Ad Server Trends & Best Practices 2019: A Complete Guide

Last Updated:

What is an ad server?

An ad server is a piece of software that helps you with ad management, ad targeting and campaign reports. It's responsible for deciding which ad to show to which visitor. Common examples of ad servers are Google Ad Manager (DFP), OpenX and AdGlare.

A third-party ad server is commonly used by publishers to manage direct deals and ad exchanges within one place, increasing productivity and sales. Companies that provide ad serving technology may focus on a specific part of the industry like advertisers, publishers or agencies.

Although the underlying ad server basics remain merely the same, it might be difficult to choose a vendor. Here's what the landscape looks like today:

Ad Server Landscape
Source: LUMA Partners. Download High-Res image.

Ad serving engines take care of trafficking the creative to a web page or app. They are usually physically distributed around the globe to allow for high-performance ad serving with the lowest latency. It also allows advertisers to target a subset of users in an automated way, showing different ads to different visitors. Think about geographical location, device/OS technology and behavorial data.

When do I need ad server software?

Not every publisher needs an ad server. A part of your site's inventory can be dedicated to a specific ad exchange or advertiser. For example, the Sports section can be sold exclusively to Nike, and the Health section sold via an ad exchange. In this case, ad management platform may not be needed.

However, things may be different when your website starts to grow or when you're dealing with multiple advertisers or exchanges. If you wish to target ads to specific sections and generate ad reports independently, you may need a third-party ad server. Without one, you'll also be flying blind when it comes to yield optimization. How can you make sure that each section you're monetizing is earning you the most amount of money? An ad server can be configured to do just that.

Where can I buy an ad server?

There are different kind of ad serving companies, each providing ad server software in their own niche. You can either get it for free as an open source project, or you can buy it as a SaaS platform at a monthly fee. Ad server costs start around $0.025 CPM (the price for serving 1000 ads). For plans & pricing, see this complete Top 10 Ad Server List.

Best Practices: Yield Optimization

As a publisher, an ad server can earn you more money by increasing CTR or optimizing bids.
  • Waterfalling using tiers. Serve your most valuable campaigns first, and then fall back to campaigns with a lower value.
  • Machine Learning: Smart algorithms making your ad server even more intelligent. It 'knows' which visitor has the most chance of making a click by constantly analyzing historical data.
  • Bot Filtering. Crawlers and spiders artificially inflate report metrics and undermine the quality of your inventory. Offer your advertisers bot-free impressions. See this article how to filter for bots.
  • Frequency Capping. Make sure that the ad is shown a limited amount of time to the same user. This will increase reach and improve CTR considerably. Be aware of Europe's new privacy law: use a GDPR compliant ad server.
  • Behaviorial and Keyword Targeting. Only serve the type of ads your users are interested in, based on their interests and searches. See this article how to set up keyword targeting in AdGlare.
  • Header Bidding. Ask different ad exchanges what they offer for an impression before deciding who gets the winning bid.

Digital Advertising Trends to look for in 2019

Contextual Advertising is considered to grow this year, largely due to Europe's GDPR that came into force early 2018. Publishers are required to request visitor's consent in order to process personal data. With visitors unlikely to provide consent, advertisers may have to shift to contextual targeting to fine-tune delivery of display ads based on interest. For those who think they'll be OK by targeting outside Europe: some US states may introduce a similar privacy law.

The Video Advertising market will grow to $37 billion in 2019. Not surprisingly, mobile is becoming the platform of choice due to 4G/5G bandwidth connections and hyperlocal GPS targeting. Also, ad spend in online advertising continues to rise as a fraction of total ad spend, surpassing radio and television.

Native Advertising will play a more central role in marketing. While it may be already part of your marketing plan, it's becoming a must-have rather than a 'nice-to-have'. Native ads require some coding to set up, but they result in a higher CTR and yield. It pays off well the effort. If you're not into native advertising yet, see this article to get started.


In the digital ecosystem, the third-party ad server is an important piece of the stack when serving ads. By evaluating metrics and generating reports independently, the ad server brings back control to those who wish to fine-tune ad delivery. It allows advertisers to spend their budget more intelligently and publishers to optimize their yield while increasing their earnings.

AdGlare is a third-party ad server that can do just that, with an intuitive user interface and competitive price rates. You can get a free trial here.

This article is up-to-date as of early 2019.

External Resources

Share This

This article stays online on the following URL: