A Well Organized Passback Strategy = Better Night of Sleep


English: A frozen waterfall on the Wappinger Creek, Dutchess County, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you run multiple ad networks, passbacks can be an absolute nightmare. You can make it easy on yourself and point all your passbacks to the same ad network and the same ad tag. This is the simplest strategy, however, it isn’t the most optimal strategy. Having such a strategy does not maximize your CPM.

Your passback strategy has a huge impact on your overall average CPM. Therefore, getting lazy on your passback strategy is a huge missed opportunity. Plus, you won’t be able to track each ad network’s passbacks to make sure every ad impression is properly passing back.

Redirect passbacks to DFP: Premium Account only

You could try re-directing your passbacks to DFP and having DFP intelligently re-distribute the traffic. This would be the best strategy, however, it doesn’t work for DFP Small Business. If you have DFP Premium, more power to ya! If you try this strategy, you will face a huge impression discrepancies and will have to avoid infinite looping.

For example, if your Advertising.com ad tags sent passbacks to DFP and you have the same tags setup at the top of your passback hierarchy within DFP with an open frequency cap, you’ll be stuck with an infinite loop of Advertising.com passing back to itself infinitely. Third-party ad networks passing back to DFP is not a properly working feature for DFP Small Business. Perhaps, this is an upsell strategy for Google.

Create a Waterfall Chain Strategy

For the majority of publishers, you’ll have to be more crafty. The next best strategy is to create short string waterfall chains. Below is an example of a waterfall chain strategy:

Eg. Casale Media -> ContextWeb -> Google Ad Exchange -> ValueClick

You don’t want to make your waterfall chain too big because your site latency will suffer and some ads might time out. You don’t want a waterfall chain bigger than the above example. The beginning of your chain should start with a high CPM ad network with a low fill rate. As you get further through the chain, the CPM should get lower and the fill rate should get higher. By the time you get to the end of the chain, there should only be a trickle of traffic.

The last ad setup should guarantee a 100% fill. If you are eligible and using Google Ad Exchange, use a third party ad network. If you’re not using Ad Exchange, use Google AdSense as the last ad network in the chain. It is also good to segment your waterfall chains by the country that you’re serving the ads too. For example, Casale Media should have a passback for Canadian traffic and another for US traffic.

You should choose ad networks that have the ability to set up CPM minimums to put in your passback strategy. If the ad network doesn’t have this ability, don’t include it in your passback strategy. It is also important to individually set up and tag passbacks of each ad network. For example, Chitika should not have the same initial passbacks as Criteo.

If you set this up properly, then you’ll be able to track exactly how many passbacks make it through from each ad network. Then you can measure the ad impression discrepancy that the ad networks report that they passback. This is very important! Ad networks improperly setup passbacks all the time or the reporting has faults. It is crucial that you measure this regularly. Otherwise, you might be missing on a massive percentage of your ad impressions.

Overall, if you’re not using a premium ad network that doesn’t support third-party passbacks, utilize a short string waterfall chain strategy. Within this chain, it is crucial that you measure the passbacks that come out of each ad network. Once you have set this strategy up, you will no longer have nightmares about lost passbacks and ad networks fleecing you for $0 CPMs because you didn’t set a CPM minimum. You truly deserve a good night’s sleep.

MonetizeMore is an industry leader in ad monetization. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your needs.

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Kean Graham

CEO and Founder at MonetizeMore

Kean has been a pioneer in the AdTech world since 2010 who believes in the supremacy of direct publisher deals, programmatic advertising, and building ad technology as keys to scaling ad revenue. Here, he provides publisher resources and guides covering areas like website monetization, AdSense optimization, Google Ad Manager, Ad Exchanges, and much more.

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  1. Sheh


    Nice Article, Can you answer my question ?

    Can we loop in adnetworks like

    Eg. Casale Media -> ContextWeb -> ValueClick -> casale media

    Notice after value click if certain cpm does not come inventory is passed again to casale media. Is it legal. Please reply to my email. Thanks

    • Kean

      Hi Sheh,

      This is in fact legal and is an ad optimization technique that works sometimes with the right circumstances. It is called a looped passback strategy. You have to be careful about not making too many loops and having your waterfall chain too long otherwise your latency will suffer. I wouldn’t recommend putting Casale Media at the end of the chain because they only do well at the top of the chain and don’t do much at the bottom. I would recommend looping ContextWeb or Valueclick with the examples you gave. The best ad network to do looped passbacks is Google Ad Exchange. Their CPC bids are so stratified that it works like a charm. Shoot me a message if you’d like access to Google Ad Exchange.

  2. Andy

    Can you tell me how I sign up for Google Ad Exchange? I have DFP, Adsense, and ContextWeb but would like another layer to catch some $0 CPM Impressions. Thanks for a great article.

    • Kean

      Hi Andy,

      You can sign up to Google Ad Exchange through us. We will implement it in the most optimal fashion possible and will optimize your ad tags on our back-end on a 24/7 basis. I have sent you an email.


  3. Mike Evans


    I have moved from open x to dfp small business. I am noticing huge variances between all adservers that I have and the DFP Small Business – sometime losing 65-75% of my impressions in the DFP reporting. Do you know if this is a caching issue, or what the issue is?

    • Kean

      Hi Mike,

      Are you using asynchronous DFP tags? If so, that is probably the source of the problem. We highly recommend using synchronous DFP tags. Also, disable single request. It tends to skew your reporting.


  4. Nick

    so do you suggest setting up line items in DFP for every passback (then placing the passback tag there) thus being able to report on impressions for each? So in the example above there would be a line item for passback – context web, passback – ADX, and passback – valuclick?

    • Kean Graham

      Hi Nick,

      We do recommend to segment your passback ad tags so that they are unique to any ad network passing back and you will be able to easily audit any passback ad impression discrepancies. If you are able to avoid passback ad impression discrepancies by passing back to DFP, then do this via DFP but have unique passback ad tags for each ad network and ad size so you can isolate any passback ad impression discrepancy issues.

  5. Nico

    I’ll just finished my setup. Before i had 2 networks now i have 3.
    1st the biggest cpm with lowest fill rate floor at 0,20 cents, next bigger fill rate at 0,10 floor, and finally 100% fill rate network for when the other 2 don’t have any better ad. I hope i earn more this way 🙂 Now i need a shitload of traffic to back it up.

  6. Mahendra

    Dear Kean,

    I use DFP SB, within which I have set up a demand partner. Now on daily basis I see that around 30K impressions are not used by the demand and those 30K impressions are getting waste, Hence, I created 3 new ad units and generated passback tags and sent it to the demand to implement them at their end. Now the question is I have not assigned the 3 new ad units for which I generated the passback tags to AdSense or AdX lines. Hence, I want to know how can i save those 30K impressions and how do I know if the passback tags I sent are working fine.




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