Ad Serving via Google Ad Manager: Benefits, Risks & Alternatives

Are you a publisher looking to monetize your website with an ad server?

Or perhaps looking around at different ad serving solutions?

If so, Google certainly requires no introduction - though with a less than straightforward naming convention for many of their platforms, some of their service offerings might.

(Learn more about Google Ad Manager vs Google’s other platforms here).

In the digital ad serving world, Google Ad Manager (not to be confused with “Google Ads”) - Google’s own ad server solution - has cemented itself as a dominant force in the sector, with a staggering 90% of publishers viewing GAM as a market leader.

With a 37% share of the $130 billion digital ad market in the United States, and as a member of the year over year “Triopoly” reigning over online advertising, this comes as no surprise.

But for all of the impressive numbers associated with it, is Google Ad Manager truly the best option for your ad serving needs as a publisher?

For many, the answer is often a resounding “yes!” - but it’s a question that isn’t asked nearly often enough, especially among publishers that are proactively scaling their audience reach.

In this article, we’ll explore both the benefits and the risks of using Google Ad Manager as your primary ad server, as well as some of the alternative options available on the market.

Table of Contents

What is Google Ad Manager?

Google Ad Manager is a complete ad serving platform for publishers that simplifies digital ad inventory management and revenue optimization, supporting a variety of formats and channels including websites, mobile devices, apps, and other digital mediums.

At its core, Google Ad Manager is an ad server that’s integrated directly with Google Ad Exchange, also referred to as Google AdX. This integration allows publishers to sell their inventory programmatically, allowing GAM to act as both an SSP and an ad server.

Originally, Google Ad Manager was referred to as DoubleClick for Publishers, or “DFP” for short, after Google acquired DoubleClick back in 2007.

In 2018, Google rebranded DFP and DoubleClick Ad Exchange to Google Ad Manager (GAM) and Google Ad Exchange (Google AdX) respectively. For this reason, many people still refer to GAM as DFP.

Jump to our Google Ad Manager FAQ for more details:

Why is Google Ad Manager important?

Google Ad Manager sits at the center of the global ad tech ecosystem as the most widely used ad serving platform, holding an estimated market share of 80% amongst small publishers to 90% of the ad server software market in its entirety.

(It’s worth noting that a research publication by Enlyft has Google Ad Manager pinned at around a 6.56% market share for the role of advertising campaign management - making it a less prominent, but still popular option for that function in particular.)

These impressive numbers aren’t just for show, either - they have a tangible impact on the bottom line of publishers. More activity on the network drastically increases fill rates driven by advertisers with diverse budgets and targeting requirements.

Perhaps most importantly to the majority of publishers that use it, GAM's basic service offering provides all of its functionality for free - making it the most accessible and scalable ad serving option on the market for publishers who are just getting started.

In a more concise manner of speaking, Google Ad Manager is important because it’s the lynchpin for most of modern digital ad serving as we know it - it really is just that significant.

Why do publishers choose to use Google Ad Manager?

As mentioned before, GAM offers a vast majority of its services for free.

For many publishers starting out, this means that using GAM is less of a choice and more of a necessity.

Outside of some other free ad server options like AdMixer (1,000,000 ads per month), AdPlugg (100,000 ads per month), AdSpeed (10,000 ads per month), and Revive (open source), publishers don’t have many other options available to them.

Additionally, most free options don’t offer anywhere close to the 90 million free display ad or 800,000 free video ad impressions provided by GAM per month - nor do they offer the completeness of its tool suite.

Unsurprisingly, because so many publishers start out with using GAM as their primary ad server, when it comes time to scale past the free services offered by the platform, the natural course of action is sitting right in front of them - with many choosing to upgrade to GAM 360.

Benefits of Using Google Ad Manager as a Primary Ad Server

Such widespread popularity wouldn’t have been achieved by Google Ad Manager without a set of features offering a serious value proposition to back its mass adoption.

Google Ad Manager offers a variety of highly desirable benefits to publishers, including:

  • A centralized platform for configuring ad inventory sales
  • Connectivity with competitive Google and non-Google demand sources
  • Support for direct deal arrangements with advertisers
  • Support for a wide range of ad formats and cross-platform delivery methods
  • Detailed audience targeting options
  • Real-time analytics and reporting
  • Integrations which make it compatible with Google’s other tools
  • Free service up to 90 million display / 800k video ad impression per month

GAM allows publishers to maximize competition over their inventory by pitting different points of Google’s ad network against one another - such as bids originating from Google Ads and Google AdSense.

