Looking for an efficient and cost-effective way to buy and sell digital advertising? An ad exchange could be just what you need. So, what is an Ad Exchange and how do they work? Discover what it is and the benefits of this powerful digital marketplace in this blog.

Ad exchanges are primed to become the next revolution in online advertising.  Publishers will be able to partner more effectively with supply-side platforms to manage their ad inventory and get the best value for their ad units. Advertisers will also be able to find the right target audience and run a successful campaign. 

The last time something of this magnitude happened was in 2007, with the introduction of real-time bidding (RTB). It allowed advertisers to bid on individual impressions in real time and optimize the efficiency of ad transactions. Major players like Google Ad Exchange (AdX), OpenX, and Rubicon Project have since played key roles in shaping the industry. 

Now as the digital advertising ecosystem continues to evolve amid technological advancements and regulatory changes, ad exchanges are becoming more instrumental in facilitating programmatic advertising and ensuring the seamless exchange of ad inventory between publishers and advertisers. At the moment the digital advertising industry is anticipated to attract $701.20 billion this year, with ad exchanges expected to play a crucial role. 

So — What is an ad exchange? How can it be leveraged to boost return on investments? We discuss these questions in detail below.

What is an Ad Exchange?

An ad exchange acts as a virtual marketplace for publishers and advertisers to transact and trade digital ad space without the involvement of a third-party intermediary. Ads inventory, which includes native, display, mobile games, video, and in-app ad space, is the digital real estate of publishers.

All transactions take place in the ad exchange application. Multiple participants engage in real-time bidding (RTB) to bid on available ad inventory, with the highest bidder winning the right to display their ads on the selected ad space.

Ad exchanges are fueled by a straightforward demand and supply mechanism. Publishers seek to sell ad space on their website to the highest bidder, while advertisers look for ad units that offer optimal visibility.

Digital marketplaces are part of the programmatic advertising ecosystem, and they operate using real-time bidding (RTB) technology. Advertisers on demand-side platforms (DSP) and publishers on supply-side platforms (SSP) are connected through the exchange, enabling them to buy and sell ad space. That’s why ad exchange is a new platform for earning.

To put things into perspective, ad exchange is a metaphorical crossroads connecting publishers and advertisers. It provides a platform to sell and buy ad inventories using its connections with various ad networks and supply-side platforms.

Image Source – Bird.TV

During real-time bidding, publishers look for the highest bidder and advertisers want the best impressions to make their ad campaign successful. And this is made possible by exchanges.

Ad exchanges contain information on the availability of ad inventory and requests for ad creatives to match them by conducting auctions. For publishers, exchanges push inventory to the interested buyers, allow targeting, and manage the auction. For advertisers, ad exchanges store their targeting criteria, look for optimal inventory, and conduct the auction. But what is real-time bidding?

What Is Real-Time Bidding?

Real-time bidding (RTB) is a form of programmatic buying utilized by ad exchanges, as previously mentioned. This buying method entails the instant auction of ad space on a per-impression basis.

RTB differs from direct buying and private auctions because several participants can bid on available ad inventory in real-time auctions. As a result, the highest bid for each auction wins the impression.

What Is a Demand-Side Platform?

Advertisers leverage demand-side platforms (DSPs) to participate in real-time bidding (RTB) auctions.

By using a DSP, advertisers can automate and streamline the process of buying and managing digital advertising, making it more efficient and allowing for better targeting and optimization. DSPs are commonly used in display advertising, video advertising, mobile advertising, and other forms of programmatic advertising.

What Is a Supply-Side Platform?

Publishers leverage supply-side platforms (SSPs) to put their ad inventory up for auction, securing an opportunity to maximize their ad space revenue.

SSPs empower publishers in the programmatic advertising ecosystem by providing them with the tools and infrastructure to effectively manage, sell, and optimize their digital advertising inventory. This automated and data-driven approach helps streamline the process of connecting publishers with advertisers, ultimately benefiting both parties in the digital advertising ecosystem

How Does an Ad Exchange Work?

Ad Exchange works by connecting advertisers with publishers who want to buy ad space on their website or apps. However, the advertiser and the publisher must be part of the same ad exchange network for the exchange to function effectively. Here are some of the steps involved in the process of how an ad exchange works:

Step 1: Publishers sign up for an ad exchange which is the main component of programmatic advertising.

Step 2: After ad exchange login, publishers make their ad inventory available for sale and provide details about their ad space, ad format, size, and ad location on the webpage.

Step 3: the ad server sends a request to the ad exchange to locate the appropriate ad for the user based on the targeting criteria set by the advertiser.

