Best Ad Servers For Publishers

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by

Daniel Wade

 / 

August 16, 2021

Estimated digital ad spend sits at $455 billion in 2021. Over 55% of that will be allocated to display ads, emphasizing the importance of a capable ad server.

With so many available ad servers on the market, finding the perfect one can be a difficult task. We rank Google Ad Manager, Kevel, and Smart as the three best options available to publishers. They have a broad range of features and advertising products to separate them from the competition.

Small publishers typically opt into Google AdSense or join a basic ad network. However, utilizing an ad server is an efficient way to increase your revenue. Implementation is easy to accomplish and allows you to take complete control of your own ad inventory. Ad servers give publishers access to better ad inventory, more accurate audience targeting, and advanced analytics features, unlike other alternatives.

These recommended ad servers have all been tested to determine the available features and how accurate they are in producing increased revenue for you. Trust these recommendations along with the research presented on each. Now let’s check out the eleven best ad servers for publishers.  

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Best Ad Servers For Publishers

Ad servers provide solutions for both advertisers and publishers to improve their monetization techniques and increase revenues. We have analyzed the eight best ad servers for publishers based on available features, reporting, analytics, and other relevant tools for the most optimized ad delivery.

Here are your top ad servers for publishers:

Google Ad Manager

One of the best ad servers for publishers is Google Ad Manager, although previously known as Double Click. After a purchase in 2008, Google rebranded Double Click to Google Ad Manager to provide customers with a versatile ad server.

Google Ad Manager is convenient because it easily integrates with Google Adsense to offer more revenue potential for publishers. There is no need to link to a third-party server if you rely heavily on Adsense already.

All ads are automatically re-scanned intermittently to allow for a smoother delivery process. There is also a way that the Google Ad Manager server creates dynamic allocation and price combinations for ad delivery. Both features are extremely impressive to show the right ads at the best times while keeping prices optimized.

The security provided by the Google Ad Manager is also exceptional. There are malware detection functions that identify any suspicious threats like fake URLs or viruses.

Google Ad Manager is a demand-side platform that gives digital advertising buyers the opportunity to manage more than one ad exchange in the same place.  

Pros:

  • Wide range of key metrics that can be tracked.
  • Niche audience access and targeting.
  • Ads are targeted based on relevant search keywords.
  • Customizable dashboard.
  • Extremely scalable ads.
  • Plenty of third-party integrations available.

Cons:

  • Keyword recommendations could be more accurate.
  • The interface is overwhelming at first.
  • The budget management feature can be inaccurate.
  • Needs better campaign filters.

Pricing

There are two primary pricing plans for the Google Ad Manager.

Google Ad Manager Small Business: FREE

  • Up to 90 million monthly impressions for non-video in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
  • Up to 150 million monthly impressions for non-video in most countries.
  • Up to 200 million monthly impressions for non-video in mostly eastern European and Asian countries.

Google Ad Manager 360: TBD (Speak to a Google sales rep)

  • Advanced video display options
  • More detailed targeting features
  • Auto-suggest ads.
  • Advanced reporting.
  • Google Data Studio access.

Kevel

Kevel was previously known as Adzerk before things changed. They are one of the most recognizable ad server brands on the market helping publishers drive more online revenue. The types of ad delivery consist of sponsored listings, internal promotions, native ads, video ads, and much more.

Kevel offers a wide range of optimization tools too. The ad server includes all types of A/B testing opportunities, conversion tracking, banner management, and affiliates. There are so many ways to get the most from your ads when using Kevel.

Kevel provides an ad-engine-as-a-service to deploy customer campaigns. These campaigns are produced through the use of APIs for more accurate ad launching and optimization. This eliminates any needs to create brand new ads by stocking up inventory with plenty of options.

The most noteworthy aspect of Kevel is its complex APIs that consistently perform near the top of the industry across the board. They provide APIs with JSON objects for better white-label offerings. This means that the bidding algorithm is more precise, budget tracking works quicker, and analytics are on point.

The visual dashboards are much more intensive than the Google Ad Manager. It is well-structured and includes pre-made ads that can be run instantly without an API key.  

