In this article, we will explore how the supply side platform (SSP) came to be and the key role it plays in the programmatic advertising buying process.

The early days of display advertising

When media publishers started realizing that print media was losing readership to digital, they started looking for ways to monetize their websites. With so few websites turning a profit back then, most publishers offered content for free, leaving online advertising as the only revenue stream.

The first online ads were designed to replicate print ads, with adjacencies to high-value content. Hence the invention of the display ad. While there are now many other ways to market a product within a virtual landscape, display ads remain a staple of the digital media industry.

Monetization and the birth of the Ad Network

As advertisers began to recognize the ROI tracking and targeting capabilities available, the demand for relevant publisher websites shot up. Initially, media buyers would reach out to publishers directly and negotiate contracts to buy blocks of ad impressions. However, as the industry grew, publishers found that many valuable ad impressions were going unsold. It soon became clear that an intermediary should exist that made this inventory available to advertisers.

The technology that opened up unsold inventory to potential buyers was first known as an ad network. Not long after, the network optimizers came along and made it possible to determine which network would deliver the best results at the lowest price.

Network Optimizers and the SSP

When programmatic advertising and the concept of real-time bidding (RTB) were introduced network optimizers became a part of this AdTech ecosystem, in which they were renamed “supply-side platforms” or SSPs.

Today’s SSPs not only allow a publisher’s inventory to be sold to the best ad networks, but they also play a key role in the RTB process by letting publishers connect with multiple demand-side platforms (DSPs) and ad exchanges. The result? Optimized yield and more efficient monetization.

The concept of “optimized yield” is what led so many publishers to put their available inventory onto supply side platforms.

At first, some larger media publishers were reluctant to make ad inventory available in a bidding environment, and many still prefer to use private ad networks outside of SSP(s). However, the bidding environment still allows them to monetize every last impression.

How do SSPs work?

The process of selling ad inventory through an SSP starts with the publisher taking stock of its total inventory, setting up a range of acceptable bid prices, and making suggestions about which type of advertiser would be the best fit.

Because it lets publishers’ control which type of advertisers are allowed to buy their impressions and set specific rates for each type of space, publishers have grown more comfortable with using supply side platforms.

Here is an overview of the many micro-transactions that take place on the supply side of real-time bidding.

what is an ssp
  • First, the SSP sends the available impressions to interested buyers who are using a DSP.
  • The process of matching up bids with available inventory is automated and entirely based on the buyers’ and sellers’ preset parameters.
  • Once a match is made, a request is sent to the ad server and the seller responds by supplying the web page that will become the source for an ad impression.
  • A pixel, or tracking code, is then placed on the page that will subsequently track the visitor to provide statistical data about the actions they took after viewing the ad. For example, a conversion pixel can track whether the individual later made a purchase on the site.

What are the unique features of SSPs?

One of the most significant features of a supply side platform is its ability to perform more granular optimizations at the impression level. These include frequency capping, which is the process of limiting the number of times a specific user can be shown a particular ad over a specific period of time.

By integrating with other AdTech platforms, an SSP can ensure publishers the most profitable and efficient sale of available ad impressions. Most SSPs allow publishers the functionality of an ad exchange, which lets them connect directly to buyers without the need for an external exchange to act as a middleman.

unique features of SSPs

Tracking information is constantly being collected as publishers sell their inventory through an SSP, which allows them to gain a greater understanding of the audience their website attracts.

Publishers can also take advantage of multiple reporting options, allowing them to gather deep intel about how well campaigns perform on their websites.

Dynamic price floors allow the publisher to maximize ad revenue by setting a minimum cost-per-thousand (CPM) that they will accept, which can include both a hard and soft price floor.

SSPs can also be connected with multiple sources of inventory, including ad networks, ad exchanges, and DSPs. The more connections an SSP has within the digital media landscape the more likely it is for the publisher to achieve monetization goals.

Brand safety is another important feature for publishers, and supply side platforms can offer this assurance. By allowing publishers to specify the type of buyers they will sell to, they can prevent unwanted ads from appearing on their sites.

What is the difference between a DSP and an SSP?

is used by advertisers
is used by publishers
opens doors to purchasing models, like buying by impressions
connects publishers with multiple DSPs
allows to buy ad impressions from ad exchanges for the cheapest price
sells ad impressions for the highest price possible

The definition of a DSP is a demand-side platform, which is how media buyers interface with the programmatic buying space. As mentioned above, supply side platforms, or SSPs, are the technology platforms used by publishers to make their ad inventory available to ad exchanges.

Buyers are usually ad agencies, trading desks, or direct advertisers who have access to a DSP. However, without access to an SSP, the DSP would be useless. DSPs must plug into SSPs in order to make ad inventory available to bidders.

Bottom line, the DSP and SSP must both be present within the programmatic ecosystem for it to work.

Without access to an SSP, the DSP would be useless. DSPs must plug into SSPs in order to make ad inventory available to bidders."

Final Thoughts on SSPs and where to start

The best supply side platforms incorporate all of the latest features to ensure that only brand-safe advertisers can appear on your website. Look for SSP(s) that are flexible and easy to use, while offering robust features such as dynamic pricing, optimizations, and reporting.

An experienced team of programmatic buyers, like our Zero Programmatic Band of Heroes, can connect your brand to the SSPs and networks that are the best fit for your needs. In fact, don’t go it alone.

At Zero Company Performance Marketing , we find a trusted SSP partner that checks all the important boxes for your needs and make the process of selecting a supply side platform much easier. Because of our deep experience using SSPs and DSPs, we will get you the best results for your programmatic advertising dollars.