Top Ad Servers (2021)

Updated: September 17, 2021

An Ad Server, and a Mobile Ad Server is a mobile focused version of the concept, is a self-serving software solution hosted on a web server for advertisers to manage their mobile ads. With an ad server, advertisers can upload advertising creatives to be displayed on multiple ad platforms from mobile publishers inside their mobile apps and mobile websites, optimize ad campaigns, get reports on their performance in real time, track such key parameters as conversion, attribution and costs.

Among pros, that ad servers bring up for mobile app advertisers, are easy-to-use, control over bids and budgets, campaign scheduling, sophisticated targeting, as well as transparency in ad campaigns analysis and valuable insights to make data-driven decisions.

In 2019 digital advertising spending worldwide reached $333 billion, $50 billion up from 2018. The top 5 of countries, that spent the bulk of their advertising budget digitally, were China, with digital ads constituted 69% of the total media ad spending, UK – 66%, Norway – 65%, Ireland – 63% and Denmark – 61%.

In this guide we review the ad server space in detail, covering the major types of different ad serving and ad mediation platforms ranging from general players to specialist mobile and video ad platforms.

It consists of several key players and technical solutions, namely – advertisers, publishers, SSP (stands for Supply Side Platform), DSP (Demand Side Platform), ad networks and advertising agencies. In the intersection of all of them lies the crucial component of ad servers.

Table of Contents


Ad Server Definition

What is an ad server?

An ad server is an advertising software hosted on a server to manage online ad campaigns and used by publishers, advertisers, ad agencies, and ad networks. Ad server software defines what ad to display at what specific time frame and on what website or mobile app. There are multiple kinds of ad servers – open source ad server, self-hosted ad server, video ad server and more ad hoc ad server solutions.

In addition, it also collects data on ads performance (number of impressions, clicks, CTR ratio and more) for all parties to use, as well as defines targeting, performs ad budget control, and frequency capping. A publisher ad server helps web and mobile publishers to earn money with their inventory. Selling ads on their website or inside mobile apps allow publishers to generate revenue from the content they produce, while keeping that content free for their audiences.

Let’s look under the hood of an ad server and answer the question – what does it do? The sequence of events of a digital ad serving process looks like this:

  • a user arrives at a website or opens a mobile app
  • suitable to specific criteria ads are requested from the Ad Server. Such criteria may include, the date and time of day, the dimensions of the ad slot, the geo location, user device OS and more
  • the Ad Server selects which ads should be displayed based on the criteria
  • the selected ads are returned to the website or mobile app for the user to see.
  • the Ad Server tracks each time the ad gets clicked and stores this data to provide analytics to the Ad Server user.

Now, let’s review several types of ad server companies, as well as several ways to split them into two major categories.

First Party vs Third Party Ad Servers

First-Party ad server is the one that is hosted on a publisher’s server to serve advertisers ads that it needs to display on its website(s) or inside mobile app(s). It helps to simplify and streamline the process of selling ad slots to advertisers. In times when no direct ad campaigns (sold directly to the publisher) are being run, the server defines what ads from a partner ad network or another ad server to display inside a publisher’s inventory.

Third Party ad server is used by advertisers and ad agencies to store and manage advertising code, as well as to deliver, track and analyze ad campaigns run on multiple publishers websites. It helps advertisers to verify the validity of data provided by publishers for impressions and clicks they delivered. Yet another use of a 3rd party ad server is to allow advertisers to run A/B testing to optimize their ads campaigns.

Hosted vs Self-Hosted Ad Servers

Hosted ad server is the one that is hosted for a client by an ad server company. Such servers don’t requite any technical knowledge for how to run it on a client’s side and wholly rely on an ad server professional expertise. They don’t requite installation, provide technical support, can be updated automatically.

Self-hosted ad server is the one that is hosted on a client’s own online server. It provides higher level of control over user’s data, as well as higher level of software customization. Obviously in a contrast with a Hosted ad server, this one does require technical knowledge for how to install it, as well as how to maintain it properly.

Open Source Ad Servers

Open Source server is a free ad server system that enables publishers, ad networks and advertisers to perform a number of operations with ads. Specifically – serve ads on websites and in apps, as well as collect data for impressions, clicks and conversions. It’s capable to manage and run ad campaigns for multiple advertisers, as well as from an ad network or ad exchange and perform other functions typical for a Third Party ad server. Essentially, the only difference between such server and a Third Party one is that the former provides its services for free.

The next significant division for ad servers comes from a type of devices ads are being displayed on – a computer or mobile device (a smartphone or tablet).

