How to Create a Whitelist and Blacklist

by | Mar 16, 2020

The use of whitelists and blacklists has become an industry standard in the world of real-time ad buying.

While the ultimate goal of buying ads programmatically is to reach the right audience where they are spending their time online, there are relevant sites where a brand would want to show up on and other sites where a brand wouldn’t want to show up on, even if their target audience is there.

Enter whitelists and blacklists.

What is a blacklist?

In plain and simple terms, a blacklist is a list of sites a brand knows they definitely DO NOT want to show up on. This can mean a lot of things, but the most important function of a blacklist is to ensure a brand’s reputation is protected.

Why do you need a blacklist?

Blacklists have become extremely important in today’s programmatic landscape. With the proliferation of fake news sites, ad fraud, clickbait, torrented/inappropriate content, and more, brands need a way to protect themselves. Media buyers use blacklists to avoid these types of sites and to protect the brand health and safety of their clients.

With the help of our partners at The Trade Desk, LumenAd has created a best-in-class blacklist (which is updated daily by our media services team) that we add to every campaign we set up. This ensures we are combating fake news, negative/torrent content, click bait, false clicks, accidental clicks, etc.

Blacklists have become invaluable additions to ad buying strategies, and can even result in one campaign outperforming another using the same DSP.

Prior to launch, our advertisers are given the option to add to this list if there are competitor websites, local pubs, or any other site that they’d rather not show up on. This can also be appropriate in instances where someone is already doing a direct buy with a publisher. Blacklisting that site would prevent duplicating efforts or competing against yourself for the same ad space.

Blacklists are a vitally important part of how modern advertising works. They were created to protect the end advertiser and their overall brand.

What is a whitelist?

On the other end of the spectrum, there are whitelists. Whitelists are a list of apps and/or URLs media buyers add to a campaign and/or line item. Once added only those named apps and URLs are served impressions.

In other words, a whitelist is a list of sites you would ideally like your ads to show up on.

Why do you need a whitelist?

While the only way to guarantee an ad shows up on a site is through a direct buy, a whitelist is a great way to increase the likelihood of an ad showing up on any ideal sites.

In many cases, direct buys don’t add as much value to a campaign because you don’t have the ability to layer on targeting such as age, geo, gender, interests, etc. So, you end up just purchasing ad space on a specific publisher’s website and hoping your target audience shows up and sees the ad.

Whitelists have been a welcome addition to the programmatic landscape. Programmatic buys (as opposed to direct buys with individual publishers) give advertisers more flexibility when it comes to targeting, and when paired with a whitelist it gives advertisers a bit more control over the sites where they’re buying inventory.

How do blacklists and whitelists work?

When it comes to creating whitelists and blacklists, it is important to think about what sites your brand would like to show up on as well as where that same brand would definitely not like to be present.

If you were advertising for a bank (a highly restricted industry that allows for minimal targeting), you could use whitelists and blacklists to better target people in the market for the specific product you’re promoting without having to use age, geo, or gender.

Let’s say you’re promoting home loans. It would be more valuable to show up on sites and apps like Zillow and Realtor rather than any generic site.

If you are promoting automotive loans, you’d want to whitelist sites like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book. Also, if you’re promoting an adult product like alcohol, tobacco, or gambling, it would be best to blacklist any child-friendly site like ABC Mouse or Nickelodeon, to prevent the chance that you ad would be seen by the wrong eyes.

How to Start a Whitelist or Blacklist

Step 1

Start by conceptualizing contextually relevant sites. Based on the theme of the campaign and the audience you’re trying to reach, where do you want your ads to show up? Where do you definitely NOT want them to show up?

Step 2

Consider whether or not there is value in ads showing up on local sites, well-known national/international sites, etc.

Step 3

Think through the overall marketing plan. Have you done any direct buys with local pubs or received any digital as a value-add on traditional media buys? If so, it would be beneficial to add those sites to your blacklist to prevent duplication of efforts.

Step 4

Make a list of ideal sites.

Step 5

Confirm you have access to programmatic ad space on the sites on your list. You can do this by visiting each site individually, or using your DSP.

Step 6

Implement your blacklist and whitelist! You can choose to implement these lists at either a campaign or line item level.

Need more help?

We put together some examples of industry-specific whitelists.

Use it to wrap your head around how to get started on a whitelist for your upcoming campaign.

At the end of the day…

Whitelists and blacklists are just one piece of the overall ad buying strategy puzzle. However, their implementation plays a vital role in protecting a brand’s identity and adhering to brand guidelines and safety standards.

All real-time ad buyers should have an ever-evolving blacklist to combat click bait, fake news, etc. And, when appropriate, a whitelist also adds immense value to the overall campaign that, more often than not, improves performance.

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