In order to monetize your site or app, you'll first need an ad server, the tech required to serve and report on both direct-sold and programmatic ad spend.
This article answers these questions while diving into the pros and cons of open source ad serving.
An open source ad server is an ad serving script that you download from a third-party and then host on your own servers. It's also called a self-hosted ad server.
The leading solution here is Revive Ad Server, with smaller ones including OIO, dJax, and InOut. Due to the complexity of ad serving tech, few open source solutions exist, and there have been no new ones of note for years.
There are three main alternatives to open source ad servers: a hosted ad server, building an ad server from scratch, or building an ad server using existing APIs. We'll dive into all three.
You get access to the service by subscribing to it, with costs usually related to traffic volume and/or a percentage of revenue. With a hosted solution, the vendor does all the heavy lifting for you, like support, server costs, troubleshooting, maintenance, and the ilk. For non-technical brands looking for a plug-and-play ad server, Google Ads Manager (previously, DoubleClick for Publishers) is the go-to solution.
Viewing the options as 'open source vs hosted' misses out on a path many successful businesses have taken: building in-house ad platforms from the bottom up. Most companies who have the engineering resources to maintain an ad server end up just building their own from scratch, rather than using open source scripts. This is what many large brands have done, including Etsy, Instacart, Pinterest, Facebook, and Amazon.
For companies who want a more flexible and technical solution, the leading solution is Kevel, which provides APIs that make it easy for publishers to build custom ad products. Building such an ad platform from scratch (or using ad serving APIs to cut down the build time) enables you to design the exact ad product you need, rather than relying on a potentially-imperfect open source solution.
Below touches upon the major differences.
Open source ad serving may look good on paper (they provide flexibility, there's no vendor costs, etc), but ad serving tech is not something that can be set up and forgotten; it needs constant monitoring to ensure everything is serving correctly.
Due to this, you should pursue open source only if you have the engineering resources to maintain the tech (based on your traffic volume, this could be one engineer to a large team).
Pricing, therefore, should not be viewed as the reason to use open source ad servers (you can read more about hidden ad serving costs here).
The main consideration, instead, should be around data. If your company policy (or personal preference) gives you zero ability to share even anonymized data with a third-party, then a hosted ad server is not a tenable solution.
Hackers in 2020, for example, breached Revive’s software and inserted malware into at least sixty publishers and thousands of sites.
Yes; in fact, viewing it as 'open source vs hosted' misses out on a path many successful businesses have taken: building in-house ad platforms from the bottom up.
This is what many large brands have done, including Etsy, Instacart, Pinterest, Facebook, and Amazon.
Building such an ad platform from scratch (or using ad serving APIs to cut down the build time) enables you to design the exact ad product you need, rather than relying on a potentially-imperfect open source solution.
This will come with more upfront build time, but once it's released, you'll have more control over the tech versus having to maintain code you didn't write yourself.
Currently the market leader for ad APIs is Kevel. If you're interested in a free consultation around how to build a custom ad server in just weeks, feel free to reach out!