Top Ad Servers

  • Kevel - Build a custom ad server in just weeks.
  • mediasmart - #1 DSP for Incremental growth
  • InMobi - Driving Real Connections
  • Adikteev - Data-driven app marketing platform
  • Smadex - Mobile-first DSP For Transparent Performance (Apps/Branding/VAS)
  • SocialPeta - Ads Intelligence Tool For Marketing Strategy
  • AdColony - The In-App Marketplace for Brands
  • Golden Goose - Mobile Ad Network
  • Adlane - Ad Network for Publishers and Website Owners
  • Bidease - #1 DSP for mobile app marketers
  • Mobupps - A One Stop Shop For All Your Mobile Marketing Needs
  • Jampp - Unlock new growth
  • AppsFlyer - Mobile marketing attribution and analytics
  • App Annie - Unlock advertising, monetization and acquisition ROI with Ascend
  • HUAWEI Ads - Mobile Marketing Platform tailored for HUAWEI devices
  • Performcb - #1 Performance Marketing Network Worldwide
  • RevX - Made for Growth, Built for App Marketers
  • Tenjin - iOS 14-proof advertising analytics
  • Zoomd - Know More, Do More
  • RichAds - #1 Mobile Ad Network for Scaling Ad Campaigns
  • AdsCompass - Global Ad network for Publishers and Advertisers
  • ironSource - Connecting people with apps
  • Hitapps - Complex digital advertising solutions that drive results.
  • ADEX - Ad Fraud Detection Tools, Ad Servers, Mobile Ad Network, Mobile DSP, Social Ads, SSP
  • myAppFree - High Quality Mobile Traffic & Exclusive Placements on SONY Xperia, Native SDK
  • AdAction - A full-service ad platform that connects mobile marketers to high-intent users worldwide.

Mobile Ad Servers

Mobile ad server is a web-based self-serving software solution for advertisers to manage their mobile ads they display inside apps or on mobile web. Among pros that they bring up for advertisers: they allow to have a control over bids and budgets, help with campaigns scheduling, provide sophisticated targeting, as well as guarantee transparency in ad campaigns analysis and valuable insights to make data-driven decisions.

Video Ad Servers

Video ad server is an advertising software hosted on a server to manage video ads. It handles video ads displaying on multiple websites or in apps to specific audience, as well as ads performance tracking and reporting to advertisers.

Average eCPM Rates

When it comes to choosing a specific ad platform, one of the major metrics for online marketers is eCPM, which stands for effective Cost Per Mile, where mile stands for a 1,000 ad impressions. Some of the recent eCPM rates for the leading ad servers presented on the following tables, for Android and iOS respectively.

Most popular SDKs

Every ad server company on the market has its own SDK – a software that publishers need to implement into their apps to display advertisers ads, manage their campaigns and track its performance via reports. According to MightySignal, mobile app and SDK intelligence company, the most popular SDKs on the market you can see on the following table.

Top 15 monetization SDKs in Top 200 Free iOS Apps

Name # of apps use it % of the Top 200 apps
Google AdMob  74 37
Google Mobile Ads 28 1
Facebook Audience Network  27 14
SupersonicSDK  18 9
VungleSDK – iOS  17 9
IronSourceSDK 17 9
Unity Ads 16 8
AppLovin  16 8
IN Mobi 15 8
MoPub  12 6
ByteDance UnionAD 12 6
TapjoySDK 10 5
Fyber 8 4
AdColony 7 4
Chartboost 7 4

Source: MightySignal

Top 15 monetization SDKs in Top 200 Free Android Apps

Name # of apps use it % of the Top 200 apps
Google Identity  150 75
Firebase 148 74
Google Analytics 139 70
Firebase Cloud Messaging 133 67
Google AdMob 123 62
Gson 121 61
Square  114 57
Google Auth 103 52
Google Location  94 47
DuAd 89 45
Google Guava 82 41
Square Okio 79 40
Protocol Buffers 77 39
Google Maps 75 38
Glide 74 37

Source: MightySignal

Ad Serving Systems

Also there are several core technologies and principles that make today’s digital advertising tick, let’s walk through the major ones to get an insight look into ad servers work. These include the following:

Waterfall

Waterfall is the system of prioritizing ad networks ads that a publisher displays in his desktop or mobile inventory one at a time. It implies defining what ad network should be the first to serve ads from and listing in a particular order all the rest ad networks a publisher works with. Due to the lack of competition between ad networks in such system, publishers can’t maximize their inventory revenue potential. The arriving of such system successor suggested developing programmatic advertising platforms.

