The ads.txt project was created by Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Tech Lab to
help ad buyers avoid illegitimate sellers who arbitrage inventory and spoof domains. IAB says they’re trying to
prevent various types of counterfeit inventory across the ecosystem by improving transparency in the digital programmatic supply chain.
Greg Finn, Partner at the New York based digital marketing agency Cypress North, told Coywolf that “along with the recent rise in programmatic spends, [they’ve] seen an upswing in illegitimate inventory, upsellers, and downright deceit.”
One of the biggest problems that advertisers have faced with Demand-Side Platforms (DSPs) is having confidence in the unknown. Not knowing what sites your ad buy will reside on. Not knowing who actually sold you the space. Not being able to confirm if your ad even appeared on a legit domain. That’s a lot to ask in a world fraught with fraud.
To help prevent unauthorized inventory sales, publishers are being asked to create a plain text file named
ads.txt that is added to the root of their site (similar to robots.txt).
The inclusion of the word ads in the file name is a double entendre. While it’s related to its expanded meaning, advertising, it’s also meant to represent Authorized Digital Sellers (ADS).
Publishers are supposed to list every ADS in their
ads.txt file that are approved to sell ad inventory on their site. Additionally, programmatic ad serving platforms use the
ads.txt files to confirm which sites they’re authored to sell on. Finn said, “this gives confidence that the buy was from an authorized source instead of an ad arbitrager.”
Does ads.txt work?
Pixelate, a company that specializes in fraud prevention for digital advertisers, publishes a quarterly Trends Report on the adoption and efficacy of the ads.txt project. In their most recent ads.txt report, they found that the adoption rate of ads.txt has doubled YOY and is now used by over 1 million sites.
The report discovered that even though more sites are adopting ads.txt, the largest publishers are starting to use it less. They found that 75% of the top 1k sites use ads.txt, but usage has been trending downwards for the past six months.
Perhaps the most concerning finding is that ads.txt may not be effective at preventing invalid traffic. Pixelate found that in Q3 of 2019 that not using ads.txt correlated with lower rates of invalid traffic than it did for sites that used ads.txt.
Ads.txt is still a relatively new initiative by the IAB Tech Lab. It’s been encouraging to see publishers and DSPs adopt the project to try and fight fraud. However, if the data continues to show that its usage is minimal or ineffective, it will likely be abandoned by the industry.