Publishers are busy preparing for a cookie-less market, growing their customer base, and producing high-quality content. Choosing the right ad server is critical to making the most of your campaigns. With an effective ad server, you can run ad campaigns seamlessly while tracking performance so you can react quickly to changes in demand and scale your digital marketing strategy.

We did the work for you and selected the top 5 ad servers. In this guide, we’ll explore each one as well as alternatives worth considering. Let’s start.

Short in Time? These Are Our Top 5 Ad Servers

Google Ad Manager
Complete and customizable ad serving platform.
A build-your-own ad server suite.
Self-service ad server with a pay-as-you-go pricing model.
An ad-server platform that offers a high degree of control for publishers.
An ad-serving platform that enables selling new and remnant inventory.

What is an Ad Server?

An ad serving platform is a type of advertising software that manages, selects, and serves ads on a website or app according to pre-defined criteria. Publishers and ad networks use ad servers to simplify ad management. 

Ad servers also generate reports from campaign metrics, such as the number of impressions and click-through rate. This helps publishers track advertising performance and target their audience effectively.

The Best Ad Servers For Publishers

There is a wide range of ad serving platforms


Powerful Ad serving platform - EPOM

Epom Ad Server is a complete ad management platform for the cross-channel advertising business. It offers extensive customization, multiple ad formats, auto-optimization algorithms, and a supply-side platform (SSP).

Key Benefits

  • A white-label solution, easily customizable.
  • Full of useful features, including targeting, analytics, campaign management, and optimization.
  • Built-in cross-channel formats
  • It can sell remnant inventory

Good for: Publishers and networks that need a customizable ad-serving platform.


  • Real-time campaign data
  • Scalable and stable
  • You can delegate work via the roles and permissions feature.


  • The user interface has functionality but is not user-friendly.
  • There are few analytic templates.
  • It doesn’t have a ticket system.

2. Kevel
Build a Custom Ad Server with Kevel

Kevel suite integrates a suite of APIs that facilitates publishers to build their ad servers. It delivers full control over its ad server. Supports multiple ad types and ani-ad blockers.

Key Benefits: 

  • Its server-side serving means a fast serving of ads and monetization.
  • The JSON API enables you to turn organic content into an ad.
  • Access to a first-party data management platform.
  • Granular reporting.

Good for: Companies that want to sell their ad inventory directly and not via programmatic.


  • Easy to use interface
  • Well documented API
  • Frequent product updates


  • The user interface is slow to load.
  • The object hierarchy and terminology are complex and confusing.
  • Reporting lacks features.

3. AdGlare

Ad Server SoftwareAdGlare is a self-service ad server. It has a pay-as-you-go pricing model depending on the number of ad requests in a month. The AdGlare platform supports different types of ads, such as banner displays, in-stream video ads, and rich media ads.

Key Benefits:

  • It has a well-designed dashboard so users can track and manage the campaigns.
  • It has targeting features such as geo-targeting and browser targeting
  • It can be integrated with Content Management systems

Good for: Mid-market publishers looking to manage and directly sell ads.


  • Simple UI/UX
  • Fast to launch campaigns
  • Client dashboards
  • Multiple ad types
  • Good support


  • You cannot sell your remnant inventory with other networks.
  • You cannot customize the software.
  • It has basic features, and the website inventory is somewhat limited.

4. Smart

Smart Ad Server

Smart is a platform that offers a high level of control to publishers. They can run programmatic and direct campaigns across multiple digital formats and screens. The platform offers a unified auction functionality that helps.

Key Benefits: 

  • Provides granular reporting, helping optimize the campaign performance.
  • You can deliver custom ad experiences.
  • Serves as an SSP
  • Generates analytics in real-time, helping with forecasting
  • Has advanced targeting options

Good for: Premium and large publishers with sizeable traffic.


  • Easy to use with an intuitive user interface
  • It offers a free trial
  • Works across multiple device types. 


  • Lacks in-depth traffic stats
  • The updates are too frequent
  • The price is a bit on the higher side.

5. Google Ad Manager

Google Ad Manager

Previously known as Double Click, Google Ad Manager is a complete ad serving platform providing flexibility to sell direct and remnant inventory. It serves ads immediately, and it is easy to use.

Key Benefits:

  • Integrates with Google Adsense and Double Click Ad Exchange.
  • You can monetize remnant impressions to maximize yield.
  • Includes malware detection capabilities.
  • It is free to use up to a specific limit.

Good for: The ad server comes in two versions: one for small businesses and a premium server. The basic tier is free and doesn’t have traffic requirements with an AdSense account. The premium tier is for sites with a minimum 90 million traffic requirement.


  • You can manage all your ads in one place.
  • There are different attribution models on the platform.
  • The data analysis is clear and useful.


  • It lacks independent verification of metrics
  • It has a learning curve
  • The margins are not transparent

6. App Nexus (now Xandr)

Xandr Ad Server

Now rebranded as Xandr, AppNexus offers an online auction infrastructure with a built-in marketplace, Demand-side (DDP) and Supply-Side-Platform (SSP), and an ad server. The platform simplifies running a unified auction for all buyers so you can maximize your yield. Xandr also comes with analytic functionality so you can get historical data reports, yield forecasts, and inventory availability.