Programmatic

Programmatic advertising is based on using software to buy digital advertising, in a contrast with traditional ways that involved human interaction such as issuing manual insertion orders, pricing negotiations and such. It brings higher efficiency to the whole digital advertising ecosystem, using software algorithms it’s possible to match advertisers needs and publishers inventory much more efficiently.

 

Real Time Bidding/ RTB

Real-time bidding is one of the aspects of programmatic advertising, it’s an online auction for advertisers to bid for placing their ads on desktop and mobile publishers inventory. Those auctions are often facilitated by ad exchanges or supply-side platforms.

Header Bidding 

Header-bidding was originally developed for a desktop online advertising and later was adopted to mobile advertising as well. In a contrast with Waterfall Ads, this system implies all ad networks that a publisher works with to compete with their ad offers for a specific ad slot publisher needs to fill in. A competitive nature of such system forces advertisers to increase prices to win that publisher’s slot and hence helps the publisher to maximize his eCPMs.

Ad Mediation

Ad Mediation is a web based software solution for publishers to participate in a real-time auction based selling. Its algorithm is designed to choose what specific ad network(s) to send requests to deliver the highest fill rate for publisher’s ad slots. The benefit of ad mediation for website and mobile app publishers comes from using of a single SDK, with which publishers can set priority for serving ad networks demand, according to their specific eCPM, geography and other parameters. Also, with ad mediation solution, publishers are in a position to force advertisers to compete over their inventory and so they can significantly increase their profit.

SSP (Supply Side Platform)

A supply side platform helps to manage inventory for publishers, faciliates them to monetize it and often also includes ad serving functionality. Via advertising networks or ad exchanges, SSPs are connected with the demand side of the online advertising equation – DSPs (stands for demand-side platforms). Essentially SSP is the tool for publishers to offer impressions on their websites or inside their apps to as many advertisers as possible and therefore maximize their revenue potential.

Now, once we’ve covered the ground for online advertising industry major definitions, let’s walk through the major advertising servers operating on the market.

List of ad servers and ad mediation platforms

Kevel

Build a custom ad server in just weeks.

10
(2 votes)
(2) REVIEWS
FoundedEmployeesRevenuesSocialTraffic
201010-50---
...this by providing engineers and product managers the APIs needed to quickly build fully-customized ad servers.

Kevel (previously Adzerk) is helping brands everywhere drive more online revenue through sponsored listings, internal promotions, native ads, and more. They do this by providing engineers and product managers the APIs needed to quickly build fully-customized ad servers. Their award-winning platform handles over three billion API requests each day, and it’s helped industry leaders like Yelp and Ticketmaster shorten their build times by more than 90%.

Learn more about Kevel
FoundedEmployeesRevenuesSocialTraffic
201210-50---

mediasmart, a self-serve mobile programmatic platform (now part of Affle group) provides advertisers, trading desks and agencies an integrated mobile advertising solution with the unique capability of measuring incremental metrics in real-time for Proximity and App marketing.

  • Tagline: #1 DSP for Incremental growth
  • Services: Proximity Marketing, Connected TV (CTV), Programmatic Brand Marketing, App Marketin, Incrementality Measurement

Learn more about mediasmart
FoundedEmployeesRevenuesSocialTraffic
2010----

ironSource is the leading in-app video advertising platform. It is one of the biggest and oldest mobile advertising platforms launched in 2010. Focusing on mobile games, it makes free-to-play and free-to-use possible for over 1.5B people around the world. Over 80,000 app developers use its technologies to grow their businesses, among these such leading companies like Kongregate, Zeptolab, Big Fish Games, Zynga and Playrix.

  • Mobile platforms: Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Cocos, Amazon, AdobeAir
  • Campaign types: CPC, CPE, CPA, CPV
  • Ad formats supported: App Wall, Interstitial, Offer Wall, Video
  • Targeting: Custom
  • Key Markets: United States, Israel
Learn more about ironSource

AdColony

The In-App Marketplace for Brands

10
(1 vote)
(1) REVIEWS
FoundedEmployeesRevenuesSocialTraffic
2008400$192m+25k4m+

Founded in 2011, AdColony was created by mobile developers, for mobile developers and has grown into one of the largest mobile advertising and monetization platforms in the world with a reach of more than 1.5 billion users globally. AdColony is known for its exclusive Instant-Play™ HD video, Aurora™ HD Interactive video, and playable technologies, its global performance advertising expertise, its programmatic marketplace, and its extensive ad SDK footprint in the top apps worldwide.

  • Mobile platforms: Android, IOS
  • Campaign types: CPM
  • Ad formats supported: Rich Media, Video
  • Targeting: Demographic
  • Key markets: US
Learn more about AdColony

Hitapps

Complex digital advertising solutions that drive results.

