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DSP vs SSP (vs. DMP): Is There Room for Comparison and Which One Is for You?

May 14, 202410 min read
Stepan Krokhmal
Stepan Krokhmal, AdTech Writer
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Like with Ying & Yang, light & darkness, Epom & banger content – it’s next to impossible to imagine DSP without an SSP. Despite being on different sides, both of these ad tech platforms are here to serve the ways of programmatic.

DMP kind of looks odd in the equation, but you’d be astonished by how many people misinterpret it with the ad tech above. For that, it deserves today’s spot in the main cast!

By the way, the show is “DSP vs. SSP,” the theme is about their differences and by the finale you’ll get which is most suitable for you and how to distinguish the good ones from the average. Epom is in the director’s seat; let’s roll!

DSP vs SSP: What Is Programmatic Advertising?

Before the detailed explanation of what DSP and SSP is, we’ve got to lay out the basics. Both DSP and SSP are not some concepts detached from reality; they are software! And this software is used for something called programmatic advertising.

The DSP is made for those who buy ads (later on that), and the SSP is for those who sell their inventory.

What’s this programmatic advertising? Think of it as a way to buy & sell ads automatically powered by real-time bidding (RTB) technology. It came as a successor to direct deals – the type of media buying where advertisers and publishers have to “manually” negotiate prices for each specific ad placement.

Nowadays, even direct media buying has come far in terms of automatization, but with it DSPs and SSPs programmatic is still the ad king if you want things done fast and with minimal human interference.

There are different types of deals possible in programmatic, but the most common is an open auction. In it, the demand side places their bids on a specific audience with a DSP simultaneously, and the highest bidder among them wins the impression. As a result, the supply side sells their ad inventory, and the auction winner can show their ad in it.

The whole action takes less than 100 milliseconds.

What is DSP?

Now that you are somewhat familiar with programmatic, let’s discuss SSP vs DSP in detail.

A demand-side platform is the ad tech platform made for automatically buying programmatic ad placements.

A DSP is a center for programmatic operations from the advertiser’s side. That’s why it’s a demand-side platform, duh. The tech is basically a key to the kingdom of programmatic deals. It lets you access ad exchanges – open marketplaces where all these auctions discussed above happen.

DSP vs SSP: Who Uses a DSP?

Advertisers aren’t the only ones who want to buy ad inventory. A DSP would be a must both for ad agencies and ad networks. Yes, there is a difference between the two, and yes, the ad tech for them varies.

As for the ad agencies, they usually use the DSP to complete their client’s goals, which is to buy ads in the most efficient way possible. The role of an ad agency, in this case, is basically to be an advertiser instead of an advertiser.

As for the ad networks, it gets a bit more complicated. There’s no DSP vs SSP dilemma in their perspective; to reach the top spot in their re-selling game, they use both DSPs and SSPs.

Actually, there’s even more nuance to all of this. Just read our detailed guide on ad networks, ad agencies and ad exchanges, if you haven’t already (why?).

What to Look for in a DSP?

We’ve already discussed some of the not-so-obvious features you should keep in mind when choosing a DSP (along with the top 5 DSP and SSP examples).

DSP must-have features

Still, for our beginner ad tech enthusiasts, here’s another list of what any modern demand-side platform should have:

  • Frequency capping

Yeah, this kind of an obvious tool, but it is the bread & butter of automatization software. For newcomers, frequency capping is when you put the number of times you want the user to see your ads on the screen every 24 hours/two weeks/months/etc.

It goes without saying that a modern advertiser has to be prepared for any scenario. If your DSP doesn’t support the most well-known ad formats like video, native, or mobile, then there’s little point in opting for one.

  • A wide array of supply

Before opting for a DSP solution, check what’s up with its SSPs and ad exchanges. It’s quite simple; the more varied the supply sources are, the better offers you will find. Custom SSP connectivity would be cool as well, but few vendors actually support that.

What is SSP?

A supply-side platform is an ad tech platform made for automatically selling programmatic ad placements.

Just like with DSPs, a modern SSP is much more capable than that. Frequency capping, reporting, and aggregation of multiple demand sources – a good SSP can do it all. The main purpose remains the same – to improve ad selling efficiency and maximizings ad views and ad fill rates.

SSP vs DSP: Who Uses SSP?

The answer is straightforward – publishers.

In the age of the dinosaurs and the early web, it wasn’t that difficult to negotiate prices for each ad placement. There weren’t as many brands and demand sources as such. Publishers either used the first primitive ad servers (much different from modern ones) or just didn’t use any ad tech whatsoever.

Today, even a relatively small publisher would go insane if he tried to sell his ad inventory “manually.” The programmatic revolution came with the DSPs and SSPs – the tools to seal the darkness and automate ad inventory management.

As mentioned, ad networks would also benefit from having an SSP.

What’s more peculiar is that some setups let publishers use their ad servers as SSPs. This is ultra-rare (Epom has it btw), but it is a possible combination to use both programmatic and direct media buying.

What to Look for in an SSP?

The DSP and SSP have slightly different feature clusters, both maximizing their initial purpose.

SSP must-have features

For SSPs, we chose these basic options:

  • Dynamic price flooring

This feature lets publishers set dynamic soft and hard price floors. These floors will prevent the ad inventory sold below a set price so that the pub gets the highest eCPM possible from every auction.

  • Header bidding

Header bidding is a technology that allows publishers to offer ad inventory to their programmatic partners before selling it directly. Basically, it’s a JS code that lets pubs use their SSPs in combination with ad servers to get better prices for their ad inventory.

Header bidding is a free JS wrapper called a prebid adapter. The nuance is that to use it your SSP has to support this particular prebid adapter. It’s easy to check if it does; just scroll through the list here.

