What Is a Supply-Side Platform?

Reading time: 7 minutes

You may have noticed that more and more advertisers are turning to demand-side platforms for their media buying. If you have noticed — and have looked into it — then you’re probably also aware that more and more publishers are turning to supply-side platforms for their media selling.

It’s a brave new world for digital advertising, and it’s all thanks to programmatic bidding (and some other things). In this article, we’ll tackle everything you need to know about supply-side platforms, including what they are, how they work, their advantages for publishers, and so on.

Read on to learn more. 

What Exactly Is a Supply-Side Platform?

A supply-side platform — SSP for short — or, sell-side platform, is an ad tech platform (software) that works to coordinate and manage the supply and distribution of publishers’ ad inventories. In a nutshell, SSPs work to help publishers and media owners alike to sell their ad space. 

More specifically, SSPs are an integral part of the real-time bidding process that happens within programmatic advertisers. SSPs are often referred to as yield optimization platforms, and for good reason, as they allow publishers to optimize yield by connecting their inventories to a multitude of ad exchanges and demand-side platforms (DSPs) simultaneously. 

This opens up publishers’ available ad impressions to as many potential media buyers and advertisers as possible. In turn, the publisher in question can maximize their ad space revenue — which is essentially the definition of optimization in the digital ad publishing world. 

The SSP Breakdown

Before we can get into how SSPs work, you’ll need to learn about the main features and components of an SSP. That way, you can better understand how publishers leverage SSPs for more advantageous media selling.

Here’s what you’ll find in an SSP:

  • The user interface. The user interface is essentially the platform’s dashboard. It’s where publishers come to work the SSP software to optimize the selling of their ad impressions.
  • Analytics and reporting features. These features are what provide publishers with insights into the performance of their current ad inventories. This would include things like clicks, successful impressions, fill rates, and more.
  • A header bidding function. Most SSPs include header bidding as a premium feature as it allows the publishers to obtain bids from multiple DSPs and ad exchanges while also managing their header bidding wrappers and demand partners.
  • Yield optimization features. Yield optimization works to increase publishers’ revenue by managing the mechanics of each auction, setting floor prices, and even improving fill rates to guarantee optimization for both parties.
  • Management capabilities. When it comes to ad inventories and campaigns, an SSP enables publishers to manage their different inventories and even block certain types of ads — all in one place.

How Do SSPs Work?

Much like advertisers, publishers also once used humans to conduct the other side of ad buying/selling negotiations. Humans even handled ad space assignments — manually. Of course, with the rise of digital marketers in the world, which increased the competition for ad space due to larger audiences, manual negotiations and ad space assigning became the antiquated way of doing things. 

Supply-side platforms were designed around programmatic advertising technology, which allows them to pair with demand-side platforms to further evaluate their ad tech partners to value their inventories, set the bidding range, and even make recommendations for the best match for each party. SSPs also provide publishers with filter settings so they can filter their matches by advertisers, ad format and type, target audience, and other criteria as well as set different bid rates for different ad spaces.

The best part about using SSPs and DSPs is that the entire programmatic ad buying and selling process happens in a matter of milliseconds. Within these milliseconds, an SSP will make a ton of micro-transactions throughout the programmatic ad tech chain, which includes smacking inventory available to media buyers directly or through ad exchanges, DSPs, and independent agencies.

Once the terms between SSPs and the media buyers have been agreed upon, the SSP places a pixel code on the publisher’s page. This pixel code works to track visitor behavior as well as audience data, and airports that data back to help optimize and maximize the value that publishers receive from their ad impressions.

How Do SSPs Support Ad Selling?

Now you know how SSPs work and the components that make them tick. But how do they support the ad-selling process for publishers? Well, there are a number of processes and requirements that SSPs handle which equate to support for ad selling, including the following:

  • They handle real-time bidding transactions. SSPs essentially sell publishers’ ad space to DSPS (and other platforms) via automation and ad exchanges. In other words, they handle programmatic auctions automatically for the publisher.
  • They offer more ad network optimization. Since SSPs sell ad impressions individually, they’re able to give publishers even more control over their ad inventories. This enables publishers to see exactly who is buying their ad impressions so they can optimize their bid requests accordingly. 
  • They conduct frequency capping. Both SSPs and DSPs work together to conduct frequency capping. Frequency capping is the process of recording the number of times a particular user is delivered a specific ad. From there, they automatically limit the number of times a user will see the same ad on a website to avoid banner blindness.
  • They ensure relevancy. By using SSPs, publishers can make sure that they’re working with the most relevant ad networks to get the most out of their available ad space.

How Do SSPs Support Publishers?

In addition to contributing to the ad-selling process, there are several ways in which SSPs support publishers directly. SSPs open up advertising inventory to all kinds of media buyers on a global scale, and they do this by establishing a connection with various ad exchanges, ad networks, and DSPs. 

By establishing these connections with various media buyers from all over, SSPs help publishers manage the intricacies of working with so many ad tech partners at the same time. What’s more, a genuine SSP will ensure that a publisher’s ad inventory is made available to the widest range of media buyers possible for the most optimal prices.

Essentially, working with a top-notch SSP guarantees greater optimization and success for publishers simply because they generate more high-quality demand sources to ensure that ad inventories are sold to the best ad tech partners at the best possible prices.

Aside from this guarantee, SSPs also support publishers by:

Offering More Granular Reporting

Data reporting and analysis are incredibly important for all digital businesses. These are the very things that help online business owners — including publishers — to understand what’s working and what isn’t working.

Therefore, if you want to maximize your profits and generate higher levels of revenue through your ad inventories, then you’ll need to know certain information. For example, you’ll need to know how much you’re currently earning from your ad inventories and how much it’s actually worth.

A quality SSP will be equipped with an in-depth reporting system to help publishers like yourself make the right decisions when it comes to things like the best way to sell your ad inventories, how to optimize your overall yield, and so on.

Offering Dynamic Price Floor

SSPs always enable publishers to set soft and hard price floors for their inventories — and at a minimum CPM. This is the type of flexibility that allows you maximize your ad revenue.

Offering Network Aggregation

The central focus of SSPs everywhere is connecting with multiple DSPs, ad networks, and ad exchanges to allow publishers to reach a wide range of media buyers. What’s more, this network aggregation allows for more media buyers to take part in the real-time bidding process, enabling publishers to achieve better yields. 

It’s a win-win for everyone.

Offering More Transparency

Programmatic ad buying and selling can get complicated, especially when it comes to ad fraud. The entire ad tech world is on the same page when it comes to offering more transparency to prevent not just ad fraud but bad deals as well. 

SSPs do two things: They simplify the entire programmatic bidding process and provide transparency by supplying easy integrations, offering gestures for data analytics, and connecting with media buyers based on specific criteria. 

Offering Brand Safety

Transparency also equates to brand safety, which is incredibly important for a publisher’s credibility. SSPs can be set to offer a publisher’s ad inventory to specific buyers or only through specific channels. They can also be set to block unwanted ads from showing up on a particular website.

All of these features are important for brand safety, because we all know that bad ads and irrelevant ads are bad for your online business because they’ll keep visitors from coming back and they’ll keep premium media buyers from wanting to work with you. 

Final Thoughts

Just as demand-side platforms are essential to advertiser’s programmatic success, supply-side platforms are essential to publishers’ programmatic success. SSPs are among the latest technologies in the ad tech world, and they’ve been designed to provide more efficiency than your traditional ad network as well as manual deals made by human salespeople.

That means, if you’re not using a supply-side platform to automate and maximize your ad yield, then you’re missing out on a ton of ad revenue and premium media partners.

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