Step 4: Once the ad exchange selects the appropriate ad from the available inventory, then it sends it back to the ad server. The ad server then serves the ad to the user’s device.

Step 5: Now, if the user clicks on the ad, the advertiser is charged the amount for the ad impression.

Step 6: Finally, the ad exchange charges a commission that is paid to the publisher.

In the process, publishers offer their ad inventory through a supply-side platform (SSP), which the ad exchange records as potential impressions. When a visitor arrives on a publisher’s page, information is collected via cookies, and the ad exchange uses this visitor data to select the most relevant bidders.

Advertisers, on the other hand, use a demand-side platform (DSP) to connect to an ad exchange. They set the maximum cost-per-impression they are willing to pay for an ad slot and other criteria that define their campaign objectives. Based on these parameters, the ad exchange matches the demand with available ad impressions.

Whenever new inventory becomes available, potential bidders are notified through a bid request, and the bidding process begins almost instantaneously. Ad exchanges sell digital ad inventory at a rapid pace and in high volumes, making them a key component of the programmatic advertising ecosystem.

A publisher connects with ad exchange directly with the help of supply-side platforms and/or ad networks. Generally, publishers expect to access good bidders for their inventory; and also to sell their unsold inventory.

What is an ad exchange?Image Source – Appodeal

To make a better profit, publishers allow targeting options by sharing their users’ demographics and other targeting information with exchanges. They store these details, including targeting criteria, and allow floor price settings to help publishers find suitable buyers.

Just like publishers, advertisers also connect with exchanges directly or through demand-side platforms. With the help of the DSPs, advertisers establish their target audience and set up ad campaigns. Exchanges also store the campaign requirements, signal the advertisers whenever an opportunity is available, and ask them to send their bids.

What Happens After a Bid Request?

A bid request is triggered when a user visits the publisher’s website which is received by the ad exchange. Along with the bid request, ad exchange also receives data related to the user, such as location and browsing history. 

The ad exchange then sends the bid request to advertisers who proceed to bid on the inventory.

After this, the ad exchange collects all the bids and chooses the highest one as the winner. Then it returns the signal to the publisher’s site and places the winning creative after retrieving it from the partnered ad server.

Types of Ad Exchange

There are seven main types of ad exchanges – open ad exchanges, private ad exchanges, and preferred ad exchanges.

Let’s look at each of them:

1. Open Ad Exchanges

An open ad exchange is a digital marketplace that allows open auctions, and advertisers have access to a wide range of publisher ad inventory. Advertisers who aim to expand their reach would find an open ad exchange preferable, as it offers a broad list of publishers.

However, as an open ad exchange doesn’t provide comprehensive publisher information, advertisers may not have as much insight into the quality of the ad inventory they are buying.

2. Private Ad Exchanges or Private Marketplace (PMP)

A private ad exchange, also known as a private marketplace (PMP), is a closed platform accessible only to premium publishers. Unlike open ad exchanges, PMPs are operated by publishers who can decide which advertisers can bid on their ad space, at what price, and under what terms.

With a private ad exchange, publishers have the ability to establish direct relationships with specific brands and advertisers, which can lead to more customized deals and negotiations. This makes PMPs a popular choice for premium publishers who want more control over their ad inventory and the advertisers they work with.

3. Preferred Ad Exchange

A preferred ad exchange, or a preferred deal, offers a more customized approach to buying and selling ad inventory. This type of ad exchange allows publishers to sell ad space to preferred advertisers at a fixed negotiated price.

By offering a stable revenue stream for publishers and stable pricing for advertisers, preferred ad exchanges can provide a more reliable and predictable advertising ecosystem. This approach can also help foster stronger relationships between publishers and advertisers, as both parties have agreed upon the terms of the deal in advance.

4. Vertical Ad Exchanges

Vertical ad exchanges specialize in serving particular industries or verticals. They create targeted marketplaces, bringing together advertisers and publishers within a specific niche. Their sole purpose is to address the unique needs and interests of a particular industry, providing a more focused platform for businesses operating in specific sectors.

5. Mobile Ad Exchanges

Mobile ad exchanges are dedicated to the buying and selling of mobile advertising inventory. With the increasing prevalence of smartphones and mobile devices, these exchanges are optimized to cater specifically to the unique challenges and opportunities associated with mobile advertising. These often incorporate features like responsive ad formats and location-based targeting to enhance the effectiveness of mobile campaigns.

