An ad server is a tool that plays a crucial role in many digital advertising campaigns. Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies out there that still don’t understand how an ad serving platform works. With so much programmatic technology on the market, business leaders and companies search for the right ad campaign can get confused. 

If you’re trying to build a memorable presence for your company online or want to make sure that you’re attracting as much traffic to your site as possible, you need to know about ad servers. Learning how to use an advertising server can also be an important part of building your reputation as an ad network company or agency. 

That’s why we’ve put together this guide on what ad servers are, and how you can build the one that’s right for you. 

What is an Ad Server?

Let’s start simple; an ad server is an advertising technology that assists with the management, serving, and tracking of ad inventory or an internal promotion. In other words, your ad server decides on the best content to serve at a specific time and in a certain place, based on revenue goals, budget, and relevance. 

In a traditional ad placement workflow, there are countless steps involved in getting a piece of content placed on a publisher’s website, from choosing the publisher, to selecting the ad format, and more. Accessing an ad server makes keeping track of the promotional landscape a lot simpler and more efficient. With ad servers, you can track your ad content’s performance across multiple platforms, from social media, to mobile apps and websites. 

Ad servers frequently appear in the digital marketing world, as well as in programmatic advertising campaigns. Your ad server is a large container full of creative graphics and information. Whenever someone visits a specific page or app, an ad creative is pulled from the server and placed in the advertising slot, generating data based on the customer’s interactions. 

The Benefits of an Ad Server

To decide whether creating your own ad server is the right step for you, you’ll need a good insight into the advantages of using one of these tools. The benefits of an ad server can differ depending on your goals and expectations, but they often include:

  • Better accountability: Tracking your ad performance is one of the best reasons you should have an ad server. You’ll learn that many ad network providers aren’t as reliable as they should be when it comes to tracking your ad unit’s performance. With your own server, you can hold publishers and ad networks accountable for the results they promise. 
  • Creative control: When you give an ad publisher your ad tag to run on their server, you have control over the kinds of advertisements that are served to users. You can also have more control over your ads format and the way they’re delivered. Your ad server even allows you to split-test different campaigns to determine what to show in each ad slot. 
  • Improved insights: As mentioned above, your ad server will give you more insights into your campaign metrics. Using your own environment means that you get the best possible transparency when it comes to mining essential information. You can look at everything from ad placement stats, to the performance of native ads, and whether your banner ads are working properly on every platform. 
  • Central management: When you don’t have your own custom ad server to power your Ad tech, you’re often left to rely on your publisher’s ad team to help you manage your campaigns. If you’re working with a bunch of different publishers, you’ll end up with a lot of logistical complexity to deal with. However, when you have your own ad server, you can centralize the management of all your campaigns in the same place. This means that you spend less time chasing after information. 
  • Data ownership: Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of owning your ad server, is that you get to control and keep all of your ad data. You don’t forfeit any reporting information, and you can protect the privacy of your analytics too. For instance, if your goal from using a publisher ad server is to increase ROAS, you want to track revenue, but you don’t want your publishers to know how much you profit from their ad, because they may ramp up the price. Your ad server will help you discreetly track ad revenue and other metrics. 

How much does an ad server cost?

Probably the biggest concern for a lot of today’s business owners and marketing teams is how much it will cost to build an ad server. Thanks to things like SDK and API technology, it’s a lot easier to create a hosted ad server of your own today than it used to be. 

However, launching a custom ad server isn’t free. You’ll need to factor in the costs of ad serving, usually between $0.01 and $0.10 CPM. Another thing to considert is CDN costs, which will vary depending on the size of your ad code. 

Although there is a price involved with using your own ad server, it’s worth noting that the benefits often outweigh the cost. For instance, when you don’t use your own ad server, you’re flying blind and giving your publisher all the power over your relationship. Using your own ad server means that you can manage your content from a single point of control, and make sure that you’re getting the right results. 

With a custom ad server, you can demand partners give you the results that you pay for. 

How to build a custom Ad Server

Creating your ad server can be a complicated process if you’re a beginner. The good news is that there are things like Adzerk’s APIs to help you get started. Even with this technology, however, you’ll need plenty of engineering resources and a big enough ad server to host everything. 

With a custom ad server, you get the freedom to build exactly what you need, with seamless integration into your organic content. You won’t have to rely on a third-party publisher who could reduce your monetization opportunities. However, it’s worth noting that building your ad server and hosting it on your own is a time-intensive and costly endeavor. 

