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Click fraud -- the practice of clicking on a text advertisement served by a search engine for the sole purpose of forcing the advertiser to pay for the click -- is emerging as an important concern for search engine marketers.  Click Fraud Blog (Coming Soon)

Why does click fraud exist? 

There are numerous reasons. For CPC affiliates, including network and content partners, the obvious incentive for artificially generating clicks is to increase commissions received on the traffic they send. This situation has been exploited to a great extent since Google launched AdSense, the content-delivery platform that allows individual webmasters to publish AdWords ads on their sites and receive per-click commissions on the traffic they generate for the ads. 

Additionally, competing advertisers are driven by competitiveness to "stick it to" their competition by clicking on their expensive CPC ads, to cost them money and potentially knock them out of competition for top positioning, resulting in a lower cost for the term(s) in question.

How do 'they' do it?

There are different methods of fraudulent click generation. One form of artificial click generation, perhaps the most difficult to identify, comes by way of manually generated clicks induced by CPC competitors within the same keyword niche or by human-driven operations created for the sole purpose of generating affiliate revenue off of the CPC pricing model. 

Another method of click fraud is generated through automated clicking methods, using software applications (hitbots) specifically designed to click on paid listings. Some using Proxy Servers.  This kind of activity is often initiated by both competitors and by affiliates, the latter often instituting extensive technology arrangements to enable their fraudulent click traffic to slip past the internal filtering methods used by the CPC engines.

Click Fraud - Is It Happening to You?

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 others.  

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 AOL. 

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 clickers. 

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 parties:

"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 are:

- 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 logs.

"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 investigation.

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 Dog™)

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 activity. 

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 them.

The items to look for when analyzing your logs are:

- Repetition of IP Addresses
- An irregular or large number of clicks coming from the same geographic region or country.
- IP addresses belonging to cloaking software companies
- Keywords that normally do not get any traffic are now getting an unusually high number of clicks.
- Your click throughs have doubled or tripled without having had any bid changes or rank changes

(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 states:

"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 bills.

"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.


Exactly WHO is clicking your ads? 

You spend a lot of money, perhaps thousands every month on sponsored Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising on the major search engines. The idea is simple: you bid for your chosen keywords, create a simple ad then sit back and wait for visitors to beat a path to your web site. What you pay depends on how much competition there is for your keywords... and how often your ad is clicked. 

But what if somebody – a competitor maybe – were to spend all day clicking your ads? This would cost you money, bid up the price of your keywords and could mean that your ads exceed your maximum daily spend and then will not be seen by legitimate buyers. And what about your average innocent search engine user who has no idea how the PPC system works and just uses your ads as a convenient shortcut back to your web site? Same effect on your advertising budget! 

The search engines take steps to detect patterns of so-called click fraud but they can't always detect the kind of sustained spurious clicking or click abuse that Click Watch Dog™ has been designed to uncover. For instance, a "spam clicker" could come back to any one of your ads at different times of the day and different days of the week, from a different location or use another search engine and escape detection. This kind of activity is defined as "normal user behavior" by the search engine but it could be costing you a large slice of your advertising budget every month!

Now there is a low-cost way of defending yourself against click abuse

Click Watch Dog™ gives you the power to track return visitors to your site and alerts you immediately if there is evidence that your site may be under attack. Click Watch Dog™ uses sophisticated tracking mechanisms to determine whether visitor behavior is normal or abnormal and provides you with the tools to do something about it. The Click Watch Dog™ reports show EVERY click in real time, unlike most search engine reports, which provide only a summary of click-throughs several hours after the event. You can also set up return visitor alerts that remind the innocent repeat clicker to bookmark your site as well as alerting those visitors with less innocent intent that their movements are being monitored!

Some of the features of Click Watch Dog are:

1. Error Popup Screen to click fraud customer that says, stop clicking me (your personal message with a set number of times before they get that error message)

2. Shows automated type click fraud that doesn't use a browser (for programs that are writing to click your site over and over again without loading it)

3. Reports to prove to Google, Overture and others, by a 3rd party company that you can give them to prove that you have be defrauded saving you at least 20% or more per month of advertising. Flags to point out a possible click fraud.

4. Which PPC search engine sent you the click, Time stamp, IP address, type of browser used, login location, number of times clicked by a certain IP, time on a page and what pages were clicked on after they arrived at your site and how long they stayed.

5. Easy installation and no maintenance after installation, except to look at possible fraud. 

6. Potential Click Fraud is automatically detected by our Click Fraud Engine

7. You can easily fine-tune numerous settings to control how our fraud engine behaves

8. Receive email notifications with detailed evidence when Click Fraud is detected

9. Easily create custom messages that will automatically be displayed to your website visitors when our Fraud Engine detects their Fraudulent behavior.

10. Stops competitors from spamming your ads

11. Detects click fraud across multiple PPCs and multiple IPs

12. Detailed, custom metrics analyze clicks from all sources to stop fraud

13. Works with all major organic and PPC search engines, email, banner ads and other ads

14. Detects both manual and automated click fraud

15. Helps you recover losses and turn negative campaigns into positive revenues

Continue to No Click Fraud Program Information



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