Ad industry is losing as much as $6 billion to ad fraud every year and the numbers are rising as you are reading this.
The complex demand and supply chain surely increase the profits, however, it (for most parts) fails to eliminate sharp practice in adtech. These sharp practices include but are not limited to:
- Impersonating established sites and fabricating inventory
- Faking mouse movements and social network logins
- Showing fake heat map of visitors on a webpage
Domain Spoofing and appearing as a human has caused much harm to the businesses involved in advertising spectrum. This is when IAB Tech Lab took an initiative of introducing ads.txt. It is a text file allowing publishers to host on their web server and declare authorized sellers of their digital ads space.
What is Ads.txt
Authorized Digital Seller (abbreviated as Ads.txt) is a list of all partners (including publishers) authorized to sell digital inventory. This list is saved as a text file and uploaded to the root code of site for demand partners to see all the authorized sellers.
IAB aspire to improve digital advertising standards by creating a more transparent ecosystem. Thus in May 2017, IAB released this feature to sort out the supply chain and make it harder for fraudsters to claim inventory that doesn’t belong to them.
With the help of Ads.txt, buyers can verify the seller(s) assigned to trade inventory. Ads.txt file goes directly into the root code of the website. And without proper access, nobody can alter the root code of a website.
Also, it doesn’t require any specific technical skills to create and implement ads.txt on HTML root code. And if you use WordPress, then the process is as easy as installing a plugin.
How to Create and Upload Ads.txt
As discussed, ads.txt is a simple text file that can be created using a text editor. Enter the details of sellers and save it. Here are the required details:
- Domain Name (required): Name or domain of the seller/reseller authorized to of the publisher’s website (domain) to establish the ownership of the domain for the advertiser’s knowledge.
- Publisher ID/Seller ID (required): A unique identification number of the seller or the reseller. You can ask for seller ID from your respective sellers and ad networks. Also, Google Adsense can help you get your publisher ID.
- Type of Relationship (required): Direct seller communicates directly with the publishers to sell a part of inventory such as AdSense. Reseller, vendors authorized by another company (like ad exchange or SSP) to sell space on the domain; for example AppNexus.
- Certification Authority ID (optional): A unique identification code of the advertising system which is certified by TAG (Trustworthy Accountability Group). Also known as TAG ID.
Once you have these details in place, simply put them one after another in a text file, separated by a comma (,) <Field #1>, <Field #2>, <Field #3>, <Field #4>. Save the file with ‘txt’ file extension. Lastly, place this file inside the HTML root code of your website.
Here’s an example of ads.txt:
Make Ads.txt Work in WordPress
Things get easier when using WordPress. Right? Every customization in WordPress starts with the installation of a plugin. There are various free plugins available offering Ads.txt Manager.
Here’s how ads.txt works for WordPress users:
- Install Ads.txt plugin on your WordPress managed website.
- On the left panel, click on Settings > Ads.txt to customize the settings.
- Place your Ads.txt details and Save the settings.
As most publishers are using WordPress to manage their websites, you will find a number of plugins to create and implement Ads.txt. Choose the one that you find easy to use and reliable for you.
If you don’t want to use a plugin:
- From the left navigation panel of WordPress Dashboard, click Media.
- Click on the Add New button.
- Upload the ads.txt file. Make sure you name it ‘ads.txt’.
- Wait for search engine bots to crawl it.
Note: Avoid uploading more than one ads.txt file. In case, you wish to update, create a new file, delete the old one from the database and upload the new one.
Dealing With Ads.txt Issue In AdSense
If your website doesn’t include an ads.txt file with AdSense as a seller, you will get an alert from Google. Until the error is fixed, no ads will display on your site via AdSense.
If this is the case with you, then create or edit the ads.txt file by adding AdSense as an authorized seller of your inventory. After you upload a text file, it would take approximately 24-hour for it to get crawled by Google bot and resolve the issue.