Publishers can further optimize bid competition by adding their own advertising demand sources from outside of Google’s network.

GAM also connects to the broader range of Google’s product lineup - including Google AdSense, Google AdMob, and Google Analytics, allowing publishers to reap the benefits of these platforms which are designed to work best together.

Jump to our Google Ad Manager FAQ for more details:

Why do publishers choose alternatives to Google Ad Manager?

With everything we’ve covered so far, it must be pretty hard to imagine many reasons why publishers would ever choose to use anything but GAM for their ad serving needs.

It does everything. It connects to everything. It’s free! What’s not to love about it?

But you might be surprised to hear that the reasons are numerous - and they’re extremely important factors to take into consideration for publishers who have scaled past or are approaching the limit of GAM’s powerful, but impression-capped free service offering.

Let’s dive into the challenges, limitations, and risks of GAM that often see publishers hunting for alternative ad serving solutions.

Challenges of Using Google Ad Manager

While Google generally offers highly capable platforms, they often come bundled with some challenges characteristic of the company - and Google Ad Manager is no exception.

Confusing Interface With a Steep Learning Curve

For starters, while it’s marketed as having a “simple” and “unified” interface, anyone who’s used a product by Google knows that intuitive interface design is far from their strong suit.

On the contrary, Google might actually be renowned for designing some of the most confusing and complicated cloud product interfaces of all time.

Their numerous training courses and certifications that are typically necessary just to grasp basic navigation on many of their platforms are a reflection of this complexity.

For publishers with limited resources, including time, this can mean one of two things when it comes to using GAM - either hiring outside help like an ad agency to help manage the platform, or spending a ton of time learning how the platform works.

Compounding the issue, Google has a tedious tendency to overhaul the UI of their software platforms every few years in an attempt to address how confusing the previous iteration was (but unfortunately, it never actually get less confusing).

While their intentions are in the right place, these adjustments often just make things even more complicated - and the familiar interface you spent weeks or months learning becomes totally scrambled as features and functions are thrown into Google’s UI pachinko machine.

Once Google plonks their UI update ball into the machine, who knows what the platform might look like?

The end result is yet more time wasted on relearning the platform.

And if thoughts of contacting support for help sprang to mind, don’t get your hopes too high.

Impersonal and Untimely Support

While Google does offer “dedicated” support teams for GAM 360 users, you’re more likely to be presented with a hearty serving of fresh corporate word salad than a real address to anything but the most rudimentary concerns surrounding the platform.

Without access to a more flexible and “real” support team, managing integrations can also prove to be a challenge for less technical publisher teams - resulting in further hidden costs from the setup and maintenance of GAM’s API.

The only available option for "contacting" Google is to create a community support thread.

Sadly, this will remain the case when working with Google as a primary ad serving partner.

Publisher Features and Requirements Aren’t Prioritized

The unfortunate reality is that the majority of Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) business still comes from search revenue.

The modern ad serving needs of publishers are barely even on the radar, with only 12% of Alphabet’s revenue being generated from Google’s ad network.

A breakdown of Alphabet's revenue streams. (Source: The Motley Fool)

Furthermore, any initiatives related to direct deals are off the table - as the core of Google’s ad network revenue comes from the cut they take from their programmatic offerings like Google AdX and AdSense, where the majority of their innovations are focused.

This presents a challenge to publishers in the form of sourcing multiple different ad serving solutions to form a “patchwork” tech stack that’s actually able to meet their specific needs.

While that’s about all of the challenges associated with GAM itself, it’s just the beginning of the list of limitations publishers will face when opting to use GAM as the only platform for managing their inventory.

Limitations of Using Google Ad Manager Alone

In addition to the complexities publishers are presented with on Google Ad Manager, a variety of limitations ranging from business practices to technical execution also exist when GAM is the only tool being used to manage ad serving.

Non-Negotiable Revenue Cuts

Let’s start with the business side of things.

When dealing in ad tech, the landscape offers itself more to flexible negotiations than just about any other online SaaS medium, as the transaction sums and use-cases businesses need to solve for are highly diverse.

