Increasing Mobile App Revenue with Mobile Ad Servers

As the mobile ad market matures, developers and publishers are faced with an ever increasing variety of ways to monetise their inventory. In the last couple of years numerous platforms have sprung-up that go beyond the functionality offered by typical ad-networks and expand into solutions where publishers can mediate ads from multiple networks, sell their inventory directly to advertisers, and take advantage of new sources of mobile advertising revenue from RTB or real-time-bidding.

In this article we’re going to take closer look at mobile ad servers and supply side platforms, as well as the companies behind them, to get a better idea of how they can help your mobile business and generate revenue.

What are mobile ad-servers and SSPs?


mADserve’s network management dashboard.

Ad servers and SSPs allow you to:

  • Mediate between multiple 3rd party ad networks
  • Cross promote your own ads across apps and websites
  • Sell inventory directly to multiple advertisers
  • Integrate with real time bidding

A mobile ad-server is a solution that brings a number of features into play. It lets you independently sell your inventory to advertisers directly, giving you greater control over what ads appear on your app or mobile website and greater control over monetisation. An ad server will also allow you to deploy in-house cross-promotional ads between your own apps and mobile sites.

The other advantage of using an server is ad network mediation. This lets you manage and optimise ads from multiple ad-networks. Ad mediation platforms, such the one by Madserve, lets you access a multitude of different networks, create and launch campaigns, prioritise networks and allocate backfill percentages. Network mediation platforms such as Nexage’s, also feature their own dynamic optimisation algorithm that maximises revenue by automating decisions around eCPM value and fill rate.

Many platforms that offer ad-servers like the above also offer mobile supply side platform (SSP) functionality and integration with real time bidding (RTB) exchanges.  Mobile SSPs are ad server platforms that sit at the publisher end of the real time bidding process, with demand side platforms (DSPs) sitting at the advertiser/agency end. So SSPs are essentially the platforms that enable you to sell ad impressions in real time. Here’s a nice and simple explanation of RTB from Wikipedia:

“An Internet user visits various sport websites. He arrives on a website (call it X) that uses Real-Time Bidding to deliver ads. In the background, an advertiser – a major beer distributor – has specified that they are interested in reaching sports enthusiasts. Several other advertisers also have expressed similar interests in sport lovers. Before an ad is displayed all of these advertisers participate in a real time auction using their DSP systems to supply bids to the ad exchange to which the SSP system used by website X has floated this ad impression for sale. Whoever bids most wins the auction, and their ad gets displayed to the Internet user in question. In our case, the beer distributor based on its proprietary data and 3rd party data about this specific Internet user decides to bid more for this ad impression than other competing advertisers. The algorithms of the DSP that our beer distributor uses predict a high probability of this internet user making a beer purchase and of a positive ROI on paying for this specific ad impression. Thus, the beer commercial wins the auction and gets displayed to the sports lover who visited website X.”

Google explains how RTB works

RTB allows advertisers to carry out much more complicated ad buying strategies than typical networks will allow. It gives them direct access to the 1st party data you’ve collected on users (mitigating the constraints of operating in a cookie-less environment) and lets them bid on ad impressions in real time within high-frequency auctions. This allows you as a publisher to get the best eCPM possible on your inventory and allows the advertiser to get the most relevant traffic for their ads.

Key Stats on mobile ad servers, SSPs and RTB

Why should I use a mobile ad server, RTB or SSP?

BackFlip’s direct selling storefront, powered by Burstly.

Ad servers

Using an ad-server can bring a number of significant improvements to your mobile marketing efforts. One of the key features is the ability to unchain yourself from a single ad network, and instead mediate between dozens. This allows you to:

Boost fill rate

Ad networks often fail to provide a 100% fill rate and if you’re not showing an ad then you certainly won’t be monetising that impression. It only makes sense that, by using multiple ad networks, you can decrease the risk of your ad space lying empty.

Vary your revenue source


Different ad networks will have different revenue sharing systems in place and different prices for their ads. So again, locking yourself into one network means you may be missing out on better priced ads elsewhere.

Different ads

Along with low fill rates, another problem that comes with relying on one ad network is being served the same ad over and over again. Not only is this less engaging for the user, but if you’re working on a CPC model, and your user has already clicked through in the past, then it’s effectively like showing no ads at all.

