Home Affiliate Marketing & Media Buying Whitelist vs Blacklist in Digital Marketing: Apply and Improve ROI

Whitelist vs Blacklist in Digital Marketing: Apply and Improve ROI

by Mikhail Zhukov

The Whitelist vs Blacklist topic is essential to harness if you want your ads to pop up on the most rewarding websites. This short guide by Adsterra’s Head of CPM, Mikhail Zhukov, will gently walk you through:

  • Use cases and best practices of blacklisting
  • Basic steps to creating lists of ad placements 
  • Ways to form blacklists and whitelists
  • Main mistakes to avoid.

What is a blacklist or blocklist?

A blacklist is a set of ad placements on publishers’ websites that you want to temporarily turn off. You command an advertising network like Adsterra not to show your ads on a particular list of websites because you found out they don’t return you enough clicks, conversions, or revenues.

What is a whitelist or allowlist?

A whitelist lists specific placements you want to receive traffic from exclusively. It means you limit the traffic to come only from these placements. Allowlists are primarily used to group high-performing sources and optimize budgets within your targeting.

An ad placement is a specific space on a publisher’s website. When blocked, the placement will not display your ads even if the website is in your targeting.

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Whitelisting vs Blacklisting marketing purposes

So why must advertisers compile lists of poor-performing and super-effective ad placements? The answer is more than superficial. It’s the main means of optimizing your spending and streaming your funds only towards those traffic sources (websites or social media traffic) that can deliver quality leads or conversions. How can this be applied in media buying and affiliate marketing? Let’s outline several use cases and best practices.

Best practices of blacklisting and whitelisting

1. Optimize spending, focusing on conversions

This use case is not about getting more traffic but focusing on target actions like clicks and conversions. When you have tested all traffic slices and collected enough stats about ad placements’ performance, you can leave only those that return profits or exclude the underperformers.

Doing this, you arrow ad budgets only toward the well-performing traffic sources. We must note, however, that this practice doesn’t imply you will be increasing the number of conversions significantly. But it’s likely you will, because your money won’t be allocated to all placements from the outlined targeting but to specific ones.

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2. Scale campaigns safely

The point of scaling: getting more traffic with higher confidence it will convert. Unlike in the first case, you will increase the payout or the frequency capping (the number of times your ads are shown to users) but stay away from those placements that eat up budgets.

With a whitelist, you also can scale a campaign by allocating all ad budgets to a selected number of placements.

3. Outbeat competitors within your targets

This practice is about gaining a competitive advantage, taking over the major part of the traffic you need. Whitelisted ad placements receive all your payouts, and you can even set higher bids to gain the best ad views.

4. Avoid showing ads on irrelevant sources

Brand safety is a sore subject for many advertisers. By adding a whitelist, you limit your ad exposure to a specific set of websites that match your brand. Adsterra partners can ask managers to compile such a list of placements.

Another reason for excluding traffic sources is the periodic traffic costs soar. Some advertisers, whose offers don’t relate to sports or entertainment, tend to temporarily blacklist publishers related to sports streaming during the major events. Why so? Mainly because ads on these websites cost quite a lot while the main matches are broadcasted.

The following reason is that sports websites attract loads of watchers, which turns out into millions of ad views you have to pay for. If sports fans are not your primary target audience, why spend money on showing them ads?

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How do you create whitelists and blacklists?

Let’s now nail down a no-frills flow of creating lists of preferred or excluded advertising placements. We will name all steps necessary to access black- or whitelisting, including adding specific tokens to track ad placements.

1. Make sure you track placement IDs

With Adsterra, you have helpful tokens (macros) to pass important data about a campaign’s performance to your tracking tools. These tokens are pasted in the landing page’s URL and display all metrics necessary to make a decision: user device or browser, country, the ID of every ad creative you run, and many more.

Among the most crucial yet critical tokens are ##SUB_ID_SHORT(action)## and ##PLACEMENT_ID##. As you might have guessed, the latter one will pass the identifiers of traffic sources. You will be informed how every ad placement performs and then exclude it from a campaign or add it to a list of best-performers.

If you’re not using any trackers, you will be able to check all the IDs on your Adsterra Statistics page.

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2. Run a test campaign

After you create a new marketing campaign and set up placement tracking, you will need some time to test the traffic. That’s a must-have period that allows you to check how correct your bidding strategy is, how effective your creatives are, and how much traffic and conversions you can obtain this way.

