Key Points

  • Despite what you may hear people say across the ad space, ad servers and ad networks are not the same thing.
  • They're distinct pieces of online advertising technology, and most publishers use both of them.
  • Some ad networks come with hosted ad server capabilities, however.

Ad server, ad network, ad exchange, platform, partner - a lot of terms like this get thrown around in ad tech. And sadly, people misuse them almost all of the time. Perhaps one of the most common examples of that is ad server vs. ad network.

Despite the fact that these are distinct pieces of ad tech that serve entirely different purposes, they often get lumped into the same sentences. And that sends publishers looking for one when they need the other, or vice versa.

This article aims to put a stop to that. Below, we guide you through ad servers, ad networks, and how they're different. Read on to learn everything you need to know.

You'll definitely need an ad server, and you'll probably need an ad network. And you will absolutely have to pay close attention to each to ensure maximum ad revenue. Need help? We're here to take care of everything and push your revenue to the limit. Contact Playwire today.

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Definitions: Ad Server vs. Ad Network

The basic definitions of ad server and ad network tell you the high points about how these two pieces of ad tech are different. Take a look:

Ad Server

An ad server is a piece of technology that allows an advertiser to place their ads on publishers' websites, mobile apps, desktop apps, and over-the-top (OTT) channels. It's really a piece of code that occupies space on a physical server.

When a user visits a publisher's website or app, the server gets the results of the ad request that takes place among buyers and serves the relevant ad creative to that user. And it does this potentially thousands of times per day.

Ad Network

An ad network is not primarily in the business of serving ads. Instead, it's in the business of buying a publisher's ad impression and reselling it to an advertiser - facilitating the connection between the two and taking the difference between the ad impression purchase and sale prices as profit.

Ad networks have become somewhat less popular lately because of the rise of ad exchanges, which tend to be more transparent and provide an incentive to prioritize high CPMs for publishers. However, ad networks remain a vital part of many publishers' programmatic advertising demand stacks.

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Ad Network Resource Center Desktop CTA

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Ad Networks Can Contain Ad Servers

Like many things in ad tech, ad networks are often more than just ad networks. In fact, in an effort to sweeten the pot with broader services and more convenience, multiple ad networks now provide publishers access to their ad servers. The idea is that a turnkey offering is more attractive to busy publishers.

But Ad Servers Are Separate Entities

Some ad networks have rolled ad serving into their list of services, but does that not make ad servers and ad networks the same thing? They remain separate entities even when ad networks offer them to publishers.

For an ad network to offer ad serving, it has to either host ad serving code on its own physical server or purchase and white label an existing ad serving platform's serving power. 

Most Publishers Use Both

Tired as you may be of maintaining your ad tech stack, you likely cannot roll ad server and ad network into the same to-do list item. Most publishers use both and use them separately. Why? Because you don't want to cloud the water by combining these services when ad networks have a vested interest in keeping your ad impressions within their ecosystem, potentially limiting the demand for your ad inventory.

So, all publishers who do digital advertising have an ad server of some kind, and they usually separate it from the ad network they use at some point, if not from the very beginning.

Ad Servers & Ad Networks: Pieces of the Ad Revenue Puzzle

Ad servers and ad networks are certainly not the same things, but they do share a big similarity: They're both pieces of the ad revenue puzzle. That means they deserve your attention as you try to increase your revenue and keep your business growing.

Of course, it can be difficult to wade through the endless technical digital advertising jargon surrounding the ad tech stack, particularly when it comes to ad servers and ad networks. What is a busy publisher to do?

Here's one option that has been a big revenue booster for countless publishers like you: Contact Playwire. As part of our revenue amplification platform, we will perfect your ad tech stack. We'll find, set up, optimize and manage every part of your ad tech stack, from demand sources like ad networks to functional pieces like ad servers.

The best part? There are two: You won't have to worry about it, and your revenue will increase. Who doesn't want that? When you're ready to get started, contact Playwire online.

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