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9 November, 2023

Ad Servers - The best guide for publishers in 2024

Ad Servers - The best guide for publishers in 2024
  • Discover top ad servers for publishers and their features.
  • Learn how ad-serving platforms optimize ad revenue and user experiences.
  • Gain insights into why advertising servers are vital in the digital advertising landscape.

Let's say you do have a great inventory. With many ad networks, ad exchanges, and real-time bidding systems currently existing, it has become easy to find the right advertisers and monetize your inventory. But to get the best out of it in the long run, you need to track performance and work on optimizing it constantly. This is where ad servers come into play.

This blog post helps you understand ad-serving platforms, what they are, why you need them, and how to use them.

What is an ad server

An ad server is a programmatic software that performs ad trafficking - deciding what ads to display, when, and on which app, completely taking the process of ad revenue strategy into control. As a publisher, you can rely on ad-serving platforms for detailed reporting about the ad campaigns running on your app and their performance.

Let's dig a little deeper into the concept.

How ad serving technology works

During the first few years of programmatic advertising, negotiations between publishers and advertisers took place manually. Soon when the number of advertisers increased, publishers felt the need to have a more efficient system to manage the ads on their apps, which is when ad-serving platforms were introduced.

Both publishers and advertisers use ad servers but for different purposes. For instance, Google Ad Manager can be used by both publishers and advertisers for their individual requirements.

Based on the purpose, ad servers that publishers like you use are called first-party ad servers, whereas ad servers used by advertisers or agencies are referred to as 3rd party ad servers. There are three basic steps involved in the working of it.

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Three-step working process of ad-serving platforms

Working process of ad serversWorking process of ad servers
  1. Calling the ad tag on the publisher site: When a user visits an app, the ad tag placed in the ad unit is called so that the ad server gets an ad creative ready.
  2. Selecting an ad creative: An ad creative is chosen depending on factors such as whether the deal is pre-negotiated, an open auction is involved, and available user information such as behavior, geographic location, browsing history, etc.
  3. Calling the advertiser ad creative to display: In the case of pre-negotiated deals, the advertiser creatives are stored and called directly from the first-party advertising server. However, a 3rd party ad-serving platform is involved when there is an open auction. In both cases, user information is considered to deliver the most relevant ads.

We're now clear that the working of ad-serving systems depends on whether you use a stand-alone first-party server or a third-party server. Let's look at both processes.

Stand-alone first-party ad servers for publishers

First-party ad serversFirst-party ad servers

Here is a simple explanation of the working process of first-party advertising servers:

  1. When the publisher's app page loads, an ad request is sent to the ad server.
  2. The ad-serving platform determines the best ad to display based on user information.
  3. The ad-serving solution returns the ad creative. The ad is displayed to the user, and the user's impression is recorded.

First-party with third-party ad servers

First-party with third-party ad serversFirst-party with third-party ad servers

Here is how ad serving works when a 3rd party ad server is involved:

  1. When the publisher's app page loads, an ad request is sent to the first-party ad server.
  2. The first-party advertising server selects an active ad campaign based on the user information.
  3. The first-party ad-serving platform returns the ad campaign's ad markup (code) to the app, containing a URL that calls the ad creative on the third-party ad server.
  4. The third-party ad server selects an ad creative by processing the user information.
  5. The third-party ad server returns the ad creative to the publisher's app. The ad is displayed to the user, and the user's impression is recorded.

Features of good ad-serving platforms

Although you now know to some extent what an ideal ad server should be like, there are a few more things that an ad-serving solution must accommodate.

  • Support for multiple ad formats: Making ads compatible with various screen sizes and browsers is critical for improving ad revenue. Thus, a good advertising server offers multiple ad format capabilities to support different advertiser campaigns and deliver the best results.
  • Support for A/B testing: A/B testing is a critical aspect that defines a good ad-serving system. It is a process of testing two or more variables of an ad creative to identify the best-performing ad. This can be done by testing an entire ad unit or parts of it.
  • Support for dynamic creative optimization: Dynamic ads are those that are shown to individual users based on their past behaviors or browsing histories. Ad-serving platforms with support for dynamic creative optimization allow you to display personalized ads and create retargeting opportunities.

