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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How to build user and advertiser trust with Trust.txt  

March 25, 2022 | By Joe Hardin, Vice President of Product Leadership – Alliance for Audited Media @auditedmedia

In the vast world of online media, it can be hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. Fake websites spread disinformation and some even profit off of the hard work of legitimate media by scraping content and presenting it as their own. Even tech companies have a hard time determining which websites are legit. In the past, publishers didn’t have many tools to fight back, but their arsenal is growing.  

One of the more recent developments in this area is Trust.txt, a tool from the non-profit JournalList to help quality publishers stand out from less credible websites. Industry organizations like Digital Content Next and the Alliance for Audited Media have joined Trust.txt to help members gain recognition for good work. However, it also helps if publishers participate in the program by hosting their own Trust.txt file, so let’s explore the benefits of using this framework on your site. 

4 ways Trust.txt can help legitimate publishers stand out from the rest 

1) A simple way to signal legitimacy  

When publishers join an industry association, they are committing to an organization that typically has a set of standards and rules in place. These organizations usually vet their members. Trust.txt is a framework developed to help establish online relationships between publishers and the trusted industry organizations and associations to which they belong, and to make that offline association easy to determine. By participating in Trust.txt, publishers signal to advertisers and tech platforms that they are legitimate media providers committed to quality, integrity, and industry standards. Participation is as simple as creating a file and uploading it to your website. It’s an easy way for publishers to take a stand for quality and stand out in a crowded market. 

2) Fight back against fraudsters  

Part of the Trust.txt framework requires participating industry organizations (like DCN or AAM) to host a file that lists all publisher members on their websites. This establishes a signal that these members have made a commitment to the organization and the industry. To make this connection even stronger, publishers should also host their own Trust.txt files that list the industry organizations they belong to. Publishers can make Trust.txt work even harder when they also include all domains and social media accounts they own. Since fraudsters can set up fake websites and social media accounts to look like a real media brand, Trust.txt is a simple way for publishers to make it known exactly what domains they own and which social media accounts are under their control. 

3) Let advertisers know you are committed to quality 

Trust.txt is a text file similar to other initiatives such as robots.txt and ads.txt. Since it is only a text file, it does not interfere with website load times or content management systems, but it can make a significant impact in other ways. When a search engine crawls a website, it will find the Trust.txt file and read its content. Creating a machine-readable file provides an easy way for search engines to make the connection between trusted publishers and associations. As the program grows, advertisers may also begin to recognize Trust.txt as a tool to help them identify legitimate media partners. 

4) Strength in numbers 

Industry organizations exist and succeed because there is strength in numbers. By growing the industry organizations and publishers that participate in Trust.txt, ad tech platforms and search engines will recognize the initiative as a way to identify quality media from the millions of other websites on the internet. The more organizations and publishers that participate, the greater the impact of the program on the industry.  

At a time when misinformation is on the rise, it’s important that quality media stick together and find solutions to help trusted publishers stand out from the rest. Trust.txt has emerged as a simple tool that allows publishers to take the fight against fraudsters into their own hands.  

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