The Benefits of Self-Serve Advertising Platforms [for 2021 and Beyond]

Read time: 7 minutes

It’s often said that history repeats itself.

Back in 2017, self-serve advertising saw a surge of popularity as media buyers sought new ways to increase the level of transparency available within their ad spending practices.

Once again, self-service ad platforms have a major role to play in the upcoming post-cookie digital advertising landscape (in case you haven’t seen the “sold out” signs plastered across internet bakeries everywhere, third-party cookies will stop working by 2023).

Without cookies, many popular advertising techniques are soon going to stop working entirely - including behavioral targeting, remarketing, and frequency capping, to name a few.

With the alarm bells ringing, publishers and advertisers are rightfully seeking new ways to update their ad tech stacks in order to protect their revenue streams.

In this article, we showcase the benefits of self-service advertising and why these platforms are becoming a more popular choice than ever for serving ads online.

Table of Contents


What does self-serve advertising mean?

Self-serve advertising refers to any medium which allows an advertiser to define criteria for an ad campaign and purchase digital ad inventory, without interacting with a sales representative or a publisher.

If that sounds like an open-ended description, that’s because it is.

In general, all self-service advertising platforms allow advertisers to specify the details of their ad campaign - be it timelines, budgets, display locations, or any other number of factors.

Many self-service platforms also offer programmatic functionalities - or in other words, they automatically manage when and where to show certain ads based on the details of available ad inventory.

However, things can get a bit confusing when trying to determine how to semantically refer to certain types of online advertising platforms (it wouldn’t be AdTech otherwise!).

Self-service advertising platforms vs DSPs

If you’re new to AdTech, it’s possible that you may not be familiar with what a DSP (demand-side platform) is, and even if you’re familiar with them, there are some nuances to understand about what differs between DSPs and other self-service platforms.

Our guide to DSPs is available if you’re interested to learn more about DSPs in particular.

A critical point to understand before continuing is that self-service advertising platforms and DSPs are different service offerings, despite many self-service platforms commonly (and mistakenly) being referred to as DSPs (largely due to the popularity and history of DSPs).

For example, Google Display & Video 360 (formerly Google DoubleClick Bid Manager) is a DSP service offering - it receives this classification because it’s capable of connecting to multiple supply sources, particularly in the form of ad exchanges and ad networks (just one of which is Google’s own Google Display Network).

In contrast, tools that are very similar, like Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords), Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, and LinkedIn Marketing Solutions are not DSPs, despite offering an interface for advertisers to purchase ads and manage their campaigns.

Instead, the above services are classified as self-service advertising platforms.

The somewhat discrete reason for this classification lies in the advertiser’s inability to control their advertising supply sources directly through these platforms - the advertiser is only able to target and reach audiences within each platform’s own “walled garden” network ecosystems - or in other words, the audiences curated by the platforms themselves.

As the most basic example, Google Ads offers advertisers the ability to reach publisher audiences within the Google Display Network, but doesn’t connect to other outside supply sources (like other ad exchanges) like a “true” DSP (like Google Display & Video 360) allows for.

Clarifying the different types of DSPs

As another layer of semantic confusion to untangle, there are different types of classifications for DSPs - one of which is a “self-serve DSP”, which understandably sounds incredibly similar to a “self-service advertising platform” (which a DSP isn’t!).

To help clarify this confusion, here’s a brief description of the 3 classifications of DSPs, as well as the description of a self-service advertising platform for a clear comparison:

  • Self-service advertising platforms allow advertisers to purchase ads and manage their advertising campaigns without human interaction, but aren't technically DSPs, because they don't allow the advertiser to directly control their supply sources.
  • Self-service DSPs are owned by a third-party ad tech vendor. They allow advertisers to manage their ad campaigns similar to a self-service advertising platform, but additionally allow the advertiser to connect to both their own list supply sources as well as those offered by the DSP service provider itself.
  • Full-service DSPs are nearly the same as self-service DSPs, but provide the additional service of a team that operates the DSP on behalf of the advertiser - somewhat similar to the services offered by an ad agency.
  • White-label DSPs are platforms that are only one-step removed from a "build your own" DSP approach, in the sense that an advertiser buys the platform, brands it as their own, and receives full development and configuration control over their DSP.

