What is an SSP in advertising?

A supply-side, or sell-side, platform is a piece of advertising technology software that manages and distributes ad inventories for digital media owners and publishers.

In the world of digital marketing, staying ahead of the curve requires a comprehensive understanding of the intricate ecosystem that fuels the industry. At the heart of this ecosystem lies a pivotal player – the supply-side platform (SSP). As technology continues to reshape the advertising landscape, SSPs have emerged as the linchpin connecting publishers with advertisers, facilitating a seamless real-time ad inventory exchange. Read on to learn what an SSP is, how it works, its role in programmatic advertising, and how to leverage its use to level up your marketing and/or business.

What is an SSP in advertising?

A supply-side, or sell-side, platform is a piece of advertising technology software that manages and distributes ad inventories for digital media owners and publishers.

SSPs are crucial in programmatic advertising. They link the ad space (or inventory) available on a publisher’s digital properties, like websites, mobile apps, or even digital billboards, to various ad exchanges and demand-side platforms, boosting earnings by reaching more potential buyers.

This makes them valuable as yield-optimisation platforms, allowing publishers to increase the value they receive for their inventory. They also enable publishers to automate the selling process and have control over pricing and ad placements.

Is an SSP an ad exchange?

While both SSPs and ad exchanges operate within the programmatic advertising realm, they serve distinct purposes. An SSP serves as a platform for publishers to efficiently manage and optimise their available ad space, while an ad exchange acts as a marketplace where ad impressions can be bought and sold. The two often work together, with SSPs often connecting to ad exchanges to facilitate the auction process and maximise revenue for publishers.

The role of SSP in programmatic advertising

Whether a publisher or an advertiser, the supply-side platform (SSP) is key to the programmatic advertising landscape, acting as an intermediary between them. It enables publishers to maximise their revenue by dynamically pricing and allocating ad space through sophisticated algorithms and data analytics.

This not only automates the selling process but also grants publishers more control and transparency over the ads on their site so businesses are confident they’re only displaying ads that are aligned with their brand identity and ethics.

SSPs contribute to the overall efficiency of programmatic advertising by seamlessly integrating with demand-side platforms (DSPs) – a platform that allows advertisers and agencies to buy digital ad placements in an automated and real-time manner – enabling advertisers to access a diverse range of premium inventory. In essence, the SSP acts as a crucial bridge, streamlining the buying and selling of digital advertising space in a highly efficient and data-driven manner.

How do SSPs work?

Traditionally, publishers manually assigned ads to spaces with the help of human sales teams and media buyers. However, the digital realm and its audience have outgrown this method; manual placement simply isn’t efficient at scale.

SSPs offer publishers the ability to filter digital ads based on advertiser preferences, ad formats, target audience criteria, and other factors while also setting different rates for various ad spaces. This way, the right ads can be selected while saving time.

They work in conjunction with demand-side platforms to evaluate advertisers, assess total inventory from publishers, establish bidding ranges, and recommend the best match for each space.

This entire process occurs through multiple micro-transactions within the digital advertising supply chain. The SSP can make inventory available directly or through channels such as ad exchanges, DSPs, and agencies. Through these channels, the SSP sends bid requests to potential advertisers, who then submit their bids in real-time auctions.

Once the bid is accepted, a pixel code is implemented on the publisher’s webpage to monitor audience data and visitor actions. The code collects anonymous information about visitors and their interactions. This data enables publishers to optimise content, improve user experience, and attract more targeted advertising. Advertisers, in turn, benefit from more effective campaigns, although they typically receive aggregated insights rather than detailed, individual user data.