The ability to negotiate and adapt is also of utmost importance, as the ecosystem is prone to shifting in unexpected directions without any prior notice (privacy policies, where audiences are spending their time, and AI advancements are but a few of the unknowns in play).

You lose all leverage and sacrifice much of your ability to pivot when dealing with a trillion dollar mega-corporation like Google.

This means that you’re locked into a significant cut (around 30%) of your programmatic revenue being siphoned from your bottom line.

Unfortunately, for many publishers, because GAM is the platform they begin monetizing their web properties with, their reliance on its services leave them unable to switch to (or entirely unaware of) the more lucrative and flexible ad serving options available on the market.

You’ll Always Be Behind The Technology Curve

Regardless of how much value you’re actually gaining from the platform, Google has no incentive to adhere directly to your specific needs as a publisher - nor do they have any need to actively keep up with cutting edge ad tech solutions.

For example, it took Google years to finally integrate with Prebid despite overwhelming demand from publishers.

It even took Google years to get onboard with header bidding to begin with.

While Prebid.js was created in 2015, roughly one year after the introduction of the concept of header bidding back in 2014, Google didn’t release their version of it - Open Bidding for GAM, until 2018.

(Read more about the differences between header bidding vs Google’s Open Bidding)

There's a reason why so many "workers" are getting laid off from major corporations like Google post 2023.

Lagging 4 years behind the technology curve isn’t a great look for an organization with nearly limitless resources at its disposal available for development.

But why would Google care? Publishers were and still are using their services.

In fact, Google wouldn’t have even bothered with the Prebid integration if it weren’t for the numerous antitrust lawsuits against them, including the 2020 ad tech lawsuit that served as the fire under their seat forcing them to do so.

Barred Access To Profitable and Cool Custom Solutions

Dialing back into the limitations of using GAM as a primary ad server - if you’re a publisher who wants or needs to implement custom ad serving solutions to monetize your audience, doing so with Google as a partner is simply out of the question.

While GAM is a highly capable turn-key solution, as we’ve covered, custom functionalities that aren’t out-of-the-box won’t be included as part of the service offering you pay for.

This also means that shortcomings like a lack of SSAI (server-side ad insertion), a technique which helps publishers to monetize AdBlock users to increase revenue by an estimated 5-15%, will continue to be unavailable on GAM moving forward.

Things like adjustments to your user interface, customized reports, non-standard ad serving dimensions and formats, and even fully-branded self-serve marketplaces are just a few more examples of inaccessible features on GAM.

Even when Google is forced to develop advancements to their tech stack, publishers don’t have any control or say over how the latest functionalities work - presenting not only limitations, but also risks that warrant consideration.

Risks of Using Google Ad Manager as a Primary Ad Server

Thanks in no small part to its longstanding image as the infallible and reliable “gateway to the internet”, many view Google and its product lineup in a similarly esteemed regard.

But for all of its capabilities, GAM comes loaded with some commonly overlooked practices that expose many publishers to risks, oftentimes without any obvious indicators.

Your Favorite Features May Disappear Overnight

Anyone who’s used Google’s products for more than a few years (and let’s be real, that’s just about everyone) knows that updates happen frequently.

While these updates are generally aimed at improving Google’s various services, how often has some superfluous widget been added - or worse yet, how often have certain functionalities been altered or removed entirely?

A list of Google products and services, including those that have been discontinued, may help to demonstrate just how often Google’s ecosystem adds and removes tools.

These changes often lack any trace of sophistication, and in many cases can be considered downright abrasive in nature.

We aren’t even talking strictly about minor feature adjustments once in a while either (which can be annoying and even crippling in their own right in some cases), we’re talking about entire platforms vanishing with little to no advanced notice.

Just take a look at the closure of G Suite in 2022, a move that forced everyone from free users to paying ones to move to a more expensive “Google Workspaces” premium plan, which included a drastic limit placed on storage space.

During the process, hundreds of thousands of free and paying users, including educational institutes, businesses, video creators, and countless others that relied on the service for data storage were blindsided by a monumental rug pull that threatened to erase all of their files (terabytes worth of data, for many).

The choices were - pay the ransom fee, migrate to a new solution, or crash and burn.