6. Video Ad Exchanges

Video ad exchanges specialize in the dynamic realm of video advertising. These platforms facilitate the buying and selling of video ad impressions, accommodating the growing demand for video content across digital channels. Video ad exchanges often support various video ad formats, including in-stream and out-stream, and provide a targeted environment for advertisers looking to engage audiences through compelling visual content.

7. Native Ad Exchanges

Native ad exchanges focus on the seamless integration of ad into the content environment. Native ad blend with the look and feel of the surrounding content, providing a non-disruptive user experience. Advertisers and publishers on native ad exchanges prioritize maintaining the organic flow of content while delivering relevant and engaging promotional messages. This format is particularly popular for its ability to enhance user engagement and drive higher click-through rates.

Also Read: How to Make Most Out of PMP Deals – A Guide for Publishers

Who Uses Ad Exchange?

Any entity that is an authorized buyer can buy ad inventories from ad exchanges. Most commonly, DSPs, trading desks, and ad networks buy publishers’ inventories on the behalf of advertisers. These buyers have the choice to buy inventories for static bidding. Let’s take a closer look at who most commonly buys from ad exchanges and why.

Advertisers use ad exchanges to purchase ad inventory across a wide range of websites and apps, while publishers use them to sell their ad space to a large pool of potential advertisers. 

Ad networks also use ad exchanges to acquire ad inventory at scale and sell it to their clients. Additionally, demand-side platforms (DSPs) and supply-side platforms (SSPs) use ad exchanges to automate the buying and selling of ad inventory on behalf of advertisers and publishers, respectively. 

Overall, ad exchanges provide a centralized marketplace where buyers and sellers of online advertising can connect and transact with one another in a more efficient and transparent manner.

How Does Ad Exchange Help Publishers?

1. Enhanced User Experience for Revenue Surge

Ad Exchange crafts a personalized user experience by displaying relevant ads. This not only fosters higher engagement but also drives conversions, directly contributing to increased revenue for publishers.

In fact, according to Econsultancy, after a negative experience, 88% of online consumers are unlikely to revisit a website.

2. Data-Driven Insights for Strategic Growth

Even Google has it that data-driven organizations are 3X more likely to experience substantial enhancements in decision-making. So why should you hold yourself back?

ads exchangeThink With Google

By tapping into the vast pool of data, Ad Exchange provides publishers with insights into audience preferences and behaviors. These data-driven insights enable strategic content adjustments, which empower publishers to tailor their offerings for optimal revenue generation.

3. A Collaborative Ad Ecosystem

Ad Exchange creates a symbiotic relationship between publishers and advertisers. This collaboration introduces a competitive pricing model that benefits publishers by elevating the value of their ad spaces, ultimately leading to greater revenue opportunities.

4. Cross-Platform Revenue Maximization

People now have started to interact with content across various platforms. Ad Exchange facilitates cross-platform ad placements, which allows publishers to tap into diverse audiences and maximize revenue potential.

5. Diverse Ad Formats, Diverse Revenue

Ad Exchange facilitates various ad formats like display and video ads. This variety broadens revenue opportunities for publishers, catering to different advertiser needs. 

We suggest experimenting with various ad sizes via A/B testing to determine the most effective fit for your website. Additionally, you can leverage Adpushup’s unique A/B testing tool, tailored specifically for publishers.

Benefits of Ad Exchange?

Ad exchanges work as a one-stop shop for both publishers and advertisers. It offers more advantages to both parties than just connecting them. Let’s have a look at the pros of ad exchange app.

Benefits of Ad Exchange for Publishers 

Ad exchange platforms offer numerous benefits to publishers in the digital advertising landscape. They provide access to a diverse pool of advertisers, expanding the range of potential buyers for their ad inventory. 

The increase in competition then leads to higher rates of advertisement and better revenue opportunities for publishers. Additionally, ad exchanges streamline the ad-selling process by automating transactions through real-time bidding (RTB), saving publishers time and effort. The automation further enhances efficiency and allows publishers to maximize the value of their ad spaces by dynamically adjusting prices based on real-time market demands.

Here are some other key benefits at a glance:

Dynamic Pricing

Real-time market data enables dynamic adjustment of ad prices.

Publishers can capitalize on fluctuations in demand for better revenue optimization.

Fair Pricing 

With the help of ad exchanges, publishers can set the floor price for their inventories. They get to choose a minimum CPM (Cost-Per-Mile) for publishers to make a fair deal.

Filtering Options 

Next, ad exchanges come with filtering options, which can allow publishers to filter ads accordingly and block certain ads, which could be sensitive or damaging to their reputation. Furthermore, these filtering options can also let publishers prevent their competitors from bidding on their inventory. 

