What is Ad Exchange? (+ Top 5 Ad Exchanges)

by | Feb 21, 2024 | 0 comments

In the realm of online advertising, ad exchange emerged as a leading platform, giving publishers more opportunities to maximize their ad revenue.

Introduced in the mid-2000s, ad exchange was like a response to the limitations of ad networks. The concept was to create a more transparent and efficient marketplace for buying and selling digital ad inventory. Publishers can have a holistic overview of their ad inventory, while advertisers can effectively identify their target audience, leading to the successful execution of campaigns.

So what makes Ad Exchange a standout in the world of digital advertising technologies? Let’s go with us to discover the secrets behind this advanced platform.

What is an Ad Exchange?

An ad exchange is a digital marketplace for publishers and advertisers to sell and buy digital ad space without a third-party intermediary. Ad space, also known as ad inventory, includes display, video, native, mobile games, and in-app ad space. These are the digital real estate of publishers.

Ad inventory is sold and bought via real-time bidding (RTB). Multiple participants place bids on the ad inventory that is currently available. The participant with the highest bid secures the privilege to showcase their ads on the chosen ad space.

Ad exchanges are driven by a demand and supply mechanism. Publishers seek the highest bidder that buys their ad space, while advertisers look for ad units that offer optimal visibility.

The digital marketplace is part of the programmatic advertising ecosystem and operates through real-time bidding (RTB) technology. With the presence of demand-side platforms (DSP) and supply-side platforms (SSP), publishers and advertisers are connected via ad exchange, facilitating them to buy and sell ad space. That’s why ad exchanges are considered a revolution in online advertising.

To put things into perspective, ad exchange is a place where publishers and advertisers meet and transact digital ad inventory. This process is facilitated by an advanced technology called Real-time bidding. Publishers can get the maximum revenue from the bidder paying the highest price, and advertisers can secure their ads displayed to the right people at the right place. 

What is Programmatic advertising?

Programmatic advertising is a digital form of advertising that enables virtual ad space to be automatedly bought and sold in real-time. It involves using advertising algorithms and machine learning  to target specific audiences and optimize ad placements for maximum effectiveness. Programmatic advertising empowers advertisers to reach their desired audience more efficiently and effectively and optimize their ad spend.

With programmatic advertising, publishers can get higher revenue by having greater control over their ad inventory. Publishers can set pricing floors and choose the ad types that appear on their site. Additionally, programmatic advertising can help publishers reduce the workload of managing ads, freeing up time for other tasks. 

What is Real-time bidding?

The late 2000s saw the introduction of the real-time bidding (RTB) protocol, which revolutionized the way online media was bought and sold.

Initially, RTB was developed to help publishers sell their leftover inventory to advertisers, but it is now used to sell all types of inventory, including premium inventory. With RTB, advertisers no longer have to purchase thousands of impressions from the same publisher. Instead, they can buy individual impressions across multiple publishers to reach their target audience precisely. 

In real-time auctions, interested parties have the opportunity to bid on available ad space. The bidder with the highest bidding price wins the impression, making the process highly competitive and dynamic.

What are Demand-side Platforms (DSPs)?

A demand-side platform allows media buyers (advertisers and agencies) to participate in real-time bidding auctions. 

With the use of DSPs, advertisers can simplify and automate the process of purchasing and monitoring digital advertising, resulting in increased efficiency and better targeting and optimization. 

What are Supply-side Platforms (SSPs)?

A supply-side platform is a technology platform where publishers put their ad inventory up for auction, maximizing their revenue opportunities.

Publishers in programmatic advertising rely on SSPs to manage, sell, and optimize their digital ad inventory. This streamlined approach, driven by automation and data, facilitates a seamless connection between publishers and advertisers, ultimately benefiting both parties in the digital advertising ecosystem.

How does an Ad Exchange work?

Ad exchanges work by connecting publishers and advertisers to sell and buy digital ad space. Both publishers and advertisers play a vital part in the ad exchange network. Here’s how the process of an ad exchange takes place:

Step 1: Publishers first sign up for an ad exchange.

Step 2: Once logged in to the ad exchange, publishers set their ad inventory by providing essential details about their ad space, format, size, and location on the webpage.

