Best Ad Managers
Why Use an Ad Manager?
When a website is small and doesn't get a lot of traffic, managing advertising is easy. You simply paste the code provided by Google AdSense or another ad network, and that's it. As your traffic grows, however, you might want to sell ads to advertisers directly, and do some smart ad targeting in order to maximize your income. Or perhaps you're like me, and want to use your own affiliate ads instead of contextual advertising. Or maybe your website just belongs to a niche which isn't very AdSense-friendly.
As an example of how you might use an ad manager, you could display premium ads to visitors from the United States, and show a "fallback" - a default ad - to everyone else. Perhaps you have some direct advertisers who want to target visitors by their state, or they wish to limit their ad exposure to one impression per a unique visitor in a day. Naturally, your advertisers will also want to see how well their adverts are doing in terms of CTR and other statistics. Good ad management software can do all these things, and more.
I have been looking into ad management solutions for my new project and have personally tested several of them. You will find short reviews of five popular online ad managers on the page below. You can also share your own experiences in the comments section.
Please note that I tried these ad serving platforms on a small website - if you have a bigger one with more traffic, your requirements may differ. For example, I only signed up for services which offer small plans with hundreds of thousands of impressions. Some companies don't even bother with packages smaller than several million impressions, so these were obviously out of my reach.
Affordable and powerful ad management tool.
AdSpeed is a hosted ad management service with fast and reliable servers, affordable plans, and fairly easy-to-use interface. The reason I chose this particular company for my new website is that they offered all the features I wanted: powerful ad targeting (by country, city, browser / device, frequency), ability to show only geotargeted ads to visitors from countries of my choice, support for Flash and rich media ads, and, perhaps most importantly, low cost. They also have a WordPress plugin, but I didn't try it.
Price: free plan gives you up to 10,000 impressions a month (if you exceed it, AdSpeed will start displaying their own ads on your site 10% of the time). Free 10-day trial offers 50,000 impressions. Paid plans start from 100,000 impressions for $9.95 / mo.
[ Try AdSpeed now... ] disclosure: this is my affiliate link
The best looking user interface, white-label, and payment processor integration.
TrafficSpaces is a new, fresh, pretty ad serving software. Their interface is very modern and uses AJAX, so it's the easiest one to use out of all I've tried. They also provide payment integration for PayPal and credit cards, so you can charge people for advertising on your website directly. All targeting features (geotargeting, browsers and devices, frequency capping) are present. Their prices are quite affordable, too.
What's more, TrafficSpaces is offering branding for their self-service online ad manager. In other words, you can make the advertiser area (the place where potential advertisers buy ads from you) match the design of your site, making the whole thing look more professional.
So, what's the downside? If you are mostly selling advertising space to advertisers directly then you will probably love TrafficSpaces! However, if you are playing with 3rd party ad networks or affiliate ads like me, the default / fallback ad system offered by this ad manager might not be enough. You can actually enter an "Ad Feed" which will be shown when no direct advertising is available. However, Ad Feeds can't be targeted in any way - so you won't be able to, for example, show Amazon ads to US visitors, and some third-party affiliate ads to everyone else.
Price: plans start at $19.99 for 100,000 monthly impressions.
[ Try TrafficSpaces now... ]
Store banners on their servers and use custom domains to serve ads.
AdButler is a reliable text ad, Flash, and banner ad serving tool from Sparklit. Like all the other ad managers on this page, they support geotargeting and other ad targeting features.
Their main advantages are as follows: highly affordable pricing, ability to serve ads from your own domain, option to upload images to AdButler’s servers for faster loading (for a small fee), and support for pop-up and pop-under ads.
Something of a disadvantage is their unattractive and sometimes clunky user interface. The reason that I’ve personally decided not to use them is that you can’t set AdButler up to serve only targeted ads to target countries. For example, if you have a US-targeted ad #1, and an untargeted ad #2, visitors from US will see them both, and there’s no way to prevent ad #2 from showing to them. if that isn’t a problem for you, you might want to give AdButler a try, especially since it offers the cheapest paid ad management subscription.
Price: starts with 100,000 impressions a month for $16 (and $0.15 CPM for any overage).
[ Try AdButler now... ]
4. Broadstreet Ads
Affordable ad serving aimed at news publishers.
