Google Display and Placement Fraud - Is Your Money Being Wasted?

By Amanda West-Bookwalter | @Amanda_WestBook | Senior Account Manager at Hanapin Marketing

The Google Display Network is nearly the whole internet. If you’re on auto targeting, even with some contextual keywords, it’s going to get crazy. There’s obviously always going to be click fraud, which is just like the click fraud you deal with in your Search Network campaigns. But, something I encountered for the first time recently was placement fraud. Now, I’ve seen MFA’s before, or Made-For-Adsense.

These are websites or blogs that were created only to generate money for some evil nerds likely dwelling in their mothers’ basement, spending all their cash on Star Wars collectors items. No offense intended to Star Wars fans! They use Google AdSense to make their cheddar. AdSense is the Google program that allows AdWords ads to run on their sites, in case you didn’t know. The quality of the content is pretty bad on these sites. Sometimes they’re just scraped from other sites, which is referred to as a “scraper site”.  I know that I’ve seen scraper sites of PPC Hero, even whilst Googling myself. It’s a dead give away when there’s more ads than there is content. Because these little mouth breathers don’t care about content and just want clicks, they’ll employ armies of low-paid ad clickers or automated programs known as “click-bots” to increase the number of clicks. What jerks, right? These sites are a big reason placement reports and placement exclusions are so important.

So, how is placement fraud different? Well, it’s almost the same thing. Still jerks employing shady tactics to steal your money, but this time–it’s not even a site.

I was digging through a placement report looking for awful placements to exclude when I found a site that had spent a lot of money across all my differently targeted ad groups called Having Display Ads right in the title made me think “ugh, this MFA has spent so much money, what jerks!”. But when I went to the site, it didn’t generate anything. Just a 404 error. Trying to understand how a 404 error page with no ads on it spent over $300 in a single week, I did some sleuthing, but all I could find was this forum post from another frustrated PPCer. I didn’t understand how a non-existent website was showing my ads and making me pay Google hundreds of dollars, so I got in touch with AdWords help.

Their response? “I’ve never heard of this.” Their advice for preventing it? “Run placement reports and look for fraudulent websites.” Their response to me wondering about the over $300 I spent on a fraudulent website? “Sorry.” He also told me to switch to managed placements to avoid this issue. Super helpful!

So, unfortunately, their awful advice is the best advice. Be on the look-out for placements in your placement report that have spent money without converting or just sound like junk. If you’re a lead generation site, be on the look out for any site that sounds like junk, leads or no leads. Lead fraud is very real, my friends! Another tactic being used by those fraudulent gum smackers is creating false leads so their site looks good on your placement reports.

Let’s sum up your action plans!

To find placement fraud in your accounts:

  • Perform placement audits at least weekly if you have automatic targeting on
  • Look for websites that sound fishy, and check them out
  • Look for websites that have spent a decent amount of money without converting that you’ve never heard of before
  • If you’re in a lead generation account, look for websites that have spent a decent amount of money that you’ve never heard of even if they have leads

If you find a placement that’s fraudulent:

  • Exclude it in all of your display campaigns!
  • Make sure Google is aware of the issue by calling the Google AdWords help line (866) 246-6453) with your account’s customer ID number

Have any of you ran into this same issue? How do you prevent fraud on the Display Network?