Step 3: The ad server then requests the ad exchange to find the appropriate ad for the user based on the targeting criteria set by the advertiser.

Step 4: After the ad exchange selects the right ad from the available inventory, it returns it to the ad server. The ad is then served to the user’s browser.

Step 5: The advertiser is charged for every ad impression on their ad.

Step 6: Finally, the ad exchange charges a commission that is paid to the publisher.

As part of the advertising process, publishers offer their ad space through a supply-side platform (SSP). The ad exchange then records this ad space as potential impressions. When a visitor visits a publisher’s page, the visitor’s data is collected via cookies, which are then used by the ad exchange to select the most relevant bidders.

In contrast, advertisers utilize demand-side platforms (DSP) to interface with the ad exchange. They set a maximum cost-per-impression (CPM) they’re willing to pay for an ad slot and specify criteria outlining their campaign objectives. Ad exchanges use these parameters to align the demand with the available ad impressions.

Upon the availability of new inventory, potential bidders receive notifications via bid requests, initiating an almost instantaneous bidding process. Ad exchanges sell digital ad inventory at a fast pace and in large volumes, turning them into a pivotal element within the programmatic advertising ecosystem.

Types of Ad Exchanges

Programmatic advertising continuously develops, resulting in the involvement of many different types of ad exchanges. In this blog, we will look at the three most popular ones that are available.

Open Ad Exchanges

An open ad exchange serves as a virtual marketplace that enabling open auctions between advertisers and many different publishers.

Unlike private ad exchange, detailed information of these publsihers is concealed from advertisers.

However, the lack of comprehensive publisher information in an open ad exchange can limit advertisers’ insights into the quality of the ad inventory they are acquiring.

Private Ad Exchanges or Private Marketplace (PMP)

A private ad exchange, also referred to as a private marketplace (PMP), operates as an exclusive platform  for premium publishers. Unlike open ad exchanges, PMPs empower publishers to determine which advertisers can bid on their ad space, at what cost, and under specific terms.

By participating in a private ad exchange, publishers can establish direct relation with particular brands and advertisers, fostering more potential for tailored deals and negotiations. 

This level of control makes PMPs a favored option among premium publishers seeking greater control over their ad inventory and advertiser collaborations.

Preferred Ad Exchanges

A preferred ad exchange, or a preferred deal, introduces a more customized approach to buying and selling ad inventory. Publishers can sell ad space to favored advertisers at a prearranged fixed price.

Since ad exchanges offer stable pricing to advertisers and a reliable revenue stream for publishers, they create a more predictable and trustworthy advertising ecosystem. 

Why should publishers and advertisers use Ad Exchanges?

Ad exchanges offer a range of benefits beyond just connecting the two parties. To see why ad exchanges are an efficient tool in programmatic advertising, let’s look at the benefits they offer for both sides, publishers and advertisers.

Benefits to Publishers

More Control over Ad Price 

Publishers are able to set a minimum CPM (Cost-Per-Mile) for their ad space with the aid of ad exchanges. This allows them to establish a fair deal and ensure that publishers receive a decent price.

Better Control over Ad Space

Next, publishers have the flexibility to customize the ad formats and styles that best reflect their industry or brand. They can also choose where and when ads are displayed to ensure they align with their brand and mitigate any unwanted ad impressions.

Filtering Preferences

Ad Exchange provides publishers with features such as ad filtering and ad blocking. Publishers can leverage these features to steer clear of offensive, low-quality, or unsuitable ads. By having control over the ads and the level of ad quality, it is possible to reduce the occurrence of digital ad fraud.

Moreover, if publishers wish to refrain from associating with certain brands, they have the option to either block the advertisers or their respective ad networks.

Benefits to Advertisers

Better Targeting 

To begin with, advertisers gain the capability to select their target audience based on their business preferences. This enables them to achieve better results from their advertising campaigns.

Better control over Ads

Advertisers are also empowered with enhanced control, such as ad frequency, to prevent the same user from seeing the ad many times in a specific time. The feature also comprises advanced bidding capabilities, allowing them to achieve the highest possible CPM.

Filtering Options

Similar to publishers, advertisers possess a set of criteria for selecting the publishers they prefer to work with. Advertisers can blacklist specific publishers who they don’t want to engage in partnerships with.

