Click Fraud in Google AdWords

Click Fraud on Warning Road SignA very hotly debated topic, and fiercely defended by Google, is the issue of click fraud in Google AdWords. In my many years of managing Google ads I’ve seen first-hand various cases of blatant click fraud and have even worked with Google to obtain credit or refunds back. Experience has taught me when managing the search ads, to be aware of the issue, but don’t lose sleep on it. But in the case of using the Google Content Network, it may be time to review your account closely. In a recent study by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) they claim bots in digital advertising may cost advertisers as much as $6.3 billion in the next year. That’s no small number, and the Content Network has always been an issue about how useful it is to advertise there. Google does admit that click fraud is real, but they defend their position with complex tactics of their own to identify when click fraud is happening.

The key reason the Google Content Network has more click fraud is because the publisher’s website benefits directly from ads that are clicked on. Click fraud on search text ads is more often limited to your competitors and bad intentions, since the click revenue goes to Google (and their close partners) and does not benefit the click fraud source. So click fraud will always be more prevalent in Google’s Content Network, because simply said, that is where the money to be made is.

The newer and more sophisticated bots are making it harder to use simple signals such as high bounce rate or low quality website visits to identify poor publisher websites. The bots can simulate mouse movements and even put items in shopping carts and this begins to generate histories and cookies to appear more demographically appealing to advertisers and publishers. Since these bots are being run on home computers taken over by them, IP detection has no value. Detection of these newer bots is more challenging. Michael Tiffany, CEO of White Ops, added:

“Ad fraud is hugely profitable and is one of the major sources of funding for a global underground responsible for a broad spectrum of cybercrime. To protect this cash cow, adversaries are aggressive, smart and adaptable. As such, the results of this study should not be about building better mousetraps, but about driving substantive change in the industry to alter the economics for criminals, and ultimately drive them out of business.”

They went on to highlight an action plan (PDF) an advertiser could do to help combat click fraud in this area. It contains some practical suggestions such as using Day-Parting ads since bots run mostly at night or creating “blacklist” negative placements of websites that you suspect, to more costly ideas as using third-party monitoring tools. When advertising in Google Content Network, I often prefer to start out with using the Managed placements instead of letting Google open it up to a wider audience. If possible, review each website as a viable source of traffic and if you see more visits coming from that website than others – ask the question, why is that? You may want to reach out the publisher to confirm their website visitor numbers before putting them on the blacklist.

The bottom line is: PPC click fraud is not going away, and it’s part of the cost of doing PPC advertising. Be wise by knowing it’s there and be proactive in limiting the expense as best as possible.

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