Broadstreet Ads offers some unusual ad formats, such as Slideshow or Flipper. This basically adds a few neat CSS3 effects to a regular banner. There's also a WordPress plugin, but I haven't had a reason to use that.
The main reason why I'm still using AdSpeed is that their zone chaining and country targeting features really suit my needs. However, there's no reason for you not to try BroadStreet ads, especially considering the fact that you can use it free of charge as long as you don't need more than 100k impressions. They say their ad delivery system was designed with news websites in mind, but any smaller website could certainly benefit as well.
Price: free plan with up to 100k impressions a month. Paid plans start with $10 for 1 million impressions.
[Try Broadstreet Ads now... ]
#5. OpenX Enterprise
A powerful, yet expensive hosted ad manager for big websites.
OpenX is huge in the ad manager world. You might recall them being called phpAdsNew years back. They have evolved since then, and are now offering a product called OpenX Enterprise: a powerful, but costly solution for big companies, starting at $1,200 a month.
Unfortunately, their free ad manager product, OpenX OnRamp, was shut down in February 2013, allegedly due to hacker attacks. It used to be quite popular, mostly because it was free for up to 100 million ad impressions a month, which is pretty much impossible to exceed for small websites. OnRamp also offered every feature you can imagine: geotargeting, advertiser, zone, and channel management, default ads for when you have no "premium" ones to show, and so on. One of its unique features was OpenX Market integration. You could sell your unnecessary ad space to OpenX Market and actually make money with them. Regretfully, OnRamp was also plagued by technical issues, and support was pretty much nonexistent (perhaps because of its nature as a free service).
Having only tried the now-discontinued OnRamp (which was quite impressive despite the aforementioned issues), I have no idea how OpenX Enterprise compares, but I assume it offers at least the same features and capabilities that OnRamp did (most likely more than that, considering the cost). It might be just the thing for large publishers, but I imagine owners of smaller blogs and websites are going to look for a less expensive alternative to OpenX.
Price: there seems to be a startup fee as well as a minimum monthly fee of $1,200. Please note that this information might be outdated as there are no pricing details on the official website. If you're interested in this product, you should contact OpenX for a quote.
[Try OpenX now... ]
ShinyAds: Sell Ads on Your Website Directly
ShinyAds is the only service on this page that I haven't tried personally, so I have to rely on the publicly available information. It seems to be a very popular self-serve advertising solution used by big websites like DeviantArt and GameSpot. One of its best aspects is a powerful and user-friendly storefront where advertisers can easily pick advertising options by website, ad size, pricing structure (clicks or impressions), pay for them, and get the ads running automatically.
If you run a website with lots of direct advertisers and want to save time, ShinyAds just might be the thing you need. Your clients will be able to setup everything themselves without you having to do anything. In addition to automatic payment processing, ShinyAds also includes a quick ad maker for those who don't have a banner ready at hand.
All in all, their front-end for potential advertisers is top-notch, but instead of serving the ads themselves, ShinyAds integrates with existing ad servers, like OpenX, AdZerk, or Google DFP. That means in addition to running ShinyAds (which processes self-serve advertising) you also need to run an ad server (which actually shows the ads on your website).
Price: have to contact ShinyAds to get a quote.
Revive Adserver: Serve Ads Yourself
All of the offerings I reviewed above are hosted ad management solutions, meaning it's their servers that are handling the ad delivery. But what if you want to create your own ad server? Free, open-source software based on the popular OpenX Source should come in handy in this case. Aptly-named "Revive Adserver", it features pretty much everything its famous predecessor did, plus numerous bug fixes.
This could be a great solution if you want to deliver ads to many websites with lots of traffic. Of course, you will need quality hosting, as Revive can be quite resource-hungry. There's also the matter of potential security holes present in the software. If you have one or several smaller projects, I don't think self-hosting an adserver is worth the hassle.
[ Download here... ]
More Ad Serving Platforms
The ad delivery solutions mentioned in this little article are just a small part of the market; there are many other sites offering tools for people looking to bring their ad serving to the next level. I have no interest in testing any more of them as I am quite happy using AdSpeed on my low-traffic website. However, if you're looking to monetize a big online project, your needs will be very different from mine. That's why I encourage you to also consider the companies listed below. All of them offer ad serving as well as other features:
Google DFP (DoubleClick for Publishers)
I have no idea how good they are, but it's always nice to have some alternatives!