Now that you understand the advantages of using an ad exchange, let’s delve into who can use it.

Who can use Ad Exchanges?

Ad exchanges serve as platforms for advertisers to buy ad inventory across various websites and applications. Meanwhile, publishers can leverage ad exchanges to sell their ad space to a vast pool of potential advertisers. 

Generally, any authorized buyer entity can buy and sell ad space from an ad exchange. These could be trading desks, ad networks, DSPs, and SSPs.

Ad networks leverage ad exchanges to manage ad inventory on a large scale and offer it to their clients. Likewise, demand-side platforms (DSPs) and supply-side platforms (SSPs) utilize ad exchanges to automate the processes of ad inventory and selling ad inventory on behalf of advertisers and publishers, respectively.

Overall, ad exchanges serve as a centralized marketplace, facilitating a more efficient and transparent connection between buyers and sellers in the realm of online advertising.

How to Choose The Best Ad Exchange?

Now that you have a grasp of what ad exchanges are, choosing the best ad exchange to optimize your ad revenue is a must. Given the plenty of available options, choosing the right one can be a puzzle. Before settling on a specific ad exchange, it is crucial to evaluate each option thoroughly. Here’s how to go about it.

Define your Goals

Identify your advertising campaign objectives. Do you aim to boost website traffic or drive sales? Who is your target audience? Identifying these aspects will assist in selecting an ad exchange aligned with your goals and tailored to your target market.

Examine Vulnerability to Fraud

It’s obvious that ad exchanges are an excellent option for delivering personalized ads. However, they also have a high potential for fraud due to the intricate network of connectors and resellers.

In the exchange process, impressions traverse numerous platforms, each adhering to different safety standards, before reaching their final destination. This complexity can result in misrepresented ad placements, misattributed clicks, and the presence of non-safe creatives on reputable websites. 

So, that makes it imperative to peer an ad exchange’s anti-fraud capabilities. Make sure the chosen ad exchange incorporates anti-fraud vendors to permit only legitimate bid requests in auctions, thereby enhancing the overall security of the platform.

Comprehend the Connection Types

Furthermore, ensure that the selected ad exchange has the capability to reach a wider audience. Ad exchanges that support various connection types are more adept at reaching a diverse audience and attracting a broad range of supply partners. Offering widely used connection types such as RTB endpoints, JS tags, and VAST tags enables ad exchanges to enhance ad revenue and provide an improved experience for both buyers and sellers.

Check the IAB Standards Compliance

Programmatic advertising has been affected by various forms of ad fraud, with counterfeit supplies standing out as a significant concern. This fraudulent activity entails scammers falsely presenting out-stream video slots as in-stream video slots, misleading advertisers into paying for ad impressions that fail to reach the targeted audience.

To avoid such deceptive practices, it is imperative to opt for an ad exchange adhering to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) standards. The IAB has set forth guidelines and best practices within the digital advertising industry, aiming to combat ad fraud and enhance overall transparency.

Compare available ad exchanges

Finally, examine the available ad exchanges and compare their features, pricing, and audience reach. Evaluate the size and quality of their inventories, in addition to assessing their reputation and reliability. This comprehensive comparison will aid in making an informed decision that aligns with your advertising goals and preferences.

Top 5 Best Ad Exchanges for Publishers

Though we have taken a look into best practices to choose the proper ad exchange, you have no clue to start with; here is our recommended list of best ad exchange platforms for you.

Google Ad Exchange (Google AdX)

Google has its own ad exchange to let its Google Display Networks (GDN) partners buy and sell ad inventory. Working via Google Ad Manager, Google AdX provides access to third-party demand in conjunction with GDN. 

Google AdX facilitates the exchange of ad inventory by utilizing programmatic auctions, including open, preferred deals, and private auction models (programmatic guaranteed).

However, only exclusive to premium publishers and advertisers can access Google AdX. For small and medium publishers, a possible way to access these services is via Google Network Partners, such as Geniee.

Rubicon Project (Magnite)

Rubicon Project (now known as Magnite) is a global ad exchange with expertise in buying and selling inventories, overseeing over 1 billion deals each month. 

