Posted on Mar 6, 2024

What Are Ad Tags and How To Use Them In Your Campaign

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Ad tags are the backbone of modern advertising, allowing publishers and marketers to connect effectively. However, what are ad tags? How are they used, and why should you care for them as an ad exchange owner? This guide is here to answer these and other questions.

What Is An Ad Tag

An ad tag, also known as a placement or creative tag, is a piece of code (JavaScript or HTML) inserted into the source code of a publisher’s application or website. Alternatively, the snippet can be separated from the primary code.

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The main mission of advertising tags is as follows: outlining the specifications (such as ad format, size, etc.) and defining how the ad should be displayed on this particular website or app. Here are their basic work principles:

  • Step 1: after generating a tag, a publisher adds it to the website’s or app’s code to specify what placements are available and their requirements;
  • Step 2: when a visitor enters the website or starts interacting with an app, the tag triggers the browser so that an ad request is delivered to the publisher’s server;
  • Step 3: optionally, the server submits the request to a third-party data provider to enhance it with additional user information;
  • Step 4: the advertiser’s ad server (or a DSP) receives the request, and a marketer can join an RTB auction. Note that tags can be used both in direct serving and programmatic advertising;
  • Step 5: the advertiser’s server equips the tag with a URL containing the data about the location of the creative. The publisher’s server then uses this URL to display a winning ad.

Leveraging ad tagging is crucial for all the parties involved in advertising processes. Thus, publishers apply tags to offer their inventory to multiple marketers while ensuring the ads’ relevance and accurate ad serving.

For advertisers, tags are a way to “guide” the browser to relevant ads that meet the publishers’ requirements. For ad networks and ad exchange owners, tags mean connecting supply and demand sources effectively. And if your ad exchange shows high performance, your trading income will grow.

Evolution Of Advertising Tags

Ad tags have revolutionized the digital advertising ecosystem, so now it is extremely easy for publishers to connect with relevant advertisers. However, it has not always been like that. Let’s briefly review the history of advertising tags.

At The Dawn Of The Internet

For a long time, advertising relied only on traditional methods like TV commercials, radio ads, printed materials, and so on. These methods are still in use, but they do not offer the convenience and efficiency of digital marketing. 

However, when the era of the Internet had just started, digital ads were the antonym of a good user experience. Most likely, you can remember visiting a poorly designed website and being bombarded with loads of ads. Most of them were irrelevant, many of them did not load at all, and so on. That time perfectly illustrates the need for ad tags in advertising since, nowadays, most digital ads are relevant to users and have no issues with being displayed.

Introduction And Spread Of Ad Tags

When ad tags entered the advertising ecosystem, they outlined only ad location and dimensions. After some time, they became more sophisticated, which allowed better ad performance and enhanced targeting. That became possible after the introduction of third-party cookies that enabled ad servers to track visitors on the Internet. Explore more about third party vs first party cookies. Ads became more relevant, which had positive consequences for everyone: users, advertisers, and publishers.

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Further Developments

While the Internet was growing, so did advertising supply and demand. Therefore, ad tags were getting more and more granular. For example, the introduction of JS tags enabled dynamic content and personalized advertising. In turn, the emergence of VAST tags used for video advertising allowed to solve the compatibility issues between different players. 

Nowadays, tags are widely used in digital advertising, including the programmatic approach, and they keep evolving. With the evolution of technology, we can expect new options to join the advertising ecosystem.

Main Types Of Tags For Online Advertising 

There are a variety of ad tags, so let’s review the main types to provide you with a deeper understanding of how they work.

Synchronous JS Tags

Synchronous JS tags load sequentially with the website content (or sometimes even before it), which means that the load speed may be affected, especially if the tag gets rejected or a technical error occurs. However, the browser will still send requests, so the page may not even load. Synchronous loading prevents browsers from rendering a page before the execution of a code or script is finished. When a browser runs into a synchronous JS tag, it blocks the rest of the page until the current one is executed.