Examples of self-serve advertising platforms

There are all kinds of different self-serve advertising platforms online, many of which are offered by major technology providers that you’re likely very familiar with.

Social Media

Social media platforms are as popular amongst advertisers as they are amongst the millions of users that use them to share messages and content with one another.

Platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Pinterest, Snapchat, Spotify, and more recently TikTok are all staples of the online advertising industry.

Like other self-serve advertising platforms, media buyers are able to log in and access a panel through which they can specify the details of their ad campaign.

Advertisers are able to use granular demographic data in order to target specific user segments with campaign messages that provide a high level of audience relevance.

A wide variety of formats are supported across platforms, including display, video, audio, and native ads - making social media a flexible option for delivering ad campaigns.

eCommerce & Directories

Similar to social media, eCommerce platforms where consumers shop for goods and services online are prime real-estate for advertisers looking to promote their own products.

While Amazon’s popularity is unquestionable, other vendor and service outlets including Etsy, Expedia, and Yelp all attract audiences that are often ready to make a purchase.

These platforms, while supporting a variety of ad formats, often specialize in providing sponsored listing slots which merge seamlessly with the rest of the website.

Due to the general mindset and intention of the traffic which passes through these types sites and the subtle nature of the ads served to them, eCommerce and directory websites can provide a lucrative opportunity for advertisers that understand their audiences.

Paid Search Engine Placements

While Reddit’s slogan is “the front page of the internet”, that title is perhaps more aptly befitting of the search engines which serve as a gateway to the vast majority of the internet.

No one can claim themselves a stranger to Google’s search engine - and most people are also familiar with competing platforms Bing and Yahoo.

Like other self-service advertising options, each of these platforms offers an interface (with Google Ads being the most popular) through which advertisers can specify the media purchasing requirements of their campaigns.

By combining search algorithms with predictive user intent, programmatic bidding factors, and billions of searches conducted each day, paid search ads are capable of attaining immense audience reach without compromising ad relevance.

Digital Out Of Home

The advancement of technology doesn’t show any signs of stopping - and signs are what are rapidly being replaced in favor of digital screens in many parts of the modern world.

Traditional billboards printed with static images are gradually being updated with digital displays, capable of being updated with whatever message an advertiser desires.

This subset of advertising is referred to as DOOH (Digital Out-Of-Home), and offers a creative way for brands to position themselves in front of audiences in the real world.

A lesser-known opportunity for many advertisers is accessing self-serve interfaces to temporarily and programmatically purchase digital screen real-estate.

Platforms like Blip, AdQuick, Broadsign, and AdSemble are just a few examples of programmatic self-serve advertising platforms specialising in DOOH.

Publisher Owned Self-Serve Advertising Platforms

Sometimes, a niche audience is the perfect fit for an advertising campaign.

Google undoubtedly offers the most popular option of monetizing a website with ads, but it isn’t always the most lucrative or effective option for publishers or advertisers (though it’s often assumed that it is - after all, what could beat Google, right?).

The thing is, there are drawbacks to relying solely on Google for advertising.

For advertisers, the lack of ability to negotiate their CPM rates can make ad campaigns expensive to run in competitive environments.

Additionally, while Google offers reporting, they don’t always include all of the granular data or insights an advertiser might want to evaluate surrounding their ad effectiveness.

On the publisher side, Google’s AdSense often significantly undervalues the ad space offered by top content creators and web property owners, with no opportunity to negotiate.

