make a programmatic ad campaign for 30,000 impressions and $84 for 7 days, you can allocate spend evenly and set 4,300 impressions and $12 as daily limits.

Epom DSP has a counter of impressions and money left to spend. This feature was introduced in our 3.7 demand-side platform update, so don't expect to see this in any DSP on the market.

The next step is adjusting a frequency cap. This parameter implies the number of ad views by the same user. We set the 24-hour cap to a single view per user and limit the monthly views to 10.

Frequency cap helps you to avoid what we call “annoying banners” which are shown to the same user 20 times per day on every website. Some especially “successful” programmatic ads may be displayed several times on the same page:

Example of bad programmatic advertising

To bypass the case of Brafton's programmatic display campaign, always set a reasonable frequency cap.

Define Basic Targeting Options

Any business, even the smallest one, should have clearly marked buyer personas, based on which you define your target audience while setting up an advertising campaign. These personas can reside in a specific location, speak a particular language, and have specific interests. Moreover, you can know more about the browser and OS they use to surf the web.

Guided by the knowledge you already have, you should fill in the gaps in the following fields:

Targeting options

In the ”category“ field, you select an IAB category of your campaign. Those should be aligned with the interests of your leads since the DSP relies on the category while choosing the audience to show your ad.

The next essential fields are language and geo-position. Here you narrow down the audience based on their nationality and location, which is required if you promote some local products. Or, if you want to create a geo-specific programmatic campaign to test various audiences and decide which work best.

You can target different operating systems, browsers, and devices. And for sure, select supply-side platforms you want to receive traffic from. This may require a bit of research, as you may not know which traffic is usually provided by AdColony or Pubmatic.

Let's simulate how we'd make the ad campaign for a mobile productivity app, which is incredibly popular now on the Apple and Google stores. You want to aim this programmatic campaign at residents of Northern Europe who are interested in boosting their personal and business performance.

So here is what we set:

  1. Language

    Language settings
  2. IAB Category

    IAB category settings
  3. Operation System

    Operating systems
  4. Geo Location

    Geo targeting settings
  5. Supply-Side Platform (source of traffic)

    Supply side platform settings

Here we've chosen Inmobi and AdColony, as those SSPs specialize in mobile traffic. We promote a mobile app by creating this ad campaign, so that's why it's reasonable to advertise it on mobile or inside other mobile apps.

Select a Creative Type and Upload

You already know which type of advertising campaign the one you create belongs to. This means you've prepared a creative and all that's left is to upload it and get it ready for the launch. After you finished with ad campaign targeting, you'll be redirected to a page like this:

Creative type icons

Here you specify the type of your campaign defined earlier and move on to creative options.

The first tab is called “basic settings”:

Creative basic settings

Select the type of traffic you want to receive and the device type which this creative is tailored to. Also, you will see that some settings from the previous screen such as bid price, category, and frequency cap are also here. You can put the same values that you use in your RTB campaign or adjust them as you please. In the second case, creative settings will override campaign settings.

When it comes to “category” settings, it's better to choose the same categories. According to our customer success manager experience, random unrelated, or simply different categories in creative and campaign settings may lead to an insufficient amount of traffic coming from SSPs. Categories shouldn't conflict with each other, so make sure they are the same or at least very related.

Next, set up ad markup:

Ad markup

Choose one of the following options:

  • 3rd Party Ad Tag — if you used ad server for media buying before, you may already have a 3rd party ad tag generated by the ad server for your creative. If not, just skip this for now.
  • Creative Library — the best way to add a creative to the programmatic ad campaign is to upload files to the creative library and then choose when needed.
  • Upload Image — add an image from your PC library right to the campaign.

After you upload an image, the size, width, and height will be filled automatically. Ad markup is skipped if you used the last two options. And if you use the first one, you have to already know what an ad tag is and how to generate it.

The last thing to mention is Landing Page TLD, a top-level domain of campaign landing page (this is the link which will lead to your promotional page or your website).

And the third — creative targeting options:

creative targeting options

Select the right category again and specify the connection type. It makes sense to enable wi-fi only if you run a programmatic video ad campaign that takes a lot of time to download in the case of slow internet connection.