Key Benefits: 

  • Supports multiple types of ads, including display, native, and video across different screen sizes.
  • It comes with DSP and SSP.
  • The dynamic allocation feature enables the demand to compete against direct deals.

Good for: Large publishers with sizeable traffic and impressions volume.


  • Exclusive supply deals
  • Integration with internal platforms
  • Custom audience segments
  • Header bidding


  • The platform seems dated
  • Extremely complex to learn and use
  • Poor support
  • Higher CPM

The Best Ad Server Alternative

Now that we have gone over the best ad server platforms, we can explore some alternatives. You don’t ‌‌need to use an ad server and can generate revenue outside Google. Unlike most ad serving platforms, you can combine several ad networks and maximize your revenue.


Monetize your Digital Platform with CodeFuel

CodeFuel is a holistic solution for publishers, integrating ad management, search, and news monetization. The platform leverages AI and machine learning to provide highly targeted contextual ads that enhance the user experience.

With CodeFuel, you can monetize any digital property, website, application, and extension. The features include site and app monetization, search mediation, and news feed.


  • Flexible, offering monetization options across several platforms and verticals
  • All in one solution for all monetization needs.
  • Integrates with several ad networks, including Bing, Yahoo, and premium Google AdSense programs


  • Not suitable for small publishers.

Learn more about other alternatives here.

How to Choose the Best Ad Server?

Now that we have gone over the top ad servers and alternatives, here are some features you should look for when choosing an ad server.

  1. It should be easy to deploy and use. 
  2. Able to manage multichannel campaigns.
  3. Integration with Google Ad Manager can help include remnant ad inventory.
  4. Extensive analytics across campaigns.
  5. Comprehensive targeting.
  6. Support for multiple ad formats. 

Most ad servers cater to both advertisers and publishers. Therefore, it is best to choose a solution designed specifically for publishers, such as CodeFuel.

What Types of Ad Servers Are There?

Ad Servers can generally be divided into four different categories according to two criteria:

  • Hosted. An outside company hosts these. Their update is automatic and requires no maintenance on the publisher’s side.
  • Self-hosted. The publishers do the maintenance. While they offer more control, it also means the publisher is responsible for installing, maintaining, and updating the software.
  • Third-party. Advertisers use these to track ad campaigns and collect audience data.
  • First party. These are mainly used to serve ads and manage ad placement targeted to their audience.

As a publisher, ‌you should choose the type of online advertising software based on your business goals and your company’s needs. For instance, if your business is at a stage where it is growing, you should look for a solution that gives you the scalability you need.

Why Do You Need an Ad Server?

As a publisher, you need to be on top of the state of the content on your website. It should be unique, high quality, and tailored to your audience. A high-quality website that attracts high-paying advertisers enhances conversions, ultimately creating an impact on the bottom line.

However, even the best content and site design won’t suffice without proper ad management. If you want your ad inventory to attract good advertisers, you need to track performance. This is where ad servers come in.

Technologies such as real-time bidding simplify the bidding process for advertisers, but you still need to track the metrics and optimize the user experience. An ad server gives you a central interface to refresh ads, set frequency, and generate reports according to metrics.

How Does an Ad Server Work?

Each ad serving platform has its own set of features. However, core functions are common to all solutions: The process starts when a user opens a web browser and visits a website or opens a mobile app. Next, the browser sends an ad request with specific criteria to the ad server, including the size of the ad, the location, placement, and type of device.

The ad server selects suitable ads based on that criterion and the bidding; these ads are then displayed on the website or mobile app. The ad server also tracks the impressions and click-through rate, storing this data on the publisher’s ad server.

Ad Server vs. Ad Network

It’s not uncommon to confuse an ad server for an ad network and visa versa. However, these are two very different solutions.

An ad network is a software solution or service that connects advertisers to publishers. Ad networks collect the ad inventory from publishers and make it available to advertisers. 

An ad server is a technology that displays advertisements on publishers’ websites. The software “serves ads” on the websites.

FAQs about Ad Servers for Publishers

  • 1. What Is a Publisher Ad Server?

    First-party ad servers enable publishers to manage the ad inventory on their website by displaying ads sold to advertisers.

  • 2. What Does an Ad Server Cost?

    There are many different solutions to choose from, each with a different pricing scheme. Some, like Google Ad Manager, are free up to a certain number of impressions. Others have a subscription model, and others work by the pay-as-you-go model.

  • 3. How do Ad Requests Work?

    A user visits a website or opens an app. The code is then added to the website which then requests ads from the ad server according to set criteria. The ad server responds by serving suitable ads.

  • 4. Can You Set up an Ad Server from Scratch?

    An ad server does more than just serve the ad and return a web file when called. An ad server also offers management and targeting capabilities, analytics, forecasting, and tag management. Even if you do manage to build one from scratch, you’ll need to hire a product manager.

  • 5. How Can I Increase My Ad Request?

    Here are some tips:

    1. Experiment with different ad networks.
    2. Choose the right ad server for your needs.
    3. Try different ad formats.
    4. Invest in attracting more traffic to your website.
    5. Make your site mobile-friendly.

How CodeFuel Can Help Publishers

At CodeFuel, we help publishers maximize their monetization yield by enhancing the user experience. Our solution suite leverages search, shopping ads, and newsfeeds to deliver highly targeted ads that improve the user experience and conversions. CodeFuel then presents a more complete alternative to an ad server. Try CodeFuel today. Sign up.