Avoid the Crawling Issues with Ads.txt
Ads.txt file is placed in the root domain of the website to ensure it is easily crawled by Google. Avoid these issues with your ads.txt file to overcome crawling errors:
- Make sure ads.txt file is always available, even at the time of re-crawling.
- Place it in the root domain for bots to read it quickly; example: www.domain.com/ads.txt.
- Your server / CDN should never return an invalid response to Google Crawler.
- Ads.txt file should be accessible by both HTTP and HTTPS.
- Robot.txt of the website should allow crawling your website.
Use the services of Google Webmaster to check your ads.txt file is properly crawled. Robot.txt file has details of files and pages available to be crawled by Google and Bing bots.
Benefits of Ads.txt
When the ad industry was losing billions due to the ad frauds, ads.txt by IAB provided the most required safety. The reports suggest it can also help track the flow of money in the supply chain. Here are the benefits of using ads.txt:
Easy to Create: As presented above, it’s quite easy to create an Ads.txt file. Furthermore, it takes only a few minutes to upload the file to your website. Simply place the file in your HTML root code and you have secured your ad inventory.
Easy to Update:Ads.txt file can easily be edited and updated with proper access to root code. For that, create a new .txt extension file with updated details. Remove the old .txt file and upload the new one in the place of that. Make sure the files are quickly crawled by the bots.
Private and Secure: Only the owner of the website can upload the ads.txt file on the website which makes it secure from external corruption. There’s no way a fraudster can edit the file unless having the correct credentials to access website.
Why Publishers Are Not Opting For Ads.txt
The idea of creating a more transparent exchange environment in adtech is still a dream. Ads.txt helps by openly declaring the seller, but it is not without drawbacks.
Problems with ads.txt
- Manual insertion of data: To create, update, and implement an ads.txt file, publisher needs to make a manual effort. This takes time and increases the chances of human error.
- Dealing with multiple demand partners: Most mid to premium publishers have multiple demand partners (including sellers and resellers). Publishers need to periodically make changes (add and remove) sellers from the list which can be tiresome.
- No way to report invalid use: Sometimes, details added to the file can be entered wrong. In such a case, there is no way a demand partner can report this error to the publisher. Neither there is an automated process to check whether the entered details are correct.
According to a recent report, Ad fraud continued to grow and 2019 is going to be no different. If fraudulent activities are rising and ads.txt can help combat it, then why publishers are not opting for it.
Well, the answer can sound a bit strange but vendors are not comfortable with being ‘resellers’ of the inventory. Most of the time, publishers do not sell inventory directly. This is when vendors come into the picture. From a buyer’s point of view, a reseller doesn’t have complete control of inventory with fewer ad types to offer. Next, ads.txt doesn’t eliminate all ad fraud, just domain spoofing up to a certain extent.
But things are changing now, advertisers seek for inventories that support ads.txt. Even the demand-side has started updating the technology to look for only ads.txt inventory. Similarly, AdSense—claiming most of the digital publishers—asks publishers to upload ads.txt file.
The Bottom line
Only the use of Ads.txt is not going to resolve all the issues faced by ad industry. The entire advertising ecosystem needs to fight against the common enemy, i.e. ad fraud. More than that, there is a great requirement of transparency in the ad industry to eliminate all the questionable activities.
IAB constantly working to update ads.txt and bring similar tech to curb fraud. We now have:
- Ads.cert: A side-kick to ads.txt, it validates the inventory by using cryptographically signed bid requests.
- App-ads.txt: An app version to counterfeit the app fraud similar to what ads.txt does for websites running ads.
- OpenRTB 3.0: A new framework by IAB designed to bring security and transparency that supports the implementation of ads.txt and ads.cert.
Ads.txt is a simple and effective way to bring transparency however, it is not perfect just like any other technology. Hence, we see a slow adoption rate.
Ultimately, it becomes the responsibility of both sell- and buy-side to make most of these security features to bring back the true meaning to their business.