An ad server is advertising software hosted on a server, used by publishers and ad networks to facilitate and manage ads. Check out our list of the top ten most preferred Ad Servers for publishers. 

You begin to understand there are many revenue options outside of AdSense as your website’s readership grows. But first, you must choose an ad server; in the beginning, the majority of tiny publishers got by with either integrating AdSense or signing up for an ad network.

But in order to really advance your ad income plan, you must set up an ad server and fully take charge of your ad inventory.

Publishers may benefit from advertising servers in numerous ways, and they make handling advertisements easy. They let you put up a number of ad units, encourage competition among advertisers, improve audience targeting, provide sophisticated reporting, and much more.

Source: W3Techs

Also the global Ad Server market size was valued at USD 2458.53 million in 2022 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 7.11% during the forecast period, reaching USD 3711.77 million by 2028. (Source: MarketWatch)

Also Read: What is an Ad Server and How does it Work?

What is an Ad Server?

In the most simple terms possible, an ad server is what actually places adverts online. It is a piece of advertising technology that plays a crucial role in the process of creating digital advertisements.

An ad server maintains data about advertisements and sends them to one or more websites so that users may view them. Additionally, ad servers keep tabs on ad displays, clicks, and statistical statistics. On the basis of predetermined parameters, ad servers can also display specific advertising to website users.

In general, there are two sorts of ad server platforms: hosted versions, which are operated and maintained on a website owned and operated by an ad server firm, and self-hosted versions, which you install and maintain on your own server.

The First Ad Server

The first-ever ad server is credited to Focalink Communications, a technology company founded by Richard Hoy. In 1995, Focalink launched the “Ad Server,” marking a significant milestone in the history of online advertising. This innovative platform played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of digital advertising by introducing a system that could manage and deliver online advertisements.

The Ad Server developed by Focalink Communications allowed websites to efficiently serve and track advertisements, providing a foundational infrastructure for the emerging online advertising industry. By centralizing the management of ads, this technology streamlined the process of displaying and monitoring digital advertisements across websites, contributing to the growth and monetization of the internet.

Focalink’s Ad Server laid the groundwork for subsequent developments in the online advertising space, influencing the evolution of ad-serving technologies and contributing to the establishment of a structured framework for digital advertising operations. Its pioneering role marked the beginning of a new era where websites could more effectively manage their advertising inventory and advertisers could target their audiences with greater precision in the burgeoning online environment.

What are the Main Benefits of an ad server?

Ad servers offer several key benefits for both publishers and advertisers in the digital advertising ecosystem. Some of the main advantages include:

  1. Efficient Ad Management: Ad servers centralize the management of digital advertisements, allowing publishers to organize, schedule, and control the display of ads across their websites. This efficiency streamlines the process of handling various ad formats, targeting criteria, and creative assets.
  1. Precise Targeting and Personalization: Ad servers enable advertisers to target specific audiences based on demographics, geography, user behavior, and other criteria. This level of granularity helps in delivering more relevant and personalized ads to the right audience segments, improving the overall effectiveness of advertising campaigns.
  1. Ad Rotation and Optimization: Ad servers facilitate ad rotation, ensuring that different creatives are displayed to users over time. This feature helps prevent ad fatigue and allows advertisers to test different messages, designs, or calls to action to optimize campaign performance based on real-time data and analytics.
  1. Tracking and Analytics: Ad servers provide robust tracking and analytics capabilities, offering detailed insights into ad performance metrics such as impressions, clicks, conversions, and user engagement. This data is crucial for advertisers and publishers to measure the success of their campaigns, identify areas for improvement, and make informed decisions for future strategies.
  1. Improved Ad Monetization: For publishers, ad servers play a crucial role in maximizing ad revenue by optimizing the delivery of ads based on factors like user behavior, historical performance, and real-time data. This helps publishers make data-driven decisions to enhance their monetization strategies.
  1. Ad Inventory Management: Ad servers help publishers manage their ad inventory more effectively by providing tools to forecast, allocate, and prioritize ad space. This ensures that publishers can maximize the use of their available ad space and prevent underselling or overselling of inventory.
  1. Cross-Channel Campaign Management: Advanced ad servers support cross-channel advertising, allowing advertisers to manage campaigns across various platforms and channels from a centralized interface. This seamless coordination enhances the overall consistency and effectiveness of multi-channel advertising strategies.

In summary, ad servers contribute significantly to the efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability of digital advertising by providing tools for streamlined management, precise targeting, data-driven optimization, and comprehensive analytics.

