Written by Sabqat Ruba on 28 Jul 2022

How To Choose An Ad Server: A Complete Guide For Publishers

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 servers, what they are, why you need them, and how to use them

What is an ad server

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

Let's dig a little deeper into the concept of ad servers.

How ad servers work

During the first few years of online 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 website, which is when ad servers 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 third-party ad servers. There are three basic steps involved in the working of these ad servers.

Three-step working process of ad servers
  1. Calling the ad tag on the publisher site: When a user visits a website, 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 ad server. However, a third-party ad server 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 servers depends on whether you use a stand-alone first-party server or a third-party server is involved. Let's look at both processes.

Stand-alone first-party ad servers

Working of stand-alone first-party ad servers
Here is a simple explanation of the working process of first-party ad servers:
  1. When the publisher's web page loads, an ad request is sent to the ad server.
  2. The ad server determines the best ad to display based on user information.
  3. The ad server 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

Working of first-party ad servers with third-party ad servers
Here is how ad serving works when a third-party ad server is involved:
  1. When the publisher's web page loads, an ad request is sent to the first-party ad server.
  2. The first-party ad server selects an active ad campaign based on the user information.
  3. The first-party ad server returns the ad campaign's ad markup (code) to the web page, 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 web page. The ad is displayed to the user, and the user's impression is recorded.

Why you need an ad server

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

Other reasons to use an ad server are as follows.

  • Specific targeting options: Ad 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 servers 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 servers 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 servers 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 servers ensure that a user's experience is not hampered due to redundant ads.

Features of a good ad server

Although you now know to some extent what an ideal ad server should be like, there are a few more things that ad servers 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 ad 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 server. 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 servers with support for dynamic creative optimization allow you to display personalized ads and create retargeting opportunities.

Top ad servers for publishers

Below are the top ad servers for you.

Google Ad Manager (Previously called DFP)

Important features: Has two separate versions for small and premium publishers Helps with direct sales and monetizing remnant inventory Allows dynamic allocation of ads Has malware detection capabilities Has frequency capping capabilities


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

Important features:

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


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

Magnite (Previously called Rubicon Project)

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

Xandr (Previously called AppNexus)

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

To conclude, ad servers are a great investment for you. Evaluate your requirements thoroughly and the capabilities you are looking for before deciding which ad server to choose. Write to us at publisher@greedygame.com for assistance.

Reach out to the GreedyGame team


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USA Office

GreedyGame Inc.
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India Office

GreedyGame Media Private Limited,
4th Floor, No.04, Zed Pentagon,
Hosur Main Road, Bommanahalli,
Bengaluru 560068 Karnataka

USA Office

GreedyGame Inc.
2093 Philadelphia Pike,
#2346, Claymont,
State of Delaware 19703