What is an Ad Server?


Programmatic marketing is how you see the vast majority of your ads online.

When this is mentioned you think of ways in which ad space is bought and sold and terms such as DSPs (demand side platforms) and SSPs (supply side platforms) immediately come into your head.

That isn’t the only part of the technology that is used to get ads out to millions of people. There is also something called an ad server.

In this short guide you can learn about:

● The definition of an ad server
● How ad serving actually works
● Ad servers and publishers
● Ad servers and advertisers
● How to choose the right ad server for you

It all sounds very complicated especially if you have never came across the term before but in actual fact it’s fairly straightforward.

ad servers for advertisers and publishers

Ad server definition

First thing first – let’s actually define that an ad server is.

The best way to look at this is to describe an online advertisement. When you go onto a website you see ad content, right? This is usually a visual such as a picture with text or even a video, Well, this content has to be hosted, optimised and distributed. The digital space that it is displayed on isn’t going to host all this data.

This is where an ad server comes in.

The ad server hosts the advertising content and then makes an immediate decision what to display on a website when a particular user visits that digital space.

How does ad serving work?

Remember earlier when we talked about DSPs and SSPs? Well, these both play a critical role in online ad serving and the running of an ad server alongside ad exchanges.

DSPs and SSPs are where ads and digital space are bought and sold. With the rise of programmatic advertising, this isn’t done manually anymore and ad serving technology allows this to be done instantaneously.

An ad server feeds into these ad platforms and connects to a website that an ad is going to be displayed on. So, the advertiser uploads the visual ad content onto an advertisers ad server (which we’ll look at below), this is fed into the ad tech platforms such as SSPs and DSPs which then pushes it out the Publishers ad server (which we’ll also look at below) and in the end, it is displayed on the website to a visitor.

It’s kind of like a circle because data from the website is then fed back through the ad server to gain valuable insights.

Ad servers for publishers

As we have already mentioned in this guide, there are two kinds of ad server out there – one for publishers and one for advertisers.

The ad server for publishers are designed for that the ad content is displayed to the right viewers on a website which will in turn help to get impressions and clicks which is what makes the money for a publisher. They control how people see the ads and how website visitors engage with the ads as well.

The server will gather valuable data from the website which will be fed back through the system so that publishers can see reports on how the ads are performing on their websites. This is all-important so that they can optimise the ad space that they have to sell and it will allow them to increase the value of the clicks and impressions that the ads receive.

Ad servers for advertisers

The ad servers that have been designed for advertisers use similar technology but they perform a different function.

They have been built so that advertisers save time and money. Instead of having to deal with various websites and publishers on a manual basis, the ad server helps to do all of this in real-time and in a programmatic way. They also churn out reporting of how ads are performing which means that you will be able to optimise your advertising campaigns effectively and for maximum impact.

In essence, ad servers for advertisers let you work with a variety of publishers on a centralised system.

Choosing the right ad server

Getting the right ad server to suit your needs depends on whether you are a publisher or using third-party ad serving companies which are designed for advertisers.

You should look out for things such as whether the ad server is hosted or self-hosted as both have their pros and cons.

For example, hosted ad servers are easier to use without needing any technical knowledge and also don’t require installation and come with automatic updates. However, they are generally more expensive and don’t have many customizable options.

Self-hosted ad servers require more technical knowledge without automatic updating but they are much more customizable to your specific needs and come at a lower cost.

Ad servers play a vital if not a rather invisible role in how ads are displayed to people like us on the internet. As either an advertiser or a publisher, using one will make your life a lot easier but also allow you to maximise your profits too.

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