Key Points

  • First-party ad servers are for publishers.
  • Third-party ad servers are for advertisers and ad agencies.
  • Both serve distinct and important functions in the ad tech ecosystem.

When you're looking for the best ad server for you, you're going to run into a lot of different vocabulary words. Notably, you might see "first-party" ad servers and "third-party" ad servers.

What are they? How are they different? And which one is best for your unique ad serving needs?

These are all good questions, and their answers are about to be clear. Read on to learn everything you need to know about first-party ad servers and third-party ad servers.

Here's the short version: If you're a publisher you need a first-party ad server. The next question is who is going to manage your ad server and other aspects of your digital advertising efforts. And the answer is Playwire. Contact us to learn more about how we will grow your ad revenue.

-- Article Continues Below --The Complete Guide to Ad Servers

The Complete Guide to Ad Servers

First-Party Ad Servers: The Publisher-Side Ad Servers

First-party ad servers are publisher ad servers. Here's what you need to know:

What Is a First-Party Ad Server?

A first-party ad server is an ad server that places digital ads in front of users on publishers' websites and apps. The code that makes up the ad server and all of its functionality lives on a physical server - owned by the publisher (self-hosted ad server) or a third-party ad tech vendor (hosted ad server) - and processes potentially thousands of ad requests per minute.

There are various kinds of first-party ad servers, each designed to accommodate particular publisher needs. Here are some examples:

  • Open-source ad servers
  • Display ad servers
  • Video ad servers
  • Mobile ad servers
  • Native ad servers
  • Rich media ad servers

Each type of first-party ad server brings its own pros and cons, but it's also important to keep in mind that most mainstream first-party ad servers combine some or all of the capabilities described in the list above.

How First-Party Ad Servers Work

Publisher-side ad servers occupy the ad space between the publisher's website or app and the back-end ad tech tools sourcing ad demand and doing programmatic auctions. Publishers designate particular places on their platforms and within their content where ads may be served, and they programmatically issue ad requests when users initiate a session with their site or app.

The ad request is filled via an auction among the various demand sources, and the winning bid is sent to the ad server. There, the ad server secures the corresponding ad creatives and serves them to the ad slot on the publisher's website or app. All of this takes place in a fraction of a second and up to thousands of times per minute.

Third-Party Ad Servers: For Advertisers and Agencies

Third-party ad servers are ad servers for advertisers and agencies. Here's what you need to know:

What Is a Third-Party Ad Server?

A third-party ad server is an ad server that advertisers or agencies use to upload ad creative and manage their campaigns. When first-party ad servers go to pull ad creative for a buyer's winning programmatic bid, they communicate with third-party ad servers to secure that creative.

Typically loaded with data, ad reporting, and ad campaign management features, third-party ad servers are often called advertiser-side servers. The so-called "third party" involved in this type of ad server is the ad agency - the most common user of these servers - who stands between buyers and publishers.

How Third-Party Ad Servers Work

Third-party ad servers are not always completely distinct from first-party ad servers. The most advanced ad servers can complete both functions. However, the primary function of third-party ad servers is quite distinct from that of first-party ad servers.

Publishers place ad tags on their websites or apps to correspond with particular advertisers. When a user initiates a session, the ad tag requests an ad via a first-party server. The first-party server packages the data surrounding the user and sends it to the third-party ad server. From there, the third-party ad server uses the information input to select the best ad based on the buyers' preferences and ad campaign requirements and sends it to the publisher-side server.

The first-party ad server finishes the job of actually placing the creative in front of the user's eyes. As you can see, these two types of ad servers work together to complete the digital advertising process but serve entirely different functions within that broader goal.

Looking for a First-Party Ad Server?

If you're a publisher, you're probably looking for a first-party ad server. And that means you may be a great fit for Playwire's proprietary online advertising revenue amplification platform. Part cutting-edge ad tech and part expert-driven management, Playwire's services include ad serving management and optimization for publishers like you.

In other words, if you're looking for a first-party ad server, we want to hear from you. We want to show you how we have grown ad revenue for publishers like you countless times and for more than 15 years. Ready to learn more? Contact our team as soon as possible.

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