As is typical, the conveyance of the change wasn’t even made clear during the initial announcement, or even through user discourse - being delivered through corporate half-truths, word salad, and scripted misdirection that left everyone guessing.

Similar countdowns and forced adaptations come up all the time, with one of the latest being the sunsetting of Google Universal Analytics.

(A panel counting down the time remaining on the Google Universal Analytics service.)

So what does all of this have to do with ad serving?

We’ve already covered that Google isn’t a friend to publishers - in fact, the ad serving needs of publishers are probably one of the last things they truly care about.

The stable and reliable state of GAM today could go the way of G Suite on the whim of another corporate huzzah - leaving you scrambling without a lifeboat, not dissimilar to those who relied on G Suite for over a decade for their data storage needs.

(Granted, G Suite's data storage was acting as a cost center to Google, rather than a revenue stream like GAM - but with the unpredictable state of Google and their digital privacy narrative shifting every few months, mitigating risk shouldn't rule out the possibility of a drastic shift on the same scale taking place again.)

GAM Isn’t As Reliable As You Might Believe

Let’s talk about reliability.

While it’s considered somewhat rare for GAM to go offline - when it does happen, it causes significant financial losses for publishers who don’t have a contingency ad serving plan ready to go.

Just take a look at the GAM outage that took place in December 2022, spanning for 2-4 hours (during the holiday season, no less) and costing publishers an estimated 12.5% of their daily revenue.

(The linked article provides some innovative suggestions on how publishers can taper off of complete reliance on Google that may be worth a skim for general interest as well.)

Furthermore, Google outages take place across their ad serving ecosystem regularly, ranging from Google Ads and other demand portals going offline to specific features of the GAM platform itself failing to operate.

While GAM as a platform may not make headlines every day by going offline in its entirety like it did in December 2022, specific and critical features of the platform can go offline randomly without notice, and for even longer durations.

(Source: Google Ads Status Dashboard)

Just imagine losing API access for over an entire day - any publisher routing third-party demand sources through GAM would be entirely cut off from those revenue streams.

Outages of this nature are far from infrequent - they just don’t make the news.

(Source: Google Ads Status Dashboard)

That’s the double-edged blade of Google’s popularity.

The resources required to keep their infrastructure running are immense and prone to failing far more often compared to other ad tech service providers.

On the topic of reliability, many ad tech providers present themselves as proprietary solutions - but actually run on similarly over-exposed infrastructure, like AWS - which, again, may be immensely popular, but still presents publishers with just the same risks as Google.

A Timeline of AWS outages. (Source)

Ideally, a publisher’s monetization infrastructure should have 100% uptime - which may sound difficult if Google and Amazon can’t pull it off, but a more manageable user base gives non-Google services an advantage in this instance.

For instance, not to honk our own horn (beep beep), but AdButler’s proprietary global cloud has maintained a 100% uptime streak since 2017.

(Which is how we know it’s possible - and actively encourage publishers not to settle for less.)

But less about AdButler, more about Google.

What other risks are hiding under the hood of GAM?

As a factor that may come as a surprise, it’s possible that GAM, being an ad tag based solution, may not be entirely legal based on the privacy regulations of many regions.

While Google does offer a variety of privacy controls and data processing options for its ad serving platform, at the end of the day, publisher’s aren’t privy to exactly what’s going on behind the scenes - yet the legal responsibility to operate in a compliant manner still falls into the publisher’s court.

Like most ad serving solutions that operate using tags, because advertisers make use of third-party cookies to target and track user behavior, and because Google has direct control and the final say over how its technology operates, publishers using GAM may expose themselves to unintentionally participating in non-compliant data sharing.

The Role of Ad Tags in Serving Ads

The ambiguity surrounding GAM means that it’s possible that certain PII (personally identifiable information) may end up being passed from publisher web properties to both Google and its connected demand sources.

To compound the issue, modern privacy laws in the United States and new privacy practices across the world are continuing to become more stringent year over year.

As we touched on earlier, Google has demonstrated that it isn’t often a first-mover when it comes to updating its practices - especially in the field of ad tech, where it’s prone to lagging years behind the latest trends.

By proxy, even publishers who are working with agile, privacy-compliant ad tech partners are forced to remain subject to the lethargic pace of GAM’s development cycles.

In fact, Google is actually a first-mover in the opposite direction - secretly deploying privacy invasive infrastructure changes across its platforms without telling anybody.