What is The Role of an Ad Server

An ad server plays a crucial role in the end-to-end process of digital advertising, from storing and managing ad creatives to delivering targeted content, tracking performance, and optimizing campaigns for both publishers and advertisers.

The role of an ad server is multifaceted, serving both publishers and advertisers in the digital advertising ecosystem. Here are the key roles and functions of an ad server:

  1. Ad Storage and Management:

Ad servers store and organize various digital ad creatives, including images, videos, and HTML5 ads.

They manage the ad inventory, ensuring that different ad campaigns and creatives are appropriately organized and scheduled for display.

  1. Ad Delivery:

Ad servers deliver ads to the end-users’ browsers when they visit a website. This involves dynamically selecting and serving the most relevant ad based on targeting criteria and user attributes.

  1. Targeting and Personalization:

Ad servers enable precise targeting by allowing advertisers to specify criteria such as demographics, geography, user behavior, and more.

They personalize ad delivery, ensuring that users see content tailored to their preferences and characteristics.

  1. Ad Rotation and Frequency Capping:

Ad servers manage the rotation of different creatives to prevent ad fatigue and maintain user engagement.

They implement frequency capping to control the number of times a specific ad is shown to a user within a given time period.

  1. Tracking and Analytics:

Ad servers track various metrics related to ad performance, such as impressions, clicks, conversions, and engagement.

They provide analytics and reporting tools to help advertisers and publishers measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and make data-driven decisions.

  1. Optimization:

Ad servers use real-time data and analytics to optimize ad delivery based on performance. This includes adjusting targeting parameters, creative elements, and other factors to improve campaign efficiency.

  1. Cross-Channel Campaign Management:

Advanced ad servers support cross-channel advertising, allowing advertisers to manage and coordinate campaigns across multiple platforms and channels from a centralized interface.

  1. Ad Monetization for Publishers:

Ad servers help publishers maximize revenue by optimizing the use of their available ad inventory.

They assist in managing ad space, preventing underselling or overselling of inventory, and implementing pricing strategies.

  1. Ad Verification and Security:

Ad servers often include features for ad verification to ensure that ads comply with industry standards and policies.

They may implement security measures to detect and prevent fraudulent or malicious activities, such as ad fraud or malware distribution.

How Does an Ad Server Work

Ad servers play a pivotal role in the digital advertising ecosystem, facilitating the end-to-end process of delivering targeted advertisements to users. The process begins with advertisers uploading diverse ad creatives, such as images, videos, or HTML5 content, onto the ad server. The ad server then organizes these creatives within the ad inventory, categorizing them based on campaigns, targeting parameters, and scheduling preferences. Advertisers configure campaigns by setting specific criteria like demographics, geography, and user behavior, along with budget and scheduling details.

When a user visits a website, the ad server comes into action as the website sends a request for an ad. The ad server processes this request by selecting the most relevant ad from the inventory, considering targeting criteria and campaign priorities. The chosen ad is then delivered to the user’s browser in real-time, where it is displayed on the website. Throughout this process, the ad server tracks key metrics such as impressions, clicks, and conversions, providing advertisers and publishers with valuable insights into the performance of their campaigns.

Ad servers go beyond simple delivery; they actively contribute to the optimization of ad campaigns. They manage ad rotation to prevent user fatigue and optimize delivery based on real-time data, improving overall campaign efficiency. Additionally, ad servers implement frequency capping to control the number of times a specific ad is displayed to a user, ensuring a balanced and non-intrusive user experience. The reporting tools offered by ad servers empower advertisers and publishers to analyze campaign performance, make informed decisions, and seamlessly coordinate cross-channel advertising efforts. In essence, ad servers serve as the backbone of digital advertising, offering a centralized platform for efficient ad management, delivery, and performance tracking.

What is Ad Server Technology?

Ad server technology refers to the software and infrastructure that enables the management, delivery, and tracking of digital advertisements across websites, mobile apps, and other digital platforms. This technology plays a crucial role in the digital advertising ecosystem by providing a centralized platform for advertisers and publishers to effectively handle their ad campaigns.

