Not Whitelisting? You’re Doing It Wrong.

Few terms make programmatic platform sellers turn up their noses quite like “whitelist.”

“But you’re going to limit your scaaaaaaaale…” is the usual lament if you insist on pre-greenlighting a list of domains on which your digital display campaigns can run.  And that’s the essence of whitelisting – giving pre-approval to ad environments you’ve already vetted for your campaign.

When it comes to keeping your ads away from the deep, dark corners of the Internet where the environment is likely to detract from the brand, whitelisting is a vastly superior approach to the alternative.  Blacklisting, in contrast, keeps programmatic buyers engaged in a perpetual game of whack-a-mole in order to preserve brand integrity, in which they have to somehow constantly evaluate the new domains, apps and other environments that push ad inventory to the exchanges.  Given that this is constantly changing, that’s not a game I’d prefer to play.

Like many aspects of programmatic buying, there are both human and technology elements to creating a decent whitelist.  Starting with the top domains responsible for volume in your particular content category or demographic is a good approach.  Do note that even with a large whitelist of thousands of the top ad-supported domains, a good portion of the total ad opportunity will become inaccessible, but if you believe that the ad environment should enhance the brand and not the other way around, that’s likely to be a net positive.

At the same time, it’s testament to the vast length of the long tail if you’re only managing to clear half or less of the anticipated ad volume – given your targeting criteria – because you’re using a whitelist.  That’s why it’s important to continually evolve your whitelists – adding new environments as you discover new places in which to achieve additional reach to your target consumers and are able to vet them.

This approach may be tedious, but it helps to protect brands.  Most brands would prefer to avoid hate sites and hate speech, but one can see how it could be difficult to add all the new hate sites to a blacklist as they debut.  The better approach is to start with a list of environments that will enhance the brand, and add to it over time.

Note that whitelisting won’t always protect against fraud and low viewability, but a focused list will certainly help.  For one, it will weed out those lesser-quality environments that are more likely to contain the fraudsters.  You will need to add viewability vendors and fraud detection as well.

In the end, though, the whitelist approach will do wonders when it comes to keeping pictures of your ads running in unsavory places off the front page of the Wall Street Journal.  Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise, regardless of what they say about how whitelisting will limit the scale of your advertising opportunity.