While this might seem like a “hand wave” situation, not abiding by digital privacy laws like GDPR, CCPA, and many other prominent privacy laws can have major financial repercussions for publishers.

One quick look at the GDPR Enforcement Tracker Website or a list of the 51 biggest fines and penalties to date should be enough of a warning for publishers to take privacy seriously and to take measures into their own hands.

It’s clear why placing trust in Google, a company which appears multiple times in the list of top 10 biggest fines for privacy non-compliance, to look after your best interests as a publisher when it comes to data privacy management, probably isn’t the greatest idea.

Furthermore, Google’s attempts at ending third-party cookies and replacing them with programs like “Google Topics” have all been met with critical scrutiny from the internet at large, not to mention possible performance decreases.

As one historical example to serve as a reference point, when Apple rolled out their own adjustments to how privacy was managed across their various properties and platforms, mobile game publishers saw an estimated revenue decrease of 15-30%.

So what’s a publisher to do?

There are multiple approaches to take - all of which are elaborate subjects of discussion in their own right.

Valve drops support for Google Analytics (Source: A summary by AlternativeTo)

Some companies like video game publisher Valve have decided to entirely abandon their reliance on Google’s tools, announcing in a blog post:

"As time has gone on we've come to realize that Google's tracking solutions don't align well with our approach to customer privacy… instead, we're focused on building the most useful parts of aggregated reporting into Steam itself.”

In a related LinkedIn post, Roy Smith, CEO of PrivacyCheq, commented on removing Google Analytics from all of their web properties - also mentioning that publishers were shaken after Epic Games was burned by a COPPA violation related to Fortnite, involving a charge for over half a billion dollars in December 2022.

Moving away from Google’s tool sets can be a challenging process, but not an impossibility.

The use of trustworthy and/or proprietary CDPs (customer data platforms), CMPs (consent management platforms) and creating partnerships with organizations like the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) to stay up to date are all good places to start.

If you're interested to learn more, check out 8 Best Practices to Become Compliant with Privacy Laws by Headerbidding, How To Prepare for 2023’s New Consumer Privacy Laws by Digiday, and Understanding Data Privacy by Thomson Reuters for further reading.

Google Is Actually Your Competitor

Speaking of privacy, what secrets might Google be keeping from you, the publisher?

As it turns out - quite a few.

The way user data is captured and transferred between platforms isn’t the only thing that Google’s managed to keep the world in the dark about over the years.

As we touched on earlier, there are numerous antitrust lawsuits taking place targeting Google, including a US led ad tech lawsuit and UK led ad tech lawsuit from 2023.

These aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last allegations made - and back in 2021 when the Texas led lawsuit was in its early stages, an unredacted report revealed some particularly critical details about just how shady Google’s practices really are.

The report adds quite a bit of dark context to topics we’ve touched on earlier.

Remember when Google took 4 years to implement its own version of header bidding?

An originally redacted passge from the Texas-led antitrust lawsuit against Google.

That was actually because Google viewed header bidding as a threat to their stranglehold on pilfering a deep cut of publisher’s programmatic revenue - it was a technology which allowed publishers to circumvent the ludicrous tax being imposed upon them.

And of course, we’re all aware of how Google is now trying to get rid of third-party cookies in “the name of a more privacy friendly internet”?

That’s the narrative they’d have you believe - but in reality, it’s clear that what Google really wants is to force publishers into a pen - determining what data you can and can’t access, while using their backend to collect, trade, and monetize the data with their partners.

“The aim of both Project NERA and Privacy Sandbox, according to the suit, is to “limit publishers’ ability to identify and track users, and to position itself as the arbiter of identification and targeting on the open web." -AdExchanger

In other words, Google wants to control and monetize the internet - and nothing would delight them more than to be able to siphon 30% or more of your ad revenue and to suppress traffic to your web properties while redirecting it to their own.

An originally redacted passge from the Texas-led antitrust lawsuit against Google.

Google also has preferential partners they want to appear across their properties, and you aren’t one of them.

Unless you're Facebook or one of Google's other yet undisclosed collusion partners,
don't bank on getting the best bang for your advertising buck.

In case some may be unfamiliar with the digital advertising landscape, let’s break this down.

