What Are the Differences Between Ad Exchanges and Ad Networks?

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There are so many ad platforms around the web! If you are new to the world of digital advertising, you may find it hard to choose the right one – their formats vary and serve various purposes. Today, we will bring light into the conversation of ad network VS ad exchange and explain the difference between them. Let’s get started!

Ad network: what is it?

The most straightforward ad network definition claims that this is a resource for ad selling, where publishers offer their inventory to advertisers. Such platforms aggregate these offers and match them with ad slots. Advertisers might be looking for applications, websites, and videos to display their ads, while ad networks are made up to satisfy this demand.

Some platforms allow advertisers to manage their campaigns on their own, using numerous handy tools. The other provides consultations and services in which experienced managers help advertisers adjust their strategies.

In the advertising ecosystem, ad networks work as mediators between sellers (publishers) and buyers (advertisers), which makes them an important instrument for monetization. They process payments and arrange deals – bulks of them. Without networks, publishers and advertisers would have to arrange deals manually and search for partners individually, which takes too much time.

And what is an ad exchange?

An ad exchange is a digital marketplace, where publishers and advertisers sell and buy inventory without intermediaries. These sites are connected to numerous supply-side/demand-side platforms and ad networks. They use the system of real-time bidding, in which publishers get the highest income, while advertisers – the most premium impressions to boost their campaigns.

An ad exchange conducts auctions, where publishers find interested advertisers and sell their inventory for the best prices. At the same time, they store advertiser’s settings and criteria to find the most optimal inventory solutions. This is how the auction happens.

Okay, but what are the differences?

Let’s discuss the differences between ad networks and ad exchanges more precisely.

  • The essence

An ad network is a company; an ad exchange is a technology.

  • Users

Ad networks are used by publishers, advertisers, and agencies; ad exchanges are used by advertisers, publishers, DSPs, and SSPs.

  • Transparency

At networks, advertisers don’t know where the ads will appear, while publishers don’t know who exactly buys the inventory; publishers and advertisers know all the details of a deal.

  • Optimization

Changes at ad networks need time to get implemented; changes in ad exchanges appear immediately.

  • Inventory type

Networks offer the best inventory publishers have; exchanges offer programmatic slots.Pricing policy

At ad networks, prices are fixed – they depend on established negotiations; at ad exchanges prices are not fixed – they depend on the placed bids.

  • Pros

Ad networks allow publishers to sell their inventory for the highest possible price; ad exchanges allow advertisers to set a comfortable price.

  • Cons

At networks, advertisers pay fixed maximal prices; at exchanges, publishers may not get too much money for their offers.


Networks and exchanges serve different publishers’ aims, but they are parts of a single media buying process. They can use networks to sell their best inventory for the highest prices and offer the rest at an exchange, so considering both for various purposes is a great idea. The same is true for advertisers. As an advertiser, you may find the best offerings around multiple networks and exchanges, getting the perfect solutions for your content. Choose smartly and good luck!

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