  • Advanced inventory management

To be honest, by advanced, we don’t mean anything fancy. The basic SSP has to allow publishers to manage different types of ad inventory (preferably cross-device ones) and detect + block certain types of malicious ads.

SSP vs DSP: What Types Are There?

As we said at the beginning, both technologies often reflect each other. There is not much difference between an SSP and a DSP here; the implementation methods are basically the same for each.

The first distinction comes from how you set everything up. Basically, you can either:

  • Outsource your SSP vs DSP dilemma

That’s right, there are plenty of companies who’d eagerly take your role as a publisher/advertiser. In this case, you don’t really care about ad tech and just trust everything to professionals.

  • Create your own SSP and DSP

This one is called in-housing. It’s quite expensive and troublesome, but rewards with ultimate freedom and features. Basically, you’re now Amazon or Google, which is quite cool.

  • Use third-party SSP vs DSP

The last, most balanced, and popular option is using somebody’s DSP and SSP. There are multiple vendors for both.

However, when it comes to paying for the technology, things get trickier. The options are as follows:

A self-serve solution is what you’d typically think subscribing to a DSP and SSP is about. You basically have the software with basic buying/selling options, campaign/inventory management, and that sort of stuff. The tech is usually free to use, but in return, you pay a large margin for every ad placement sold/paid for.

A white-label is a different beast in the world of DSPs and SSPs. Think of it as your own blank canvas upon which to develop. You get all the features & optimization that you could have by in-housing, but naturally, the tech isn’t free, and a subscription is needed.

white-label & self-serve DSP white-label & self-serve DSP

DSP vs SSP: Difference between SSP and DSP

It’s about time for a quick recap. If you are overwhelmed with the amount of info (that happens, trust us), here’s the main difference between SSP and DSP once again. Skip this, if everything has been clear by this point.

DSP:

  • Used for buying ad placements;
  • Used by the demand side of the programmatic advertising;
  • Allows the users to connect to ad exchanges with multiple SSPs;

SSP:

  • Used for selling ad placements;
  • Used by the supply side of the programmatic advertising;
  • Allows the users to connect to ad exchanges with multiple DSPs;

How Do DSPs and SSPs Work? DSP SSP Ad Exchange in Action

Now that you know so much about DSP vs SSP technologies, it’s about time we cement this info to the backrooms of your head. Namely, you’ll see how DSP SSP and ad exchanges work in tandem during the programmatic auction.

Let’s assume the publisher toasterlovers.com wants to fill his Desktop Native ad slots and receive an average eCPM at about $ 3-4. There are three hypothetical advertisers who need a Desktop Native ad, the DSPs of which are connected to the same ad exchange as the SSP of toaster-lovers.com. Here’s how it happens:

  1. The user clicks on the site, and the real-time bidding auction starts.
  2. The site sends an ad request to an SSP if there’s a chance to show this user an ad.
  3. The SSP collects the user’s data and analyzes if there’s suitable ad space for the Desktop Native ad. There is!
  4. The ad exchange helps to give this data to DSPs that want to place a Desktop Native ad.
  5. Based on the pre-set targeting options, the DSPs bid on impressions.
  6. Three advertisers have CPMs of $3.50, $4.00, and $3.70. Ad exchange has determined the second to be the highest CPM, so their bid wins and has an ad placement on the publisher’s website.
  7. The winning advertiser’s creative is loaded on toaster-lovers.com, and the user sees the ad. The DSP and SSP have done their job.
Programmatic auction scheme

What is a DMP?

Now for the third wheel in the DSP vs SSP contest.

A data management platform is an ad tech platform made for gathering, storing, and managing data.

Why do we think it’s the odd one?
Firstly, unlike DSP vs SSP, you don’t need a data management platform for a programmatic auction to happen. So it’s just conceptually different.

Secondly, a DMP is a bit of dated technology. The customer data platform (CDP) is a fresher and more accessible platform that serves almost the same purposes. Naturally, a CDP will cost more.

Nevertheless, you shouldn’t underestimate the DMP. A high-quality data management platform could elevate your ad game significantly. Just look for the one that:

  • Supports automated database operations;
  • Is secure and preferably cloud-based;
  • Is transparent in its analytics, supports machine learning analytics.

Who Uses a DMP?

It’s been around for a long while, and both publishers & advertisers have figured out how to make great use of it.

  • Use Case # 1. Demand-side

The primary purpose of a DMP is to assist advertisers in their quest. The DMP allows them to segment the audience and extract insights from huge data clusters. With that, advertisers can build a better strategy and decrease user acquisition costs.

  • Use Case # 2. Supply-side

The common myth around the DMPs implies that they only serve the advertiser’s needs. They do not.

The publishers can use the DMPs to store expensive first-party data. It’s a far more exclusive and more future-proof solution than third-party cookies + it will attract more advertisers as first party data allows for better targeting options.

DSP vs SSP vs DMP: Final Showdown

That was a lot of information. You surely, won’t reread it every time you need to remind yourself about SSP vs DSP vs DMP, so here’s a quick cheat sheet:

DSP SSP DMP
For what? For programmatically buying ad placements and campaign management For programmatically selling ad placements and inventory management For storing and managing data
For whom? For the demand side (advertisers, ad agencies, ad networks) For the supply side (publishers, ad networks) For demand & supply side
What to look for? Frequency capping

Rich media ad formats

A wide array of supply
Dynamic price flooring

Header bidding

Advanced inventory management
Data processing automation

Secure cloud-based environment

Transparent machine-learning analytics

Still, wondering which DSP exactly would cover all of your needs? Well, you’re lucky because Epom white-label DSP has all of the features above and much, much more. Afraid to invest in a technology you’ve just first read about 5 minutes ago? There is a trial for that case!

Get the most extensive list of features with Epom white-label DSP

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