Pros:

  • Easy to use for entry-level customers.
  • Plenty of tools available to build custom ads.
  • Reliable customer support.
  • Top-notch conversion tracking.
  • Easy to integrate with existing ads.
  • Variety of APIs available for use for custom applications.
  • Best non-programmatic ad serving platform.

Cons:

  • Campaign organization can get cluttered.
  • Advanced reporting functions are subpar.
  • Needs more creative templates.
  • Inviting multiple users is difficult.
  • Not ideal for video delivery.

Pricing

The Kevel platform is extremely specific. While they do charge a monthly subscription, all plans are tailored specifically to fit your exact needs. There is no set pricing plan.

They offer an initial 30-day free trial for all new users to test out the platform before making a major commitment with a subscription.

Smart

Smart is another reliable option with plenty of features to entice publishers to sign up for their ad server. They are known to be the most transparent of the group, with excellent features available to put all of the control into the publisher’s hands for their campaigns.

Smart ad server is the most open, trustworthy ad server to use because it gives publishers the access to run both programmatic and direct ads across every format available. This is extremely uncommon when compared to other competitors on this list.

The Smart ad server also provides users with complex, granular reporting that is unmatched compared to many competitors. It ultimately simplifies that campaign optimization process. You can easily create custom ad experiences that natively fit with your content.

The reporting features get even better when discussing real-time analytics to forecast potential revenue opportunities with your content. Publishers are able to identify weak spots and improve their targeting with quick data.

Premium publishers are getting a top-notch product focusing on elite reporting functions, accurate audience targeting, and reliable delivery. Overall, this is one of the best available ad servers for publishers.  

Pros:

  • Easy to understand and highly functional for beginners.
  • Intuitive user interface and simple to navigate.
  • Free trial available.
  • Campaign tracking is intensive with reliable formats and metrics.
  • Programmatic and direct ad offerings.
  • Fraud controls are fantastic and secure.  

Cons:

  • Needs better tracking for demographics for traffic and conversions.
  • Better relationship with agencies.
  • Software updates are too frequent and cause the server to be down.
  • Pricing can get expensive for larger accounts.

Pricing

Similar to Kevel, pricing is determined after a detailed call with a sales rep at Smart to determine your specific needs. There is a free trial to get started to allow you to learn and understand the platform more before making a commitment.  

Nativo

Nativo defines its ad delivery process as a way to enable storytelling at scale. They have extensive reach across a variety of networks with excellent targeting features to make sure advertisers can show their ads to the right people natively.

As a publisher, finding an ad server that entices advertisers to purchase your ads is important and plays a vital role in increasing your monetization efforts. Nativo provides next-generation ad formations with technology to back them up for optimizable delivery across different web pages.

Nativo can reach more than 220 million unique users in the US per month. This is the most extensive reach available of any ad server. Publishers can monetize all types of ad content with such a massive audience at their fingertips.

The ad inventory is easy to view, filter, and deliver too. They develop truly native content with the Nativo IQ platform that gives you all the insights needed to optimize campaigns and get the most out of each delivery.

Some key features included with Nativo are A/B testing, brand management, budgeting, fully customizable dashboards, and a variety of third-party integrations. All of the plans can be tailored specifically for your needs to include all the features to maximize your revenue potential.  

Pros:

  • Real-time ad reporting system.
  • 24/7 customer support team.
  • Contextual ads are available.
  • High payout rates with excellent revenue share.
  • Ad clicks don’t get redirected.
  • High-quality inventory.
  • Workflow optimizations.  

Cons:

  • No referral program.
  • Only available in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.
  • Publishers must create template pages for their integrations.

Pricing

Nativo uses a perpetual pricing system where you pay an upfront fee for the software, installation, and other integrations. The recurring cost is low and gets determined with a sales rep based on your specific monthly needs.

Nativo offers a 50% revenue share with publishers and the minimum payout threshold is $250.

AdGlare

Another popular choice among the best ad servers for publishers is AdGlare. It is a self-serving ad server that acts as a white-label ad server service for both publishers and advertisers. There are publishers located all over the world using AdGlare as a way to get the best from their ad serving stack.

The AdGlare platform contains excellent optimization features with plenty of media options to consider. There are rich media ads, banner display ads, and in-stream video ads all available for new campaigns with targeted delivery.

All the basic functions you need from an ad server are included plus many upgraded features that make it possible to maximize your revenue as a publisher. The dashboard is user-friendly with easy-to-understand tracking features to monitor your campaigns.

The lead conversion feature gives you access to accurate geo-targeting and browser targeting so your ads are shown to relevant audiences. They also measure important metrics for you to analyze how your website performs while the ads are running. Key metrics include Quality Score and your page load speeds with insights into any optimizations available.

AdGlare also provides free CDN hosting with no added costs. This allows for easier integrations with other content management systems and maximum compatibility.

Budgeting is easy too. There is a way to cap the visitor frequency to ads and campaigns to keep your page speeds high while staying within your budget.    

Pros:

  • Video transcoding for high-quality playback.
  • Real-time reporting dashboards.
  • Live impression metrics to gauge ad performance.
  • Free CDN to expand your bandwidth at no cost.
  • Conversion tracking and CTR optimization.
  • Excellent customer support.
  • Simple UI / UX.
  • Responsive ad zones.

Cons:

  • The visual design of the dashboards can be a little dull.
  • Increase range of partner websites for ad display.
  • Customizations requested must be submitted to the AdGlare development team.

Pricing

The AdGlare pricing is quite simple to understand. There are customizations that can be made to expand any plan. All signups come with a free trial. There is also a free version if you are just getting started.

Essential: 5 million ad requests - $129/mo

Professional: 10 million ad requests - $349/mo

Enterprise: 25 million ad requests - $599/mo

Custom: Contact sales for pricing with 100m+ ad requests available

Revive

Revive is a complete ad server to help publishers simplify the advertiser management process. They are a fully operational open-source advertising platform with unique ad delivery and tracking capabilities. The platform is easy to understand and serves as an efficient platform to manage your ads.

With Revive, you can publish ads, remove ads, manage analytics, track key demographics, and much more. At first, it can be overwhelming jumping right into Revive because of how much they have to offer but after spending time around the platform it becomes second nature to use.

The advanced targeting available is next level and all ad placements can be specifically designed to maximize revenue. Targeting options include date, day, time, geographic location, web browser type, language, interests, and more. There are so many ways to tailor your ads to be served better.

The management aspect with Revive is even more impressive. You can customize a dashboard to display everything you need to track and run quick reports to measure things like conversions, leads, transactions, and clicks.

Because this is an open-source platform, the ad server can be installed right on your server as a publisher. The process requires some technical knowledge but Revive can help get it done quickly.

Revive also gives publishers access to plenty of plugins and integrations to improve the way your server runs. All you need to get started with Revive is a Postgresql or MySQL server.  

Pros:

  • Geotargeting available for audience segmentation.
  • Supports Google Adsense tags.
  • Easy to install.
  • Extensive third-party plugins are available.
  • Simple UI and easy for beginners to learn.
  • Tracking metrics is efficient.
  • Free

Cons:

  • Highly dependent on the open-source community.
  • Unreliable support for technical help.
  • APIs are limited.
  • Many of the best plugins are paid.

Pricing

This is an open-source platform so it costs $0 to run the actual ad server. However, you will need to upgrade your own server to run it properly which can cost a few hundred dollars to accomplish. There are also third-party plugins that might be necessary to use the software effectively that can get quite expensive.

Broadstreet

Broadstreet is an excellent ad server that positions publishers to take better advantage of relationships with advertisers. They provide a wide inventory of ads with plenty of reporting and delivery features to get the most out of every campaign you run. It’s also easy to use and allows beginners to become experts overnight.

The initial launch of Broadstreet was to better serve local news sites and magazines with better ad placement. However, they quickly grew the platform to expand to a wider audience and brought a simple user interface and accessible ad inventories to the entire world.

The customer support team is best-in-class with high-level technical expertise. They are always available immediately on any request with quick fixes and integrations to improve your campaigns.

Broadstreet is a hosted ad server and handles all of the difficult aspects of installation for you. The ad loads are incredibly fast and even outperform giants like Google Ad Manager. Setting up the ads requires no proper technical knowledge to make an effective campaign.

