Ads.txt – the whats, whys and hows of the latest development in making programmatic advertising more transparent

If you work in digital advertising, or in any role that involves programmatic, media buying or real-time advertising then you are sure to have heard about Ads.txt. This strange moniker is a tool that will help fight illegitimate sellers who use arbitrage inventory and spoof domains.

What is ads.txt?

Introduced by the Interactive Advertising Bureau Tech Lab, Ads.txt is a text file that aims to prevent the selling of unauthorised inventory (check out the full spec, which is very technical, here).

It’s a straightforward way for publishers to indicate to ad buyers who is authorised to sell their inventory. Thereby cutting down on arbitrage.

Ads.txt also helps tackle another trick employed by fraudsters, the spoofing of legitimate sites.

This is where sellers trick buyers and exchanges into thinking they’re selling inventory from reputable, premium publishers. What they are actually selling is in fact nothing like the original domain. This damages the performance of the campaign, takes money out of the pocket of the site being spoofed and potentially damages their reputation. Ads.txt prevents such inventory counterfeiting.

How does Ads.txt work?

Publishers add a text file to their web servers that lists the companies authorised to sell their inventory. In the same way, programmatic platforms can integrate ads.txt files to confirm which inventories they are authorised to sell. This way, buyers are able to check the inventory they purchase to make sure there is no illegitimate selling going on.

To set up an ads.txt file for a site, a publisher needs to create a text file and put it in the top level of the domain’s file structure.

If an exchange and the publishers it is representing each adopt ads.txt, potential buyers can check the tags for the presence of ads.txt files that will indicate that there is legitimate link between the publisher and the exchange.

As part of these developments, and to make it quicker and easier for users, the IAB Tech Lab has created a tool that crawls ads.txt files on publisher websites to help buyers check multiple publishers with minimal effort.

Check that out here.

What do I need to do?

If you are an inventory owner and have legitimate concerns about your inventory being misrepresented, you could benefit from having ads.txt on your site.
For help ensuring Experian is included in your ads.txt files get in touch. We’d be more than happy to walk you through the process.

Check out Alastair Bulger’s views on why Ads.txt is such a great move for the industry and what it means for all those involved.