When it comes to Google - everyone is acting as both a publisher and an advertiser.

Publishers often pay to advertise and promote their web properties across Google platforms with the intent of turning a profit by serving ads and selling services to visitors.

Similarly, Google owns a number of its own web properties and services which they want to drive traffic towards to monetize.

In many confirmed cases [1] [2] [3], the Google-owned properties that host these paid advertisements and promotions - like Google Search, AdSense, YouTube, and others, have preferential algorithms that favor promoting Google’s own platforms and services.

This preferential behavior forces publishers who are acting in an advertising role to pay higher CPM rates to promote their own web properties on Google, while simultaneously lowering traffic throughput and subsequently revenue generated from their web properties.

With all of these cards on the table (and with so many that Google is likely still holding close to its chest), it comes as no surprise that publishers commonly seek alternatives to Google Ad Manager in the form of ad tech partners who actually have their best interests at heart.

So, let’s get into what to look for in alternative publishing partners.

Alternatives to Google Ad Manager

Finding an alternative ad serving solution to Google Ad Manager requires both an understanding of your position as a publisher as well as your specific ad serving objectives.

Here are some of the popular options publishers have to choose from when sourcing non-GAM options for building their ad tech stack.

All-In-One Ad Serving Solutions

An all-in-one ad serving solution can be considered a “true” and “complete” replacement to GAM - covering all of the features and functionalities offered by the platform in one place.

All-in-one solutions come with several benefits, including a quick turn-key option to get to market, a single line of business communication, and a streamlined working environment.

As we covered earlier in the benefits of GAM section, publishers looking to replace GAM will want to look for a platform that includes the following:

  • Capable of centralizing inventory management across multiple publisher owned web properties (including instances where those properties are operated by different parties)
  • SSP functionality, including the ability to connect to third-party owned and operated demand sources
  • Support for direct deal arrangements with advertising partners
  • API support, allowing for connections to other tools and platforms.
  • Support for a wide range of ad formats and cross-platform delivery methods
  • Granular audience targeting options
  • Real-time analytics and reporting
  • Assignable user access and permissions
  • A system for measuring and controlling ad quality and relevance

A popular option that supports all of these features is AdButler - a one-stop shop for publisher ad serving needs that covers everything GAM does and more.

Some elements of AdButler that surpass GAM’s service offering include:

  • Negotiable platform rates and traditional, transparent SaaS pricing
  • Intuitive user interface (that doesn’t require a specialist degree to navigate)
  • Access to 24/7 real-human support from ad tech experts (not outsourced, not a chat bot)
  • Support for SSAI to maintain complete control over data privacy
  • Privacy compliant and demand-neutral DMP (data is never accessed by AdButler)
  • Support for email ad serving
  • Custom development
  • Intuitive update schedule (no unpredictable feature removals or negative adjustments)
  • Regular maintenance and development of turn-key ad serving solutions, actively requested and by an advisory panel of the world’s largest publishers at the cutting-edge of ad tech
  • Support for hosting publisher-branded self-service advertising portals

An all-in-one ad serving solutions is often a preferable choice for publishers who are looking to consolidate their ad tech stack into one platform for convenience and efficiency.

If you’re interested in learning more, reach out to the AdButler team for details.

Ad Serving APIs and Custom Development

Ad serving APIs are a versatile way for publishers to create their own solutions by creating monetization infrastructure from scratch and connecting it to various elements of their tech stack.

Custom development can unlock revenue streams that would otherwise be unavailable due to a lack of an engineering team, or would otherwise place a time consuming strain on existing development resources.

As mentioned in the previous section, AdButler is one platform that offers complete API support and custom development resources in addition to its turn-key platform offerings.

However, there are other solutions on the market that are also worth consideration.

For example, Kevel (previously AdZerk) is one popular ad serving solution which focuses on an API offering - providing APIs for functions such as ad serving, campaign management, inventory management, reporting, and more.

Kevel offers to provide custom development for clients, enabling them to create white-labeled ad serving systems that operate using their API library.

Another option worth exploration on the custom development side of the market is Clearcode, a full-service software development company that specializes in creating custom solutions for clients.

Circling back to the importance of privacy compliance in modern ad tech stacks, Clearcode can help publishers create and integrate an entirely custom and privacy-compliant DMP solution into their stack.