Look at the presented example of a synchronous direct web page JS tag on SmartHub.

Direct Web Page JS Tag on SmartHub

Asynchronous JS Tags

Asynchronous JS tags load separately from the rest of the content so that even if the ad serving process fails, the page itself will still load normally, just without the ad. Since such tags do not affect the loading speed and user experience, most publishers prefer them over the synchronous ones. Apart from this, on publishers’ platforms, asynchronous code snippets are usually available by default.

iFrame Tags

JS tags are added directly to the website script and can be used for expandable creatives. However, some challenges are here as well. For instance, if a publisher does not specify the ad size, the delivered advertisement may be too large and affect user experience. Besides, if a user disables JS, the ad may be served, for example, not as a video but as a regular banner, which is not beneficial for advertisers.

iFrame tags can be a solution to these risks. Since they come as external object elements, they can be embedded within other HTML documents. Ads are displayed exactly as they are supposed to, while the main page loads asynchronously, which has a positive impact on the load speed.

At the same time, many browsers do not support iFrame tags (JS tags do not have such a con). Besides, using iFrame tags does not allow browsers to adapt content according to the users’ device type. One more thing to consider is that despite technical security, ads delivered via iFrame tags may still promote something malicious or irrelevant, but publishers will not be able to detect this problem.

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VAST (Video Ad Serving Template) tags are scripts allowing servers to communicate with video players. Containing requirements about the ad type, dimensions, maximum duration, and opportunity to skip the ad, they guarantee that the video ads will play as they are expected. 

VAST tags are well-supported and provide publishers with better control over the advertising processes. At the same time, VAST lacks interactivity, even though this issue is gradually solved by new releases. Take a look at the URL example of the VAST Endpoint Tag on SmartHub.

VAST Endpoint Tag on SmartHub


VPAID (Video Player-Ad Interface Definition) tags are pieces of JS code delivered within a VAST container that enable publishers to deliver ads with interactive UIs. For instance, users may be able to expand the ad size, take a survey right within the ad, or play a minigame. Such ads tend to have higher conversion rates, which is beneficial for advertisers. 

However, while being more effective than VAST tags in terms of interactivity, VPAID tags may slow the website down and impact its overall performance. Besides, there are certain compatibility issues. At the moment, VPAID ads cannot be played on smart TVs, and there may also be a lack of certain interactivity features on mobile devices.

Header Wrappers

Header bidding is among the most popular models in programmatic advertising, and it is also enabled by the pieces of code. Such code snippets are known as wrappers, and with their help, publishers can send requests to multiple demand sources at once, which drives competition. For advertisers, header bidding means greater diversity and enhanced transparency. You can learn more about the benefits of header bidding and wrappers. 

How Do Ad Tags Work On SmartHub?

Ad tags make it possible for publishers and marketers to exchange data with each other and, as a result, match effectively. Therefore, you, as an ad exchange owner, need to ensure that your demand and supply partners can connect via your platform with ease. Your ecosystem should provide publishers with relevant ads, while advertisers — with an opportunity to target the right audiences. 

On SmartHub, you do not have to come up with relevant connection options on your own. For both your demand and supply sources, you can select the following integrations:

  • OpenRTB 2.5;
  • VAST to RTB;
  • VAST to VAST; 
  • VAST to All;
  • JS tags;
  • Header bidding.

Additionally, you can leverage DSP connectors for specific integrations. The process of connecting demand and supply partners is very intuitive — all you have to do is create an endpoint for every side. After everything is set up, the partners will match efficiently, ensuring stable media trading income for you. 

Apart from this, SmartHub offers an entire set of features for effective and safe media trading. For instance, you can integrate various scanners for both your demand and supply partners to prevent ad fraud. And in case you need a specific feature that is currently missing from the list of SmartHub’s functionalities, feel free to reach out to us. For instance, for Mobupps, we created a custom adapter for connecting endpoints with unique requirements.

