Ad Server Information
What is an Ad Server?
An Ad Server is a web based tool used by publishers, networks and advertisers to help with ad management, campaign management and ad trafficking. An ad server also provides reporting on ads served on the website. Finally, an ad server serves the creative side: this means that the ad server or ad serving company also delivers the ad to each user’s browser.
What are the other names for an ad server?
Ad Servers are also called Ad Management Platforms, Campaign Management Platforms, Ad Serving Systems, Ad Platforms, Ad Tracking Systems, Advertiser management systems, Mobile Ad Servers, Video Ad servers, Click Tracking Systems, Ad Network Optimization Systems, Yield Management Platforms, Affiliate Tracking Systems and Click Trackers.
How is an Ad Server different from an Ad Network?
An Ad Network sells advertising for a group of publishers or sites. An ad network may sell ads for specific sites such as travel sites, or it may sell ads for many different types of websites. An ad network sells advertising, but an ad server is used by both publishers and advertisers. Ad networks also use an ad server. Sometimes a company that runs an ad network may also sell ad serving solutions to publishers.
There Are Several Different Ad Servers
- For Publishers – These are designed to maximize ad revenue for the publisher. They do this by serving first the highest paying ads then the next highest paying ads that are available for each web visitor. Ad Servers make it easy for the publisher’s sales team or the trafficking team to start a new advertiser on its site and to monitor how well that advertiser is doing.
- For Advertisers, Marketers or Agencies – These ad servers help advertisers in campaign management. Rather than send copies of each piece of creative (i.e. each ad) to each publisher on a media buy, agencies can send a line of html code to each publisher. That line of html code calls up an ad directly from the ad server each time the ad needs to be shown on the site. The agency loads the creative to the server once and can modify rotations or add new units on the fly without needing to re-contact the sites from whom it is buying impressions.
- For Ad Networks – These are similar to ad servers for publishers but provide additional features that show the ad network which publishers produce revenue and which do not. They also provide a log in for each publisher in the network to track what he has made that day.
Ad Server Features for Publishers
Impression, click, or action goals. Campaign stops when a particular goal is reached. This is important, because advertisers almost never pay for over delivery.
- Scheduling by date, day of week, and time of day. Campaigns can be scheduled to run, for example, between Jan 15 and May 28, Monday-Friday during office hours (relative to your server time).
- Automatic Optimization. The ad server should automatically choose the best performing ads for each channel and serve more of those. You can choose parameters such as whether the performance should be all performance or only performance in the last week or whether a good performing ad should serve a 100x more than a poor performing ad or just 2x or more.
- Even or Speedy delivery. Most advertisers prefer campaign impressions to be delivered evenly throughout the campaign. Sometimes, however, you might have to serve a campaign as fast as possible.
- Support for third party ad tags. Publisher ad servers should have upload templates to easily upload ad tags from major advertiser’s ad servers or the ad servers used by major ad networks.
- Support for 3rd party click tracking and cache busting. Most ad servers support 3rd party click tracking. By inserting a click-command, which might look like %%CLICKLINK%% into the 3rd party code, one can track clicks on 3rd party Flash and Rich Media ads. Documentation for click-tracking should be provided on how to work with most 3rd party ad tags. Cache busting insures that the ads are not stored in Web Servers‘ cache, but are requested from the 3rd party ad server each time. This is done by appending either a random number or a time stamp to the ad server. Once again, most ad servers do that. However a clear documentation should be provided.
- Frequency cap: limiting the number of impressions per user per set time period, usually by day but could per 3 days or per week or per hour.
- Geo targeting: targeting by geographic location, such as Country, State/Province, DMA (Designated Metro Area), City or Zip/postal code. This is done through a process called “Reverse DNS Lookup“. The user’s geographic location is determined the users IP to a geo-location database. Most popular providers are: Quova, MaxMind and Net Envoy.
- Other Targeting: Browser language targeting, time of day targeting, dial up or broadband targeting.
- Behavioral targeting: Targeting by a user’s past behavior. E.g. target users who have previously visited finance sites or real estate sites. Retargeting ad serving is a version of behavioral targeting.
- User Registration Targeting: Allows targeting to demographic data like age or gender or any other key value pairs. Ad Servers often allow you to create many key value pairs. The site should be able to pass user registration data to the ad server either as a parameter in the ad call or in a cookie.
- Rich media. Support for large ads that appear above the content, or ads that expand when the user mouses over them. Some ad servers charge extra for these ad types and some don’t.
- Serving Ads in Flash. Some sites or games are all flash. Standard ad tags don’t work in flash. The ad sever needs to have a .swf ad tag as well as an html ad tag if they can support the serving of ads in flash.
- Online Reporting. Impressions, clicks, and actions broken down by site, campaign, creative (ad), geographic location, etc.
- Reporting to Cell phones. Get reports on impressions, clicks etc to your cell phone by sms.
- Ad Hoc Reporting: Ad servers often allow you to create your own reports. For example can say put the name of the advertiser in the left column, put the channels across the top of the report and show impressions in the center or the report.
- Action tracking. Most ad servers track post-click actions, such as leads, sales etc that happen after a user clicks on an ad and goes to the advertiser’s site. Some ad servers also track post-view actions, i.e. actions that happen after the user sees an ad, does not click, but later fills out a lead form or purchases a product on the advertiser’s site.
- Inventory forecasting tools. Some ad servers employ sophisticated algorithms to predict availability of inventory based on the weekly traffic patterns as well as campaigns that have already been booked
- Technical Support and Customer Service. A 24/7 technical support team that is knowledgable and that would assist customer to get an advertiser’s ads running.
- Ad Network Optimizaton. Advanced ad servers should be able to automatically send impressions to the network that pays the publisher the most money. The ad server should automatically get data from the network so that it knows which network is paying more per ad size, per country and per part of the site. It is much easier to have the ad network optimization technology built into the ad server – othwerwise you will have to pay 10% of your revenue to another company to optimize the ad networks you sell to.
I hear a lot about Video Ad Servers. What is that all about?
Video Ad Server is an ad server designed to help premium publishers serve ads inside flash video players. Serving ads inside flash is difficult. Serving ads inside video players is more difficult. This is a growth pat of the market and selling pre-roll video ads is very profitable. If you have videos on your site then you may need this. Be careful as some ad server try to charge 10 or 50 times more for video ads- but others include video ad serving at the standard price.
What is a self service ad server or a self service advertising platform?
This is a separate interface that goes on the publisher’s site. It usually looks like the publisher’s site and it allows advertisers to buy advertising from that site without talking to a sales rep and just using a credit card. Google makes over $5bn per quarter by selling ads from it’s self service ad platform. Other sites are now also making significant revenue by letting advertisers do all the work and buy ads with a credit card.