The ad creatives available are very versatile. There are many different forms of ad delivery and placement, all designed to fit natively on your pages. Broadstreet also defines their ad formats by niche with unique creatives. For example, you can look at real estate ad inventory and deliver better look ads for high performance.  

Pros:

  • WordPress and CDN integrations available for placing ads.
  • User-friendly interface.
  • Low pricing options available.
  • Responsive support team.
  • Extremely intuitive platform with a small learning curve.
  • Complex customization available.
  • Plenty of revenue-generating solutions for ad delivery.

Cons:

  • Campaign uploading can be buggy.
  • No gap scheduling available for campaigns.
  • The geographic location feature is inaccurate at times.

Pricing

Solo: Best for new publishers only in need of 1 license - $99/mo

Business: Best for growing businesses in need of complex features - $199/mo

Magazine: Includes 10 web properties and training - Custom Pricing

Agency: Includes extensive training and a personal account manager - Custom Pricing

Epom

The Epom ad server is a powerful platform with a variety of service offerings available. They provide basic ad server access for advertisers and publishers, but they also have a white label Demand Side Platform service for many advanced offerings.

The white label ad server provides customizable dashboards to build, implement, and track ad and campaign performance. It is a simple-to-use software to save both time and money during the entire process.

The programmatic buying process is simplified with the RTB platform. It enhances overall efforts by integrating 60 different DSPs built-in directly to the software with real-time bidding. This makes it more attractive for advertisers looking to fill ad spots at the highest possible costs.

There is also a feature that allows for cross-channel ad serving where you gain premium access to ad inventory that tailors perfectly to your audience. The creatives available work on mobile, desktop, video, and in apps to meet all possible requirements.

The advanced tracking platform includes charts and personal dashboards for both advertisers and publishers. They are customizable so you can choose the campaign type and metrics you want to track most efficiently.

There are nearly unlimited ad formats to choose from too. Whether you want to display engaging video ads or native banner ads, they are all available for use.

The white-label DSP plan includes an array of advanced features too. There are more diverse ad formats like display and video pop-ups or notifications. They can attract more attention from the audience and promote better CTRs.

There are also unlimited customization options, real-time CPC/CPM bidding, and more powerful analytics tracking. The DSP plan is another way to take control ownership over the platform and expand your revenue from native ads and content.

Pros:

  • White Label solution.
  • 800+ targeting, optimization, and management features right in the platform.
  • Four types of account roles to manage your organization better.
  • 50 different cross-channel formats available.
  • Easy to integrate with supply-side platforms.

Cons:

  • No analytics templates are available.
  • The support system could be better.
  • UI is not for beginners.  

Pricing

Basic: Best for beginners - $250/mo

Standard: Best for fast growth - $1,000/mo

Advanced: Best for established businesses - $2,500/mo

Enterprise: Custom Pricing

White Label DSP: Flat rate of $2,000/mo

What is an Ad Server?

An Ad Server is an advertising technology that gives publishers and advertisers the access to manage the way they run their online advertising campaigns. Ad servers are unique in the way they run ads because the decision to display a specific ad is made based on the data collected by the server.

The ad server will monitor ad performance by compiling data like clicks, impressions, and reach. These are critical metrics that advertisers use to monitor the quality and performance of their advertisements.

There are two types of ad servers: First-party and Third-party. Both of these technologies can track, monitor, and manage ad campaigns. They also provide a medium to both buy and sell ads directly or through other ad platforms. These processes are known as direct deals or real-time bidding.

Why Do You Need an Ad Server?

Publishers need an ad server because they can use fresh and up-to-date content on their website seamlessly. The content is also highly targeted based on audience data collected by your ad server provider.

Ad servers do many different things to optimize the way content is published and displayed on your website. You are given access to an inventory of ads with full campaign management control and performance tracking capabilities.

Ad servers use real-time bidding so you can auction off ad space for advertisers to compete over. Doing this process without a complex ad server is extremely difficult and performance tracking is impossible.

The full range of features you can get from any of the ad servers we discussed include ad performance tracking, ad refreshing, frequency controls, ad optimization, and full reporting capabilities.  

