What Is The Difference Between Ad Server And Ad Network?

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Last Updated on January 8, 2024

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Ad servers and Ad networks, both have a very crucial role to play in the digital world of advertisements and advertising. Where one can be seen as an abstract body working as an instrument, the other can be seen as the means to make it happen more effectively and efficiently. This will get clearer as we go on discussing both the elements at hand today i.e Ad servers and Ad networks.

What is an Ad Server?

An Ad Server basically can be defined as a technology or a platform where everything related to and around an ad may be stored, managed and generated. 

An Ad Server can be seen as a body composed mainly of two things, i.e. an Advertisement and a server. Where Ad refers to the advertisement part of it, referring to the various processes of managing, generating and placing of ads with respect to the various parameters and elements involved. Server on the other hand represents the storage part of it where all of the above is stored up. It basically refers to the physical body, the instrument where the software running the entire process is stored.

Why do we need an Ad Server?

If you are still confused with what an Ad Server is, or what it does. I believe the following section will help make it more clearer. 

Talking about the operation performed by an Ad Server. It basically does the following for a publisher as well as an advertiser. 

  • It stores, manages as well as places advertisements on a website which has been published on the internet by a publisher. 
  • It generates reports as well as monitors the various parameters involved in an advertisement campaign to provide a real time idea of the ROI generated.
  • It provides various functions to the publisher as well as advertiser on their respective interfaces to decide how, when and for whom an ad is to be advertised. It basically makes targeting the target audience much easier and efficient, so that the desired ad to the desired audience can be successfully desired at the desired time for the maximum output. Such parameters or functions may include the geographical location of the target audience, or the age group of the target audience, or other factors such as gender, class, interests and so on. It basically creates a filter to funnel out efficiently the potential chunk of audience who might be interested in a particular ad. 

Ad servers hence may be defined as those technology or platform which helps in the communication between the advertiser and the publisher, to run ads on a publishers website or web page that is suitable or matches the interest of the target audience for a better return of investment (ROI). 

Hence, if you are a publisher too looking forward to creating or managing your own Ad servers to monetize your website more efficiently. You can have a look at the following guide on “How to build an Ad Server”, where everything has been explained in detail and elaborately, from creating your first Ad server to how to manage it properly and gain the most out of it.

What is an Ad Network?

An Ad Network on the other hand may be seen as an entity or a larger body such as a company which comprises many other elements along with ad servers as well. This can be a single company or a network of companies as the name suggests, which deals with the technicalities and other important elements involved in running ‘successful’ advertising campaigns. 

Where, Ad Server may be seen as an instrument or a physical body consisting of storage body and softwares. Ad Network on the other hand is a much broader and bigger concept comprising both physical elements such as Ad servers, softwares as well as humans who look after the managing, analyzing and reporting of advertisements, so that they can give the maximum ROI. 

They basically work as the middleman for the smooth working and communication between advertisers and publishers. It may also be defined as a ‘marketplace’ where advertisers can find inventories and purchase them so that their ads can show up on the desired publishers website or webpage or app. In addition to all that, they also take care of other aspects such as various paperwork, billing procedures and invoicing, thus liberating both the publishers as well as advertisers from the unnecessary hassle, giving them ample amount of time to focus on their essential task.

Why do we need an Ad Network?

To understand Ad Networks better. I believe it is important to know why we need an Ad Network or what role they play in the world of advertisements. 

  • An Ad Network provides additional and more efficient software as well as looks after the successful placement or launch of advertisements. They also analyze as well as optimize and categorize the inventories and see to it that it reaches potential buyers i.e. advertisers, so that publishers gain the most out of it. 
  • Ad networks comprises various human bodies with expertise who help manage efficiently and communicate effectively between the advertisers and publishers, to avoid any confusion and profit both the parties involved. 
  • With the help of Ad Network the entire process of placing ads as well as managing them, so that they reach the desired and targeted audience all seem to be automated, leaving both publishers and advertisers of having to take unnecessary headaches for it.

How does an Ad Server and Ad Network work together?

An Ad Network basically uses their own Ad servers or a network of Ad Servers to cover a wider number of publishers together under the same umbrella, so that it can provide advertisers a multiple range and options of inventories to choose from. This way they are able to make the best of the two worlds, by pairing the most productive combination giving the most ROI.

What is the difference between an Ad Server and an Ad Network?

I believe by now, you already have a fair idea of how an Ad Server is different from an Ad Network. Or, how they instead work together or for each other in one way or so. 

In the following section, I will try to differentiate both in points so that it becomes much clearer to you on how the both are different from each other. 

Ad ServerAd Network
An Ad server is basically a software or technology stored in a physical body such as a Server.An Ad Network is a group of websites, tools and human body which work together to provide publishers and advertisers with the best deal involving ad servers. 
It is a more one-step direct selling method. Here a group or network of methods and processes are involved. 
Here, publishers work directly with advertisers to publish, manage and track ads. Here, there are multiple elements involved, from collecting and categorizing various ad inventories to selling them to the highest bidder or buyer (advertisers)

As you can see from the difference above, we can say that an Ad server is mainly a technology or medium that allows publishers manage the ads provided by advertisers. Whereas, an Ad Network is a company that helps publishers and advertisers do the same more efficiently and effectively, without them having to take the headache. They provide the right publishing websites for the right advertisers, so that they can reach the right potential audience or end users. 

There is not much analysis or reporting of data involved while a single publisher works with an Ad Server. However, in the case of an Ad Network, along with managing advertisements, other aspects such an analysis of data and streamlining of the best possible combinations is done at a much wider scale so that it can benefit all the parties and the maximum output can be achieved. 

So, in brief one can say an Ad server or servers are a part of Ad networks which may be put to work together to find the most optimized and productive results for all the three parties.


Hence, you can say that both ad networks as well as ad servers are very crucial and important for both publishers as well as advertisers. Depending on the needs, you will need to see which one plays a more vital role to meet your requirements and agenda.

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Rishikesh Hazarika is a tech enthusiast who is always curious to learn and absorb facts and data in the world of science and technology as well as tries to share his opinion. He has an M.Tech degree from North-Eastern Hill University, later he did a certificate course in Computer Hardware and Software, and a certificate course in Introduction to Architectingc