What Are ‘Whitelists’ And ‘Blacklists’ In Digital Marketing?

Whitelist and blacklist settings in Voluum DSP.
Courtesy of Voluum.com.


What Are Whitelists And Blacklists?

In the context of digital marketing, a whitelist is a list of websites that an advertiser allows their ads to be displayed on. User acquisition agency AdxMaster defines whitelists as follows:

With a whitelist, advertisers can specify which sites and what ad placements they want their advertisements to run on.

If a whitelist is specified, advertisements are only displayed on whitelisted websites and nowhere else.

AdxMaster defines blacklists as follows:

In contrast, blacklists work in the reverse. Instead of specifying where ads should go, blacklists work to explain where they shouldn’t go and brands can ensure that ads run anywhere but where the list has indicated.

The definitions above apply to advertisers. Publishers – on whose resources advertisement ultimately appears – may also choose which advertisers to accept on their websites and which to block.

Whitelists and blacklists in one form or another are supported by most advertising networks, including examples such as Google Ads (via the placement targeting” feature), Revcontent, Outbrain, and Voluum DSP(via placement lists).


Whitelists And Blacklists On Clickbank And In Affiliate Marketing

The concept of “whitelists” and “blacklists” exists on ClickBank as well. There, sellers may choose which ClickBank affiliates are allowed to run their offers, “blacklisting” ones who violate their stated policies, and “whitelisting” others for higher than normal commissions.

Some other affiliate marketing networks have similar whitelist/blacklist capabilities.


Whitelists And Blacklists And Politics

The ability for advertisers to “blacklist” certain publishers has increasingly been used within the realm of political activism.

In November 2016, The Guardian reported that food manufacturing company Kellogg’s blacklisted the news website Breitbart to prevent its ads from being displayed there, after left-wing activists labelled Breitbart “alt-right”.  The Guardian accused Breitbart of promoting racist, sexist, and antisemitic content and encouraged advertisers to “blacklist” it in this manner.

Kellogg’s decision triggered online debate, and Breitbart urged its readers to boycott Kellogg in return.

The time since has seen many similar instances, in what free-speech advocates have described as a form of media-driven censorship and “cancel culture”.



The terms “whitelist” and “blacklist” have several uses within the realm of digital marketing, but are primarily used to describe means by which advertisers can better decide which websites to allow their ads to show on when using third party ad networks.





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