As a means to tackle the growing concern of ad fraud, IAB’s launched its ads.txt solution in 2017, which has been increasingly adopted by publishers all over the world. It enables the publishers to specify the authorized sellers and resellers to sell inventories on their behalf. On the buyer’s side, it allows demand-side partners to verify the validity of ad inventories and protects them from fraud inventories and domain spoofing.
However, creating an ads.txt file requires you to follow a particular format. Incorrect creation of an ads.txt file can cause the file to become invalid, and even lose you potential money. An article by eMarketer states that 16% of publishers amongst the top 5,000 websites are losing money due to incorrect implementation of ads.txt files. Thus, knowing what these common ads.txt errors are and how to resolve them should be a priority.
Table of Contents
- How ads.txt is causing publishers to lose money?
- Common ads.txt errors and their resolution
- Best practices for managing ads.txt
- What’s next?
How ads.txt is causing publishers to lose money?
As per Jonathan Shaevitz, Industry Index’s President, even amongst the top 5,000 publishers errors in ads.txt files is a common problem. While the error rate averages at nine errors per file, some companies have even showcased as many as fifty errors in their ads.txt files.
Most DSPs like AppNexus and Google DV360, have been stringently promoting the adoption of ads.txt, while also religiously following the same themselves. They only deal with sellers and SSPs that have been mentioned in your ads.txt files. Therefore, a typo or syntax error in the ads.txt files would inadvertently cause them to not recognize and ignore your authorized sellers. An error in accurately mentioning an obscure demand partner might not result in considerable revenue loss, but a similar error while mentioning a larger demand partner, such as Google, can possibly make publishers lose a lot of money.
Common ads.txt errors and their resolution
To understand what is causing your ads.txt file from being verified or found, it is extremely important for you to closely review the details that you have received in your Google Ad Manager account. If you can understand what the problem is, troubleshooting the issue becomes a lot easier. Below, we have mentioned some of the most common errors associated with ads.txt and their solution
1. Ads.txt file is not found
The most common error associated with ads.txt is that the file is not found. This might be because of two reasons. Either you have not properly created an ads.txt file or failed to add it to your domain.
Solution: To resolve this, you must first properly set up an ads.txt file and publish it on your domain. Please refer to the detailed article on ads.txt we have mentioned in the introduction to learn how to set up ads.txt properly, or you can also refer to the support article from Google.
In order for a domain to be visible in your ads.txt file, your Ad Exchange inventory must have met or exceeded the 100 impression threshold within the last 7 days. Changes might also be delayed if you have added a new developer website recently. It can take up to 7 days for changes to reflect, from the date of the addition.
2. Google Publisher ID is incorrectly formatted or missing
Your Google Publisher ID is a unique identifier that is associated with your Ad Exchange account. It is a series of numbers with 16 digits in them and starts with the prefix ‘pub’. This identifier allows advertisers and DSPs to recognize you, and let them know about the inventory types that are enabled for your account.
It should be included in your ads.txt file to allow advertisers, DSPs, and exchanges to crawl the file and recognize the legitimacy of sellers and resellers. Yet, it might be missing or formatted incorrectly, which can cause DSPs to become apprehensive about the details included in the ads.txt file.
Solution: The only way to rectify an incorrectly formatted or missing publisher ID is to update your ads.txt file. You need to ensure accurately writing the publisher ID into your ads.txt file. To locate the publisher ID for your primary Ad Exchange and other linked accounts, you need to log into your Google Ad Manager account and click Admin > Global Settings > Ad Exchange account settings.
3. Ads.txt has been uploaded but AdSense is still asking to create one
Sometimes it might happen that you had already uploaded your ads.txt file, but you might get a notification on your AdSense account that you need to create an ads.txt file.
Solution: It can take some time for AdSense to auto-crawl your ads.txt file and verify it. You need to wait for a few days for the process to be completed and the status of your ads.txt file to be updated. If you didn’t send any ad requests from your website, this process can take at least a month to update.
4. Ads.txt has not been uploaded to the root domain of your website
IAB specifically asks ads.txt files to be uploaded to the root domain of your website. The ads.txt management tool in Ad Manager does not have any accommodations to show a list of crawled subdomains. Hence, if you have uploaded your ads.txt file to a subdomain, it is imperative that you address the situation.
Solution: The root domain of your website is the one that is just a level down from the public suffix list. A typical root domain looks something like “google.co.uk”. Since “co.uk” is on the public suffix list, this is an acceptable root domain. On the other hand, “maps.google.co.uk” would not qualify as a root domain since it contains the prefix “maps”.
If you have more than one root domain, you need to ensure that an ads.txt file is uploaded to each of the root domains individually. You can click on Admin > Ads.txt Management in your Ad Manager account, and check each root domain individually and verify if they have an ads.txt file successfully uploaded to them or not. In case your CMS is not allowing you to upload a file to your root domain, contact your CMS provider immediately and ask them to provide support for hosting your ads.txt file.