Key components include:

  1. Ad Storage and Organization
  2. Campaign Management
  3. Ad Delivery
  4. Targeting and Personalization
  5. Tracking and Analytics
  6. Ad Rotation and Optimization
  7. Frequency Capping
  8. Cross-Channel Coordination
  9. Security and Ad Verification

Ad server technology provides a comprehensive solution for the efficient execution of digital advertising campaigns, offering tools for ad storage, campaign management, targeted delivery, tracking, optimization, and analytics. It serves as a critical component in the digital advertising ecosystem, contributing to the success and effectiveness of online advertising effort

What are the Capabilities of an Ad Server

The capabilities of an ad server encompass a range of functionalities that are essential for managing and optimizing digital advertising campaigns. Here are the key capabilities of an ad server:

  1. Ad Inventory Management
  2. Campaign Setup and Management
  3. Ad Delivery
  4. Targeting and Personalization
  5. Tracking and Analytics
  6. Ad Rotation and Optimization
  7. Frequency Capping
  8. Cross-Channel Coordination
  9. Security and Ad Verification
  10. Ad Monetization for Publishers
  11. Reporting and Insights
  12. Dynamic Ad Creatives

These capabilities collectively make ad servers a critical component in the digital advertising ecosystem, providing a centralized platform for effective ad management, delivery, and optimization.

What is the Difference Between First-party and Third-party Ad Servers? 

The distinction between first-party and third-party ad servers lies in their ownership, control, and the roles they play in the digital advertising ecosystem.

First-party ad servers are owned and operated by publishers or website owners, granting them direct control over the ad-serving process on their platforms. These servers are primarily used to serve ads on the publisher’s own website(s), enabling a more localized and tailored approach to ad management. Publishers using first-party ad servers retain ownership of user data generated on their platforms, offering greater control and security over valuable audience insights. This type of ad server provides flexibility and customization options, allowing publishers to optimize ad delivery strategies based on their specific needs.

In contrast, third-party ad servers are owned and operated by independent ad technology companies, serving as intermediaries between advertisers and publishers. Advertisers, agencies, or ad networks use third-party ad servers to manage and track ad campaigns across multiple publishers’ websites. These servers have a broader scope, enabling advertisers to maintain consistent campaigns and analytics across various publishers. While third-party ad servers offer a standardized platform for advertisers, they may aggregate data across multiple sites, providing advertisers with cross-site insights. However, this approach raises considerations regarding data ownership, as the control over aggregated data often resides with the third-party ad server provider.

Key Differences:

  1. Control and Ownership: First-party ad servers provide publishers with direct control and ownership over the ad-serving process and user data on their own websites. Third-party ad servers, on the other hand, are controlled by external entities and are often used by advertisers to manage campaigns across various publishers.
  1. Scope: First-party ad servers are limited to serving ads on a specific publisher’s website(s), while third-party ad servers operate across multiple publishers, allowing advertisers to manage campaigns on a broader scale.
  1. Data Ownership and Aggregation: First-party ad servers allow publishers to maintain control and ownership of user data generated on their own sites. In contrast, third-party ad servers may aggregate data across multiple sites, offering advertisers broader insights but potentially raising concerns about data ownership and privacy.

How do ad servers relate to DSPs and/or SSPs?

Ad servers, Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs), and Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs) are integral components of the programmatic advertising ecosystem, each playing distinct roles that contribute to the automated buying and selling of digital advertising. Here’s how these entities relate to each other:

1. Ad Servers:

Role: Ad servers are central to ad management, delivery, and tracking. They handle the technical aspects of delivering ads to users, tracking impressions, clicks, and conversions, and optimizing ad delivery.

Ownership: Ad servers can be first-party (owned by publishers) or third-party (independent platforms used by advertisers or agencies).

Scope: Ad servers operate at both the publisher’s end (supply side) and the advertiser’s end (demand side), facilitating the overall ad campaign management process.

2. Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs):

Role: DSPs are used by advertisers and agencies to automate the buying of ad inventory across multiple publishers and ad exchanges. They enable advertisers to bid on and purchase impressions in real-time.

Functionality: DSPs integrate with ad exchanges, targeting specific audiences through data-driven insights. They allow advertisers to set targeting parameters, budgets, and bidding strategies for programmatic ad buying.

Relationship with Ad Servers: DSPs work in conjunction with ad servers during the ad delivery process. Once a bid is won, the DSP instructs the ad server to deliver the specific creative to the user.

3. Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs):

Role: SSPs are used by publishers to automate the selling of their ad inventory to multiple advertisers. They connect publishers with ad exchanges and demand sources, facilitating programmatic ad selling.

Functionality: SSPs optimize the sale of ad impressions by offering real-time inventory to multiple DSPs. They prioritize and manage the ad auction process, maximizing revenue for publishers.

Relationship with Ad Servers: SSPs communicate with ad servers to ensure the efficient delivery of ads to users based on real-time bids. They provide the necessary information to ad servers for optimal ad selection and placement.

Ad Servers and DSPs: Ad servers and DSPs often work closely together to ensure the effective delivery of ads. When a user visits a website, the ad server determines which ad to display based on its optimization algorithms. If the inventory is part of a programmatic auction, the DSP bids on behalf of the advertiser to secure the ad placement. The ad server then delivers the chosen creative to the user.

