Choosing The Best Ad Networks And DSPs For Your Paid User Acquisition Campaigns

Mapendo Team
September 20, 2022
Choosing The Best Ad Networks And DSPs For Your Paid User Acquisition Campaigns

Ad network and DSP, how to choose correctly

It pays to spend some time learning about the programmatic advertising process if you want to get the most out of ad performance, particularly learning the distinction between a Demand Side Platform (DSP) and an Ad Network. There are many phrases to understand if you're new to the online advertising world.

Read on as we explore DSPs (demand side platforms), ad networks, and their distinctions for paid user acquisition campaigns.

What is the Difference Between An Ad Network and DSP?

Let's break this down by first defining what these two are: 

Ad network

Ad network is a bridge between publishers and advertisers, a platform that manages the exchange of ad inventory between publishers and advertisers in an app install campaign. An ad network collects ad inventory from publishers to find the right match with the advertisers’ needs.

Advertisers, who make use of ad networks to run an app install campaign, can set some basic requirements, such as their budget, target, and other parameters in the campaign; then, based on such criteria, an ad network determines the most suitable fit among the integrated publishers.

Why are ad networks important? 

Ad networks are a key part in the process of media buying of every app install campaign, as they link advertisers – clients, app developers seeking to advertise their app – and publishers – the ones selling ad spaces to advertisers.

An ad network brings advantages both for publishers and advertisers. Publishers can benefit from using an ad network as it allows them to enlarge their reach and audience, as well as produce income faster; indeed, an ad network is also a facilitator from a practical commercial point of view, allowing for faster transactions. Together with this, an ad network is also an important tool for publishers in connecting them with more potential clients (advertisers) in search of ad space for their app install campaign.


DSPs are operating systems which let advertisers buy digital advertising with a completely automated process and enables advertisers to buy optimized advertising space. It is a powerful tool for mobile app marketing automation. It is a software that allows an advertiser to buy advertising with the help of automation.

Why are DSPs important?

Using a DSP, merchants can manage their offers for advertising space and prices for the data they are overlapping to target their audience. DSPs are useful in mobile advertising because campaign performance is managed in real time.

In addition, there are also 'managed DSPs', which are not self-service platforms but real companies that have proprietary technology and, once defined budget, KPIs, targeting and creatives with advertisers, take care of app install campaign management and optimization.

Whereas in the past, ad buying used to require a lot of people and complex processes, now, with programmatic technology, it takes very few seconds for a DSP to determine the value of an impression to a specific advertiser based on its targeting parameters and secure ad spaces.

So what is the difference between ad networks and DSPs? This can be considered from highlighting the benefits and limitations of both: 

DSP benefits 

  1. Access to several sources of inventory - The main advantage of a demand side platform is that it enables media buyers to simultaneously purchase ad inventory from several suppliers, such as individual publishers, ad networks, and ad exchanges. The DSP network keeps all suppliers in a single interface, greatly simplifying the management of advertising purchases.

  1. Real-time Bidding - Advertisers can place real-time bids on inventory through programmatic advertising auctions. Advertisers who want their advertising to appear on publisher apps can make bids on ad impressions and virtually immediately start their ad campaign.

  1. Targeting audiences precisely -  On a demand-side platform, advertisers may target their audience more precisely by using custom filters and adjusting their campaigns in accordance with the features of the platform. You can build unique audience groups within a variety of publications worldwide thanks to precise targeting choices.

Ad Network benefits

  1. Access top-ranked and niche publishers in one place - Depending on their objectives, media buyers can select from a variety of ad networks, including those that are topic- or inventory-specific as well as premium networks for international publishers with millions of daily visitors, like CNN or The Guardian.

  2. Pay for click and conversions- DSPs sell traffic for fixed bids, but ad networks are different. They can operate on a variety of pricing structures, including conversions, installs, and even clicks. Media buyers can therefore optimize their spending and avoid spending money on low-performing traffic sources. Some ad networks give media buyers a choice between CPM/CPC (impressions and clicks) and CPI (installs) accounts for their advertising campaigns.

  3. Reduce setup and optimization time.- ​​Networks for buying media quickly are a great choice if you're trying to save time. When you run advertising on an ad network, there's no need to invest days in campaign setup or performance optimization.

Other differences to consider are related to the limitations of ad networks and DSPs. 

DSP limitation

  • Costly- Demand side platforms may be fairly expensive to maintain, so using one only makes sense if you are spending at least a few thousand dollars per month on digital advertising. Despite all their advantages.

Ad network limitations

  • More manual work than DSPs - With an Ad Network, the entire process is not automated, in contrast to DSPs, meaning there is a lot more manual labor involved. To reduce time on the start of the ad campaigns, ad networks offer advertisers a traffic manager who sets up campaigns on the platform. However, the procedure can take much longer, especially when managing hundreds or thousands of campaigns at once.

  • Not transparent - The lack of openness in ad networks is their major flaw. Advertisers are unable to learn where their ads are running, how much was paid, or how well their campaigns are doing because the site reporting is frequently hidden.

    In comparison, DSPs offer complete transparency at the impression level, allowing marketers to view the following:

  1. Ad placement
  2. Audiences they can target
  3. Return on their advertising investments

    Also, for end-to-end performance visibility, the campaign data can be seen on reporting dashboards or sent via APIs to external reporting tools.

How to choose your ad network or DSP

How do you make the final choice of Ad Network vs DSP? It comes down to your goals. But if you’re even remotely considering moving to programmatic advertising, a Demand Side Platform is a must. 

Advertisers get top-rate technology, the audience, performance tracking tools, brand protection, transparency and more. 

It is more automated, with better efficiencies for cost and time - arguably the winning factor over Ad Networks. Where once Ad Networks were a must for advertisers, programmatic advertising has evolved to a point where it's hard for advertisers to find the same ROI anywhere else. 

However, ad networks are still evolving - they're not dead yet. Some have started offering real time bidding capabilities and other tools used by DSPs, such as audience targeting and impression capping. In short, they are becoming programmatic ad networks.

At the same time, many DSPs are buying up inventory and reselling it with added margins - just like Ad Networks. So long as they keep evolving, there's room for both DSPs and Ad Networks to co-exist and offer advantages to advertisers.

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