What is an Ad Server?
Ad Servers and Display Advertising
Ad servers support the core function of digital display advertising – they serve ads! For marketers, an ad server manages (or “trafficks”) creative assets, landing pages, or any tracking elements – and produces standardized ad tags.
These tags can then be set-up in a DSP or sent directly to publishers to monitor delivery and track campaign performance. Since creative assets are hosted by the ad server, a marketer can make real-time updates to their messaging and effectively manage and optimize rotation of ads across all media partners.
They also have a unified, holistic view of performance instead of relying on reports from multiple partners. Major ad servers include Google Campaign Manager (formerly DoubleClick), Sizmek, or FlashTalking. For publishers, ad servers handle the decision-making, targeting, and placement of ads on their website or app. They can also provide reporting on available ad inventory or basic performance reports, such as the number of impressions, clicks, or click-through rate (CTR).
Over time, certain functionality has been enhanced or integrated into other parts of the ad tech ecosystem. Ad servers often offer rich creative design functionality allowing users to author ads directly in the UI. Some can often integrate directly into tag management or analytics systems, for better workflow and reporting outputs.
Important Considerations for Selecting an Ad Server
If you are thinking about onboarding an ad server, here are a few recommended thought-starters:
Ad serving fees are generally variable costs based on your expected volumes and the creative formats being served. Certain ad platforms may also carry licensing fees or initiation costs. There may also be upcharges for certain formats or accessing certain data.
2. Customer & Technical Service
While most ad servers offer helpful documentation, many are only hosted and self-guided. If you need 1:1 support for your teams, ask about onboarding, training, and ongoing customer service. Some platforms offer full managed service or other technical services at additional cost.
3. Platform Availability
Ad servers should indicate their uptimes and provide sufficient notice for any planned outages or downtime. While many platforms offer self-service reporting, some formats or data is available by request only.
As ad serving systems are often utilized by multiple teams – from creative and operations, to reporting and finance – it’s best to involve those teams in the process, so everyone knows how it works and where they can find the information they need.
5. Data & Security
Most common ad servers offer real-time delivery, but we recommend ensuring data is regularly audited and follows industry-standard guidelines for measurement. The Media Ratings Council provides an updated list of which ad servers are accredited here. For security, multiple users may need to access campaign data for different reasons. Be sure to confirm that reporting can be scheduled or selectively permissioned.
6. Integrations & APIs
Thinking ahead, examine how an ad server can improve your workflow. Many offer open APIs that can automate or remove repeated tasks for your team. For example, Basis platform has a two-way integration with Google’s Campaign Manager. This automates the trafficking/setup process and syncs reporting.
Do you have more questions about how to leverage ad servers as it pertains to your display advertising? At Centro, we have the knowledge and experience of our Media Services Organization, backed by Basis—the industry’s most comprehensive and automated digital media platform.
Connect with us today to improve your display advertising campaign’s performance!