Ad Servers and SSPs: Ad servers interact with SSPs to access the available ad inventory on publishers’ websites. SSPs provide real-time information about the inventory, including available ad slots and user data. Ad servers use this information to make decisions on ad selection and delivery.

Therefore, ad servers, DSPs, and SSPs are interconnected components in the programmatic advertising landscape. Ad servers handle the technical aspects of ad delivery and optimization, while DSPs automate the buying of ad inventory on the demand side, and SSPs facilitate the selling of ad inventory on the supply side. The collaboration among these platforms enables the efficient and automated buying and selling of digital advertising in real-time auctions.

10 Best Ad Serving Platforms for Publishers

While there are many ad servers available in the market, let’s discuss about the top 10 in this post:

  1. Google Ad Manager

    Google Ad Server
    One of the most popular and extensively utilized ad servers available for publishers is Google Ad Manager, formerly known as Doubleclick for Publishers, until 2018. An extensive range of features is offered by Google Ad Manager, including simple Google AdX and Adsense integration, thorough reporting, malware detection, an easy-to-use interface, frequency capping, etc.

    Most crucially, those publishers whose total monthly impressions do not go beyond 90–200 million may utilize Google Ad Manager for free (depending on the GEO). For all levels of publishers, it is a highly alluring solution.

  2. Kevel(Adzerk)

    Kevel Ad Server
    A completely customizable, server-side ad server can be designed, built, and launched in a matter of weeks, thanks to the Kevel API suite. Kevel offers the ability to manage native ad spaces, internal promotions, sponsored listings, etc. They are a reputable company with clients like Ticketmaster, Yelp, Strava, and Mozilla, and their plans start at $3K per month.

  3. OpenX

    OpenX Ad Server
    OpenX, a technology company founded in the year 2008, makes its mark among its rivals as one of the most trustworthy and respected ones. OpenX runs an SSP and a proprietary ad exchange in addition to a hosted ad server. Additionally, it provides OpenAudience, a platform for audience management, to its publishers.

    A good option for bigger publishers is OpenX. Although its expenses are more than the industry standard, the fact that it is utilized by well-known organizations like The New York Times, Hearst, and Daily Mail speaks for itself.

  4. Broadstreet Ad Server

    BroadStreet Ad Server
    The original purpose of the Broadstreet advertising server was to meet the ad serving requirements of regional news and magazine websites. The Broadstreet ad server has a straightforward user interface and is created with non-technical users in mind.

    Additionally, they deliver educated and efficient technical assistance. Broadstreet is an excellent ad serving platform for SMEs since it is cheaply priced, integrates with WordPress, and offers email newsletters.

  5. Magnite

    Magnite Ad Server
    Without this business, it would be difficult to envisage the current internet advertising scene. Magnite (Rubicon Project before 2020) was the industry leader in ad serving when it was established in 2007. One of the largest sell-side advertising firms in the world today is Magnite. Every existing format and channel, including Video, CTV, Display, Mobile, DOOH, and Audio, is supported by the firm.

    Publishers may effectively manage their ad inventory, at the same time establishing direct connections with leading advertisers thanks to Magnite’s self-serve ad server. In addition to the open auction, Magnite’s sell-side partners have access to programmatic guaranteed transactions and a private marketplace.

    A standout aspect of Magnite’s offering to publishers is its sophisticated audience management toolkit, which offers a practical approach to create, examine, and engage audiences using first-party data from publishers.

  6. AdButler

    Ad Butler Ad Server
    A technological business called AdButler has been active in the ad tech sector for more than 20 years. In addition to a self-serve marketplace, a programmatic SSP, and a full-stack platform appropriate for all ad formats, it also provides.

    The flexible price options offered by AdButler start at $109 and depend on the number of ad requests. Other advantages include premium live support, sophisticated targeting, and solution customization. AdButler is a very competitive player since it is ideal for publishers of all categories and levels.

  7. Smart Ad Server

    Smart Ad Server
    Another well-known brand in the ad tech sector is Smart. With more than ten years of expertise, Smart provides both sell-side and buy-side clients with a range of technology solutions.

    The sophisticated algorithms of Smart Ad Server, like a unified auction, can be advantageous to publishers. It also has other capabilities like direct access to leading demand sources, such as Smart’s own DSPs (LiquidM and DynAdmic), real-time forecasting, sophisticated & cookie-less targeting, unified reporting, etc.

    The following traffic kinds and formats are supported by Smart: web, mobile, CTV, display, and video. It also offers native integration of its patented Smart SSP into the ad server with a great degree of flexibility since it runs a complete programmatic environment.

