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I have seen a few 404 errors when ads.txt is requested on some of the sites that I manage. I Guess the answer may be identical to the question about an empty robots.txt file or no file at all (just prevent some 404 errors). However I'm having dificuilty to understand the underlying concepts behind ads.txt.

The official help page at IAB is confusing, for example

"When a brand advertiser buys media programmatically, they rely on the fact that the URLs they purchase were legitimately sold by those publishers."

"advertisers buy media" sounds like hiring an atrist to make compelling text, graphics and animations, but does not fit with the context (it's unlikely one would hire artists programatically). "URLs sold by publishers" does not look like they are talking about registering an URL at an isp or ICANN. Publishers generally don't sell URLs unless they quit publishing.

Obviously this is a foreign domain specific language. So could anyone explain what impact an empty ads.txt file could have? Some concerns would be:

  • Would it in any way impact incoming links that look like they come from advertisements?
  • Would it have any impact on outgoing links to products or services mentioned in the content?
  • Would it render my site less interesting for indexing spiders or other crawlers?
  • Google Adsense sent me an email saying I should create such a file for my site, but I couldn't figure out what that file would actually do or how it would help my site. I'd sure like an easy to understand explanation of ads.txt. – Stephen Ostermiller Sep 17 '18 at 1:34
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Ads.txt has zero to do with SEO or even UX. It is specific to programmatic advertising. It might be of interest if your websites display ads that are purchased on real time bidding (RTB) exchanges. Otherwise, you don't need this file.

Ads.txt also doesn't share anything in common with robots.txt, other than also being a plain text file, and generally getting placed at root level of the website.

I have never had to generate this file myself yet, since I work on the advertiser side these days, but as ads.txt has experienced wide adoption, I can share a little background. Essentially, when advertisers run ads on websites, they want to ensure that the website is what it claims to be. Bad actors have learned to spoof real, reputable websites on the exchanges and steal ad impressions, thus wasting advertiser dollars on impressions appearing on crappy websites or ones that humans may never even see.

The ads.txt initiative was a move to correct this. An ads.txt file will list all the exchanges that the publisher has a relationship with. Advertisers looking to buy an ad impression can crawl this file programmatically and check for the exchange to see if the site is legitimately a part of this exchange. Of course, bad actors have already found ways to sometimes get around this, in certain cases, but generally, these files make fraud more difficult.

Here's a pretty good guide, containing a link to Business Insider's file:

https://www.monetizemore.com/blog/ads-txt-publisher-implementation-guide/

An empty ads.txt file will thus not benefit you, and not having one won't harm you, unless your websites sell ad impressions, in which case you might want to look into this. If you don't implement this file, you will still be able to sell ad impressions, since many advertisers buy through exchanges and networks that aren't thorough or strict. But if you're competing for top quality ads (and their ad dollars), check out the link above for implementation specifics.

  • I can relate to the fraud problem. After receiving free adwords credit, a large portion was swallowed up in a very short period, all on a "children's coloring pages download site"... Any way, the linked article is full of jargon like "advertising inventory" and "advertising media". I guess the file just confirms that a specific advertising account really belongs to the owner of a specific domain. But it leaves me wondering why GoogleBot is checking for this file every single day while I'm not running any ads at all. If I'm not running ads, then there would be nothing for them to confirm right? – Louis Somers Sep 17 '18 at 23:21
  • @LouisSomers Honestly, this is the first I hear of Googlebot specifically requesting this file from a site, if the site isn't displaying ads. Google was one of the reasons for the rapid adoption of the ads.txt standard, so they may be trying to push for it. Also, chances are, you may have some Google Doubleclick or other code somewhere, bundled in with other Google Apps, that's making requests on your website; use Tag Assistant or Ghostery to see if any advertising tags live somewhere on your site. – Henry Visotski Sep 18 '18 at 3:52

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