Google Releases Incomplete Version Of Its Sellers.json File

Google sellers.json
Google released a beta version of its sellers.json file last week, just before the Q2 deadline it promised at the beginning of this year.

Sellers.json is a transparency tool to help buyers distinguish between direct sellers versus intermediaries and resellers.

Yet, only 5% of Google’s sellers.json files are complete, according to data from programmatic consultancy Jounce Media, even though it comes seven months after its smaller competitors released their largely complete files.

“Google has been a blind spot for a year. The day came for Google to finally embrace transparency, and 95% is missing,” said Jounce Media founder Chris Kane.

Google said that the size of its publisher base, which includes more than 2 million AdSense publishers, made it difficult to post a complete file.

“It’s a non-trivial effort for us,” said Per Bjorke, Google senior product manager for ad traffic quality. “We have to make sure we respect publishers’ security and safety.”

Bjorke said adding more publishers to its sellers.json file  would require Google to update its help center documents and its user interfaces to gain publisher consent,  a time-consuming process. Account managers also need to be trained and take time to communicate the change to publishers.

“Given the size of the ship, these things do take longer than we would like them to,” Bjorke said.

But it’s still frustrating that a large, well-resourced company would take so long and post an incomplete file.

Kane has been using sellers.json files to do supply-path optimization for large marketers, which has been challenging without Google’s file.

And other buyers have been waiting for Google to post its file before embarking on granular supply-path optimization. Now, they’ll have to wait longer for Google to fill out its file beyond the beta version.

A tale of two specs

Google’s lagging is particularly vexing to the digital ecosystem because it often moves at an accelerated pace for initiatives it supports.

Back in May 2017, Google spearheaded ads.txt, a transparency spec designed to root out domain spoofing. Google raced ahead of the industry, and its DSP stopped buying inventory without ads.txt files that November, when only half of its publishers had posted ads.txt files.

In contrast, sellers.json was announced in April 2019, and The Trade Desk was an early champion, pushing exchanges to adopt it in the fall. But Google objected to sellers.json, which categorized Google itself as a reseller, and unlike ads.txt, its DSP DV360 doesn’t require exchanges to adopt the spec nor does it prioritize inventory that does.

Bjorke said Google isn’t as demanding about sellers.json because it’s mostly used to detect invalid traffic behind the scenes and because Google “may provide some capabilities for advertisers [around supply-path optimization].”

Bjorke added that the need for “security, consent and accuracy,” not past disagreement about the spec, was the cause for the delay. “We are very supportive of industry efforts,” he said. 

So what’s missing?

The 5% of Google’s sellers.json file that is complete contains all information needed to do supply-path optimization: the business name and the domain name.

But of the remainder, 53% list the business name as confidential, and 42% are missing the domain name, according to Jounce Media analysis.

Some of those accounts are confidential because Google doesn’t yet have consent to share a publisher’s information, Bjorke said. As more publishers give their consent, that number will go down.

But Google said that confidentiality remains an option to protect small AdSense bloggers’ safety and security.

“If you are in a location where freedom of speech is not as protected, and you are posting content that is critical of certain things, that could be a potential risk,” Bjorke said.

The other portion of publishers, listed without domain names, is also a question of consent and verification. Google already knows the domain is being monetized, but not necessarily the business name that belongs in the sellers.json files.

For instance, the sellers.json file for publishers such as Vice, Axel Springer and The Economist includes the formal business names, but is missing the domain name of the site. Without a URL, DSPs can’t ingest and match these files without doing manual work on their end – or might not be able to make a match at all.

“We had to collect it from people, and it takes time,” Bjorke said. “We want to make sure it’s accurate too.”

Despite the disappointment over Google’s incomplete sellers.json file, Kane credited Google for prioritizing listing sellers.json files for intermediaries. Buyers doing supply-path optimization care more about this data, because it helps them cut low-value intermediaries.

“The vast majority of intermediaries – by spend – have domains listed,” Bjorke confirmed.

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