KPEX CEO’s Five Most Important Considerations When Whitelisting Sites

Posted 1 July 2019.

The Five Most Important Considerations When Whitelisting Sites
By Simon Birkenhead, CEO, KPEX

June 2019

Programmatic media buying is frequently positioned as a way to reach your target audience in real-time on whatever site they browse online. However, the selection of which publishers to allow your ads to show on is one of the most important decisions to make and is frequently overlooked or under-appreciated by programmatic buyers. Brands that don’t make a conscious decision on this run huge risks around brand safety, ad performance and ad fraud.

Here’s why.

There are five questions to consider when deciding what sites to include in your media plan:

1. Site quality

Is the site a reputable and impactful place for your brand to be seen? Many sites that offer programmatic inventory present reputational risks to your brand, and different types of sites deliver very different levels of ad impact.

For example, editorial-style sites have been shown to deliver significantly higher ad impact than social sites. Joint research by WARC, the Association for Online Publishers and comScore reveals that the percentage of consumers who trust ads run on editorial sites is nearly double that for social sites (45% vs. 23%), and the heightened memory encoding from ads on editorial sites was 42% vs. 21% on social sites.

2. Content quality

What is the risk of your ad showing alongside objectionable content, including fake news?

Clearly, sites have varying levels of consumer trust in their content. Advertisers would be wise to form a view on whether each site’s content aligns with their brand values and whether consumers trust the content, for research shows that if consumers don’t trust the content on a site then they are also less likely to trust the brands that advertise on that site.

3. Placement context

How many other ads are competing for attention on the page? Respectable sites that place a high value on the user experience will limit the number of ads on a page, allowing each ad to stand out. Disreputable publishers will crowd each page with a high density of ads. While each may have high viewability, their share of user attention will be low and there effectiveness will be poor.

4. Quality of traffic

Buyers should understand the source of traffic to a site before deciding to run ads on it. Are users visiting the site because they are genuinely interested in its content, or have they arrived due to clickbait promotions and will leave it as quickly as possible? With the latter, brands will pay for their ads to be shown to completely disinterested users with a very short dwell time. In addition, be suspicious if a site’s traffic and page views seem unusually high: the greatest source of ad fraud is fake users, where a publisher uses bots to create inflated page refreshes in order to steal ad spend from unsuspecting advertisers.

5. In-view time

Programmatic buyers will be familiar with viewability metrics: the likelihood that an ad will actually be seen by a real person. Clearly, high viewability is preferable, but low viewability placements are often cheaper and may present a better cost per view. A more important driver of ad effectiveness is actual time in-view since this determines how long an ad is exposed to a user. Clearly an ad that’s in-view for more than a few seconds will have a better chance of delivering an impact than one that’s only seen for a second or less. Research by Kargo and Nielsen reveals that 82% of ads on editorial sites are in-view for more than 2 seconds, while the high scroll speed on social media sites means just 32% of ads in these feeds are in-view for more than 2 seconds.


While agencies make use of sophisticated (and expensive) technology to scan pages to ensure they don’t contain inappropriate content, the simple choice of which publishers to include in your whitelist is a free and easy way to avoid the biggest pitfalls in programmatic media buying.

Simon Birkenhead is the CEO of KPEX, New Zealand’s consortium of premium online publishers.