As a primary differentiator, Clearcode can also develop a wide range of MarTech (or “marketing tech”) solutions, programmatic tech, and entire SaaS products, providing a unique value proposition to publishers.

(As an “honorable mention”, Epom also provides custom ad tech development work - though we’ll touch more on the defining elements of their service offering in the next section.)

While custom solutions are exciting (we’re a big fan of developing them at AdButler), it’s important to note that they do come with their own set of drawbacks.

  • Because custom solutions aren’t part of a core product offering, adjustments and maintenance can make taking a custom approach significantly more expensive and time consuming than taking advantage of an out-of-the-box product that receives regular updates free of charge.

  • Additionally, out-of-the-box solutions often deploy entirely new built-in platform features for free to their user base, while fully custom tech stacks require commissioning the development and integration of every new feature that gets added to the platform.

  • As one more factor to consider, turn-key solutions generally offer a range of pre-built integrations, which help to make the system more compatible with other platforms and tools within the ad tech ecosystem. A fully-custom tech stack may bear additional hidden costs in the form of building "bridges" from scratch.

Niche Publisher Solutions

Sometimes, dedicated solutions provide the best results for publishers that have specific ad serving objectives in mind.

While it may be a stretch to call programmatic advertising “niche” when it accounts for 90% of display ads served online, some publishers place more emphasis on optimizing the programmatic revenue streams of their web properties than others.

For instance, Epom is an ad tech provider that specializes in solutions for ad networks, providing convenient access to turn-key RTB integrations, and further differentiating themselves in the market by offering a white-labeled DSP service.

Check out Epom’s ad server comparison chart for more details about their offering.

Another ad serving solution for publishers who focus primarily on direct sold ads is Broad Street, who caters specifically to publishers like digital magazines and news publications who sell inventory directly to their advertising partners.

Finally, sometimes publishers prefer the convenience of simple WordPress plugins.

In these cases, the AdButler WordPress plugin is one option for users of the platform, but many other WordPress ad serving plugin options exist for publishers with varying use-cases.

Of course, searching for specialized ad serving providers in software directories like Capterra, G2, and Sourceforge can also be an effective method for finding a solution geared towards your specific needs.

Free Ad Server Solutions

As mentioned earlier, there are several prominent alternatives to GAM’s free service offering, though most of them won’t offer anywhere near the 90 million free display ad impressions per month that GAM does.

However, there are still reasons to consider each option, particularly when addressing why many publishers choose alternatives to GAM:

  • Revive is a completely free, open-source platform that enables publishers to configure their own ad serving solution. A “hosted” version provides access to an affordable server hosting option if the publisher doesn’t have a hosting method of their own. Revive may prove to be an effective option for publishers that can overcome the technical barrier-to-entry, and for those who don’t require the more advanced features typically offered by paid solutions.

  • AdPlugg is a free ad serving solution that prioritizes ease-of-use above all else. Between a series of ready-to-use code snippets and a free WordPress plugin, publishers can easily install and access an effective inventory management solution that supports up to 100,000 display ad impressions per month. Publishers may find this an appropriate solution to bypassing the steep learning curve typically associated with GAM.

  • AdSpeed is another free ad serving option for publishers to consider. While it only offers 10,000 free display ad impressions per month, it does provide real-time analytics, and its lack of affiliation with any particular ad network ensures a demand-neutral environment in which the main service priority is always focused on the ad serving needs of publishers.

  • AdMixer is a diverse ad tech provider that offers services to both the supply and demand side of the ecosystem with their SSP and DSP solutions, among other offerings designed to support ad network functionality. The ad server component of their business is available through a free plan which offers a generous 1,000,000 display ad impressions per month, including straightforward access to a range of functionalities like inventory sales prioritization and other standard features that adequately match many offered by GAM.

Free ad serving solutions are a great choice for publishers that are just getting started with monetizing their web properties.

By using non-GAM solutions to become familiar with selling ad space online, publishers have the advantage of becoming less reliant on Google’s technology, which can end up costing significantly more as traffic throughput to their web properties reaches scale.

Multi-Sourced Solutions

Multi-sourcing refers to using more than one “source” (or “provider”) for your ad serving needs, resulting in multiple solutions working together to meet specific requirements.

This is a common approach used by many publishers at all budget levels, and shouldn’t be ruled out as a viable method for building a successful monetization strategy.