Key components and features of an SSP

SSPs empower publishers to make informed, brand-aligned decisions about their ad inventory and maximise revenue through a number of key features:

  • Analytics and reporting: The data-tracking features of an SSP means publishers can review the success of different ad placements through metrics like impressions, click-through rates, revenue and more. This helps make data-driven optimisations to their ad inventory for better performance and higher revenue.
  • Header bidding: Header bidding allows publishers to tap into a wider market by inviting bids from a range of demand sources, like DSPs, even before their ad server kicks into action. What does this mean for publishers? They gain the power to manage a variety of header bidding wrappers and interact directly with numerous demand partners. This integration not only broadens their access to potential advertisers but also enhances their control over the bidding process, leading to potentially higher revenues and more efficient ad space utilisation.
  • Inventory and campaign management: This feature provides publishers with the ability to oversee diverse inventory types (display, video, native, etc.), control blocklists and allowlists for advertisers, specify IAB categories, and restrict certain types of ads.
  • Quality control: Implement stringent ad quality checks to ensure compliance with industry standards, prevent ad fraud, and maintain brand safety within the ad inventory offered by SSPs.
  • Yield optimisation: The yield-optimisation feature of a supply-side platform focuses on enhancing publishers’ revenue by optimising fill rates, establishing floor prices, and managing auction mechanics, such as first- and second-price auctions.

How SSPs fit into the programmatic ecosystem

SSPs are essential in the programmatic advertising ecosystem as they facilitate a seamless connection between publishers and advertisers. They enable real-time transactions for efficient and data-driven buying and selling of ad inventory. An SSP is integral to this process, ensuring smooth functioning within the programmatic advertising landscape. Here is how an SSP fits into this process:

  • Frequency capping: Frequency capping allows advertisers to limit the number of times an ad is shown to customers in a set period.
  • Real-time bidding transactions: Real-time bidding (RTB) is a way to buy ads programmatically. With RTB, advertisers can participate in an auction when an impression becomes available. If their bid wins the auction, their ad is displayed on the publisher’s site. RTB is not only efficient, but it helps advertisers to focus on the most relevant inventory. Through RTBs, publishers and advertisers can sell and buy ads facilitated by an SSP.
  • Supply path optimisation: SSPs help publishers find the right demand sources to work with based on factors like latency, unique demand, bid rates and ad space availability.

Examples of supply-side platforms in digital marketing

SSPs are major players in the online advertising ecosystem and have a significant role in facilitating real-time bidding transactions. They connect with ad exchanges, ad networks, data management platforms, and demand-side platforms to sell publishers’ ad inventory on their behalf. These platforms assist publishers in managing the complexity of programmatic ad buying, especially when dealing with multiple ad networks with different requirements and limitations.

When choosing an SSP company, factors such as strategy, goals, budget, campaign type, and target audience should be considered. The following companies currently offer top-notch SSP technology:

  • Google Ad Manager, formerly DoubleClick for Publishers, is Google’s comprehensive ad management platform that assists publishers in managing and optimising the display of ads on their websites. Though not limited to Google’s own ad inventory, it also provides a range of features for website publishers to effectively manage and monetize their ad spaces.
  • Magnite, previously named the Rubicon Project, emerged in 2020 through a merger with Telaria. As well as being one of the industry’s largest SSPs, Magnite also offers a DSP and a Private Marketplace (PMP) – an invitation-only auction environment where publishers offer premium ad inventory to a select group of advertisers – and Programmatic Guaranteed (PG) – a buying method in programmatic advertising where ad inventory is bought and sold in advance through a negotiated deal, typically involving a fixed price and specific targeting criteria. Renowned for its transparent marketplace, Magnite grants publishers control over their inventory and ensures ad quality.
  • PubMatic’s platform allows independent app developers and publishers to actively manage and optimise their ad-related activities. This platform enables advertisers to achieve a strong ROI by not only reaching but engaging their target audiences across various ad formats and devices. PubMatic’s robust SSP provides advanced programmatic solutions and analytics tailored for publishers.

Why work with an SSP?

If you’re a publisher, working with an SSP provides you with tools and capabilities to maximise revenue, streamline operations, and enhance the overall efficiency of your advertising strategy. While, if you’re an advertiser, collaborating with an SPP allows you to purchase easily from a diverse range of ad inventory, enabling you to reach your target audience effectively. It’s a symbiotic relationship where publishers and advertisers benefit from the technology and services.

