In April this year, IAB Tech Lab published an update of the ads.txt - ads.txt 1.1 file, prepared by the Programmatic Supply Chain Group Working Group. It was made available to the public for testing and commenting until May 31, 2022. Since then, developers have been reviewing the comments they receive, making the necessary corrections, and will likely soon release the final update, which includes two new values: „ownerdomain” and „managerdomain”. Ads.txt 1.1, like its earlier version, is to be a response to such problems as domain spoofing and arbitration, i.e., unfair resale of advertising space. The new version of the standard shell increases transparency by introducing additional verification and thus contributes to reducing the occurrence of these advertising frauds. In our opinion, this is a good opportunity to look at standards such as ads.txt and sellers.json and how they affect the better functioning of the entire internet marketing industry.
What is ads.txt?
Ads.txt (the abbreviation comes from Authorized Digital Sellers) is a standard for online advertising developed by the IAB Tech Lab in spring 2017. The main assumption of this project is the fight against ad fraud, more specifically, unauthorized sale of advertising resources (arbitration) and impersonating other, most commonly known domains (domain spoofing). The introduction of this standard consists in the publisher placing on his servers a file containing a list of all persons and companies authorized to sell advertising space on his website. As a result, each advertising inquiry is checked against the information contained in ads.txt and on this basis it is authorized or not. This is to ensure that the relevant online inventory is only sold by authorized sellers. Although the use of ads.txt is not mandatory, nowadays almost all major online marketing entities require the implementation of this standard. How to do it in practice?
How to create and implement an ads.txt file?
Ads.txt is a text file containing the domain names of advertising platforms, their identifiers, relationship types and, optionally, the identifier of the certification authority. Of course, its content depends on the number of authorized sellers of a given advertising space, with each seller having a separate line in the file. The publisher should put it in the root of their domain. For example, if a given publisher only uses Google Adsense for their campaigns, the content of the ads.txt file will look like this:
where pub-0000000000000000 is the individual publisher ID.
After creating the ads.txt file, add it to the root directory of the site (i.e., the directory or folder appearing in the URL just after the top-level domain). A properly designed path to such a file should look like this: publisher_domain/ads.txt. To check if the file has been well published, view the content of the file in the browser.
If the publisher uses the services of an online marketing platform, advertising network or agency, or another partner, he most likely won’t have to create such a file himself - it will be generated automatically and made available for download, because ads.txt is a standard recognized by the vast majority of internet marketing entities.
What is Sellers.json?
The first version of sellers.json was published by IAB Lab Tech in July 2019 as an extension of the ads.txt standard. Its purpose is to enable advertisers to identify sellers or intermediaries when selling digital advertising space. Publishers can put in it their first and last name or their company name. It works like this - if a given request for quotation is authorized in the ads.txt file, sellers.json will allow to know the identity of the final seller and all other entities that participated in it.
The sellers.json file contains fields such as: seller_id (in the case of Google it is a 16-digit publisher code), seller_type (PUBLISHER, INTERMEDIARY or BOTH (if the seller falls into both of these categories at the same time)), name (of the publisher or intermediary) and domain (the name of the site in question). In addition, it may contain the is_confidential field - that is, information about whether the data is confidential, if the value of this field is „true”, then the file won’t contain the name and domain fields.
Advantages of implementing these solutions
Compared to other solutions, the costs of implementing ads.txt and sellers.json are relatively low - they don’t require the purchase of new technology or even the use of an expert. On the contrary - usually a dozen or so minutes and a minimum amount of work are enough. Applying these standards, however, has many advantages:
- From the publisher’s perspective, ads.txt gives you greater control over who can sell the ads displayed on their site, which is critical to maintaining brand safety.
- Allows to build lasting relationships with advertisers and avoid presenting them with false inventory.
- Promotes transparency and thus helps to build a positive image.
- It makes it difficult for fraudsters to carry out fraud - it gives the owners of advertising space the certainty that it will be sold only to authorized entities.
- It gives the opportunity to cooperate with important partners who increasingly require the application of these standards.