For example, while just about every ad server will generally have “multiple formats” listed as a feature, not many ad servers provide email ad serving support - and some publishers choose to use AdButler exclusively for that purpose.

Because non-GAM services are typically open to negotiation, it makes it possible to secure great deals on the elements of your tech stack that you’re missing - from vendors that specialize in those areas (and as we’ve seen, there’s a lot of specialization on the market).

For this reason, picking an all-in-one solution that covers everything like AdButler can be a great option to get to market quickly - with the sourcing of speciality vendors taking place as the discovery of new requirements are made.

An all-in-one solution can also serve as an ideal way to “reset” a multi-sourced ad serving approach that isn’t working - serving as a new foundation from which to consolidate and re-evaluate which set of tools will work together to provide the best outcome.

The same can be said when attempting to initiate the exploration of other ad tech solutions.

For instance, it’s not uncommon for publishers to experiment with different ad servers by assigning a new solution to a single web property out of many, and then gauging the impact on revenue performance after the switch takes place.

Advantages of Integrating Google Ad Manager With Other Platforms

Some publishers are already deeply entrenched in GAM’s usage - making the proposal of a direct pivot a difficult or impractical proposition for the business to readily undertake.

In these cases, implementing a multi-sourced approach can be one way to slowly taper off of reliance on the platform - and even in cases where endorsement for switching away from GAM is absent, there are a number of benefits to multi-sourcing your tech stack.

Some of the advantages offered by integrating GAM with other platforms include:

  • Streamlining workflows from across multiple cloud tools, networks, and exchanges
  • Accessing simplified and/or enhanced reporting views offered by other platforms
  • Increasing competition and bid rates by expanding connected demand sources
  • Improving ad relevance and targets through platforms like CDPs
  • Covering functions not offered by the platform, like email ad serving
  • Monetizing first-party data in new ways
  • Accessing the latest advances in ad tech before GAM eventually develops them
  • Accessing custom solutions to overcome platform limitations

Diversifying your approach to ad serving can help you to cover the drawbacks of GAM, while still accessing the wide range of benefits it has to offer.

Integrating Google Ad Manager with a Self-Service Advertising Platform

As one of the most popular “rediscoveries” in the modern ad tech scene, self-serve advertising and its benefits are making a big comeback.

A shortlist of the benefits associated with self-service advertising for publishers includes:

  • Primarily automated, providing a “touch-free” purchasing experience
  • Caters to the modern trend of how advertisers prefer to purchase ad space
  • Diverse sets of controls to ensure the “storefront” is easy to navigate and effective
  • Alleviates the overhead of lengthy sales meetings and negotiations
  • Increases bid competition against other demand sources to increase ad value
  • Fully branded portal through which direct ad sales can take place
  • Not reliant on third-party cookies

Of course, being a source of direct ad sales, Google isn’t able to stick their fork into ad sales made via self-serve platforms, so you can bet your bottom ad dollar that they won’t be developing support for this kind of feature on GAM any time soon.

But where there’s an API, there’s a way.

AdButler’s self-serve advertising solution supports a turn-key integration with GAM via our API - allowing you to access all of the benefits of self-serve advertising, even if GAM is your organization’s primary ad server.

Contact us to learn more about easily integrating a ready-to-use self-service advertising solution with your existing Google Ad Manager configuration.

The Benefits of Self-Serve Advertising Platforms

Choosing The Right Ad Serving Solution For Your Business

There’s certainly no shortage of considerations to make when deciding whether or not Google Ad Manager is the right ad serving solution for your needs as a publisher.

As we’ve covered, the range of alternatives to GAM is also quite extensive - giving publishers a lot to think about when it comes to monetization.

As a few final elements to keep in mind when selecting your ad tech partners, it’s always good to know whether or not your solution(s) of choice are venture-backed organizations, as they can pose a liability in an era where banks are collapsing before our eyes.

Additionally, keep location in mind and find a team you can connect with to collaborate over the long-term.

In the sector of ad tech in particular, knowledgeable and reliable support is more critical than most industries, as the success of your revenue strategy is often tied directly to the quality of advisory you have access to.

AdButler is fully self-funded, profitable, and has ad tech experts situated across the globe.

Have a question that we missed about GAM?

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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