July 25, 2007
What is the difference between click fraud or invalid clicks? After reading this expose’, it is my hope that you will walk away (browse away?) with a better understanding of both and what Google and Yahoo! are doing to protect you from these possible threats.
First, let’s define click fraud according to Wikipedia:
Click fraud is a type of internet crime that occurs in pay per click online advertising when a person, automated script, or computer program imitates a legitimate user of a web browser clicking on an ad, for the purpose of generating a charge per click without having actual interest in the target of the ad’s link.
Secondly, let’s define invalid clicks: Well, not to disappoint, but you say tomato, I say to-mah-to. It could be argued that invalid clicks are simply those where end-users merely double clicked or otherwise made an honest mistake. However, Google refers to all clicks that are labeled as fraudulent, invalid or unintentional as “invalid clicks.”
No matter what you call it, this is a much debated and discussed topic in the search marketing world. What can be certain is that search marketers and the search engines alike are fully aware of the danger and the threat click fraud poses to the pay-per-click industry. For the most part, advertisers have limited visibility into the true nature of any given click that they have paid for. But this is a knowledge gap that is slowly closing.
Google and Yahoo! have dedicated teams who do nothing but to prevent click fraud through software design/implementation, filtering techniques, etc. Google tracks each and every click that comes through the AdWords system. They filter the traffic by IP address, time of day and complex click patterns. In some instances, Google has certain click sources earmarked that are automatically discarded. What this means for advertisers is that by the time a click has been registered and given a price in your AdWords reports, chances are it’s been tested, re-tested and tested again.
While Yahoo! doesn’t get as technical in their descriptions of click fraud protection, they have voiced their position:
We proactively identify suspicious clicks and remove them from our billing system 24 hours a day, 7 days a weekâ€”as a result, we’ve given away billions of clicks for free. We’ve invested significant technological, financial and human resources in clickthrough protection since we started this industry in 1998 and are redoubling our efforts by dedicating even more resources to this issueâ€¦
While this statement is ambiguous at best, Yahoo! recently announced their plans for a “Marketplace Quality Center” that would allow advertisers to easily submit an inquiry for a fraud investigation, research articles and best practices on click fraud and have the tiniest peak into the inner belly of the Yahoo! beast.
Google has made similar strides in allowing more visibility into protecting yourself from click fraud. The biggest piece of this puzzle is of course the Placement Performance Reports and the Site Exclusion Tool. Since there is a lot of chatter that Google’s content network is to blame for an increase in click fraud, these tools allow advertisers to see each site and its performance over time. Then you can then choose whether or not to exclude those sites. Of course there are other things that can be done to mitigate the effects of the content network like separate content from search campaigns, simply lower bids on the content network, and track the content network like a hawk.
Click fraud should be taken seriously, but should not detract you or any other advertiser from their PPC marketing efforts. Google, Yahoo! and all of the other major search engines (even though I didn’t mention them until now) are taking actions to protect their advertisers from the threat of click fraud. Remember that you and I as advertisers are assets to the search engines. Ok, maybe I’m a bit optimistic, but I truly feel that it is in the best interest of Google and Yahoo! to do everything possible to eliminate or limit the effects of click fraud/invalid clicks.
If you’re still worried about click fraud, let me make a few suggestions:
- When using Google AdWords, consistently run the Performance Placement Reports. This could potentially be your greatest weapon against invalid clicks. Run the report, see which sites are driving clicks without conversions and exclude those sites that are under performing. Not only will you reduce your risk of exposure to click fraud, but you will have helped your account by trimming some “fat!”
- If you have a suspicion about any fraudulent click activity for an account, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and contact your Google and/or Yahoo! representative.