What Are Ads.txt Files and Why You May Need Them?

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The transparency bandwagon for programmatic advertising is filling up. Agencies, brands, publishers, vendors, and media buyers are all advocating for a clean-up of the supply chain. So, the awkwardly named “ads.txt” initiative has ad tech die-hards buzzing.

This is due to the fact that a more open affiliate ecosystem makes it more difficult for deceptive leads to sell fraud traffic and perform other sorts of scams. This, in turn, has a favorable impact on all other areas of the affiliate industry, resulting in long-term growth.

With all of this in mind, finding a standard that most publishers and other stakeholders are prepared to follow is incredibly difficult. The creation and execution of ads.txt files are proving to be excellent alternatives that can assist publishers in gaining control of their inventory.

As always, Scaleo’s team stays current on the newest developments and changes affecting the affiliate marketing environment. This article will define ads.txt files, explain how they function and show you how to build them for your website.

What is Ads.txt?

While there is more than enough information about ads.txt on Google and Wikipedia, I still wanted to briefly sketch the topic.

Before we go into the details of ads.txt files, let’s define them and explain what they are. The ads.txt movement is an initiative led by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) that aims to promote openness in programmatic advertising interactions.

Most people think that “ads” stands for “advertisement”, but it doesn’t. 

Ads.txt has the initials A-D-S, which stands for “approved digital seller,” and this type of file is simple to add to your publishing platforms. When you use ads.txt files, you basically indicate who is allowed to redistribute your inventory so that unscrupulous distributors don’t sell fake traffic claiming to be from you.

Adoption of ads.txt files is one of the most difficult challenges. However, assuming that the majority of publishers and distributors agree to make this easy modification, the end result would be an ecosystem in which all brands and other buyers have complete confidence in the quality of the traffic they purchase.

What Are Ads.txt Files and How Do They Work?

In the context of affiliate marketing, ads.txt creates a public record that advertisers and other media buyers may use to determine who is actually distributing a certain publisher’s traffic.

Ads.txt files, as the name extension implies, are text files, making them simple to create, upload, and administer once they are in your root domain. You can add them to the domain by the webmaster, making them an excellent tool to validate the information from publishers and distributors.

Uploading and finding a previously uploaded text file is simple using the OpenRTB protocol because the platform already includes all of the fields for entering the necessary data for an ads.txt file. Potential buyers can verify which sellers are authorized to distribute your traffic after it is integrated into your site, allowing them to avoid fraudulent transactions.

How Do Buyers Make Use of Ads.txt Files?

Buyers will be able to inspect each provider’s tags and ensure that they match in order to verify their legitimacy if ads.txt is adopted by both the publisher and the ad network with which this individual is working. 

In other words, the tags on both the publisher and the seller match, the traffic being purchased are genuine.

Furthermore, if buyers are acquiring traffic from a variety of sources, the IAB Tech Lab created a dedicated crawler that can pull ads.txt files from multiple websites at the same time. As a result, buyers will be able to verify their traffic without performing the process manually.

Ads.txt’s Impact on the Current Affiliate Landscape

Unauthorized distribution and fake digital inventory sales are two of the most serious challenges in the affiliate marketing industry. Prior to the creation of ads.txt, the only way for buyers to verify whether a network was allowed to sell traffic was to contact the publisher directly. Needless to say, this took a long time and didn’t deliver results consistently.

The IAB is providing buyers with the capacity to verify this information in a matter of seconds by building a database that contains information about which vendors are allowed to distribute what traffic.

Ads.txt is not appealing to SSPs and other distributors who earn from black hat marketing tactics.

Are There Any Disadvantages to Ads.txt?

A small number of credible publishers are opposing this since it requires them to invest additional resources in uploading a text file and maintaining it up to date across all of their websites. Nonetheless, most people feel that adding ads.txt files is a small price to pay to keep false traffic sales to a minimum.

Counterfeit inventory drives Ads.txt Adoption.

While ads.txt files may not totally eliminate counterfeit inventory, their use deals a significant blow to illegal parties who use domain spoofing to distribute fake traffic.

