Controlling the pay-per-click search engines can be truly exciting from a business owner's standpoint. No other form of advertising rivals the interactivity of being able to turn your web site's advertisement on and off like a light switch.
Overnight! Your number one in Yahoo,
AltaVista, Google, MSN, Overture and others - what could be easier.
What the new advertisers don't know, and its not listed in the fine print, is that there is an inherent downside to PPC engines. A downside, that only gets bigger as time goes on.
You never pay less, you pay more and more depending on your competition.
Let's say you set an Overture account and you place
$100 to buy keywords for the next month. You are happy with your purchase and you can't wait till the next day when the phone will start ringing and the e-mails will come flooding in.
Instant Internet millionaire right?
You go to your computer the next day, log on to the
Overture advertiser interface and notice that you have gone through all of your monthly budget overnight and have not received one e-mail or phone call.
You just through away $100 and got nothing in return.
You have most likely just been a victim of click fraud. Click Fraud
or Click Scam is when a business receives invalid clicks on paid listings by a competitor or individual
(either automatically or manually) who has no intention of using your services. A click
from the Pay Per Click Engine is invalid when an individual does it for the sole purpose of costing you money or financial harm. Click Fraud may occur from competing advertisers or simply individuals just wanting to harm or frustrate
Other times, Overture and Google actually
farm their PPC engines out to others and the other companies have an interest in
getting paid, so they produce phony clicks. We have recently learned of a
Pay To Read program where thousands of people get an email to click on certain
links and stay there for at least 60 seconds.
What typically happens in all pay per click engines is that where people are making money, there is some form of monetary
compensation. So in a nutshell most advertisers experience some form of click fraud, even if on very low levels.
We estimate this fraud to be from 10-50% depending on the website.
This advertising flaw stems from the competitive nature of the bidding system. For an advertiser to take advantage of the maximum benefits from Overture's pay per click system, a company must bid in the top three positions of Overture. When a company can maintain one of the top three positions, their ad is displayed throughout the Overture network, which consists of Yahoo, Alta Vista, MSN and Lycos among others.
Google has many affiliates including Service providers like Earthlink and
When a web user goes to Overture directly or any of the Overture partner sites, the user cannot simply hit a site repeatedly on the same keyword and accumulate chargeable clicks. Overture's system
and Google's system monitors the usage through an elaborate proprietary filter that looks at the click to determine its validity.
Mischievous individuals will often execute click fraud through Overture's partner sites so that it is harder to detect the fraudulent activity.
This also applies to Googles partner sites. People will click on Google,
then go to Earthlink or AOL to click on the same link, which is harder to track.
For instance, take the keyword "health insurance," for example. If you were to go into Overture and click any of the sites bidding for position, you will cause the business to pay for that click. On the other hand, if you back out and click the site again (from the same page) the second click will not accrue money on the client's account.
Google and Overture work the same way here.
However, when that same user goes to another network partner like Yahoo or AltaVista, types in the same keyword, clicks on the same web site, it can and usually will count against the bidding clients account.
Sites that are most susceptible to fraud are usually the companies that are in the top five or better listings - as well as industries where frequent bidding wars occur.
We have found that many times, the 1st position is clicked on most by fraudulent
Overture and Google are both well aware of this problem and have taken technical measures to determine and identify improper use of their systems.
While this type of auditing is a first defense, no single application or filtering mechanism will identify and filter out all of the fraud all of the time.
Overture addresses the issue by distributing the following information to interested
"Our Click Protection System is sophisticated software that evaluates each of our advertisers' clicks. This software makes decisions as to the validity of any click. Our (Overture's) Click Protection System uses search and click data to make both rules-based inferences and pattern recognition-based inferences about which clicks are valid clicks. We have two patents pending related to this technology, so we cannot currently disclose too many details about the methods we use. While the details cannot be disclosed, the core mechanics involve many data points. Each click is evaluated along 20 to 50 data points. Some of the data points evaluated
- IP address
- User session information
- User cookie information
- The network to which an IP belongs
- The user's browser information
- The search term requested by the user
- The time of the click
- The rank of the advertiser's listing
- The bid of the advertiser's listing
- The time of the search
- The time of the click
If the data points indicate that the click is not a valid one, our Click Protection System marks the click in our billing system, and the advertiser is not charged for it. However, we are unable to remove the click from the advertiser's own Web
"The software will detect some, but not all fraudulent activity. If you the bidder- are suspicious of the activity of your account, you should contact Overture's client services department where they have click activity specialists that will do an investigation of your account activity. If they determine that the suspicious activity may be valid, they will conduct a more thorough and detailed
The single best way to help Overture help you - is to be prepared with raw data when making a claim.
(Note: this is why a 3rd party is best and a program like Click Watch
There is really no way to prevent click fraud. As competition increases and more companies turn to PPC advertising, this problem can only get bigger. Overture's click protection system is not full proof, so you as an advertiser must take some responsibility in your hand and check for suspicious
The first step is to obtain your website's server logs if you don't already have them. Your web host should usually be able to provide
The items to look for when analyzing your logs
- Repetition of IP Addresses
- An irregular or large number of clicks coming from the same geographic region or
- IP addresses belonging to cloaking software companies
- Keywords that normally do not get any traffic are now getting an unusually high number of
- Your click throughs have doubled or tripled without having had any bid changes or rank
(Note: all of this information is
available on the Click Fraud Watch Dog Program™)
Google's distributed information is very similar as their web site
"Google closely monitors all clicks on AdWords Select ads to ensure that there is no abuse of the program. This includes analyzing all clicks to determine whether they fit a pattern of fraudulent use intended to artificially drive up an advertiser's clicks. Google's proprietary technology automatically distinguishes between clicks generated through normal use by users and clicks generated by click spamers and automated robots. As a result, we're able to filter out clicks you don't want and ensure they don't show up on your reports or
"Both Overture and Google want to preserve the integrity of their engine's bidding environments. After all, when it becomes too discouraging for a business to effectively bid the advertiser will pull up stakes and leave the system.
Not to mention that the shareholders want integrity.
Here is some good information that will help people identify and rectify the problems if and should they ever surface. While this information is basic, it has been proven to work for companies to have some recourse to mischievous activity.
1. Get your data ducks in a row. Compile statistical data so
when making your claim to Google or Overture, you provide very concise information for them to pursue.
(Use our Click Watch Dog which will have all the data that is needed)
2. Don't make claims based on speculation or suspicion.
3. Have a good statistics program like Click Watch Dog.
4. Monitor your bids daily and set aside some extra time for a weekly and or monthly review. Keep an eye out for new top-level bidders and document their appearance in the lists.
5. Stay on top of Overture/ Google. If your claims have credibility and you do your homework, it will be easier for
you to develop long-term contacts inside. If your claims have credibility and you do your homework, it will be easier for you to develop long-term contacts inside.
The bottom line is you've got to do some of the investigation yourself and not rely 100% on the pay-per-click companies catching all suspicious activity.
With our help of our Click Watch Dog program you can provide the search engines
with all they need to get credit when needed.