5. Ads.txt file contains syntax errors
A syntax error is probably the most common error with ads.txt. IAB has specified that every ads.txt file needs to be properly formatted and written using a pre-ordained style. An error in doing so can invalidate your ads.txt file, or cause DSPs and advertisers from recognizing your authorized sellers.
Solution: Proper formatting is the only solution to this problem. Every line within an ads.txt spec file is consisting of 3-4 fields. While the first three fields are mandatory, you can choose to fill the fourth field or not. Each of the fields is separated using a comma “,”, and they typically look something like this:
<Field #1>, <Field #2>, <Field #3>, <Field #4>
For a publisher, a typical ads.txt line listing authorized sellers will end up looking something like this:
< SSP/Exchange Domain >, < SellerAccountID >, < PaymentsType >, < TAGID >
You can check the following link to learn what each of the fields incorporates and what their purpose is.
6. Ads.txt file has not been validated
After making any change or to ensure that an ads.txt file is working correctly, validating it is imperative. An unvalidated ads.txt wouldn’t only work, and it might not even be possible for ad exchanges, SSPs, DSPs, or advertisers to crawl these files, thereby making them pointless.
Solution: In your Google Ad Manager account, click on Admin > Ads.txt Management. Ads.txt files for the web are displayed by default. In the column that says Action, click on either View or Fix in the correct row to edit the settings of the file. The file that opens is the most recent version that Google has crawled. In case changes have been made to the ads.txt file since the last time Google has crawled your website’s domain, the file you are seeing is out of date and needs to be updated.
On the updated file, check each line in the dialogue window for syntax accuracy. More about syntax and how to accurately represent it on an ads.txt file can be found on the aforementioned point. Errors and warnings will be shown for each file. You can simply hover over these to read the description and understand what kind of error or warning it is. To resolve different errors and warnings, please refer to this support article from Google.
Once the errors have been resolved, copy and paste the updated text into your ads.txt file and upload it to your website’s root domain, as explained above. Wait for 48 hours and check whether the updated ads.txt file is being crawled or not. To learn more about ensuring crawling of your ads.txt file, refer to this support article from Google.
Best practices for managing ads.txt
1. Regularly review ads.txt files
The more frequently you review your ads.txt files, the higher the chances are that you would be able to spot any discrepancies if they have crept in. Updating and checking your ads.txt files on a weekly basis is most recommended. This will enable you to catch an error at the earliest, rectify it, and protect yourself from failed bid attempts.
2. Do not assume
Another ill practice is assuming that the ads.txt file you had checked the previous week is accurate, so it would make sense to simply add to it. By assuming you pave the way for persistent errors to remain undetected. It might be so that you had missed out on an error the previous week, and by assuming the ads.txt file to be accurate, you allow that error to persist. So stop assuming and check your ads.txt files every week. It might prove time-consuming but in the long run, you would reap its benefits.
3. List companies carefully
It is extremely important that you list companies in your ads.txt files after careful consideration. Listing just about any company or a large number of companies can prove to be a mistake. Apart from being hard to manage, such listing tendencies can cause fraudulent players to creep into your ads.txt files. Hence, you should carefully consider the companies you are choosing to list. Even a publisher as big as the New York Times has only 17 companies listed in their ads.txt file.
4. Only add partners that matter
Touching on the previous point again, adding partners just for the sake of increasing your revenue is a problematic move while listing suppliers in your ads.txt files. You need to carefully consider which demand partners are the most important and create the most demand for you. Keeping it clean is the key to avoiding errors in ads.txt files.
5. Invest in granular reporting
While it might be harder for smaller publishers to allocate the resources that larger publishers can easily manage, it is worth it to invest in reporting tools that give you a granular metrics view of ads.txt. This will not only increase your knowledge about ads.txt but will also provide you with information about the revenue impact of partners you have included in your ads.txt files.
Automation is the key to a future that will rely heavily on ads.txt. There are many tools in the open market that can check for errors in your ads.txt files, and as the popularity of this IAB initiative gains traction with demand partners such tools are only going to become better. Investing in such a tool is therefore a wise choice for you. Some of the best in the market are from Sovrn and Industry Index.
Ad fraud has been a pressing problem in the programmatic landscape for quite a while now. Yet, solutions like ads.txt seem to provide some respite from this persistent threat. It would be wasteful, therefore, to let this innovative solution be implemented improperly and cause you to lose money. As has been made evident, even the smallest of errors can cause your ads.txt files to become redundant.
While the aforementioned solutions are definitely going to help, it is recommended that you consult an ad-tech professional who can provide you support with regard to ads.txt. With our experience of having helped numerous publishers monetize their ad stack effectively, you can always consult with us to ensure you don’t miss out on revenue owing to ads.txt errors. Have further questions? Please let us know in the comments.