They are trusted by big publishers like The Wall Street Journal, GAMELOFT, and eBay.

Magnite provides demand and campaign management services for both sellers and buyers. Notably, the company played a significant role in the development of Prebid, in collaboration with AppNexus, making them a leading player in the header bidding market.


OpenX provides publishers with access to a robust programmatic marketplace. With their flagship service, OpenAudience, OpenX offers publishers valuable insights into their audiences. Additionally, OpenX extends support to publishers by providing yield analysts to help identify the full potential of their inventories. 

Some of their strategic publishers are CarGurus, The Philadelphia Inquier, and Graphiq.

A significant point that makes OpenX one of the top global ad networks is its commitment to combat ad fraud. Being a co-contributor of the “Certified Against Malware” program, OpenX adheres to anti-fraud measures to provide publishers with clean ad quality.

Xandr (AppNexus)

The precursor of Xandr is AppNexus, a cloud-based software platform that enables and optimizes programmatic advertising. In 2018, AppNexus was acquired by AT&T and put under the Xandr division, acting as a video advertising marketplace. Experiencing a transition in 2021, Xandr is now a part of Microsoft. Evolving beyond its initial focus on TV advertising, the platform now encompasses display and native ads across various platforms. 

Under Microsoft’s development, Xandr serves as a comprehensive platform for publishers, providing them access to an extensive network of premium advertisers. The platform also offers an ad server for direct deals and encompasses holistic inventory management capabilities. 

Some big publishers using Xandr service are A+E Networks, AMC Networks, Crown Media Family Networks, Discovery, Disney Ad Sales, and WarnerMedia 23.


Pubmatic stands out as a publisher-centric ad technology company. This ad exchange delivers more than 64 billion daily ad impressions to over 800 million unique users globally. Their technology is accessible for web, mobile, and app publishers, with notable publishers such as Coles 360, Lyft Media, Dentsu, IPG Mediabrands, MiQ, and Wallapop 2.

Key Takeaways

An ad exchange is a digital marketplace enabling publishers and advertisers to engage in selling and buying ad space on an impression basis. 

Ad exchanges give publishers and advertisers a wider range of buyers and sellers selection.

Ad exchanges utilize Real-time Bidding technology to facilitate the exchange process, offering a higher revenue to publishers and optimal ad display for advertisers.

With the above explanation, we hope that you have a comprehensive understanding of “What is an ad exchange?”

If you need any support in optimizing ad revenue for your business, get in touch with Geniee team.

With our advanced technology and expertise in programmatic advertising, you can maximize your revenue while maintaining control over your inventory. Our platform offers a wide range of ad formats, targeting options, and real-time reporting to help you optimize your ad performance and reach your revenue goals. Sign up for Geniee SSP service today and start monetizing your content like never before!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is an Ad exchange?

An Ad exchange is a platform where publishers meet advertisers to transact digital ad inventory. The whole transaction is facilitated by real-time bidding (RTB) technology that allows selling and buying ad inventory on an impression basis.

2. Who buys from Ad exchanges?

Anyone who is an authorized buyer entity can buy ad inventory on ad exchanges. They can be advertisers, ad networks, and DSPs who want to reach a wide range of ad inventory for more precise targeting. Publishers also gain access to a large pool of potential buyers to sell their ad space more effectively.

3. Who might benefit from building their own Ad exchanges?

Digital media companies and larger publishers with stable and sizable traffic can gain the most from having their own ad exchanges. This platform grants them increased authority over ad transactions, ad quality, and price models.

4. Is Ad Exchange an SSP?

Ad exchanges and SSPs are essential components of programmatic advertising. While Ad exchanges serve both advertisers, who bid via DSPs, and publishers, who offer inventory via SSPs, SSPs mainly focus on publishers. Ad exchanges connect to multiple DSPs and SSPs. SSPs connect to DSPs and ad exchanges. To be easy to understand, ad exchanges are like the mediator between selling and buying parties.

5. How do I know which Ad exchange is suitable for my business?

Determining the suitability of an ad exchange requires an assessment of combined factors. Some of them are the scale of your digital advertising needs, the diversity of your target audience, and your readiness to address potential challenges like ad fraud and brand safety.

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