Key Points

  • When people talk about ad serving technology, they're talking about one of the various types of ad servers.
  • Each ad server type comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.
  • Many ad servers combine the capabilities of multiple types of ad servers.

Need an ad server? Wondering what kind is the best ad server for you?

You have some choices here, and each ad server type has advantages and disadvantages that will apply uniquely to your particular needs as a publisher.

How do you know which ad serving platform is best? By getting informed, which is precisely the purpose of this article. Below, the Playwire team shares everything you need to know about each of the eight types of ad servers. Read on to learn more.

Sick of keeping up with all the different pieces of ad tech? Although we can't relate to that feeling, we can certainly help with it. Reach out to the team at Playwire to get every aspect of your digital advertising efforts managed to perfection.

-- Article Continues Below --

The Complete Guide to Ad Servers

The Complete Guide to Ad Servers

Open-Source Ad Servers

Open-source ad servers are servers that you host on your own servers. With this type of publisher ad server, the publisher grabs the source code for the ad server from a central repository and uploads it to their own server. From there, they can modify the source code to match your preferences and needs. 

Compare this model to all other ad servers, which ad tech companies and other third parties host on behalf of publishers for a fee.

Advantages of Open-Source Ad Servers:

  • Completely customizable
  • Offer greater control over the configuration of your ad tech stack


  • Implementation and maintenance are left to the publisher rather than a third-party service provider
  • Advanced features may require even more advanced knowledge of server logic and coding languages

First-Party Ad Servers

Publishers directly use first-party ad servers to manage the sale of their ad inventory across various channels. These servers tend to be powerful and strong on data and reporting, allowing publishers to manage the minutiae that can make huge revenue impacts over time.

Advantages of First-Party Ad Servers:

  • Allow for quite a bit of control by publishers, although not as much control as open-source ad servers allow
  • Strong data and reporting capabilities allow for long-term yield optimization success
  • Can sometimes accommodate direct-sold advertising alongside programmatic advertising


  • Providers take a small fee or a cut of each dollar that flows through the server
  • Quality of reporting and data depends on the provider, and the ability to make changes based on the data depends on your own level of ad operations knowledge

Third-Party Ad Servers

These are ad servers managed by a third party - usually an advertising agency. They're also commonly called advertiser-side servers because they exist to serve buyers of ad inventory rather than publishers.

Advantages of Third-Party Ad Servers:

  • Provide in-depth ad campaign performance metrics
  • Allow for third-party agency management to take some of the pressure off of buyers


  • Not typically useful for publishers

-- Article Continues Below --

Ad Server Resource Center

The Complete Ad Server Resource Center

Display Ad Servers

These are ad servers where ad placement on publisher websites and/or apps is based on the results of programmatic auctions for the publishers' ad inventory. Most ad servers are display ad servers, but few are only display ad servers.

Advantages of Display Ad Servers:

  • Can process thousands of ad requests per minute with relative ease
  • Provide a nice revenue baseline for a well-developed digital advertising strategy


  • A pure display ad server may limit publishers who would like to run higher-value ad units

Mobile Ad Servers

While the basic function of mobile ad servers is similar to that of any other kind of ad server, the setup is different from other types of ad servers. To serve ads to mobile apps, ad servers have to be integrated into the app publisher's tech stack via a software development kit (SDK). 

That integration can create technical problems if the SDK does not play well with the various other SDKs the publisherhas already integrated. Once the technical difficulties are behind you, however, you can start serving mobile app ads and bringing in revenue.

Advantages of Mobile Ad Servers:

  • Allows you to bring in ad revenue through your mobile app
  • Dedicated mobile ad servers can handle advanced mobile app ad units, which bring in higher CPMs


  • Implementation can be difficult and messy for publishers

Video Ad Servers

A video ad server is necessary if you want to run video advertising of any kind. But don't worry - today, most advanced ad servers can accommodate video ads. Some are better than others, but most mainstream ad servers can process in-stream and out-stream video ads with relative ease.

Advantages of Video Ad Servers:

  • Allow video ads, which can create a new, premium revenue stream
  • Allow you to reach new audiences who prefer video to other types of ad creatives and advertising


  • Video is fairly heavy, so you need a powerful ad server to process it at scale

Rich Media Ad Servers

If you want to run complex, premium ad units, you're probably going to need to have a rich media ad server. This is a server that can accommodate multiple file types for a single ad. For example, to run a flex leaderboard, you may need audio, video and a still image to be served all at once. That's the job of a rich media ad server.

Advantages of Rich Media Ad Servers:

  • Unlocks the ability to run premium ads that bring in high yields
  • Provides a lot of serving power in order to process multiple file types for each ad format


  • Rich media ad serving capabilities can be more expensive than other types of servers

Native Ad Servers

Native ad servers have to have the unique ability to customize buyers' ad creatives to make it look and feel like content on the publisher's website or app. That's a tall order for most standard servers, but plenty of servers do come with native ad serving capabilities.

Advantages of Native Ad Servers:

  • Unlocks the ability to serve native ads, which can be extremely valuable to top-dollar advertisers


  • May come at a premium price

How to Stop Worrying About Ad Servers

Great - now, you have eight different types of ad servers to choose between. And that's not to mention the individual brands within each of the broad categories. There's good news: You don't have to weigh each ad server's advantages and disadvantages.

That is, you don't have to worry about ad servers at all when you partner with Playwire. Our experienced ad tech team is prepared to hook your website or app up with the perfect ad server for your unique needs - always with the end goal of maximizing your digital ad revenue.

Join the countless other publishers who have seen their revenue skyrocket when they worked with Playwire. Reach out to our team today.

Contact Us