A content marketer’s guide to ads.txt

The advertising initiative aims to stop deception in its tracks. But what is it and is it a good thing for content marketers?

If content marketing had a menu then advertising would be back on it.

The trade off between brand credibility and revenue-raising advertising has become less and less pertinent in a world of programmatic possibilities.

But legitimate concerns persist. Shady data collection continues to harass regulators, and malevolent platforms are in the spotlight for their domain spoofing ways. In addition to advertisers pouring their money into a black hole, such deception is costing publishers millions of dollars each day in lost revenue.

Enter ads.txt, the hot new anti-fraud drive captivating some of the world’s biggest websites. Facebook has approved the initiative; Google too is going along with it.

Proponents say it gives publishers transparency. Detractors argue it doesn’t go far enough.

So what’s really going on, and do content marketers stand to gain or lose?

What is it?

The brainchild of IAB tech lab, the project aims to clean up the messy world of programmatic advertising.

Ads.txt is a simple text file that publishers can put on their websites to list all the companies authorised to sell advertising space on said website.

Programmatic servers can also use these files on their own platforms to show whose inventory they are authorised to sell.

It’s a public document that anyone can view. Take a look at the one from the Guardian or the Huffington Post, for example.

This, theoretically, means an end to fraudulent vendors pretending they are selling ad space on websites with which they have no affiliation. It’s gaining traction all the time among leading adtech providers – the clandestine world of programmatic buying and selling is gradually opening up.

Programmatic: problematic

It might be a stab in the right direction, but is ads.txt fit for purpose? Some have argued the complex and ever-changing world of programmatic advertising will render the initiative redundant.

It’s all very well knowing which vendors are licensed to sell where, but programmatic advertising is often more complicated: ads can bounce between multiple programmatic advertising platforms. If one of the second or third programmatic platforms isn’t listed under ads.txt then the ad could get unfairly blocked.

Additionally, fraudulent ads can still find their way into the system via authorised vendors. There are also fears that the initiative will establish an oligarchy of preferred channels, stifling innovation in the sector.

The B2B view

But for content marketers, there is much to be optimistic about. B2B publishers looking to boost their content offering with some well-tailored ads should welcome the initiative as one that will give fraudsters pause for thought in the short term and change the conversation over time to make the landscape more secure.

The initiative has already served as a springboard for additional innovations.

Ads.cert is the IAB’s proposed upgrade to ads.txt. Whereas ads.txt verifies who is authorised to sell a publisher’s inventory, ads.cert will validate information going between buyers and sellers of advertising at every stage of supply chain – making it even more difficult for insalubrious advertisers to fiddle the data.

All of this is good news for content marketers. While the ad tech boffins focus on perfecting their craft, content connoisseurs can put their creative duties front and centre.

So, for all its detractors, ads.txt looks like a good move. Our advice here at Content Desk remains unchanged – programmatic may seem intimidating, but it could be just the enhancement your content marketing strategy needs.

Editor's pick

Most popular