What are the Main Google Ad Manager Alternatives? A 2021 Guide

Chris Shuptrine
Chris Shuptrine
What are the Main Google Ad Manager Alternatives? A 2021 Guide

Google Ad Manager is by far the leading ad server on the market.

In fact, if you look at the Top 10K US sites, Google accounts for 84% of all ad servers found (discovered using the same tool we use for our CMP tracker).

But the Google Ad Manager ad server isn't for everyone, for a couple different reasons.

This article dives into where Google's ad server falls short and competitors you could look into.

Table of Contents:

  1. Why do brands use GAM?
  2. Google Ad Manager's shortcomings
  3. Google Ad Manager alternatives
  4. In-house ad servers

Why do brands normally use Google's ad server?

Google Ad Manager's ad server has wide adoption for a few reasons:

  1. It's free for anyone with under 90 million monthly impressions. No other vendor offers such a deal
  2. It provides instant access to their Adx ad exchange, potentially increasing the CPMs publishers make from programmatic ads
  3. It's reliable - both from an infrastructure perspective and a business one (Google is not going under any time soon)

Where does Google Ad Manager fall short?

There are three main reasons:

  1. It's not flexible
  2. It's not server-side
  3. It's Google

To dive in deeper:

Flexibility

There's a reason that Facebook, Pinterest, eBay, and many other brands with innovative ad platforms chose to build their own versus rely on Google's tools.

facebook promoted posts (Facebook's Promoted Posts were built in-house)

Namely - Google Ad Manager, as an out-of-the-box solution, provides little customization ability and doesn't make it easy to:

  • Show native ads - Google's focus is on programmatic spend, which generally revolves around IAB-sized ads bought and sold through ad exchanges. Such tools work well for displaying banner ads, but less so for custom native ads that blend in seamlessly into the user experience, such as Twitter's Promoted Trends or Tinder's Promoted Profiles. tinder ads If your desire is to integrate innovative ads with a unique look and feel, then Google Ad Manager can't provide such flexibility.
  • Build a self-serve advertising portal - Many brands see the value of building white-labeled portals for advertisers to log into, manage campaigns, and see reporting. Google's ad server makes it nearly impossible to do this without hacks that can cause bugs and slow the system.
It's not server-side

Client-side JavaScript ad tags, like those used by Google, are the industry standard for ad serving, but they come with many issues:

  • Slow sites and apps - Ad tags are notoriously slow - occasionally a couple of seconds - causing jumpy content, poor browsing experiences, and user attrition.
  • No revenue from ad block users - Whether you're worried about desktop ad blocking or mobile ad blocking, Google's on-page tags will get stopped by these blockers. This means that roughly 30% of your inventory can't be monetized if you're using Google Ad Manager (even for direct-sold ads).
  • Hidden cookies - Any third-party script could drop cookies unbeknownst to you - which could then harvest and sell user data.
  • Not GDPR/CCPA compliant - While ad tags themselves aren't inherently non-compliant, the issue is that the tag - not you - decides what data to send the vendor. This could result in inadvertent leakage of PII, leaving you prone to potential lawsuits.

The alternative to JavaScript solutions like Google Ad Manager are server-side ad servers, which allow you to integrate the ad serving tech into your backend web and mobile apps directly, without needing client-side code.

It's Google

Given they are a tech behemoth with many product lines, working with Google Ad Manager means that you may be enabling a competitor through data sharing/revenue.

Additionally, Google has recently been under fire for monopolizing the ad industry. Because they are on the buy side and sell side, they control a large portion of the ad industry. In 2020, Google captured 28.9% of ad revenue.

Finally, Google is accused of prioritizing their own ads over others, so using Google Ad Manager might not truly get you your money's worth. Instead of contributing to their revenue, it might be time to consider an alternative.

Additionally, relying on Google to power your ad stack means your revenue is at their whims.

Indeed, Google’s announcement that their Chrome browser will be sunsetting third-party cookies rattled the industry, which is already feeling the impact of Apple’s Safari browser doing the same.

digiday cookie apocalypse

Ultimately, if you're making millions using Google Ad Manager, you have to ask yourself, "Am I prepared to adapt if Google implements a breaking change or changes their privacy policy?"

Companies like Pinterest/Snapchat/etc (who built their own ad products), meanwhile, can exist and grow independent of any changes Google may make.

What are some Google Ad Manager alternatives?

The right Google Ad Manager for Publishers alternative will depend on what you're looking for. To that end we've created a quick chart:

What is your focus? Need a customizable ad product? Where are you showing ads? How do you define yourself? Your best bet is:
Direct-sold / internal ads (+ some programmatic) Yes Websites, apps, emails, DOOH, in-game You want a fully-customized ad platform without the hassle of building it from scratch Kevel
Mostly programmatic No Websites You like GAM's tool but don't want to enable Google Adform
Mostly programmatic Yes Websites, apps An ad network, ad exchange, etc EPOM
Mostly programmatic No Websites You want a basic ad product, but don't want to build it or work with a vendor Self-host with Revive
Mostly programmatic No Emails Brand looking to monetize large email list LiveIntent
Mostly programmatic No Websites Low-traffic WordPress site Ad Inserter WP Plug-in
(If viewing on mobile, you can scroll right within the table to see all columns)

The Best Google Ad Manager Alternatives

Diving into the above Google Ad Manager competitors, one of the following vendors will likely be your best alternative to Google Ad Manager for Publishers.

1. Kevel

Type: Ad serving Infrastructure APIs

Kevel is the market leader in server-side ad serving, enabled through APIs.

