Before we discuss the benefits of using an ad server, its’ important to understand what an ad server actually is. An ad server is the technology that places ads on a website. When you’re scrolling down an article and you see an ad in the middle of the page, or in the sidebar, chances are an ad server placed the ad there.
At face value, that process might seem like a simple one. I know several websites that simply upload the ad to specific parts of the page, include a link for when clicks on the ad, and they’re in business. However, there are several downsides for this approach, of hard-coding the ads on to your site.
The Downside of Not Using an Ad Server
1. The ads aren’t randomized
Say you have 10 advertisers and only 5 ad spots. Normally they’d be happy to be seen every other time your site loads, but that’s much more difficult to do if the ads are hard coded on to the page.
We know one news website that had a sidebar with 20 different advertisers on it. Every day, they’d need to go in to their actual page and drag the lower ads higher up on the page to give them fair visiblity. You can imagine how tedious – and imperfect – that kind of system is.
2. You can’t track results
This is huge. Many advertisers want to know just how well their ads are doing – how often they are showing, or how often they are getting clicked. A good marketing campaign is established around solid, measurable metrics. Hard coding the ads on to your site makes it a lot harder to know anything about their performance and success.
3. You can’t run tests
– the result of both the issues already named, is you actually can’t test ads this way. A huge part of digital marketing involves trial and error – it’s impossible to predict in advance which graphic, slogan, or landing page will be the most successful. As a result, marketers are constantly testing different options, trying to identify which one works best – which gets the most clicks, and which converts into the most sales, signups, or whatever other result they are trying to achieve.
If you hard code one version of an ad on to your site, you can’t experiment with different designs, and you can’t compare the results of that ad versus another one that might have gotten better results.
4. You can’t sell different ad packages
Selling ads by time period – for a week, a month, or a year, is often the best strategy for your website. But sometimes, especially for sites with higher traffic sites, it makes more sense to sell ads based on impressions – how many times an ad loads on your site, or per click. And selling with this method is impossible if you don’t use an ad server to track impressions (how often your ads actually loaded) and clicks.
5. You’re forced to mess with your website code
Logging into your website to modify your ads is inherently technical experience. And so, you’re either forced to use someone with more technical know-how to help you, or do it yourself, which can be a tedious and time consuming process.
It can also be dangerous: if you don’t know what you’re doing, you run the risk of things not looking right or breaking entire parts of your site. It’s kind of crazy to mess with the code of your website, the core part of your business, every time an advertiser wants to swap out their graphics.
6. Your campaigns can run over
We’ve seen so many times when an advertisers pays to be on for a month but ends up running for three because someone forgets to take it down. Sometimes this means free advertising which you could have otherwise made money on. Other times it means an angry advertiser who didn’t want their ad to be seen after their ad campaign was over (like an election campaign, or a limited time sale). Leaving your ad management up to memory or an external calendar is setting yourself up for for errors.
Why You Should Use an Ad Server
Let’s briefly run through the points listed above and see how an ad server can help for each of them. Here are the benefits of using an ad server:
1. Your ads are randomized
every time your ads load on a page, a different ad would typically be in the same spot. Over the course of a given month, all ads should load the same amount, and be given the exact same amount of exposure. If some of your ad zone locations are better than others (in a prominent area on your site, for example) all your advertisers will get an equal chance at being seen.
2. You can track results
A key service of ad servers is they are trying to track as much as possible. They are keeping track of how often the ads load, when people click on them, and even calculating the Click Through Rate to let you know how well a campaign is doing. Being able to give your advertisers and agency partners detailed reports about their campaigns is a huge value ad – and often a complete necessity.
If their campaign does well, there’s a much greater chance that they’ll come back to advertise with you again. And you can use your overall site metrics – especially your shining success stories – as a key component for closing additional ad sales. It’s much easier to make a deal when you can tell a lead what your average click through rate is, instead of just general information about your website.
3. You can run tests
once your ad server can randomize ads and track their performance, you’re set up for one of the most powerful benefits of digital advertising – quick and easy testing. An advertiser can upload two or more banners or headlines and see, in a short amount of time, if one is more effective than the other.
They now have valuable information about their campaign in general, and can also shut off the less-effective ad and get the most bang for their buck from their better performing ad. This is called A/B testing and is a core practice of an advertiser that’s serious about maximizing their digital advertising campaigns.
4. You can sell different ad packages
With detailed data at your disposal, you can sell ads based off a time frame, such as one month, as well as charging per how often the ad appears on your site or how many clicks it gets. You can even combine this in your sales offerings, if you choose to; having one advertiser pay per month, while another advertiser, maybe placed in a premium ad spot, pays per impression or click. At Ad Pie, we’ve built our ad server to include all these billing options right into the ad campaigns, to make the entire process easy and seamless.
5. You don’t need to touch your actual website
– with an ad server, you define a specific ad zones on your site, do the technical work of setting them up once, and never touch your site again. From then on, you log into a completely different platform to upload your ads, and those get “served” to your website when the page loads. This means no more technical skill required every time you you need to change an ad, with no risk of breaking your site in the process.
At Ad Pie, we’ve made a point of making the process of uploading ads a really simple process; this means that non-tech savvy staff can still easily manage this technical part with ease while focusing on sales and your relationships that are the bread and butter of your business.
6. Your campaigns can run on their own
– instead of remembering to take a campaign down, all you need to take a campaign down – or launch it, your ad server can be programmed to start a campaign on a certain date, and take it down at some later time. Or you can allocate a certain amount of impressions or clicks to the campaign and have the ads shut off when that threshold is reached. In short, you can clear up your mental bandwidth and your calendar by letting the ad server do the remembering and tracking for you.
So there you have it. A few key benefits to using an ad server. It’s worth noting one downside though – ads are much more likely to get blocked with an ad blocker when they are served through an ad server. We believe the benefits still outweigh the costs, and there are several tactics you can use to fight back against these ad blockers.
We’ve built Ad Pie to be a straightforward solution for publishers who want to focus on content creation and sales and want to keep their ad server as simple as possible. For more help in deciding what the best ad server is for you, check out our article on what to look for in an ad server.