Some of the benefits of working with an SSP

  • Enhanced targeting capabilities: SSPs enable publishers to implement advanced targeting strategies. This means advertisers can reach specific audience segments based on demographics, interests, and other criteria. This not only improves the relevance of ads to users but also makes the ad space more attractive to those looking to reach specific audiences.
  • Increased revenue through automated, real-time bidding: With real-time bidding facilitated by SSPs, publishers can obtain the highest possible price for their ad inventory. Advertisers compete in real-time, driving up the value of impressions, ultimately leading to increased revenue for the publishers.
  • Streamlined ad operations and efficient inventory management: An SSP’s automation and optimisation features streamline the ad operations for publishers. This includes tasks like ad placement, reporting, and analysis. The result? More efficient inventory management, freeing up publishers’ time to create quality content and improve user experience.

What to look for in an SSP

Choosing the best SSP becomes much more straightforward when you know what you’re looking for. So, what factors do you need to consider when scouting for the top SSPs?

  • Ease of use: An SSP could contain the most advanced features currently achievable, but you need to learn how to use it to maximise your profits. Look beyond the initial dashboard and listen to what other publishers say about your shortlisted platforms.
  • Integration with anti-ad fraud and brand safety tools: The best SSPs will protect against ad fraud and offer tools for brand safety. Naturally, you’ll want to be able to block suspicious advertisers and contentious ads to maintain a good relationship with your audience.
  • Multiple auction protocols: Look for SSPs that offer different auction protocols like programmatic direct, open auctions, and header bidding solutions. More choice means more flexibility to respond to dynamic market needs.
  • Proprietary vs. third-party technology: Not all SSPs work the same under the hood. For example, some platforms use their own tech infrastructure, while others use third-party tech platforms. While using a third-party platform isn’t inherently wrong, SSPs that use their own technology typically perform better as a general rule.
  • Responsiveness to a rapidly changing industry: Ideally, you want to select an SSP that has demonstrated a willingness to integrate new demand sources. The programmatic ads market is evolving rapidly, and you want to be able to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise. As a result, if an SSP is reluctant to expand its partner network, it might not be the best option.
  • Transparency: Obscure reporting and stealthy charges harm your success, so publishers should opt for SSPs with clear, detailed reporting features and quantifiable performance metrics.

How many SSPs do I need?

Deciding how many Supply-Side Platforms (SSPs) you need depends on various factors tied to your advertising strategy and objectives. Here are a few things you might want to take into consideration before deciding:

  • Cost vs. benefit: More SSPs imply more relationships to manage and potentially higher costs in terms of time, resources, and fees. Assess whether the potential increase in revenue justifies these costs.
  • Data and reporting: Utilising multiple SSPs can complicate data consolidation and analysis. If you prefer streamlined reporting and analytics, fewer SSPs may be more manageable. However, if you have the resources to integrate and analyse data from multiple sources, more SSPs could yield richer insights.
  • Diversity of demand: You’ll gain access to a more extensive pool of advertisers and demand sources. This can be useful if your inventory is diverse and you aim to maximise fill rates and revenue. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance, considering the complexity of managing multiple platforms.
  • Inventory type and size: If you have an extensive and varied inventory, such as different types of websites or apps, multiple SSPs can help you fill that inventory effectively. Conversely, smaller or more homogeneous inventories may get everything they need from a single SSP.
  • Market conditions and relationships: Occasionally, the choice of SSPs may be influenced by market conditions, relationships with demand partners, or specific deals and opportunities offered by certain SSPs.
  • Technology and Integration: Each SSP boasts unique technology and features. Evaluate whether an SSP’s technology aligns with your requirements and how seamlessly it integrates with your existing systems. Overlapping features among multiple SSPs may not add significant value and could complicate operations.

Many publishers initiate with a single SSP and gradually incorporate more as they expand and gain a clearer understanding of their needs. It’s also common to experiment with a few SSPs to identify the most suitable ones for your unique requirements.

What is the difference between an SSP and a DSP?

While an SSP focuses on the sell side (publishers), a demand-side platform (DSP) serves advertisers on the buy side. Real-time bidding (RTB) is a common thread connecting SSPs and DSPs, ensuring seamless transactions between both parties.

A demand-side platform is a programmatic software advertisers use to facilitate media buying from various publishers. DSPs work with SSPs, ad exchanges, ad networks, and direct integrations to help brands and agencies determine which impressions to purchase and at what price. Advertisers can target audiences based on demographics as well as shopping and browsing behaviours. Similarly, SSPs provide similar technology and functionality but are utilised by publishers to optimise their inventory offers for maximum yield.