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How To Use Advertising Tags On SmartHub?

In short, there is no need for you to generate pieces of code on your own. Again, you only need to set up an endpoint for each of your partners. Let’s review the integration options listed above in detail.

OpenRTB 2.5

For both supply and demand partners, you can select the RTB option when creating an endpoint. After this, you can specify the required ad format and traffic type, as well as apply other settings and filters. For instance, for demand partners, you can select the player size, device OS, connection type, etc. 

After the endpoint is created and saved, the link to it is generated automatically. Provide your partners with these links to allow them to send traffic and receive statistics from the SmartHub platform. Here is what an RTB endpoint for SSP looks like:


When creating an endpoint, select the VAST connection type and then choose one of the following options: VAST to All, VAST to RTB, or VAST to VAST. After this, you can specify the ad format (video or audio), traffic type, sizes, and other settings. Note that to ensure effective connection between your supply and demand partners, it would be helpful to apply as many settings as possible (if you have doubts regarding anything, discuss this with your partners). After this, the VAST tag is generated automatically.

Note that SmartHub also works with VPAID. When the ad exchange receives a request for a video ad from a supply partner (via OpenRTB or VAST), the platform checks if the VPAID technology is supported. If yes, all the responses are collected in a list for the player. Then, the platform sends a response to the supply side and the highest price wins. The list of responses is sorted by price and, finally, the exchange sends a response with SmartHub’s player and a hash for the first video from the list.

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JS Tags

For JS tags on SmartHub, the process is pretty much the same. Select the JS option when creating an endpoint, then fill in the remaining settings. These include traffic type, IAB categories (for supply partners), player size and connection type (for demand partners), and many more. Note that currently, banner ads are the only available format for this integration type. The tag is generated after you save the endpoint.

Header Bidding

In terms of header bidding, SmartHub offers several integration options. For your supply partners, you can select either Prebid.js or Prebid option and then go through the rest of the endpoint settings. At the moment, for Prebid.js, the available ad formats include banner, video, and native ads. The supported traffic types are desktop and mobile web. 

Note that in the case of the Prebid integration type, the bidding process will take place on a server, not in a browser, which means that the loading speed of the publisher’s page will not be affected. To enable header bidding for the demand side, you can select the Prebid option when creating an endpoint. 

Final Words

Ad tags are the basis of effective digital advertising. When set up correctly, they automate the process of matching demand and supply partners, allowing them to reach each other with ease. As a result, the demand side delivers their ads to the right target audiences, while publishers ensure relevant advertising experiences for their visitors and users. 

Therefore, your ad exchange must be equipped with multiple integration options, including JS tags, header bidding connections, and so on. Such a variety is essential to ensure a convenient and effective environment for your supply and demand partners. 

Keep in mind that leveraging a white-label solution is the way to get your ad exchange to the market in the shortest possible time. Instead of developing all the essential connection options from scratch, you can benefit from a ready-made platform. After such a solution is launched, you will only need to set up the connections. 

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What is an advertising tag?
An ad tag is a code snippet integrated into the source code of a publisher’s website or app to define how and what ads will be displayed. Tags can also be added separately from the main code, but the main idea is the same — to deliver relevant ads and ensure a good user experience.
Do I need to create advertising tags on SmartHub?
Basically, ad tags are created by publishers and then added to their websites’ or app’s code (or added separately). However, on SmartHub, you do not need to write code snippets on your own. You only have to select the right integration type and set everything up. This can be done when creating an endpoint.
What types of connections does SmartHub support?
SmartHub offers a wide range of cross-integration bidding. The list of SmartHub integration options includes OpenRTB 2.5 (for supply-side integrations), OpenRTB 2.6 (for demand-side integrations), VAST to RTB, VAST to VAST, VAST to VAST, VAST to All, Prebid Server, JS tags, and special connectors for specific DSP integrations.
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