This title might sound tricky for anyone that is already familiar with ad operations, but since there IS confusion about this and since we’ve been this asked repeatedly, we figured it was time to write a 101 article 🙂
What’s an ad server? Here’s a simple definition:
An ad server is a web server that stores online marketing advertisements and delivers them to a digital supports like websites, mobile sites or mobile apps.
An interface allows users to manage their advertisements. That basically means putting the creative online, setting the delivery parameters, targeting (eventually), ad serving, monitoring and optimizing online campaigns. Different types of banners (text, image, video, flash, HTML5, etc.) can be supported.
An “ad server” refers to the technology, so there is a prerequisite you’ll need before starting to use one: advertisers willing to advertise on your site or app. You’ll also need the creatives they’d like to display. Remember, even if an ad server can help build advanced banners (which, by the way, Smart AdServer does pretty well), it still can’t making them from scratch.
Why you may need an ad server
If you’re on the sell-side, meaning you have inventory to sell. Publishers and ad networks fall into this category.
Publishers, for example, create digital content that they’re willing to monetize. They can monetize and improve revenue through sales by directly selling inventory to advertisers or agencies interested in their audience. They can also go through a third-party vendor.
If you sell inventory directly to advertisers, then you’ll probably need an ad server to manage all your advertising campaigns.
If you’re working with an automatic advertising platform like Google AdSense, or you’re partnering with an ad network that sells your ad inventory for you, you may not have any advertisers to sell directly to. IIf that’s the case, you won’t manage your banners yourself and you don’t need an ad server.
If you’re on the buy-side, you’re looking to buy inventory. In that case, you’re an advertiser or a media agency.
If you’re an advertiser with a pre-built media plan and you’re willing to advertise your banners to sell-side actors, you could use an ad server.
If you’re a media agency, you could use an ad server to serve banners on behalf of your advertisers. Why’s that? Well, you might want to take back control by tracking the clicks, impressions, and conversions of the banners you deliver.