Better Control

Another benefit for the publishers is that they get more control over how they advertise the companies through their websites. Publishers get to present the ads in their own chosen ad format and style. Apart from that, they can also decide exactly when and where they want the ad to be displayed.

Customization Options

Last but not least, there are a lot of customization options in store for publishers. They can style the ads with an array of features available right at their fingertips. It includes corner styles, toggle font, colors, and the list goes on. 

Benefits of Ad Exchange for Advertisers

Precise Targeting 

First things first, advertisers get the ability to choose their target audience according to their business requirements, leading them to generate better results out of their ad campaigns. 

More Control

Just like the publishers, advertisers also get better control, which includes advanced bidding capabilities so that they can get the best possible CPM. 

Filtering Options

Similar to the publishers, advertisers have their own set of filters when it comes to choosing the publishers they want to work with. Advertisers can blacklist certain publishers if they do not wish to work with them. 

Better Ad Management

Lastly, advertisers can manage multiple aspects of their ad campaigns, such as preventing the same user from seeing the ad again and again. On top of that, they can also retarget multiple ad exchanges.

Now that you’re aware of the nitty-gritty of an ad exchange, let’s understand what difference it shares with SSD (Supply Side Demand).

How to Choose The Best Ad Exchange?

You now understand what are ad exchanges. If you want to work your way around maximising your ad revenue, relying on the best ad exchange is a must. Now there are plenty of ad exchanges available, which makes it pretty perplexing to choose one. Before you finally single out an ad exchange, you must weigh each option carefully. 

Here’s how you do it. 

Identify your Goals

Determine what you want to achieve through your advertising campaigns. Is it increasing website traffic? Or is it driving sales? And who will be your target audience? This will help you choose an ad exchange that aligns with your goals and has the right audience for your target market.

Investigate Vulnerability to Fraud

There is no denying that ad exchanges are effective in delivering personalized ads. However they can be prone to fraud due to the network of connectors and resellers.

In the programmatic realm, impressions need to pass through multitudes of platforms before they finally reach their destination, which vary in safety standards. 

This can lead to misrepresented ad placements, misattributed clicks, and non-safe creatives on reputable websites.

It is important to examine an ad exchange’s anti-fraud capabilities before choosing one. Make sure the ad exchange you’re choosing comes with anti-fraud vendors which allows legit bid requests in the auctions only. 

Understand the Connection Types

Next, it is important to make sure that the ad exchange you’re choosing are able to reach a broader audience. Ad exchanges that support multiple connection types are better equipped to reach a broad audience and attract a diverse pool of supply partners. 

By offering popular connection types like RTB endpoints, JS tags, and VAST tags, ad exchanges can drive ad revenue and offer a better experience for both buyers and sellers.

Look for Compliance with IAB Standards

Programmatic advertising has been plagued by various types of ad fraud, with fake supplies being one of the most prevalent. This type of fraud involves scammers misrepresenting out-stream video ad slots as in-stream video slots. By doing so, they deceive advertisers into paying for ad impressions that do not reach the intended audience.

To protect against such fraudulent practices, it is crucial to choose an ad exchange that complies with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) standards. The IAB has established guidelines and best practices for the digital advertising industry to help combat ad fraud and increase transparency.

Try Available Options

Lastly, look at the different ad exchanges that are available and compare their features, pricing, and audience reach. Consider both the size and quality of their inventory, as well as their reputation and reliability.

Top 10 Best Ad Exchanges for Publishers

In case you are wondering where to start, here is an ad exchange list (best ad exchange platform) with their benefits:

1. Verizon Media

best ad exchanges Verizon Media

Verizon Media (formerly known as Oath) is a media and technology company. It connects 800 million people (including publishers, advertisers, and users) every day around the globe. The company has a huge network of publishers, advertisers, and ad partners to fulfil the requirements of each.

Verizon Media provides simplified monetization solutions for various ad formats across multiple devices. The company also hosts in-house technology to power large publishers like TechCrunch, Engadget, and HuffPost, who are their clients.

Features for Publishers:

  1. Delivers high-quality creatives while maintaining user privacy by complying with privacy regulations like the GDPR.
  2. Comprehensive inventory management lets publishers track earnings coming via different channels—including header bidding, programmatic, and direct deals.
  3. The demand pool includes its own marketplace and top demand sources (including Facebook and Amazon) available in the market.

2. Index Exchange

Ads exchanges Index Exchange

Index Exchange is another popular ad exchange that has created a marketplace where premium digital media companies come together and exchange inventory.