10
(4 votes)
(4) REVIEWS
FoundedEmployeesRevenuesSocialTraffic
201710-50---

Hitapps focuses on your success as a whole. Perhaps you can manage a small-scale campaign but, if you want to develop an impactful ads campaign, it’s better to let us take over.

  • Advertising agency
  • RTB solution
  • Social advertising
  • Apps publishing
Learn more about Hitapps

Adlane

Ad Network for Publishers and Website Owners

10
(1 vote)
(1) REVIEWS
FoundedEmployees
201820-50

Adlane is the ultimate way to monetize your traffic with all most popular formats. Key Features The project is designed specifically as an ultimate way to monetize your traffic using simple integration and popular ad formats: Browser Push notifications, In-page Push, Popunder, Display and Video by CPM / CPC models We invite everyone to adlane.

Learn more about Adlane

Adobe Advertising Cloud

One demand-side platform to rule them all.

(0) REVIEWS

Adobe Advertising Cloud is a global cross-channel advertising platform from Adobe for brands and agencies to plan, buy, measure and optimize their ad campaigns. As an independent demand-side platform (DSP), Adobe Media Optimizer provides brand marketers with integration with the world’s best targeting, reporting and inventory partners. The major feature that sets it apart from other DSP platforms is that its programmatic sophistication allows marketers to run ad campaigns across digital screens, TV and out-of-home channels with a single dashboard.

  • Highlights: programmatic ad campaigns capabilities that cover desktop, mobile, TV and offline out-of-home channels on a single platform and on a big scale
  • AppsFlyer Performance Index: n/a
  • Tagline: One demand-side platform to rule them all.
Learn more about Adobe Advertising Cloud

Facebook Audience Network

Expand the power of Facebook advertising with Audience Network.

10
(1 vote)
(1) REVIEWS

Facebook Audience Network is the extension of the Facebook Ads platform on mobile apps and web, launched in 2014, to reach audiences outside of the Facebook app and its website.
The Facebook ad server allows advertisers to reach people that are registered on Facebook off the platform without compromising on targeting precision and achieve one or more of the following objectives – brand awareness, traffic, conversion, app install, product catalog sales, video views, and reach.

  • Powered by Facebook with high targeting precision, 40% of the top 500 mobile apps are integrated with the system
  • Supported ad formats include banner, interstitial and native
  • The following platforms are supported: iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Unity, tvOS
Learn more about Facebook Audience Network

Propeller Ads

Worldwide Performance Advertising & Self-Service Platform

7
(10 votes)
(10) REVIEWS

Propeller Ads is an online advertising company, founded in 2011. It maintains one of the biggest ad networks on the market, with over 1B daily advertising impressions across the globe. PropellerAds has more than 150,000 premium publishers’ sites registered in the network. In addition, PropellerAds offers such solutions as: performance based marketing for agencies & CPA networks, mobile app monetization with SDK integration, buying traffic via Real-Time Bidding model and more.

  • Mobile platforms: iOS, Android
  • Campaign types: CPM, CPA, CPL, CPC
  • Ad formats supported: Push Notifications, Interstitials, Popunder, Native Ads
  • Targeting: Language, OS, GEO, 3g/WiFi, Device type, Browser, Mobile Carrier, Day & time, User Activity (new)
  • Key Markets: Global
Learn more about Propeller Ads

Xandr is online advertising platform from AT&T. Leveraging multi-generational legacy of AT&T, the company provides a premium platform for advertisers and publishers looking to reach specific audiences at scale in brand-safe environments all through a powerful, unified platform. What gives Xandr a competitive advantage is a combination of data insights, premium content, powerful technology, and scaled direct-to-consumer distribution.

Learn more about Xandr

Adzerk

Build a custom ad server in just weeks

(0) REVIEWS

Adzerk is an ad tech company that provides both ad server as a service and ad server custom software solutions. It empowers advertisers engineers with APIs to quickly design, build and launch customized First-Party advertising server within a couple weeks. With Adzerk businesses can quickly integrate ads into their websites or mobile apps. Adzerk’s customer list includes Fortune 500 brands, public companies, and unicorn startups, including LiveNation/TicketMaster, TradingView, imgur, Strava, and more.

  • Key Features: native ads-focused, sponsored listings, RTB integrations, server-side platform, hosting on own domain, Management, Native Ad and Reporting API.
  • Tagline: Build a custom ad server in just weeks
  • Platforms: iOS, Android, Web
Learn more about Adzerk

 

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