How Do Ad Servers Work?

Ad servers are broken into two separate categories based on the way they operate. There are first-party and third-party ad servers to serve the different needs of publishers.

The entire process of an ad server starts with a user opening their web browser and navigating to a specific page or application. Once the user arrives at the page, it will trigger an ad request based on the specific criteria this user meets based on collected data. Examples of data include location, age, or interests.

After the data is analyzed, the ad server uses intelligence to deliver a relevant ad in a specific location on the web page to gain the attention of the user. Once displayed, the user has the ability to click on the ad if they are interested enough. This would lead them to a conversion page developed by the advertiser.

The ad server would then track this data and give advertisers and publishers the ability to view ad performance. Metrics tracked include impressions, clicks, conversions, and more.  

First-Party Ad Server

A first-party ad server is hosted online by a publisher with the intention to serve advertisers’ ads on their own websites or apps. This is the most straightforward way to deliver ads and makes the process of selling ad spots much simpler.

If there are no direct ads being bought, this ad server also has the ability to pull ads from partner ad networks or servers to display them as inventory.

Third-Party Ad Server

A third-party ad server is more used by advertisers or agencies to store and manage their advertising code in one place. This makes it easier to track, deliver, and analyze all ad campaigns that are being one in a single platform.

Advertisers have better access to verify ads this way and avoid potential fraud. The A/B testing features available on third-party servers are much more effective too.  

Hosted vs Self-Hosted Ad Servers

Ad servers are further defined by their hosting method. Platforms are typically defined as either a hosted or self-hosted server. Publishers have unique needs that differ from advertisers, so understanding how both of these options work is essential in deciding on the right ad server for you.

Hosted

A hosted ad server is run by a third-party ad server company. This means you don’t need to possess the intense technical knowledge to run it on your own and you can leave the difficult aspects to another company. There is no installation required and technical support is intensive to keep things running smoothly.

Pros

  • No installation required.
  • Easy to use, especially for beginners with no technical background.
  • Automatic updates.
  • Better high-speed performance.

Cons

  • More expensive.
  • Less ad customization options.
  • Data controlled by a third party.  

Self-Hosted

Self-hosted ad servers are hosted on a client’s own online server where they have complete control over everything that happens. Running a self-hosted ad server requires technical knowledge with a team to handle data storage, updates, technical issues, and installations. If you have the team to manage the server, this is obviously the better option.  

Pros

  • Cheaper upfront costs.
  • More customization options for ad delivery.
  • More secure with all data stored under your own control.

Cons

  • The installation process can be complex.
  • Technical issues require expertise to fix.
  • Updates must be done manually.

What is an Open Source Ad Server?

Open Source ad servers are free ad server systems that give publishers more power when controlling or managing their ads. For example, they give access to serve ads on different platforms while collecting important data like conversions.

The Open Source system can handle multiple advertisers running their campaigns on the same network as a third-party server would do. The biggest difference between this ad server and a third-party ad server is the cost, as Open Source is completely free.

However, the Open Source system benefits advertisers more than it does publishers. Advertisers are given better access for free while publishers require different features and cannot take advantage of this benefit.  

Verdict: What’s the Best Ad Server For Publishers?

The best ad server for publishers depends entirely on what you value most. If you prefer a free option with extensive network access and easy configurations, the Google Ad Manager is an excellent choice to consider.

If you are looking for something more complex with more variety in APIs, Kevel is a good choice. They provide publishers with more access to content and ad delivery types making it easier to implement native content.

As a publisher, you should aim to find the ad server with the most advanced controls to manage ad elements like inventory, format, targeting, and optimization tools. Both Kevel and Smart can check the boxes here and give you plenty of tracking capabilities too.

Best Ad Servers For Publishers

About THE AUTHOR

Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

After working for multiple digital advertising agencies and managing hundreds of client accounts, spending millions of dollars via Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Native Ads and Direct Media Buying, I took things out on my own and started SparrowBoost. Now, my tight-knit team and I continue to get smarter and more efficient at running our own campaigns and we share our knowledge with you.

Learn more about SparrowBoost