How do I decide if I need an SSP and a DSP?

Deciding between an SSP or DSP hinges on your position and objectives within the digital advertising landscape. If you own a website or mobile app and seek to maximise revenue from your ad space, then a supply-side platform (SSP) is essential. SSPs empower publishers to efficiently manage and sell their ad inventory to various advertisers through real-time auctions.

On the other hand, if you are an advertiser or part of an agency aiming to strategically purchase and manage online advertising inventory to reach specific audiences, then a demand-side platform (DSP) is the appropriate choice. DSPs enable advertisers to bid for ad impressions across multiple platforms, using data-driven targeting parameters to optimise campaigns. Assessing your role, whether as a publisher or advertiser, and aligning your goals with revenue optimisation or targeted audience reach, will guide you in determining whether an SSP or DSP is the right fit for your needs.

What is the difference between an SSP and an ad network?

An ad network is like a wholesaler. Think of it as a go-between that collects many ad spaces from various publishers, bundles them together, and sells this inventory to advertisers. Ad networks were particularly useful when digital advertising was younger, and publishers needed help finding advertisers for all their space. They usually categorise the inventory based on demographics, content type, and other factors. Ad networks buy ad spaces from publishers at a certain price and sell them to advertisers at a higher price, keeping the difference as profit.

On the other hand, an SSP is like a high-tech assistant for publishers. It’s a technology platform that helps publishers manage, sell, and optimise their ad inventory in an automated way, typically through real-time bidding. SSPs are designed to maximise the prices publishers can charge for their ad spaces by making their inventory available to a large pool of potential buyers (advertisers) and letting them bid on it in real time.

While ad networks traditionally helped publishers sell their inventory at a set price and provided reach for advertisers, SSPs are all about maximising revenue for publishers through real-time auctions and providing a high degree of control and transparency. As the digital advertising landscape has evolved, SSPs have become increasingly favoured due to their efficiency and real-time capabilities.

What is the difference between sell-side and supplier-side advertising?

Sell-side advertising optimises ad space for publishers to maximise revenue using platforms like sell-side, or supply-side, platforms (SSPs). It’s all about efficiently managing and making money from the space where ads are shown.

On the other hand, supplier-side advertising takes a broader approach, covering both the buying and selling aspects of advertising. It recognises the interconnected relationship between buyers and sellers. Supplier-side advertising aims to streamline and improve the efficiency of ad operations, using strategies like sell-side targeting to meet the specific needs of both buyers and sellers in the advertising ecosystem.

What about sell-side vs buy-side advertising?

Sell-side advertising revolves around publishers optimising ad inventory to enhance revenue. Using software like sell-side platforms (SSPs), publishers tailor ads based on audience characteristics, creating a personalised user experience and maximising the effectiveness of ad space. It’s a win-win, benefiting both publishers and their audiences.

On the flip side, buy-side advertising is from the advertiser’s viewpoint, focusing on strategically placing ads to reach specific target audiences. Advertisers analyse demographics, consumer behaviour, and market trends to position ads where they resonate most. This strategic approach optimises ad spend, ensuring ads are visible and engaging in contexts that align with campaign goals. Together, sell-side and buy-side advertising form a symbiotic relationship, balancing publishers’ revenue objectives with advertisers’ targeted strategies in the advertising ecosystem.

What you’ll accomplish with Experian marketing data in SSPs

Leveraging Experian marketing data in SSPs enhances audience targeting precision. Publishers can benefit from enriched audience insights, resulting in more effective ad placements and increased revenue.

Our supply-side platform marketing partners

Experian collaborates with leading SSPs to ensure publishers have access to cutting-edge technology and robust tools. Our partners include Google Ad Manager, Rubicon Project, and PubMatic.

Understanding the role of SSPs in advertising is essential for publishers looking to optimise their ad inventory in the programmatic era. By leveraging SSPs, publishers can streamline operations, maximise revenue, and ensure effective ad placements, contributing to a thriving and efficient digital advertising ecosystem.

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