Geographical targeting

Different ad networks will typically have varying eCPMs and dramatically different fill rates across different geographical locations. If your app is popular in Asia and Europe, but not so popular in the US, using multiple networks helps you compensate for this.


By opening yourself up to different ad networks you’re also increasing the likelihood of finding more relevant ad campaigns for your users. For instance, if you have a videogame app, you’re probably better off with videogame related ads (even better if their genre specific). Conversely, if you have an iPhone app, then an ad for a Windows Phone app isn’t much use.

Beyond mediation, the other key benefits to using ad servers is direct selling opportunities and cross promotional in house ads, which allow you to do the following:

Direct selling

Using an ad server lets you cut out the middle man entirely and sell directly to advertisers. If you’ve been getting queries from advertisers about buying ad space then you should definitely be thinking about this. Selling direct can ensure the relevancy of ads and give you complete control over pricing and ad approvals. Direct selling is also a great opportunity for local advertisers to target their customers. For instance, you might have a specialised app that provides coffee shop information for Seattle, or bookstore locations in London. In such cases you could strike lucrative deals with local business owners that aren’t available on ad networks.

In-house cross promotion

House ads are basically ads that you’ve created yourself for your own products. They can be a very powerful tool if used correctly. For instance, you can run ads for the paid version of your app within the free version. Or you can run ads for in-app payments.

Such ads will a) be incredibly relevant (the user downloaded your app, so they’re probably interested in it) and b) you’ll always get a 100% fill rate. Of course, you can also advertise your websites, different apps, or your developer page in the app store. You can also use ad server cross promotion to easily form partnerships with other app developers. For instance, you can agree to display ads from another developer that has an app that’s highly relevant to your users, in exchange for him doing the same across one of his apps.

Frequency capping

Many mobile ad servers also provide you with frequency capping. This essentially means restricting the amount of times a specific visitor is shown a particular advertisement while using your app or mobile site. Of course, the more ad networks you draw upon the more effective this feature can be.

Nexage explains the benefits of a mobile ad exchange


Mobile real-time-bidding has grown tremendously in the short amount of time it’s been available to mobile publishers and advertisers. The mobile ad industry is expected to grow to over $20 billion in 2015 and, according to Gartner, mobile RTB will account for almost 30% of the market. Nexage says its RTB platform, which it claims is the largest, has scaled and continues to grow more than 70% per month. The reason RTB appeals to ad industry is because it gives buyers a great deal of transparency, letting them know where their money is being spent and exactly what’s being bought.

Monetise your valuable data

One of the biggest benefits of RTB, for both publishers and advertisers, is that it unlocks the value of your first party user data. Due to the lack of tracking and cookies, mobile advertising spend has been inhibited. But by using real time data advertisers can use information like location, age, gender etc on an impression-by-impression basis without profiling. This means you can get premium CPMs on traffic that’s relevant to advertisers.


This use of data means you can offer a unique and relevant traffic to advertisers. More and more advertisers are moving toward vertical DSPs, specialising in niches such as health, travel or gaming. By using RTB you can take better advantage of your relevant impressions and move where the advertising money is going.

Ad mediation/Yield optimisation

Ad mediation platforms, such as the one offered by Nexage, bring sophisticated yield optimisation algorithms into play. These algorithms can consider both your eCPM value and your fill rate in order to maximise revenues. Yield optimisation platforms can be integrated with RTB to give you a range of controls and options across both standard ad networks and Demand Side Platforms (DSPs).

Key ad server, mediation and RTB players


mAdserve is a mobile ad server from ad network MobFox. Based in Vienna, Austria.

Key Features:

Open source SDKs: Madserve features open source SDKs for iOS and Android, supporting banner ads and interstitials.

Multi-user admin panel: mAdserve’s admin console lets you create and launch campaigns, prioritise certain ad networks , allocate backfill percentages and more.

31 ad networks: mAdserve does not act as an exchange, rather it gives you access to 31 of the leading mobile ad networks with a direct publisher relationship.


Burstly is an app monetisation platform that allows publishers to mediate popular mobile ad networks and sell direct to advertisers. Based in San Francisco.

Key features:

Ad mediation: Burstly lets you mediate “alll popular 3rd party ad networks”. It’s ad mediation platform also lets you cross promote your own ads and track installs, as offering directly sold campaigns, custom targeting, interstitial ads, video ads, banners and custom ad sizes.