In the case of both publishers and advertisers, Google is also set to drastically adjust the way they handle ad management through their FLoC & FLEDGE updates - and no one is certain how effective (or ineffective) their new approach might be.

But alternatives to Google exist.

Publishers are able to own and operate their own self-serve advertising platforms which allow them to set their own rates and conditions.

Publisher owned self-serve advertising portals allow advertisers to enter the specifications of their ad campaigns and launch them without the need for human involvement.

However, in situations where a custom approach is required, the flexibility exists for both parties to reach out to one another to secure the best possible terms via a direct deal.

Because the publisher owns their ad serving platform directly, they’re also able to offer the highest level of reporting transparency to their advertising partners.

If all of this sounds interesting to you as a publisher, consider your options and contact the AdButler team to learn more about setting up your very own self-serve advertising portal!

What are the benefits of self-serve advertising?

There are a wide range of benefits associated with self-serve advertising for both publishers and advertisers.

MadTech” is a term that aptly describes the ever-decreasing distinction between “marketing” and “advertising”, as these methodologies of delivering messages to audiences borrow increasingly from one another.

In marketing, the creation of touch-free customer experiences has become the norm, and one of the best ways to accomplish this is by alleviating “friction” or “resistance” between the purchaser and their ability to acquire what they’re looking for.

Sounds familiar, right?

This is exactly what a self-serve advertising portal accomplishes in the eyes of an advertiser.

But that isn’t where the benefits end.

Benefits of self-serve platforms for publishers

There are three primary benefits offered to publishers that host their own self-service advertising portals:

  1. Self-service portals can be white-labelled and hosted within a publisher’s web domain. While the portal appears to be owned by the publisher, the advertising portal itself is updated and maintained in the background by a third-party ad tech company.
  2. Self-service advertising orders provide an extra source of bid competition for a publisher’s other advertising demand sources, increasing the overall value of ad space within a web property.
  3. Self-service advertising is a primarily automated source of ad revenue - it’s as close to a “set it and forget it” solution as you can get in digital advertising.

Benefits of self-serve platforms for advertisers

Advertisers can find a number of advantages through using self-service portals hosted by various media channels and web properties online:

  1. Self-serve options allow advertisers to forgo the need to manually communicate their advertising strategy, forward their ad creatives, and negotiate the terms of their ad campaigns, in favor of verifying and submitting all of their details themselves.
  2. When dealing with self-serve portals, the measurability of each ad campaign’s effectiveness can be drastically increased depending on the reporting options offered by the platform (publishers may even share custom reports in some circumstances).
  3. Self-serve platforms are active 24/7, allowing advertisers to bypass the need to adhere to timezone and business time restrictions when launching a new campaign.

Benefits of self-serve platforms for both parties

Overall, both publishers and advertisers both save time and overhead costs that are traditionally associated with manually striking a direct deal arrangement.

Instead, publishers are able to offer transparency into their pricing expectations and deliverability, while advertisers that find these terms favorable can agree to them by simply initiating their ad campaign.

In general, once internet cookies disappear by 2023, direct deals established between publishers and advertisers will become not only the most lucrative arrangement (they always have been), but also one of the most reliable from a reporting standpoint.

Choosing the best self-serve solution for your business

The factors to keep in mind when seeking a self-serve advertising solution vary for the publisher and advertiser sides of operations.

Advertisers seeking to expand their campaign reach through self-serve options should consider carefully where their target audiences reside, and whether or not certain platforms will provide a high level of audience addressability.

It’s also advantageous for advertisers to work with publisher-owned self-service portals.

Advertisers often can’t communicate with or negotiate effectively with larger tech platforms - but independent publishers can make adjustments to their options on the fly, and even make custom developments to ensure the platform is working the way it needs to.

For publishers seeking to host their own self-serve advertising platform, working with a reliable service provider that understands the shifting landscape of ad serving is essential.


The AdButler team has over two decades of experience in providing and configuring ad serving solutions for both publishers and advertisers.

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