To turn off or cherry-pick specific ad placements, you will need more than a couple of days for tests. Basically, a complete picture will appear after a couple of weeks.

3. Add a blacklist or whitelist

Now that you know which traffic sources are leaders and which are laggards, you can remove the latter from the campaign or add the first ones to a whitelist. Two ways are possible here:

Add manually

Open a campaign you want to edit (hit Campaigns > My campaigns), scroll down till the Advanced Settings section, and hit the CREATE button. You can now manually enter or paste the IDs to a blacklist or whitelist. Ensure you separate the IDs with commas. The clue on the right will remind you can use either a white- or blacklist per campaign at the same time, not both of them.


Blacklisting using CPA Goal

CPA Goal is a smart tool that optimizes your CPM/CPC traffic by conversions based on the critical parameters advertisers set. As a media buyer or affiliate marketer, you determine the following criteria:

  • The critical amount of spending
  • The number of conversions or the average cost per conversion you expect to come with this spending.

CPA Goal will adjust traffic to match these criteria. If a traffic source fails to meet your critical KPIs, the placement will be unlinked. All unlinked placements are displayed in a table you can use to form a blacklist.

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4. Monitor blacklisting and whitelisting efficiency

Whether you’re using allowlists and blocklists or not, you should keep ad campaigns under control. That’s why you use tracking tools and Adsterra stats dashboard. It happens quite often when you need to remove some placements from an exclusion list to start getting more traffic or refresh a whitelist when some placements stop sending enough conversions.

Whitelisting and blacklisting mistakes

Blacklisting or whitelisting marketing may be tricky. Excluding too many traffic sources, you risk over-optimizing a campaign and stopping getting ad views. And if you limit your campaign to only several placements you consider perfectly matching, you may end up with the same low traffic volumes.

When to keep traffic sources blacklisted or whitelisted is an advanced knowledge, and we won’t break it down in detail right now. Our expert has previously shared a valuable guide to blacklisting mistakes – save it just in case! Today, we’ll limit ourselves to listing the main don’ts:

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1. Starting out with a blacklist or whitelist without tests

If you try out a new ad platform or start a new ad campaign, your first job is to test the traffic. Finding the best traffic slices and the most profitable ad placements can take up to a couple of weeks. Excluding or limiting ad placements without tests will deprive you of a great deal of cost-effective traffic.

2. Adding one blacklist to all your campaigns at once

Every ad campaign is unique by its targeting, creatives, and landings. You won’t get relevant results if you apply the same exclusions for placements to all campaigns. A black- or white list is a tailored set of IDs that can be added to this specific campaign.

3. Copying whitelists or blacklists from your past campaigns

Even if you’ve got a bingo list of placements that used to work well, you need to refresh them regularly. Traffic is unstable, and many factors like seasonality and the competition’s current activity play the role.

4. Using the same black/white lists for a group of geos

same ad placements may perform differently, for example, when you expose ads to US audiences and the audience from France. We at Adsterra recommend setting one campaign per one geo, and the same rule can be applied to whitelisting and blacklisting.

Whitelist vs blacklist FAQs:

1. How do blacklists in affiliate marketing differ from email blacklisting?

A blacklisted source is a declined source. So, both affiliate marketing and email platforms use this method to exclude unwanted senders. However, there is one critical difference: removed email addresses are considered to be spam, while excluded ad placements can be of a high quality but not suitable for your current marketing goals.

2. How to create blacklists automatically?

Adsterra’s CPA Goal tool is a way to automate the search of low-performing traffic sources. It’s used to automate CPM or CPC traffic acquisition. CPA Goal will unlink ad placements that spend too much and don’t deliver you the required number of conversions or eCPA.

3. Can I use a whitelist and a blacklist simultaneously?

As an Adsterra advertiser, you can’t add a whitelist and blacklist at the same time. It’s because they differ by design. Whitelisting limits the campaign’s traffic to a selected number of ad placements. Blacklisting is excluding specific ad placements from your campaigns, allowing all the rest.

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To wrap up

Blacklisting and whitelisting are helpful if used wisely. One of the primary marketing goals you may have is to optimize your current ad spend. By selecting a list of the best ad placements (a whitelist), you squeeze maximum conversions from them without spending on anything else.

Removing traffic sources from a campaign reduces spending on potentially low-performing traffic. These tools are essential when you have enough knowledge about traffic performance. If you’re not sure, you can always request your manager’s recommendation. We at Adsterra believe that live communication is as important as AI-powered tools and high tech.

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