Remember, the Google ad manager and epom ad server had 100s of tech-focused engineers to ensure that they operated correctly. 

The easiest way to build an advertising server is to use third-party cloud infrastructure tools or open-source tools. 

Third-party infrastructure tools give you APIs and SDKs that you can use to add functionality to your existing environment. This means that you can create a customized advertising platform while reducing your build time and effort by a huge percentage. Just remember that building ad serving platforms with third-party infrastructure still requires some engineering resources. 

With a set of ad serving APIs, you can:

  • Launch a platform in weeks that’s designed specifically for your needs
  • Access server-side build-tools to integrate native ads and custom content
  • Use management APIs to integrate reporting features into your website
  • Get turnkey support for tons of ad serving features
  • Automate swapping and stopping content
  • Improve your monetization options with server-side ad calls
  • Optimize monetization with revenue-boosting tools

If you’re keen to host your ad network yourself, then there are open-source ad servers that you can download and run for a nominal fee. You then host your scripts on your servers, without having to pay a monthly fee to a vendor or share your rich media data with anyone. 

What kind of features does an ad server need?

When building the perfect ad-serving platform for your ad network, it’s important to consider the features that you’ll have to include within your system. Most ad exchange solutions are only successful if advertisers are willing to pay for them. This means that if you want to make money on your ad impression options, you need to find a way to compete with other ad network products like Google and Facebook. 

Building an ad server that includes its own WordPress plugin or comes with an option for a video ad as well as picture ad request options won’t guarantee a successful monetization. If you’re an agency looking to develop an ad server for revenue purposes, then you need to make sure that you have all the right features built into your advertising platform, this might include:

  • Targeting features: These are the tools that advertising customers can use to target the right people and improve their revenue. Your ad server might include keyword targeting, country targeting, contextual targeting, zone placement, radius, and language targeting, and even day or hour parting. Retargeting tools and frequency capping are also popular features. 
  • Ad serving options: You’ll need to make sure that you can deliver ads in a range of ways, such as bidding by CPM, or cost per click, or ad pacing by multiple metrics like clicks and impressions. Some servers will offer ad capping and goal optimization, as well as priority waterfalls, relevancy scores, and companion ads. The more ad serving options a publisher can provide, the more appealing their ad server app will be. 
  • Tracking and analytics: An advertising server needs to provide plenty of access to analytics and reporting features that track the ads’ performance. Analytics options might include revenue and click tracking, pixel tracking, custom event following, tag management, and more. 
  • Campaign structure: What sort of ad options are you going to offer for campaign structure? Can companies track video ads like JW player and apps? Can they combine multiple apps and ad types into one campaign? Is campaign scheduling available, as well as structured hierarchy, and self-serve management tools?
  • Additional features: As ad server options become more complex, there are constantly new features arriving on the market, like support for GDPR compliance, and billing. Some advertising agencies and ad serving platform brands also offer servers in multiple locations around the world. 

Scaling an Ad Server

Building a custom advertising server is only the first step. Anyone considering building their own platform also needs to make sure that they can scale and maintain it too. An ad server that starts with a million impressions a month will often face disaster if it tries to scale to several hundred million impressions without the right team to support it. 

Remember that whether you’re an advertiser looking for a way to maintain your own ad serving platform, or an agency offering an ad serving as a new product, you’ll need excellent uptime and reliability. What’s more, since the space for online advertising is constantly shifting, with new regulations and compliance measures to consider, you’ll need to keep up with the trends. 

Owning your ad server is a great way to boost your ad performance, and even earn another source of revenue from other advertisers. However, it’s important to make sure that you don’t fall behind the rest of the market with your technology. 

Getting Involved with Ad Serving

Creating a custom ad server can be a fantastic opportunity for businesses from all backgrounds. If  an advertising company is trying to access measurable results, an ad-serving platform will help you hold other publishers accountable. At the same time, your platform will also give you more opportunities to manage all of your ads in one unified space. 

Building your own ad server can also offer a fantastic source of revenue if you’re a marketing agency looking for monetization opportunities. Either way, you’re going to need to make sure that you take the right approach to build your platform. 

Using something simple, like an API microservice, means that you can build your bespoke server with all the same capabilities of a larger ad server, without the excess complexity. Using APIs and third-party technology can reduce some of the costs of building an ad server, as well as the maintenance requirements too.