  8. Epom Ad Server

    EPOM Ad Server
    As a whole cross-channel advertising platform, Epom positions itself. Publishers will benefit from it as well, even though it is marketed as a solution for ad networks. The white-label ad server from Epom is completely customizable and offers seamless setup and interaction with third-party systems.

    The lowest package starts at $250/month and includes live 24/7 assistance, a vast library of ad formats, precise targeting, integration with more than 60 DSPs, and automated optimizations.

  9. Revive(Self-Hosted)

    Revive Ad Server
    The first and most significant feature of Revive is that it is completely free. Additionally, it is the most widely used open-source and self-hosted ad serving solution. Numerous targeting options, thorough reporting, AdSense connection, etc., are included.
    In contrast, Revive only provides help through its community website for users.

    In addition, the adoption and upkeep of this self-hosted technology need publishers to have a particular level of technical expertise. Additionally, it uses up a sizable amount of a publisher’s server resources.

    So for a tech-savvy publisher willing to devote time and resources to ad serving, Revive would be a wonderful option. Revive now provides a hosted option that starts at $10 per month in addition to the self-hosted free version.

  10. OIO Publisher(Self Hosted)


    OIOPublisher may be set up on a WordPress website or as independent software. The license is good for all of your websites and costs $47.

    The cost is quite fair for what you receive. You are given access to their online marketplace, where you may sell any unsold ad space. either standalone software or a WordPress plugin may be installed. As new versions are published, updating is simple. Only help via email and forums. There isn’t any telephone or priority support offered. Client statistics are extremely simple.

    OIOPublisher can be the best option for you if all you need is a basic ad server.

Also Check: What is Server-Side Ad Insertion? And How Does it Work?

How Are Ad Servers Measured?

Ad servers are assessed using a range of key performance indicators (KPIs) that collectively gauge their effectiveness and efficiency in managing and delivering digital advertisements. Impressions, the fundamental metric, measure the frequency of ad displays and serve as an indicator of the campaign’s reach. Click-through rate (CTR) signifies user engagement by representing the percentage of clicks relative to the number of ad views. Conversion Rate measures the success of an ad in prompting users to take desired actions, such as making a purchase or filling out a form.

View-through rate (VTR) evaluates the impact of ad impressions on subsequent conversions, indicating the influence of the ad even if users don’t directly click on it. Ad serving speed is crucial for user experience, with faster delivery contributing to a positive interaction. Ad fill rate, the percentage of successfully filled ad requests, showcases the ad server’s ability to match the available inventory with demand, influencing overall campaign performance. Frequency capping metrics are essential for managing ad exposure, preventing user fatigue, and maintaining a favourable user experience.

Ad delivery time and ad delivery metrics for different platforms and devices help optimize campaigns for varied user contexts. Meanwhile, data security and compliance metrics ensure adherence to privacy regulations and industry standards, safeguarding user information and avoiding legal complications. Evaluating ad inventory management measures the efficiency of organizing, allocating, and utilizing ad space, impacting the monetization potential for publishers. By considering these diverse metrics, advertisers, publishers, and ad networks can comprehensively assess the performance of ad servers, enabling data-driven decision-making and continual refinement of digital advertising strategies.

Final Words

For advertisers and publishers operating in the digital ecosystem, choosing the best ad serving platform requires taking into account a number of aspects.

Which ad server is best for your company will depend on how your brand is positioned in the market, your financial situation, and the features your company needs from its ad platforms.

FAQs

1. What is a First-Party Ad Server?

A first-party ad server offers the following features:
i. An advertiser’s campaigns on a publisher’s website are managed using first-party ad servers by the publisher’s ads department.
ii. Publishers can sell direct ad slots to advertisers using first-party ad servers.
iii. In the absence of a predefined campaign, they can also decide what creative assets should be displayed in a particular ad slot.

2. How does an Ad Server Work?

Publishers and advertisers exchanged direct, manual messages early on in the history of online advertising. Publishers soon realized they needed to create advertising solutions that streamlined advertiser campaigns as the digital ecosystem grew. This need led to the creation of first-party ad servers.

3. Why does a publisher need an ad server?

One of the most challenging aspects of digital marketing is managing campaigns across multiple formats and publishers. Ad management and reporting should be done from a central point in order to efficiently run your ads on multiple websites. Ad servers play a crucial role in this process.


Author

Shubham is a digital marketer with rich experience working in the advertisement technology industry. He has vast experience in the programmatic industry, driving business strategy and scaling functions including but not limited to growth and marketing, Operations, process optimization, and Sales.

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