The REAL State of Ads.txt Adoption
In light of the significant confusion and mixed messages floating around the media about ads.txt, we believe it is important to share our view, approach, and involvement in ads.txt publicly, not just in the normal one-to-one discussions we have with clients.
Ads.txt is necessary and a big step towards improving the overall transparency in our industry, which goes hand in hand with strengthening the industry’s reputation as a whole. We’ve been involved in this process since its early formation in the IAB. We have pushed adoption and closely monitored the availability of ads.txt information on publisher sites. What we are sure of: Fighting fraud is only possible by combining human rules and expertise with smart statistics and artificial intelligence. Only if deployed side-by-side, with day-to-day execution, and backed by dedicated teams of analysts and developers, the necessary level of quality and transparency in Digital Advertising can be reached.
Fraudsters are stepping up their game continuously, they are constantly innovating, and quick to experiment. As a global Ad Technology platform, we have always seen us as gatekeepers to quality traffic. This is why we have been committed and invested the necessary time and resources needed to innovate at a pace that keeps up with the bad guys. Ads.txt is a major stepping stone in that fight. Another central component is the fact that the industry continues to work on common definitions when it comes to fraud. Our MRC accreditation, which includes Invalid Traffic Detection, is another proof point showcasing that we are in a leading position in this race. We are the only DSP that has an MRC accreditation for its integrated tracking and measurement including viewability.
The area where ads.txt show immediate impact is connected to the type of fraud called domain spoofing. To this end, “Adform will push strict deployment and support of ads.txt rules as the industry adopts it while making sure that the regional and local speed of adoption is being met” as Jay Stevens, our Chief Revenue Officer, states. Some publishers and partners need a bit more time to activate their ads.txt implementation. Thus, Adform will incrementally tighten its control via ads.txt over the coming months.
Statistics per Market
Some voices in the market state that basically, from today, buying through ads.txt verified environments is the only healthy and viable alternative. Most notable, some claim that they already comply 100% and will start only buying from those sources. Yes, as an academic exercise, this seems like an amazing idea. However, the reality is that adopting ads.txt as a black-and-white filter takes a considerable amount of time, education, and effort to the market. Mostly, it takes discipline to continue implementing and keeping it up-to-date for publishers. This is still an ongoing challenge!
Yes, it is essential to recognize the huge potential of ads.txt, the role it will play moving forward, and its value as part of an overall strategy. It is important, however, to be practical and transparent about the current state of adoption and for advertisers and journalists to understand that a change like this marks a fundamental structural change to how programmatic advertising is executed and verified. This change seems to take some time, as we are showing with some statistics on adoption per country/region below.
Local adoption rates: With the help of our BI team we have run through some major markets and verified the availability of ads.txt sites on the biggest 1,000 websites – the result clearly shows a low adoption rate. Even in the US, the leading programmatic market in the world, where we are expecting (rightfully as you can see) the highest adoption rate, we are still below 50% overall. This means that only allowing buying from ads.txt verified sites would decrease your access to inventory significantly. Looking across other selected countries and regions shows that the challenge exists globally. However, the growth rates are strong and we will continue to monitor this as part of regular blog posts.
You need to be disciplined: There is more to it than just having ads.txt, as it does not mean that having one entails that it is setup correctly. We have experienced in various cases, e.g. with some top 50 websites in major markets, that the ads.txt was present on the publisher site, but unfortunately not all verified partners were listed. Executing in a binary black-and-white fashion on this data would thus cause further loss. You might ask, “How did Adform know that the ads.txt was not complete”? Because, due to our direct relationship with sellers via our own SSP, we found instances where the Adform SSP was not included in the list, even though we were clearly under contract and a legitimate seller ourselves. The content of ads.txt led to our DSP stopping to buy due to a false-positive alarm that flagged ourselves as not “legit”. As a result, we are in an unavoidable transition period until adoption is high enough. In the meantime, we will continue to educate and do everything we can to accelerate adoption, but will likely need manual inspection and rule adaptation for a while.
If you are curious, want to do a bit of research and check it yourself, the ads.txt file is of each publisher is public and you can easily access it – if it exists – with your browser. Just type the webpage you want to visit and add “/ads.txt” at the end of the URL. For example, under http://www.nytimes.com/ads.txt you will find the information you are looking for whereas if not configured you would just find a “404 - page not found” error.
To sum up: The great news is that Adform already sees a strong impact when it comes to reducing illegitimate traffic when ads.txt is being used as filter mechanism. As such, in combining the information in ads.txt and Adform’s proprietary anti-fraud algorithm we have created a silver bullet against fraudulent activities, including domain spoofing. This is a central component of Adform’s overall approach towards eliminating fraud in the advertising ecosystem and something we are excited to see reach full adoption as rapidly as possible.
* originally, the example was referring to https://www.newyorker.com/ads.txt but a last check before launching this post revealed that they just changed their setup and now also have an ads.txt on their website.