How to Be More Successful with Self-Service Trading Desks

Trading Desks
Rog B

With the growth of programmatic, marketers increasingly seek to take control of their data and their media buys. Self-service trading desks allow marketers to be completely in charge of their data, campaign targeting, and optimization. Self-service trading desks provide a  fairly new avenue for marketers to individually manage their campaigns.

With all the good, there are obviously also areas to look out for. One of the biggest problems involves the categorization of publisher sites. Site categories are groups of websites related to a particular topic or theme. For example, a popular site category is News, which includes many different types of news sites, blogs, etc.

Marketers need to pick the right site category to ensure that they are reaching the intended audience. With self-service trading desks, however, this can be harder than it seems.

Site Categories: High Level Over Detailed

Katana has done independent research and found that the site categorizations are more high level over detailed. Detailed categories are very targeted and specific. On the other hand, high-level categories typically include everything related to that particular category. Oftentimes, marketers find that their needs do not fit exactly within these available high-level site categories since they include too many websites outside of their targets.

For instance, let’s say a company is selling family travel products. These products are designed to be marketed to niche audiences. Within the self-service trading desk categories, however, only a larger category of “travel” is available, but this could include everything from out-of-country travel to backpacking to travel news. The timeshare company may only be interested in targeting “family travel” websites, i.e. mommies who travel with their children types of sites. The travel category would encompass too many targets beyond intended audience.

Another example where this is an issue is travel sections of newspapers, i.e. The New York Times. If it’s listed within the “travel” category, the ads won’t only run on the travel section; they’ll also run on the rest of the site. Creative is being shown to audiences outside of their niche, wasting precious advertising dollars.

When marketers must pick this category, they’re finding that these categories are too broad. Plus, websites may be categorized incorrectly within the broader category, meaning that those sites are not applicable to marketer’s needs. Service providers should work to create more narrow categories, but that isn’t currently happening.

Takeaways and Tips

Self-service trading desks do offer advantages, especially for:

  • Marketers that need to run campaigns on extremely tight budgets
  • Or those that are skeptical of sharing proprietary data with a third-party company.

Still, marketers should be very skeptical and investigative around using self-service trading desk site targeting categories. To be successful, marketers must:

  • Review the websites within each category very closely.
  • Exclude sites that are not relevant.
  • Constantly monitor the campaign, and check results.

Although the initial review process of websites can be time-consuming, it will pay dividends in the long-run, especially by reducing campaign waste.


While marketers should be as targeted as possible, they should also do testing to determine which sites work best for the campaign. Consider using a certain percentage of your advertising budget, and run a broad campaign. Look at the results, and determine which sites are providing the best responses. After, review audience data to determine if the correct audience is being reached by the campaign. Use this information to create whitelists. Whitelists allow marketers to categorize sites from which to do media buys and can be used for any campaign, including programmatic.

Self-service trading desks do have their place in the programmatic world, especially for  budget-conscious agencies and marketers. Nevertheless, marketers and agencies must do more work on their end to ensure that their not wasting campaign dollars on the wrong target audiences.