By 2022 experts expect revenue loss to ad fraud to hit a whopping 44 billion dollars. This money isn’t just taken out of the hands of advertisers but from publishers’ pockets as well. One solution to better protect yourself is the addition of Ads.Txt files. Although their use is rising in popularity, the lack of maintenance makes their usefulness null and void. So consider them an essential solution to have, and their maintenance top priority.
What is Ads.Txt
Before jumping into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of keeping ads.txt files up-to-date, let’s explore what an ads.txt is for those new to the concept. Ads.txt is the IAB Technology Lab (IAB) initiative to increase transparency in the programmatic world. It’s short for “Authorized Digital Sellers” and allows you to publicly declare the ad partners that can sell your inventory. As a result, scammers will have a more difficult time selling publisher inventory that doesn’t belong to them. It’s better protection for your ads and a solid effort to keep your money in your digital pocket.
Starting is as easy as creating a text file, naming it ads.txt, and uploading it to the root directory of your domain. The file should have one line for every seller you wish to authorize in the domain in the following format:
<Field #1>, <Field #2>, <Field #3>, <Field #4 – Optional >
Then, fill in each field according to this handy IAB table:
When the time comes, an advertiser who wants to bid on your units can refer to your domain.
The Benefits of Ads.Txt
Publishers using ads.txt files benefit from protection against certain types of ad fraud and shady practices, and of course–advertiser confidence in buying your units. Let’s dive into these benefits a little more.
Firstly, it’s important to note it’s not a solve-all solution in the fight against ad fraud. In fact, the IAB has published an article on the use and purpose of Ad.Txt files. The article clearly states, “Ad fraud comes in a variety of forms, and ads.txt is not intended to solve for all forms.” But what you can expect is a solution to domain spoofing. In domain spoofing, a fraudster will mimic the URLs of real websites (could be yours!) and attempt to mislead advertisers into purchasing ad space on a masked site. When advertisers buy these units rather than legitimate inventory, you lose out on revenue. In extreme cases, your website could lose credibility and deter networks from working with you.
Now, for a rather shady practice that ads.txt files help resolve: inventory arbitrage. It’s the practice of a middleman (agency, partner, etc.) buying inventory, then repackaging and selling it at a profit. These middlemen are essentially putting more money into their pockets instead of yours! As disheartening (and dare we say obnoxious) as this practice is, it’s not illegal. But since it hurts both advertisers and publishers alike, it’s important to prevent this from happening. Otherwise, your reputation could be hurt by misrepresentation in the open market.
Some networks or ad managers already require publishers to use them. However, if they don’t, it’s certainly an ad bandwagon we recommend you jump on! It’s an easy way to protect your inventory and signal advertisers that you work with premium partners.
Maintance Really Matters
So, you’ve implemented ads.txt, great! But the work doesn’t stop there. Like any determined fraudster, those set on scamming the programmatic world have found a way in. Its name: the 404bot. Its purpose: to capitalize on unaudited Ads.txt files.
The IAB has gone to great lengths to expose the 404bot scheme. In addition to recognizing its fingerprint, the IAB has determined its link to large Ads.Txt files. Luckily for you, keeping a clean and tight ads.txt file can prevent you from incurring revenue loss due to fraud.
Keeping with Best Practices
From implementation to management, here are some of the best practices to maximize effectiveness:
Configure wisely: Sticking to the IAB format is the best way to ensure everything is working as it should. Accomplish this by using the format above, and using the precise number of spaces and commas.
Keep it short: Presentation-wise, your Ads.Txt file should be readable and easy to understand. Publishers keeping giant files run the risks of files not being fully scanned by DSPs or the DSP ignoring the file entirely and disallowing programmatic channels for that domain.
Additionally, short files will better help with fraud prevention as the 404bot is strongly correlated to how large ads.txt files are.
Regularly audit: Be sure to assess your Ads.Txt file regularly. You’ll want to make sure partners are up-to-date and any inactive ones are removed. Similarly, you should check your formatting and be sure your file is readable. Again, by validating your Ads.Txt file DSPs will be capable of scanning, and you’ll incur no revenue loss.
Give some attention to direct deals: We mentioned keeping your file short and tight, and direct deals are a great way to do this. Consider offering contact information for direct deals to avoid having a host of resellers on file.
Consider its complement: Ads.Txt files are great, even more so when publishers pair them with Sellers.json. The IAB recommends using Sellers.json as an extra layer of protection, so buyers can cross-reference a publisher’s relationship with their ad exchange or SSP. It works by having ad exchanges and SSPs list the publishers that work with them, their information (name, domain), and whether the relationship is direct or indirect.
We understand the importance of Ads.Txt files and require any publisher we work with to implement one. However, we won’t just leave you stranded to figure it out. In addition to helping with configuration, account reps will assist in keeping it up-to-date and readable. So, you can expect us to help bring in new demand (new lines and sources) and help to remove old partners that are no longer bidding.
Aside from the protection that comes with Ads.Txt files, publishers who work with us benefit from our extra efforts to prevent fraud. For example, we layer in premium partners and fraud-prevention companies to keep the scammers from chipping away at your revenue.