If your promotion strategy includes pay-per-click, listen up. You need to be aware of a few guerilla tactics that are gaining popularity - and as a result may end up hurting legitimate businesses.
If you've been even slightly in touch with the pay-per-click industry recently, you probably already know about this article, which sheds some light on what appears to be an industry based on a form of fraud where people are paid to click on online advertisements.
"A growing number of housewives, college graduates, and even working professionals across metropolitan cities are rushing to click paid Internet ads to make $100 to $200 (up to Rs 9,000) per month," the Times of India claims.
The notion behind this guerilla tactic is simple: you pay people to click on your competitors' advertisements. Since your competitors have to pay money every time an ad is clicked, you are essentially forcing them to pay for false leads.
"We are exposed to the risk of fraudulent clicks on our ads," Google admitted under the requirements of its recent IPO. "We have regularly paid refunds related to fraudulent clicks and expect to do so in the future. If we are unable to stop this fraudulent activity, these refunds may increase. If we find new evidence of past fraudulent clicks we may have to issue refunds retroactively of amounts previously paid to our Google Network members."
Mairu, an Indian member of Security Forum X admitted in a recent discussion click fraud is "happpening in India bigtime, and the people who click inadvertently don't know why they are clicking or if there is something fundamentally flawed with the fact that one can get money clicking an ad."
Even though Google maintains that it "Google closely monitors all clicks on Google AdWords ads to ensure that there is no abuse of the program," fraudulent clicks still occur in AdWords and other pay-per-click programs.
One click fraud victim reported at thread at WebmasterWorld that his Looksmart budget was reached an unusually short amount of time. Upon checking his server logs, he noticed a sudden spike in visitors coming from just a few different IP addresses - all of which happened to be in China. Apparently, he said, these visitors had clicked on the same search results repeatedly "every few minutes, all day long, for many days straight." He was billed for some of these clicks despite Looksmart's efforts to prevent charging customers for fraudulent clicks.
According to Andy Jones, a member of the Best Practices Search Engine Forums, fraudulent clicks are just another aspect of the business. "Any of us that use AdWords or any other PPC has to pay for a certain percentage of fraudulent clicks," he said in a forum discussion. "I factor it in as a cost of doing business."
If you suspect you've been the victim of click fraud, you should contact your Google representative, advises JimGuide Patrcik Hartman, a search engine optimization expert.
Click fraud victims should report the fraud immediately in order to get refunds, experts suggest, although there have been mixed views on how well Google cooperates with its click fraud victims. Some people rave about how quickly their problems were resolved, although there have been complaints that it takes continued effort to obtain refund checks from Google. "If you don't have a rep," he says, "try calling back their customer service number and demand to speak with someone that is in more of a management position than the tier1 person that you will initially talk to."
A member of Jimworld reported that Google ignored his claims of AdWords click fraud, which he says cost him thousands of dollars. After dealing with what he calls "incompetent customer service" he was forced to wait months with no response from Google. It was only after following up with a phone call and finally getting in touch with a manager that he received any compensation. Even after speaking with Google, he did not receive full compensation for the click fraud for months and was told that "the click fraud investigations team was severely backlogged."
'Infosys,' the site administrator for Security Forum X, notes, "I found that the use of Google Search to find all the scammers seeking to cheat Google Ads (and similar Pay For Click companies) to be kind of amusing and ironic. It's odd that Google doesn't do anything to block out solicitations to conspire against Google 'Pay for Click' advertisers. But then again Google makes money everytime some housewife in India, or Pakistan, or Russia or Brazil clicks on one of their ads. And every bogus click helps bolster Googles stats on 'how effective' Google Clicks are for advertisers."
Despite the frustration and loss of money click fraud costs its victims, there is hope. In this discussion flood6 offers a possible solution: "Pull the ads from 'partner sites' and only allow the ads to be displayed in the search engine result pages and on larger established sites where they would be less likely to engage in paying clickers."
Looking to the future, 'infosys' predicts, "Eventually the advertisers whose limited budgets are being syphoned off will do a Return on Investment study and figure out that they spent a lot of money and got nothing more in return than a huge traffic flow from countries where the average monthly household income is about $100 per month or less... "
When PPC disaster strikes, there are also some helpful online tools readily available.
Who's Clicking Who? is a tracking tool which tracks pay-per-click search engines to detect and (hopefully) defer click fraud. One helpful aspect of Who's Click Who? is that it can detect proxy server abuse - users coming from AOL, Prodigy and other services with multiple IP addresses. In the past, detecting individual users who share IP addresses has proven a tricky problem since most server logs can't detect it.
Claiming to be "your best friend in the battle against fraud on your pay-per-click campaigns," Click Auditor, another useful click fraud tool, lists suspicious IP addresses (IP's that click your ads repeatedly), geographic activity, unusual clicks, and competitor tracking.
Return of Investment tracker KeywordMax is also capable of detecting pay-per-click fraud and provides email alerts of suspicious behavior.
If anyone has any other tools that you'd like to add to the list, feel free to post them here!
You can get more helpful hints and tips by reading this article by Garrett or reading one of the many discussions we've had here on WebProWorld:
Have you been a victim of click fraud? If not, what have you done to prevent it?