Direct Buy Advertising Pros & Cons | Direct Buy Marketing | BFO

October 20, 2016

6 Minute Read
Pros and Cons of Direct Buy Advertising

While we have seen and followed the dramatic shifts in programmatic media buying and other audience-targeted techniques, we still have some clients that inquire about placing direct buys with specific publishers. The prospect of highly targeted placements is always attractive, but there are some drawbacks to consider before you dive in.

A direct buy involves contacting the website (publisher) you want your ad to appear on and negotiating for placement with their ad sales team.

Advantages of Direct Site Buys

  • Placement: Since you work directly with the publisher’s ad team, you’re more likely to be able to gain premium ad placements which may not even be offered through programmatic. Takeover ads, first content blocks, and other ad formats that are displayed front-and-center in the user’s path are generally only attainable through direct buying. If you’re looking to invest in rich media ad formats and large load sizes, direct buys might be the way to go.
  • Creative Freedom: With direct buys, you’ll have a little more freedom to create engaging ads. Large, dynamic ads are typically too sizeable for programmatic systems, so if you’re interested in animated ads, video ads, etc., you may have to go the direct buy route.
  • Guaranteed Inventory: As opposed to real-time bids, direct buys are guaranteed in the sense that you get the ad inventory you pay for at the start. RTB, on the other hand, involves bidding in an unpredictable marketplace with remnant inventory, and there’s no guarantee you’ll win what you bid on.

Drawbacks of Direct Buys

  • Bulk: Going the direct buy route gives you impressions in bulk, so your ads display on a specific website rather than a range of sites. Depending on your needs, this can be a disadvantage as it can limit the audiences you reach.
  • Effort: Direct buying involves a lot of manual effort. Reaching out to a publisher via email, exchanging phone calls, working with the ad team to get a good placement, and managing your ads once they’ve been placed is time-consuming. Compared to automated programmatic buys, direct buying requires human labor at every step of the advertising process. As a result, it’s inefficient to only use direct buys for your campaigns.
  •  Transparency & Performance: Although it would seem like a direct buy would be the most transparent, oftentimes direct publishers lack the sophisticated tools and viewability reporting that you get with more established ad servers.


Leveraging placement targeting with Google Display Network (GDN) or BingAds is one way to reach specific publishers and placements without the hassles and commitments of working directly with specific publishers.

Questions to Ask Publishers

There are a few things to ask publishers before you open up your checkbook for direct placements. Keep these questions in mind when you reach out to a publisher:

  1. Rates: What rates does the publisher offer?
  2. Buy Type: Is it a fixed buy or a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) buy? Do they offer CPC (cost per click) buys?
  3. Projections: Do they project CPMs and inventory?
  4. Targeting: Are they able to target ads to different placements on the site? Different audiences? Do they offer geo-targeting? A primary advantage of direct site buys is your ability to specifically target your audience based on the sites they frequent. Make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck when it comes to targeting.
  5. Reporting: What reporting do they provide? Impressions? Clicks?
  6. Measuring: Are they using an ad server to measure performance?
  7. Viewability: Do they offer viewability metrics? This is a great way to ensure your banners are being seen by site users, rather than just rendered at the bottom of a page without attracting eyeballs.
  8. Device-Level Reporting: Can they tell you what percentage of traffic and views are coming from mobile vs. desktop? This is an important distinction that can provide great insights into your audience’s behavior.
  9. Post-Click Performance: Do they have the destination URLs of the banners tagged with UTM variables to measure post-click performance in analytics?

Once you have a full understanding of what directly buying from a certain publisher entails, you can assess whether it’s a good fit and a worthwhile investment for your business. Direct buying may not be the answer for every ad campaign, but when its benefits are thoughtfully measured and weighed against potential disadvantages, it can be an effective and unique way to engage with your target audience.

Need help determining which paid media strategy is right for your business? Talk to the experts! Here’s a guide to choosing the right agency for your business.

Dan Golden - Co-Founder and Chief Search Artist

Dan Golden

Dan Golden is a veteran digital marketing executive & speaker. He liked to predict the future of digital marketing and is damn good at it. Beyond trendspotting, he has an insatiable desire to know what works and that means spending time auditing accounts, testing tactics, and diving into analytics. Dan is also a Forbes and HuffPost contributor, as well as a Lecturer at Northwestern University and DePaul University.