  • Disclaimer: The optimization stage is for those who want further improvements for their campaign. If you wish to create an ad campaign for the first time and see how it works, skip this for now and add the article to the reading list. Most features described below may be available only in the Epom white-label DSP.
white-label & self-serve DSP white-label & self-serve DSP

Step #3 — Optimization

Even though this is beyond the question of “how to create a programmatic ad campaign”, we'd like to cover post-campaign activities as well. You, as any ambitious advertisers, will stumble upon the next question one day: “how do you improve the performance of an ad campaign?”

Receive Real-Time Reports and Analyze Them

Every decent DSP has a real-time reporting feature. Real-time doesn't mean instant; a small delay is still present. For example, Epom DSP has a delay of 0.1 sec, which is almost negligible, while other DSPs may have a backlog of 10 minutes or so. This is how a real-time report usually looks like:

Epom real-time analytics

From here, you can understand how effective each source is by measuring the campaign's CTR, CPC, overall spend, the value of each conversion, and several other important metrics. Analyze these insights and identify the bottlenecks in your programmatic display ad campaign.

Optimize Settings According to Your Analysis

You could set up an advertising campaign and run it for a week. By the end of this week, you have enough data to conclude whether this campaign is successful or not. And even if it is, there is still room for improvement.

Thus, you can create a new ad campaign with different settings and see how it'll do. However, some DSPs, although not all of them, provide additional tools for more advanced campaign optimization.

In Epom DSP, you have the “optimization” tab in campaign settings.

Epom campaign optimization tab

We don't recommend to apply these settings while creating the first ad campaign, but they can help to squeeze more juice from your ad if you decide to “re-think” your campaign settings.

Recency Cap is how often the same user can see your creative. Exposure time multiplier helps you to decrease the ad spend on the same-impressions.

Here is an example: You set a recency cap at 450, which is 15 minutes, and exposure time multiplier at a 20 decay rate. Let's say the initial bid is $3.00. The first time you will pay $3.00, but when the same user sees your ad for the second time after 15 minutes, you pay only $2.4.

A more widespread setting is the bidding multiplier. It is used for high-authority sources where it's hard to win impressions by bidding low. For example, if the average winning bid is $9.00 for sources like The Guardian, you can set a CPM at $3.00 and apply a 3x bid multiplier.

Despite the formal bid increasing to $9.00, you won't pay this price during an RTB auction. You'll pay 10 cents higher than the top bidder after your multiplied bid. Thus, if the second advertiser bids $4.00, you pay $4.10 instead of $9.00 and win the impression.

Bidding rules, in turn, let you eliminate underperforming sources by setting advertising goals or excluding unwanted scenarios. It's an automated algorithm that keeps an eye on your performance even while you're offline.

Bidding rules

Retarget Users Who Didn't Convert

While adjusting the targeting settings of a new programmatic campaign, you may notice this parameter in Epom demand-side platform:

Retargeting segments

To enable retargeting, you have to track your user's behavior by installing a pixel on specific actions people conduct on your website. For example, you can identify the users who click on the ad, yet not purchase anything and abandon the cart. This audience is great for retargeting, as they may forget about finalizing the purchase or get distracted by something else.

So how do you create a programmatic ad campaign with retargeting turned on? You take the code for a pixel from the “retargeting” tab in the dashboard and install it on your website:

Retargeting pixel

Then, you add audience segments that you want to retarget in the above-mentioned “segments” field. Done!

Short Cheat-Sheet: 3 Steps Summarized

Let's summarize all of the above in a short to-do list:


  • Plan your programmatic strategy;
  • Define advertising goals;
  • Choose a campaign type;
  • Craft a creative.


  • Set CPM and budget;
  • Define the duration and frequency cap;
  • Select the IAB category;
  • Narrow down targeting — pick a language, location, device, OS, etc.;
  • Choose suitable traffic sources;
  • Upload the creative;
  • Enter creative attributes;
  • Adjust creative targeting settings.


  • Analyze real-time reports;
  • Change settings accordingly;
  • Try bidding rules and bidding multiplier;
  • Launch a retargeting campaign.

Ready to get down to business? Sign up for Epom self-serve DSP and create your first programmatic campaign in 10 minutes.

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