WaPo Does the Click Fraud Piece, I Scratch My Head…

Another major media story on click fraud this weekend, from the Washington Post. Nothing new that I can see, to be honest. But I am left still scratching my head on this whole topic. There is no doubt that some folks take advantage of syndicated ad networks like Adsense…

Another major media story on click fraud this weekend, from the Washington Post. Nothing new that I can see, to be honest.

But I am left still scratching my head on this whole topic. There is no doubt that some folks take advantage of syndicated ad networks like Adsense and Overture to engage in fraudulent activities. But I spent a day down at Google recently, and among the meetings I had was a briefing with the folks responsible for leading Google’s click fraud detection. I found them earnest, believable, and utterly frustrated with many players in the SEO/SEM industry.

Why? Recall the kerfluffle over click fraud at SES this past August – when Google issued a report essentially debunking approaches taken by most click fraud detection firms – the very firms whose data underpins a lot of the media coverage of clickfraud? The major point of the report was, in short, that the very methods used to count click fraud were technically inaccurate.

Well, that report did cause some headlines, but since then, apparently, the firms have not been very forthcoming to Google about whether or not they are fixing their approaches, or even if they accept Google’s claims in the first place.

I was planning to get smarter on this before posting, but it seems the Post story has pushed the issue once again to the fore. My meeting was an initial overview, and I need to drill down and grok what I heard. More to come as I get it…

9 thoughts on “WaPo Does the Click Fraud Piece, I Scratch My Head…”

  1. John, the thing that irked me the most about Google’s attitude in the click fraud paper released during SES San Jose is that it relied on data that only google has access to. If google provided the raw log traffic for a given advertiser via their adwords account, they could go a long way towards building more trust on this topic and levelling the playing field for advertisers, their agencies and seos/sems when it comes to this murky and frustrating topic.

    In your talks with this particular google team, did being more transparent with what is essentially the advertiser’s data (or at least shared data between Google and the advertiser) come up as an option?

    I assume that google shares some of this data with an advertiser when there is a dispute, but what about making it available all the time?

  2. The argument that advertisers can limit their exposure to click fraud by reducing their spend has a flaw: ad spend is competitive, so advertisers who reduce their spend risk losing a competitive advantage in terms of placement of sponsored links. So the question becomes, what is the greater risk, the amount of money lost due to click fraud or the amount of money lost due to less competitive ad placement?

    Now if ALL advertisers decided unanimously to reduce their spend proportionately, they would all reduce their exposure to click fraud, and at the same time gain some leverage over the engines and networks. “You want our business; you give us the transparency and control we want.”

    There have been some advertisers who’ve reduced their spend, and others who’ve given up on PPC altogether, but not enough to make a serious dent in total PPC revenues. Thus, the engines and networks are justified in their arguments that they are providing good ROI to their customers (at least for now).

    My interest in this subject is primarily technical. I have always felt, and continue to feel, that the underlying problem here is that the Internet architecture as currently constituted makes it trivial to commit click (and impression) fraud. But this seems to be a minority opinion in forums like this. A common response is that there’s fraud everywhere, such as employee shoplifters. As long as this type of attitude persists, there won’t be any progress until someone with really deep pockets, and the ability to muster a world-class team of security experts, statisticians, etc., gets burned by click fraud. Then, perhaps, we’ll see a lawsuit with real teeth; something the engines and networks will have to deal with.

  3. Do you do weblog search much? There’s been great degradation the past six months because of all the fake blogs, almost all of which have Google AdSense ads.

    The lack of partner authentication is polluting the infosphere… it’s harder to find what other people are saying, because AdSense’s scamming partners echo everything.

    (More examples are in search term “Google must shape up”, which ironically includes some AdSense exploit echoes.)

  4. This is the real story behind all that industry denial:

    “Big advertisers are pushing search engines behind the scenes to fight click fraud more aggressively, but many are afraid to criticize them publicly because they wield such clout. “Sixty percent of new customers come through Google. [Advertisers] can’t afford to upset that channel, regardless of whether there’s fraud,” said Jason Clement, an associate director at Carat Fusion, a New York ad agency.”

  5. I just don’t get it. I read the recent Business Week article about click fraud and I just wanted to scream – don’t use AdSense or, if you must as an advertiser, then dial back your bids. When the clicker has a vested and financial interest in the fraud then you need to be aware of that; AdSense is just such a venue.

    I do paid search for a large insurance company and we use AdSense with bids about 1/5th of our regular Google clicks. You know what – our numbers overall look great, good ROI, good everything. Click fraud if it is present to any degree certainly is not preventing us from using paid search effectively.

  6. Click fraud is friction in Google’s business. Fraudulent clicks add costs to the system without a benefit to the performance of the system. Google’s profit is derived from improving the system (of finding customers for advertisers) and taking a cut of the profits that their system creates. Google engineers will do whatever they can to find ingenious ways to reduce that friction.

    I ramble on much more on this idea in: Click Fraud = Friction for Google

  7. Google may be skilled at catching * certain* types of click fraud – but it is a given that in SOME industries – advertisers and their staff may maliciously click on a competitor’s highly bidded ad out of evil!

    Also if those engaging in Click Fraud are using dial up – or a dynamic IP add,ress and deleting Cookies – are they REALLY easy to catch??

    Some foreign firms are even outsourced to – for engagements in Ad Clicking – they may be not just focussed on Adsense – BUT – many also add Adwords and Overture to their list of SERVICES PROVIDED

    An experiment was done with a Listing that was at number ONE on Google for a moderately competative keyword – and a TOP sponsor link was purchased for same word on Google

    The differences in hit results were too dramatic to be accounted for by any other likelihood except click fraud – also, the Stats / Trackers used showed an large overall percentage of the visits from the sponsor links staying on the visited page for an extremely shorter period of time 🙁

  8. The article at Washington Post puts this issue in clear perspective. With fraudulent companies setting up shops offering money for clicking on ads, one can imagine the headache in catching these internet thieves.

  9. Gotta wonder how serious Google is about click fraud when their help text reads: “Depending on the design of the site, a parked domain site will be classified as either a search site or a content site. That means your ads may show on parked domain sites if your campaign is opted in to the search or content networks.” Hmmm, an advertiser’s ads might be displayed on a parked domain?! No, that’s not search engine advertising. Typing (or mis-typing) a domain isn’t the same as performing a search on a search engine. No, that’s not contextual advertising since a parked domain doesn’t usually have sufficient content to match to an advertiser’s keywords. No, I’d say Google’s not that serious about click fraud prevention.

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