Sunday, January 3, 2010


                                                     BusinessWeek's Clickfraud Cover by Si1very.
Click Fraud:
Is Your Pocket Being Picked?

Click fraud involves a complex chain of fraud scams that can drain your marketing budget before you even know it. It’s been going on since paid links programs became popular and, even though Google and Yahoo – the two biggest search engines – depend on this steady stream of promotional revenue, these two giants actually have little incentive to investigate click fraud. They get paid whether the click is legit or a fraud.

Do You Know Where Your Ad Is?
When you sign on with a PPC program you expect your linked ad to appear on sites that have some relationship to your site’s topicality. If you’re selling bedding for infants you’d expect your link to appear on family sites, pregnancy and wellness sites and, of course, parenting sites. But how do you know?

A report in BussinessWeek states that PPC participants have no complaints when their ads appear on actual Google or Yahoo pages within the context of site topicality. That’s the way PPC is supposed to work. However, according to this report Google and Yahoo “boost their profits by recycling ads to millions of other sites, ranging from the familiar, such as, to dummy web addresses like, which displays lists of ads and little, if anything else.”

The article went on to explain that, “When somebody clicks on these recycled ads, marketers such as MostChoice get billed, sometimes even if the clicks come from Mongolia. Google or Yahoo then share the revenue with a daisy chain of Web site hosts and operators. A penny or so even trickles down to the clicker.” Hey, it’s a living.

But what about your living. If you can’t trust Google and Yahoo – your marketing partners – to protect you from click fraud, who can you trust?

The Search Engines Respond
“We think click fraud is a serious but manageable issue,” stated John Slade, Senior Director for Global Product Management over at Yahoo. According to the spokespeople at Google and Yahoo, when click fraud is detected the client (you) aren’t charged for the click or you’ll receive a credit on your next billing statement. However, despite the search engines’ vigorous defense of its click fraud detection programs, the practice continues because, in plain English, there’s no reason for Google or Yahoo to pursue these fraudulent activities. They’re still making money.

The Loss of Trust
With print journalism, an advertiser receives audited reports on circulation. You see these reports printed annually in your favorite magazine. But it’s also true that not all figures in these circulation reports are accurate. For example, many newspapers give away daily copies of their publication just to keep circulation figures inflated.

So, an advertiser sees that s/he is paying for 160,000 readers in the region but, in fact, only 120,000 of those daily newspapers are being delivered to homes where people will actually read the paper and see the ad. The other 40K copies are delivered free to every halfway house, nursing home, professional office – you name it. If they’ll take a paper, they can have it free – just to keep circulation numbers up. And, the advertiser is cheated.

Same thing with click fraud. The big selling point of PPC advertising is that you only get charged when the link is clicked. Sounds economical, right? But, if you’re a small site owner working with a limited PPC ad budget, you want every click to count.

The BusinessWeek article referenced earlier states that “there is a thriving, click-fraud underground populated by swarms of small-time players, making detection difficult. ‘Paid to read’ rings are everywhere with hundreds of thousands of members each, all of them pressing PC mice over and over in their living rooms…in some cases, ‘clickbot’ software generates hits automatically and anonymously. Participants…speak of making from $25 to several thousand dollars a month apiece, cash they wouldn’t receive if Google and Yahoo were as successful at blocking fraud as they claim.”

The Most Common Scams
There are endless varieties of PPC fraud scams but most fall into one of three categories.

Network click fraud occurs when the owner of the site where your ad appears clicks your ad to increase revenues. S/he also has his or her friends click on it, too. And each time they do, you lose money.

Competitive click fraud takes place when one of your competitors clicks on one of your links endlessly until you end up with a bill for $10k from Google. Now what?

Impression fraud is also common. In this case, the ad appears on site but the link is disconnected. The competition’s click through rate is lowered (keeping more business on the unscrupulous owner’s site) while raising your ad ranking.

How to stop it
If you’re the site owner and marketing director, PPC fraud may be all but impossible to stop, but fairly easy to detect. Services such as Who’sClickingWho will track your PPC accounts using fraud detection software. They charge by the click (another expense) but if you use PPC as a main promotional tool, it may well be worth the price. A one month subscription with 5,000 clicks will cost you $29.95. As click volume increases, the per click monitoring price decreases.

Because many click frauds involve networks of individuals stealing a penny at time from the till, or bots that click but don’t leave a trail, you may also want to consider hiring an agency to place and monitor your PPC dollars. These monitoring services do have a vested interest in detecting fraudulent PPC. That’s how they build customers and keep them, unlike Google and Yahoo where the incentive to stop click fraud is…um, slightly less fervent.

You can also look for obvious signs of click fraud. For example, if you’re getting 5,000 clicks a month and that suddenly spikes to 500,000 in a single month, chances are you’ve been victimized. In fact, it’s almost a certainty.

Another tip-off is the source of the clicks. Click fraud is actually a business in places like China so, if you’re getting a lot of click-throughs from Ulan Bator, report it to your PPC placement service and demand a credit.

Finally, check out click fraud software. It doesn’t cost as much as monitoring services (that’s good for start-ups where every dollar counts) and these software packs are pretty good at detecting repetitious clicks from the same computer – an obvious sign of fraud.

Helpful Resources

Finally, if you suspect that you’ve been the victim of click fraud, call the placement service but be sure to have some evidence to back up your claim. Reports showing an unusual number of clicks from a single region, 1,000 clicks from your lead competitor’s computer or a major spike in PPC costs are all pretty good indicators that you’ve had your pocket picked.

Track your PPC like you would your sales – very closely. And, at the first sign of suspicious activity, close your account or call Google and/or Yahoo.

Trying to fight click fraud all by yourself is like punching air. It doesn’t do much good. And, you get tired. So get some help and save some $$$.

You getting what you pay for?

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