Digital advertising is an essential part of any business, and using ad server software to manage campaigns and creative is an integral part of that process. Utilizing an ad server is key to progressing your goals, whether you’re an advertiser looking to increase sales and boost brand recognition, or you’re a publisher trying to increase revenue and promote visitor engagement.

What IS an ad server anyway?

An ad server is a web-hosted software that provides a single place to create, manage, and display your advertising media across a multitude of different platforms, including web, social media outlets, and mobile apps. When you visit a website, it’s very likely that the ads you see have at some point passed through an ad server.

Do I need one?

Not all situations call for an ad server, but there are definite advantages to using one and multiple strategies that will outright require one. Digital advertising is an ever-evolving ecosystem of software, strategies, and compliance issues. The more you control and the more transparency you have, the less likely you will run into issues that will derail your productivity. Your advertising strategy should scale as your business grows, and measuring the effectiveness of that strategy is paramount to optimization and expansion. This is where ad servers come in.

Below are some of the most advantageous aspects of using an ad server:


Hosting your media campaigns with an ad server allows you to roll out changes to all of your executions at once. Rather than making multiple adjustments across several platforms and/or reaching out to everyone you’re working with to request changes, you can adjust them once within your ad server. The changes will then propagate out to everyone running your tags. For shorter-length campaigns, maintaining centralization in this way ensures both accuracy and fast turnaround times.


You can direct your ads to more appropriate audiences by targeting specific locations, demographics, or times of day, customizing ad copy or creative for specific audiences, or targeting users that showed buying intent. A robust ad server will allow you to make all of these specifications in one platform, whereas network or partner platforms tend to be more basic.


Knowing how your campaigns are performing will help you gauge the effectiveness of your ad strategies and allow you to optimize your efforts for maximum yield. Being able to report across all of your business segments in one place gives you a fuller, more pertinent picture of performance. Not all reporting segments may be available or truly match up across platforms, and such reporting discrepancies can skew results.

Who should consider using an ad server?

Anyone with significant display ads to serve or display ads inventory to sell should consider an ad server. Your ad server is like your switchboard, controlling all facets of your advertising strategy. As your business grows, the ability to track and control all aspects of your advertising will prove to be extremely valuable. Utilized correctly, an ad server can actually contribute to the growth of your business and provide better insights into what is happening, why, how to scale what is working, and how to cut out what isn’t.

What are the leading ad servers and how you should consider vetting?

There are several different offerings to choose from when it comes to choosing an ad server. Functionality ranges from very basic – where you can host creative, set basic parameters, and deliver ad units or third party tags – to very advanced, with features such as multi-channel attribution funnels. Smaller, free options are fine to begin with as you find your footing and learn more about what your advertising strategy will look like, but at some point you will need to upgrade to a more feature-rich option to maximize your efforts.

Ad servers come in first party and third party varieties. You should pick which one to use based on whether you’re managing your own campaigns on your own site (first party) or client and partner campaigns on other sites (third party).

Reasonably priced first party ad servers include:

Doubleclick for Publishers

Open X

Ad Butler

Third Party ad servers include:

Doubleclick Campaign Manager


Choosing the right ad server for your business really starts with understanding your needs and what makes sense to invest in as you scale. Metric Theory has built a whole business around understanding this and working with partners as a part of our unit, rather than as an outside vendor. If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help your business grow, contact our team.