It offers complete control of inventory and pricing, along with providing access to quality demand. Premium publishers like Business Insider, The Economist, and The Telegraph work with the Index Exchange platform.

Features for Publishers:

  1. It is certified by TAG and is a member of the Coalition for Better Ads, which shows its commitment to serving only high-quality ads.
  2. Offers in-house inventory integration and maintenance for better results on the buy- and sell-side.
  3. The company is known for transparency when it comes to bid-level auction data and earnings and for its quality of demand sources.

3. Rubicon Project

best ads exchanges Rubicon Project

Rubicon Project (or simply Rubicon) is a global ad exchange that specializes in buying and selling inventories, facilitating over 1 billion deals every month. The Wall Street Journal, GAMELOFT, and eBay are some of the publishers who trust the Rubicon Project.

The company offers demand and campaign management for sellers and buyers. The company was also a contributor in the making of Prebid (with AppNexus), making them one of the top ad exchanges in the header bidding market.

Features for Publishers:

  1. It is designed for non-technical publishers. If required, publishers can also get manual assistance on request.
  2. It offers a unified platform where publishers can access global demand without having to go through multiple channels or services.
  3. Offers client-side, server-side, and hybrid header bidding solutions for better monetization.

4. OpenX

best ad exchanges OpenX

OpenX introduces publishers to a powerful programmatic marketplace. Their trademark offering, OpenAudience, empowers publishers with insights about their respective audiences.

The company also offers yield analysts to publishers to identify the true potential of their inventories. To keep ad fraud at bay, OpenX abides by anti-ad fraud measures. Moreover, the company was one of the contributors to the “Certified Against Malware” program.

CarGurus, Philly.com, and Graphiq are some publishers monetizing with OpenX.

Features for Publishers:

  1. Offers OpenX Bidder—header bidding solution that connects publishers with a premium marketplace of demand partners.
  2. Predicts audience volume to help publishers monetize better. Its “Real-time Guaranteed” feature is known to help publishers improve seller-buyer relationships for more profitable deals.
  3. It has a mobile-optimized ad exchange designed to reach buyers interested only in mobile inventory. Saving publishers time to find suitable mobile demand on their own.

5. SmartyAds

ads exchange SmartyAds

SmartyAds ad exchange offers a complete ad tech solution to publishers, advertisers, and agencies. It is an independent ad exchange platform with a premium marketplace.

The company delivers more than 2 billion impressions daily while working with 25K+ premium publishers. It assures unbiased trade and quality exchange while maintaining profits for the parties involved.

Features for Publishers:

  1. Precise targeting by SmartyAds gets publishers the right ads for their audience.
  2. Real-time analytics shows inventory performance by different layouts (banner, native, video) and different devices (desktop and mobile).
  3. A transparent and brand-safe environment that lets publishers design their layout while maintaining various ad standards.

6. MoPub

ads exchange MoPub

MoPub is an app monetization platform for publishers and developers. Now owned by Twitter, MoPub offers mobile ad exchange services. The company has a unified auction feature that enables publishers to go for direct deals, ad network services, and access to several DSPs.

The company now has 1.5 billion users across devices by working with over 49,000 app publishers around the globe. Developers like Zynga, Voodoo, Ubisoft, and Truecaller monetize via MoPub. 

Features for Publishers:

  1. The in-app monetization feature lets publishers see real-time impressions.
  2. The company’s expertise in mobile mediation and real-time bidding help publishers access leading demand sources.
  3. Designed to show impression-level revenue to publishers, which helps them better understand the value of their inventory.

7. Smaato


Smaato is an app-based ad exchange platform processing over 150 billion ad requests per month. The self-serve platform provides easy ad delivery with higher eCPMs

Liftoff, Gameloft, and Outfit7 are some developers that use Smaato. It offers extensive demand, global reach, and seamless website integrations with the company’s code to drive higher revenue for publishers.

Features for publishers:

  1. Integrates real-time ad exchange to access dynamic demand from more than 450 sources around the globe.
  2. App publishers have options to access private marketplace, direct deals, RTB, and third-party mediation.
  3. Works with technologies like The Media Trust and GeoEdge in order to maintain ad quality standards, brand safety, and user protection.

Looking for more demand on your inventory, we can help with our partnerships with 20+ global demand partners. Learn more.

8. AppNexus

best ad exchanges AppNexus

AppNexus is one of the world’s largest advertising marketplaces. For the sell-side, AppNexus offers and server, SSP, and advanced to better monetize and optimize the inventory. And for the buy side, the company has a programmable platform to run customized campaigns.

AppNexus, in collaboration with Rubicon Project, also introduced Prebid.js—an open-source header bidding wrapper. The company monetizes publishers like Fandom, Wayfair, and Ranker.

Features for Publishers:

  1. Uses an in-house ad server for programmatic and direct deals.
  2. Has an SSP that offers display, video, mobile, native, and audio ads for publishers.
  3. Audience extension enables publishers to ‘pack and sell’ a part of the inventory to advertisers who are specifically seeking that audience.
  4. The advanced analytics feature lets publishers monitor and benchmark their inventory performance to avoid underselling.

9. PubMatic

ad exchange Pubmatic

Pubmatic is a publisher-centric ad technology company. It delivers over 64 billion daily ad impressions to 800M+ unique users across the globe.

The technology is available for web, mobile, and app publishers. Publishers like Dictionary.com, Livingly Media, and Times Internet are monetizing using Pubmatic’s technology. 

Features for Publishers:

  1. OpenWrap—an open-source header bidding wrapper by Pubmatic enables client-side, server-side, and hybrid header bidding solutions.
  2. Real-time bidding technology with a large pool of bidders increases bid pressure and hence publisher earning potential.
  3. The platform detects and filters invalid traffic to ensure brand safety.

10. Google AdX

Google runs its own ad exchange where Google Display Network partners can buy and sell ads. Google AdX comes under the umbrella of Google Ad Manager, offering third-party demand along with GDN.

It uses open auctions (preferred and programmatic deals) and private auction models (programmatic guaranteed) to make inventory exchange possible.

Google AdX is only available for premium publishers and advertisers. Small and medium publishers can access these services with the help of Google Network Partners (like AdPushup).

Features for Publishers:

  1. With account-level filtering, publishers can filter out the demand and creatives that they don’t want on their sites.
  2. Publishers can define various parameters (geography, ad sizes, layouts, ATF, and BTF ad units) for their revenue reporting and to better understand the inventory.
  3. Once publishers sign up with AdX, the platform handles everything from ad delivery to payments.

Ad Exchange Vs. Ad Network

Ad exchange and ad networks might sound similar to most publishers as they both manage and sell inventory. But there are differences between Ad Exchange and Ad Network.


An ad network aims to maximize publishers’ profit by selling inventory at the highest price. Whereas, an ad exchange simply wants to provide a perfect seller-buyer match.

Basic Model

The basic model of an ad network is to collect publishers’ inventory, categorize it, and sell it for profit. With ad networks, advertisers don’t know where their ads are going to be displayed. And publishers don’t know whose ads they are showing.

Ad network keeps all such data confined within its network (unless the publisher or advertiser asks to see the data). On the other side, exchanges are transparent. They keep the auction open for advertisers and ad agencies. Hence everyone can see the money exchanged between the buyers and sellers. Next, it connects the seller and buyer in a way that the exchange is visible to all the involved parties/platforms (SSPs, DSPs, and other vendors).


Ad exchange is a bigger entity than ad networks. Therefore, sometimes ad network ends up purchasing inventory from ad exchanges and gets the right to re-sell it at a profit.

For example, Google AdSense is an ad network and Google Ad Exchange is an ad exchange. Here, AdSense only gets its demand from the Google Display Network (GDN), while AdX connects publishers to a bigger marketplace of advertisers and DSPs.

Now, ad exchange is not to be confused with ad network. Their objectives may be similar with paths are different.

FeatureAd ExchangeAd Network
FunctionFacilitates real-time buying and selling of ad space.Aggregates ad inventory from publishers for advertisers.
Inventory SourceAggregates inventory from multiple publishers.Directly manages and controls its own ad inventory.
Pricing ModelOften uses real-time bidding (RTB) for dynamic pricing.Typically uses a fixed CPM (Cost Per Mille) pricing model.
Targeting PrecisionAllows for precise audience targeting and segmentation.Targets audiences based on the network’s aggregated data.
Control for PublishersPublishers have more control over pricing and inventory.Publishers have less control over pricing and inventory.
Flexibility for AdvertisersAdvertisers can choose specific impressions and bid in real-time.Advertisers have less flexibility as ad placements are pre-determined.
CompetitionEncourages competition among advertisers in real-time.Limited competition as advertisers buy from a fixed inventory.
Ad Format VarietySupports various ad formats and creative types.Limited ad format options as determined by the network.
Revenue PotentialPotential for higher revenue due to real-time bidding.Revenue may be limited by fixed pricing and inventory.
ComplexityCan be more complex due to real-time bidding and algorithms.Generally simpler as it involves buying from a set inventory.
ExamplesGoogle Ad Exchange, OpenX, Rubicon Project.AdMob, AdSense, DoubleClick (now part of Google AdX).