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Why do you need advertising servers

As a publisher, you have a variety of advertisers running on different creatives with different budgets and targeting. Ad servers let you manage these without a hassle. Also, you can use ad-serving platforms as a single source of tracking ad delivery and revenue.

The following are the benefits of using ad servers:

  • Specific targeting options: Advertising servers allow publishers to set up targeting options to serve relevant ads to the users for better results. The different types of targeting are geo-targeting, keyword targeting, and contextual targeting.
  • Detailed analytics: In-depth information about how ad placements, formats, etc., are performing helps publishers plan their inventory. Also, some ad-serving platforms come with built-in inventory forecasting tools.
  • Transparency: The transparency that comes with ad servers stems from the advanced analytics that they offer. Also, almost all ad-serving solutions are MRC-accredited or recognized by other similar organizations, making them more reliable.
  • Ad frequency capping: The frequency at which an ad must be shown to users is something that you need to master. Gaining more impressions, clicks, etc., without being too repetitive is important, and ad management tools in ad-serving technology help you accomplish that.
  • Ad rotation: Ad rotation means showing different ads to users every time they land on a page. By doing this, ad-serving solutions ensure that a user's experience is not hampered due to redundant ads.

Top ad servers for publishers

  • Kevel

    Kevel is a suite of APIs that allows publishers to build a customized ad server.

    Key features

    • Has faster response times with server-side ad serving
    • Offers granular reporting
    • Has ad-blocking capabilities
    • Supports native ads

    Benefits for publishers

    Kevel is an excellent choice for publishers looking for a highly customizable and flexible ad-serving solution. Its real-time decision engine and support for native ads ensure a seamless and targeted ad experience for users. With its flexible pricing models, Kevel is accessible to publishers of all sizes.

  • OpenX

    Key features

    • Suitable for large publishers
    • Has targeting capabilities
    • Offers customized reporting of up to 12 months' data

    Benefits for publishers

    OpenX is a reliable ad server that places a strong focus on ad quality and supports various content channels. It offers real-time bidding to maximize ad revenue and advanced targeting for efficient ad delivery. Publishers can count on OpenX for insights into ad performance and maintaining a high-quality ad experience.

  • Magnite (Previously called Rubicon Project)

    Key features

    • Self-serve platform with premium advertisers
    • Offers real-time insights
    • Has data protection features

    Benefits for publishers

    Magnite is a powerful ad server that offers access to a unified ad marketplace and supports header bidding, enhancing competition for ad inventory. Its comprehensive reporting and audience insights tools provide publishers with the information they need to optimize their ad strategies across various channels.

  • Xandr (Previously called AppNexus)

    Key features

    • Suitable for premium publishers
    • Supports multiple ad types across all screen sizes
    • Supports dynamic ad allocation
    • Comes with an SSP

    Benefits for publishers

    Xandr is an all-in-one solution for publishers looking to manage ad campaigns across multiple channels. It offers programmatic advertising capabilities, advanced audience targeting, and valuable data insights. Its unified platform streamlines the ad management process, making it an efficient choice for publishers of all sizes.

The choice of the best ad server depends on your unique publishing needs, audience, and content platforms. Whether you're a small blog or a large media company, these best ad-serving platforms offer a solution to enhance your ad-serving capabilities and boost your revenue.


Understanding the power of ad servers and making an informed decision when choosing one is crucial for publishers aiming to excel in the dynamic world of digital advertising. By leveraging the features and benefits of these best ad servers, you can optimize your ad revenue and offer a superior ad experience to your audience, ultimately ensuring the continued success of your online publishing endeavors.

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