Storefront: Lets you sell directly to advertisers, giving publishers control over pricing and ad approvals and giving advertisers the ability to target local users.


App monetisation platform that offers mobile RTB, direct ad selling and ad exchange. Based in san Francisco.

Key features:

MarketPlace: MoPub’s RTB platform, directly integrated into company’s open source SDK and ad serving platform. Gives you “full control” of every ad that gets displayed on your app, along with detailed performance reporting. MoPub also offers a private marketplace that lets you set up relationships with trusted advertisers.

Ad network mediation: Offers full SDK-free support for around ten mobile ad networks, including MobFox, iAd and JumpTap. Lets publishers remain first party with advertisers they work with.


Nexage is a mobile ad platform that uses ad network mediation, RTB and direct selling via its ad server to help publishers better monetise their inventory.

Key features:

Real-time bidding: Nexage claims to have the most advanced and liquid RTB platform on the market. The company says its platform is doubling publisher eCPMs and delivering a 77% increase in bid volume.

Mediation: Nexage’s mediation platform gives publishers access to over 100 ad networks and a “dynamic optimisation algorithm” to help maximise revenue performance.

Ad server: Publishers can create direct-sold and house ad campaigns with Nexage’s ad server. Also supports frequency capping, sponsorship campaigns and support for rich media ads.


Mobile real time bidding ad exchange owned by Velti and based in California.

Key features:

Mobile ad exchange: MobClix’s RTB platform gives publishers access to ads from a number of leading mobile ad networks, including Jumptap, Millennial, Mobile Theory and Velti. The company also offers its own analytics solution and a specialised “one-on-one” support for premium publishers looking for an extensive ad operations solution.


Digital ad monetisation platform that specialises in real-time-bidding and yield optimisation. Based in Silicon Valley, California.

Key features:

RTB: PubMatic’s mobile RTB platform integrates with most of the major ad servers and more than 30 ad networks globally. The company says it has a “unique cross platform approach” to automate the sale of inventory and supports rich media ads and all banner sizes for smartphones and tablets.


Mobile ad monetisation platform that uses RTB and ad mediation to help more than 58,000 app developers maximise their mobile app inventory. Based in San Francisco, with offices in Hamburg and Singapore.

Key features:

Mediation: Smaato claims to give publishers access to over 90 mobile ad networks and 24 demand side platforms across 230 countries. The company also offers standard and rich media advertising, including expandable ads, floating ads, interactive ads and mobile video.

Analytics: Smaato offers real time reporting and analytics that can provide visibilty on country breakdown, ad network breakdown, device type and KPI comparisons.


Supply side platform from Google-owned Admeld that supports mobile RTB.

Key features:

RTB: Admeld claims to be the first mobile SSP, offering premium publishers a single platform to optimise their ad inventory across the mobile web and apps.


Mobile ad optimisation company owned by browser-developer Opera and based in California.

Key features:

Sell direct campaigns: AdMarvel lets you sell directly to advertisers with a campaign manager, where you can schedule and all kinds of ad units, and track bookings.

Network optimisation: Manage a broad portfolio of ad networks, letting you dynamically select ad networks with the best priced campaigns and the best fill rates.

Targeting: Ad Marvel offers a targeting platform that lets you know the size and value of your audience and generate metrics that will help you get the best prices for your inventory from advertisers.

Rubicon Project

Online advertising technology company that recent launched a mobile solution via its real time REVV trading platform. Based in Los Angeles, with offices in Paris and Hamburg.

Key features:

REVV Marketplace: Rubicon recently launched REVV Marketplace for mobile, an ad serving platform giving buyers and sellers access to the RTB marketplace, as well as a platform for direct selling. REVV supports analytics, location-based targeting and rich media ad units.


The enhanced features offered by platforms incorporating RTB, network mediation, and direct selling have the potential to give publishers a real boost to their revenues. Judging by the last couple of years, and the forecasts cited above, it certainly seems that RTB is the way forward for the mobile ad industry. This is especially true if a cookie alternative for mobile remains elusive, therefore pushing ad spend to platforms that offer the most transparency. While direct-selling, in-house ads, and other features enabled by ad servers, may not be right for all publishers, they could have a big impact on those with premium inventory, a desirable niche, or a large portfolio of mobile properties.