Ad Exchange Vs. Supply Side Platform

As you already know by now what is an ad exchange, let’s take a look at a quick breakdown of supply side platforms.

What is Supply Side Platform?

Supply-side platforms are the platforms that allow publishers to monetize their ad inventory by presenting it to multiple ad exchanges. It helps increase the competition for their ad inventory, which leads to higher prices for the ads. 

Moreover, with the supply-side platforms, publishers receive a host of control settings, including accepted ad categories, setting up the minimum price for an ad, and the list goes on.

Ad Exchange Vs. Ad Server

Ad exchanges and ad servers play interconnected but distinct roles in the digital advertising ecosystem. Ad exchanges facilitate anonymous transactions on a broad scale, connecting a diverse range of advertisers with publishers.

An ad exchange serves as the dynamic marketplace for digital advertising transactions. It provides a diverse array of ad inventory, fostering competition among a broad spectrum of advertisers vying for available impressions. The transactions occur swiftly and efficiently, allowing advertisers to bid on impressions as users navigate websites or apps, with the highest bidder securing the opportunity to display their ad.

In contrast, the ad server is the operational engine that ensures the seamless delivery of digital ads. It acts as the central hub for storing, managing, and serving creatives. Ad servers operate based on predefined rules, managing aspects such as targeting criteria, frequency capping, and scheduling. Publishers utilize ad servers to exert control over their inventory, allowing them to optimize ad delivery based on their unique business goals. 

How Does It Differ from Ad Exchanges?

The main difference between an ad exchange and a supply-side platform is that an ad exchange is a marketplace that connects both buyers and sellers of advertising inventory, while an SSP is a platform that is used exclusively by publishers to manage their inventory and connect with multiple demand sources, including ad exchanges.

Challenges of Ad Exchange

While ad exchanges offer numerous benefits, they also come with several challenges that advertisers and publishers must navigate. 

1. Ad Fraud

Ad exchanges are susceptible to various forms of ad fraud, including click fraud, impression fraud, and fake traffic. Fraudulent activities can lead to advertisers paying for non-existent or low-quality impressions, undermining the effectiveness and integrity of ad campaigns.

2. Brand Safety Concerns

Maintaining brand safety is a significant challenge in ad exchanges. Advertisers may find their ads displayed alongside inappropriate or controversial content, potentially damaging brand reputation. Ensuring brand-safe environments within the exchange is a continuous struggle.

3. Ad Viewability Issues

Viewability remains a concern, as not all served ads are necessarily viewed by users. Advertisers may struggle to ensure that their messages are seen by the intended audience, impacting the overall effectiveness of campaigns.

4. Ad Blocking

The rise of ad-blocking technology poses a challenge for ad exchanges, as users increasingly employ these tools to avoid intrusive or irrelevant ads. This trend reduces the reach and impact of ads, impacting the revenue potential for publishers.

5. Quality of Ad Inventory

Ad exchanges can sometimes lack transparency regarding the quality of available ad inventory. Publishers may struggle to differentiate their premium inventory from lower-quality options, making it challenging for advertisers to make informed purchasing decisions.

Navigating through these complexities requires a nuanced understanding of the diverse types of ad exchanges and a strategic approach to harness their potential while mitigating potential risks. In this context, exploring the nuances of ad exchanges, their types, and the challenges they entail becomes imperative for stakeholders aiming to thrive in the dynamic digital advertising landscape.

Key Takeaways

Ad exchange is a digital marketplace where publishers and advertisers come together to sell and buy inventories.

Ad Exchange enables advertisers to easily purchase ads across multiple sites at once instead of negotiating purchases directly with specific publishers.

Compared to ad networks, ad exchanges are more transparent because they enable buyers to see the exact price at which impressions are being sold for.

Different types of ad exchanges include Open Ad Exchange, Preferred Deals, and Private Marketplace. Some of the best ad exchanges include Google Ad Exchange, AppNexus, Pubmatic, and OpenX.

We now hope you have complete clarity on “What is an ad exchange?”

Ad exchanges enable publishers to sell their inventory to a bigger pool of buyers (ad networks, DSPs, and advertisers), conversely, advertisers get access to a large pool of ad inventories.