Domain spoofing is the practice of making an ad request appear to come from one website when, in fact, it is coming from a completely different platform.

As you might expect, domain spoofing is the most common strategy used to sell counterfeit inventory since it allows fraudsters to disguise low-quality traffic as coming from a wonderful, high quality, and high-priced website. The customer pays top cash for the impression, whereas the fraudster sells a low-cost interaction at the maximum market value imaginable.

Ads.txt files, if used by all or the vast majority of publishers and distributors, have the potential to completely eradicate the domain spoofing problem. 

Again, this would not eradicate fake traffic, but it would help reduce it overall.

How to Make a Text File Called Ads.txt

At the time of writing, it was projected that more than 40% of the top 1000 Alexa sites had already adopted ads.txt files.

An ads.txt file, like any other text document, is relatively simple to create and edit. You can create the first file in NotePad or any other standard text editor and then edit it. Remember, the ads.txt file may need to be formatted differently depending on the network or networks with whom you’re collaborating. 

Having said that, most ads.txt files will contain at least four lines of data: the domain name, publisher identity, account type, and network tag ID, if available.

Set up an app-ads.txt file for your app - Google AdMob Help
Image source: Google

The Domain Name

The domain name relates to the URL of the distributor’s website. If the SSP is distributing traffic from multiple domains, you must select a canonical name that encompasses the complete advertising system or platform. For example, if you’re writing an ads.txt file and utilizing Google AdSense, the domain’s canonical name will be www.google.com.

Account Number of the Publisher

When a request is generated, trade platforms and exchanges frequently place the publisher ID information. It should be noted that this might be an alphanumeric code with a ton of characters. However, there is no reason why it should be handled manually.

Account Types

The account type basically tells buyers whether they are interacting with the publisher directly or with a reseller via the network. When a publisher’s traffic is designated as “DIRECT,” it means that the publisher is selling it directly to the network, which buyers prefer. When it is designated “RESELLER,” the traffic is sold to the network by an intermediary, so buyers do not have the opportunity to connect with the actual publishers.

Optional – TAG-issued identifier (also known as TAG ID)

Finally, some ads.txt files include the TAG ID (TAGID), which is an identifier given by the Trustworthy Accountability Group, a verified entity. The general rule should be that if the publisher has a TAG identifier, it should be included in the ads.txt file since it gives another layer of legitimacy.

Implementation of Ads.txt Files

Just follow the same steps as you would change the root of your website to upload your ads.txt file. To place the file in the root of your domain, you can use FTP or a file manager that allows you to access the root of your domain. If you pay for premium hosting, this service is almost certainly included as part of your service package.

Remember that ads.txt only works if the files are correctly uploaded. When you’re writing your ads.txt, make sure it’s free of errors and mistakes. You can look for ads.txt validators online to verify this, but you’ll need to choose a trustworthy source.

Google AdSense and Ads.txt

Despite the fact that the majority of media buying platforms do not need the use of ads.txt, it has become common practice over the years. It requires no work for a publisher to implement it on their website and instantly confirm the quality of the inventory to potential buyers.

Google AdSense does not require but rather “encourages” its publishers to use ads.txt. The ads.txt file, according to AdSense, is crucial for identifying fraudulent inventory. 

Despite the lack of an official requirement, publishers that do not have an ads.txt file frequently experience slowness and error messages while using AdSense. Publishers who uploaded ads.txt with an error or discrepancy will also have an error message appear.

Conclusion

As an advertiser or media buyer, you can use an ads.txt file to verify whether the SSP is permitted to sell the ad space at the specific web location. This eliminates any concerns associated with dealing with an unlicensed representative.

Using an ads.txt file isn’t required, but it might assist in protecting your brand against spoofing and fraudulent inventory consumption.

Advertisers are increasingly considering this as a means of determining the dependability of the publisher. More and more people are rejecting to do business with people who are a mismatch by this measure.

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Elizabeth Sramek
Elizabeth is a Senior Content Manager at Scaleo. Currently enjoying the life in Prague and sharing professional affiliate marketing tips. She's been in the online marketing business since 2006 and gladly shares all her insights and ideas on this blog.
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