Publishers: Clean Up Your Ads.txt!

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Paul Bannister, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at CafeMedia.

Ads.txt has been a standard for several years now and has become something that we take for granted.

That’s a good thing, as it speaks to how easy it is to use, but masks a downside: too many publishers aren’t thinking about the ramifications of their actions when they add records to their file. For ads.txt to continue to be a strong fraud-fighting standard, it requires a lot more active management by publishers.

For many publishers, managing their ads.txt file isn’t something they think about at all. A revenue partner asks to have some new entries added, and the publisher does it. That simple process is rarely the right approach. A publisher’s ads.txt file is not only a strong defense against fraud but also one of the best marketing signals to buyers.

The benefits of a well-maintained ads.txt

While far from perfect, a well-maintained ads.txt file is a significant part of reducing fraud and defending your own revenue.

As a publisher, managing your ads.txt reduces bad actors’ ability to take advantage of your site. Those bad actors can be siphoning money from you via nefarious means, such as domain spoofing. Or they can be your partners, who use resellers to arbitrage your inventory and put more money in their pocket instead of yours.

Beyond the anti-fraud benefits, ads.txt is one of your most effective marketing tools. When a buyer looks at your ads.txt file (either directly, or via buying platforms), do you want them seeing that you work with a curated group of premium partners? Or a flea market of junky companies that no one has heard of selling goods that no buyer wants?

To maximize both of these benefits, you’ll want to aim for an ads.txt file that meets four criteria:

  • Is as short as possible
  • Has as few RESELLER entries as possible
  • Is up to date
  • Is valid and error free

By keeping your ads.txt tight, you’ll maximize the anti-fraud and marketing benefits of the file.

Keys to successful management

To meet those four criteria requires active management. It starts with managing your revenue partners through the entire lifecycle from choosing who you work with, to which ads.txt lines to add, to ending the partnership when the time comes. Revenue partners will come up with all sorts of reasons why you should add more entries to your ads.txt. Most of them will not make you any more money and sometimes will even work against you. Whether to add lines is entirely up to you as a publisher.

Any time you decide to work with a new ad revenue partner, they will ask you to add entries in your ads.txt file. In most cases, a single line should be enough. For any entries beyond that first line, you should question the revenue partner about each entry’s specific purpose. Sometimes a partner may need a few direct entries added because of their setup, which is usually acceptable. But you should do substantial diligence with your partner about exactly why each reseller entry is required.

When you’re adding entries, make sure that you’re doing it the right way. Use an ads.txt validator to check your file’s syntax. Google Ad Manager has a good validator built in, or there are many others you can try out. An invalid ads.txt file is as useless as none at all – DSPs will avoid your inventory, and your ad revenue will plummet.Once you’ve decided on a minimal number of entries to add and added them correctly, you need to measure incrementality. First, you should measure the true incrementality of that partner overall – are you making more money, or just shifting money between partners? Also, work to measure the incrementality of each line. Chegg found reseller entries rarely add incremental revenue, and many can be removed.

And finally, you need to remove lines of partners that you no longer work with. A partner that is incremental today may lose ground over time and become a net-negative. Work with that partner to improve their revenue, but if you can’t get them to a good place, take them out of your stack.

And just as you should remove their code from your pages (or adapter from prebid), you should remove all of their entries from your ads.txt file. Any remnant lines can turn into vectors for fraud in the future, and clutter buyers’ view of your setup.

While not everyone can have super short files such as The New York Times, each publisher needs to work to keep ads.txt files as short and clean as possible. Active ads.txt management reduces fraud within the entire ecosystem and has real benefits for each publisher.

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1 Comment

  1. Nice article Paul. Publishers should remember that every entity and account number in the ads.txt file is being given permission to use that publisher’s properties name in sell-sheets, RTB requests etc. Follow the best practices above and ensure that you can trace meaningful revenue from every entry.