DSPs and SSPs — The Differences, Similarities, and Basics

May 2024

#DSP and SSP

Adtech is full of acronyms — and while DSPs and SSPs do actually have a lot in common, they’re for different purposes and people. In this blog post, we explain the basics.

Released in 2004, the PlayStation Portable — also known as the PSP — is a Sony handheld gaming device that has absolutely nothing to do with this article, except to illustrate that acronyms can get confusing. Adtech is full of three-letter acronyms, and people often don’t take the time to explain them. A great example of this is demand-side platforms — DSPs — and supply-side platforms — SSPs.

DSPs and SSPs sound very similar, and they should: in many ways they’re two sides of the same coin. That coin is called “programmatic,” and DSPs and SSPs are a big part of how they work.

In this blog post, we explain the differences between DSPs and SSPs, and what they’re used for in adtech.


  1. Ad Exchanges And You
  2. What Does An SSP Do?
  3. What Does A DSP Do?
  4. AdSense, AdX, And Publisher Partners
  5. Final Thoughts

Case Study: Insticator transformed Brit+Co’s community with a 50% increase in online engagement. Read More

Ad Exchanges And You

Just like stocks, ad slots are bought and sold on an exchange — in this case, what’s known as an ad exchange. Unlike stock exchanges, though, there’s no “trading floor” where these sales happen. Instead, ad exchanges happen virtually. And instead of being traded by people, ad slots are auctioned off by computer to the highest bidder.

Publishers place their available ad slots on the ad exchange, and advertisers bid for them using Real-Time Bidding, or “RTB” (there’s another one of those three-letter acronyms). No humans are involved in the actual bidding process — they set up their preferences, and the computers take care of the rest.

The publisher side of this equation is called the “Supply Side Platform.” Publishers are the ones “supplying” the ad slots that are being bid on by advertisers. The Advertiser side is the “Demand Side Platform.”

What Does An SSP Do?

If you’re a publisher, ad space on your site is limited, so it’s important for your bottom line to make sure every pixel of ad space is going for a good price. Before SSPs, publishers often had to sell ad space at bargain-basement prices to avoid leaving inventory empty. SSPs allow publishers to connect with multiple ad exchanges around the world simultaneously, to make sure the maximum number of advertisers are bidding on their valuable inventory.

With a supply-side platform, publishers can set a price floor or bidding range they’re willing to accept for their inventory — like setting a reserve price for an auction on eBay. With their price constraints set, publishers can then run programmatic auctions for their ad inventory.

Through an SSP, publishers have more control over how their ads are sold than ever. They can screen specific brands from running alongside incompatible content, evaluate historic performance, set frequency caps to avoid ad fatigue, and more.

All of this allows publishers to expand their reach, increase fill rates, and optimize their revenue in a way that keeps their brand healthy.

What Does A DSP Do?

While SSPs allow publishers to auction their ad space in a way that works best for them, DSPs allow advertisers to buy ad space in a way that works best for them. Ad space on ad exchanges are sorted by what types of audiences they’re reaching. That means that advertisers can buy ad space that can specifically target their intended audiences. Audience demographics, location data, browsing behavior and more are available for advertisers to target, allowing them to spend their money efficiently and wisely instead of casting a wide net and hoping for the best.

And much like how publishers get to set pricing parameters for the inventory they’re selling, advertisers can set parameters for what they’re willing to pay, seeking out potential bargains in the pool.

DSPs are a necessity for advertisers, as it allows them to set and manage their creatives, target their audiences, and keep budgets in check. Ad exchanges and DSPs have made a lot of the modern Internet possible. And when it comes to ad exchanges, you can probably guess who the biggest name is:

AdSense, AdX, And Publisher Partners

Google is, of course, one of the biggest players in the online advertising ecosystem. At the lower level, Google AdSense is the tier that allows small publishers to sell their inventory, but at set prices. At the higher level, Google’s AdX is a true ad exchange — but they don’t let just any publisher participate. AdX is invitation-only, and only some publishers qualify.

To participate in Google AdX, most publishers will need to work with a Google-Certified Publisher Partner, or GCPP. These partners go through an extensive vetting process with Google in order to participate in AdX, which essentially allows them to vouch for publishers who haven’t been invited in yet.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this extra bit of context will help keep all these different three-letter acronyms straight in the future. Programmatic bidding on ad exchanges is one of the most important activities on the modern Web, and how many advertisers and publishers alike are able to keep the lights on.

If you’re a publisher looking for the best way to auction your inventory online, then Insticator’s SSP is a solution worth considering. With leading-edge technical performance, unique partnerships, and a team of experts at hand, Insticator can help monetize your site at a level you hadn’t thought possible before. Reach out today.

Written by
Sean Kelly, Senior Content Writer

Sean Kelly is a Senior Content Specialist, St. Louis-based engagement expert with 20 years of experience in content writing, and 8 years in adtech.

komalchand gaidhane

Written by

komalchand gaidhane