If you need any assistance in ad revenue optimisation for your business, get in touch with our team. AdPushup helps digital publishers generate maximum ROI from their ads on their websites. We have helped businesses achieve an average 35% increase in revenue since 2014.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help boost your ad revenue and grow your business!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Is An Ad Exchange?

Ad exchange connects thousands of publishers and advertisers by providing a platform to sell and buy ad inventories using its connections with various ad networks and supply-side platforms.

2. How Does an Ad Exchange Function?

An ad exchange is a digital marketplace where supply and demand come together to trade ad inventories through real-time auctions. It gathers advertisers and publishers to sell inventory to the highest bidder.

3. Are Ad Exchanges Transparent?

Ad exchanges are relatively more transparent than ad networks. They enable buyers to see real-time price impressions. Many ad networks now buy their inventory from exchanges.

4. Who Buys from Ad Exchanges?

Ad exchanges permit anyone with permission to purchase ad inventory, making it a popular choice for ad networks, advertisers, and DSPs due to the wide range of options available. Publishers also benefit from using ad exchanges as they gain access to a large pool of potential buyers and can sell their advertising space more effectively.

5. Why Do Ad Exchanges Matter?

Ad exchanges provide a streamlined method for purchasing and selling ad inventory by bringing together advertisers and publishers in one centralized platform. Rather than having to navigate the complex and time-consuming process of negotiating with individual publishers, ad exchanges enable advertisers to easily purchase advertising space across a broad range of websites.

6. Is Google an Ad Exchange?

As a search engine giant, Google owns and operates its own ad exchange called Google Ad Exchange (AdX). AdX is an open auction platform designed to facilitate the sale of publishers’ ad inventory to premium advertisers. It operates within the programmatic advertising ecosystem, leveraging real-time bidding (RTB) technology to help advertisers bid on available ad space in real time

7. What are the examples of Ad Exchanges?

Rubicon Project
Verizon Media
Facebook Exchange

8. What Is a Private Exchange?

A private exchange is a platform that is exclusive to a select group of advertisers, as determined by the publishers who control the marketplace. Unlike open ad exchanges, private exchanges are closed systems that limit the number of buyers to a handful of handpicked advertisers. Publishers on private exchanges maintain control over the conditions of ad sales, such as minimum pricing and specific buyers allowed to access their ad space.

9. Which one is the Most Popular Ad Exchange among Publishers?

Google AdX, or Google Ad Exchange, is the largest programmatic ad exchange. Google AdX conducts the first-price auction and sells display advertising space in real time.

10. What is the difference between an ad exchange and RTB?

Ad exchanges come in various types, including open ad exchanges that facilitate real-time bidding in a public marketplace and private ad exchanges, which are invitation-only platforms offering exclusivity to a select group of advertisers and publishers. 
There are also specialized ad exchanges such as mobile ad exchanges, video ad exchanges, and native ad exchanges, each catering to specific formats and industry niches within the digital advertising landscape.

11. Who might benefit from building their own ad exchange?

Large publishers or digital media companies with substantial traffic and diverse advertising needs stand to gain the most by having their own ad exchange. This gives them greater control over ad transactions, pricing models, and the quality of ad inventory. Additionally, companies seeking to innovate in the digital advertising space, optimize user experiences, and establish direct relationships with advertisers might find building a proprietary ad exchange advantageous.

12. How do ad exchanges make money? Or How do ad exchanges generate revenue?

Revenue generation through ad exchanges occurs by charging fees or commissions on transactions that occur within their platform. These fees are often a percentage of the winning bid or a fixed fee per thousand impressions (CPM) and contribute to the revenue generated by the ad exchange.

13. What is the role of an ad exchange in programmatic advertising?

In the case of programmatic advertising, ad exchange plays a central role as the marketplace where automated buying and selling of digital ad inventory occur in real time. It facilitates programmatic transactions, enabling advertisers to bid on and purchase ad impressions through algorithms and data-driven decision-making processes.

14. Are there any risks associated with using ad exchanges?

Putting the benefits of ad exchanges aside, there are certain risks associated with the activity. Major among them is the potential for ad fraud, brand safety concerns, and the lack of transparency in ad inventory quality.

15. How do I know if an ad exchange is right for my business?

The judging of whether an ad exchange is right or not needs to be made by considering factors such as the scale of your digital advertising needs, the diversity of your target audience, and your willingness to navigate potential challenges like ad fraud and brand safety.


Deepak has a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of the ad tech landscape. Whether it's through in-depth articles, thought-provoking insights, or compelling storytelling, he’s dedicated to helping people navigate the complex world of ad tech with the simplicity of his words.

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