With Kevel, brands can launch custom, fully-bespoke ad servers in a fraction of the time and cost of trying to build it from scratch. Companies expecting to build an ad platform in months or a year can use Kevel to easily release the same one in just weeks.

Kevel's clients include Yelp, Bed Bath and Beyond, Ticketmaster, Edmunds, Mozilla, WeTransfer, and more.

Kevel

When to consider Kevel:
  1. You care about page/app load times and want server-side ad calls instead of JS-tags
  2. You want customization around the look and feel of your ad unit
  3. You want full flexibility around business rules
  4. You want to build a self-serve ad platform
When to think twice:
  1. You want something you can set up in hours
  2. You don't have any engineering resources

2. Adform

Type: Hosted third-party ad server for programmatic ads

Adform is a GAM competitor who focuses on programmatic-focused publishers. Their platform comes with detailed revenue forecasting, analytics for identifying new monetization opportunities, and bidding tools to maximize CPMs.

adform ad server

When to consider them:
  1. You want to launch quickly without needing engineers
  2. Your focus is on programmatic demand
  3. You want tools for understanding and optimizing all your programmatic partners
When to think twice:
  1. You need more customization than what an off-the-shelf ad server can provide
  2. You want flexibility around the look/feel of the ads, targeting options, and more
  3. You don't want to slow down your page/app by using JS-tags/SDKs

3. Revive Ad Server

Type: Free, open source ad server

Revive is a self-hosted ad platform (via an open source script) you can download for free. After downloading, there is additional work needed to host and run the code.

When to consider them:
  1. You don’t want to pay a monthly fee to a vendor and like the idea of an open source solution
  2. You don't want to build an ad product yourself
  3. You have the engineering resources to download, host, monitor, and update the code
When to think twice:
  1. You need customer support. They have a community website, but you won't have a support team for troubleshooting
  2. You need scale. Revive is a large (and often buggy) script that requires a lot of server costs
  3. You don’t have any engineering resources

4. EPOM

Type: Hosted 3rd-party solution for ad networks

EPOM is a GAM alternative that caters to ad networks; their key value is around white-labeling and turnkey RTB integrations. They are also open to custom development.

epom

When to consider them:
  1. You are starting an ad network and want to white-label existing tech instead of building it yourself
  2. You are having trouble scaling your ad network
When to think twice:
  1. You are not an ad network
  2. If you are price sensitive. For instance, for someone with 50MM monthly display impressions, it would be $2,500/month on EPOM, versus free on GAM (though GAM may not provide the features you want)

5. Broadstreet

Type: Hosted third-party vendor for digital magazines

Broadstreet provides a niche adserver to digital magazines and online news sites whose focus is on direct-sold ads.

broadstreet

When to consider them:
  1. You are a digital magazine / news site with a focus on direct-sales, not programmatic ads
  2. You want an intuitive, simple ad platform. Their pitch is they are GAM without the complexity
When to think twice:
  1. You are not a digital magazine/news site
  2. You want instant revenue via programmatic ads

6. LiveIntent

Type: Hosted third-party ad server for emails

LiveIntent is an ad vendor specifically for companies looking to show ads in their emails, a functionality that Google Ad Manager does not offer.

liveintent ad server

When to consider them:
  1. You are looking for showing ads in emails
  2. You want programmatic email ads
When to think twice:
  1. You want to fill the ad slots with direct-sold ads or internal promos only. LiveIntent requires you to use their programmatic demand, which can be frustrating to many brands who want to sell ads directly
  2. You want an ad product that can show ads across desktop and mobile too

7. Ad Inserter

Type: WordPress plug-in ad product

If you have a low-traffic WordPress site and Google Ad Manager seems too complicated, the Ad Inserter WP Plug-in is a good option. It has the most active installations of any WP ad server solutions and provides an easy way to manage direct deals and Google AdSense ads.

ad inserter ad server

When to consider them:
  1. You built your site on WordPress
  2. You don’t have much volume and expect to use Google AdSense entirely
When to think twice:
  1. You want access to more demand than just AdSense
  2. You have more volume than 50K impressions/month

The long-tail third-party options

In addition to the options above, below are other third-party alternatives to Google Ad Manager, with most being smaller brands with fewer than 15 employees.

The benefits of a smaller company is that support tends to be better, but they usually come with fewer features and run the risk of going under, forcing you to migrate your ad infrastructure.
  1. Standard Tools - AdGlare, Adhese, AdPlugg, AdSpeed, AdSpirit, AdvertServe, Avid, iBillboard, InClick, Lite, UpRival, Zedo
  2. Self-Hosted - OIO, dJax, InOut
  3. Email - Passendo, PowerInbox
  4. WP Plug-In - Advanced Ads, AdRotate

Should I just build an ad server instead of using Google Ad Manager?

As mentioned earlier, many brands have built their own ad system rather than relying on a third-party, tag-based vendor.

This path can be quite lucrative, but does require vision, engineers, and time. The in-house ad platforms of Facebook and Amazon, for instance, took years and many, many engineers to build.

amazon sponsored products

A new industry trend - ad serving APIs - is emerging, though, to help brands build bespoke platforms in a fraction of the time and cost as doing it entirely from scratch. For instance, companies like Ticketmaster and Edmunds have jumped on this new tech to build their own Google Ad Manager alternatives for displaying their native ads.

Chris Shuptrine
Chris Shuptrine

Chris has worked in ad tech for over fourteen years in a variety of roles - giving him customer support, PM, and marketing perspectives from both the advertiser and publisher sides. He's the VP of Marketing at Kevel.