With reports that over 50% of PPC ad revenue comes from fraudulent clicks, it appears that the Google/Overture cash cow may be experiencing some growing pains. Around the search engine forums, quite a few posters have reported that their keywords are getting a large number of clicks, while receiving very little conversions.
Of course, these threads may be a case of poor keyword marketing, however a report from MediaDailyNews reveals the probable culprit. MDN cited a conducted by web analytics provider Clicklab that determined “fraudulent clicks can account for more than 50 percent of all advertising fees attributable to certain categories.” Granted, not all categories receive erroneous clicks, but I have noticed that reports of people receiving residual checks from Google have been increasing.
The question becomes, can fraudulent clicks ruin PPC advertising? Probably not, but it can certainly damage the reputation. In fact, Andy Beal, who was featured in a Wall Street Journal article about search engine advertising growth, said on his blog, “We'll see continued growth but when you get to a $5+ billion industry, it's hard to grow at 50% a year.”
However, click fraud, especially if Clicklab’s numbers are accurate (no reason to believe otherwise), can be very troublesome to the growing industry. Are there any methods available to help prevent fraudulent clicks from affecting your ad campaign and your wallet?
A thread was started on WebProWorld concerning a person’s campaign and how his ads were clicked daily until his budget was exhausted. The poster, Kentyn, stated, “If companies really are clicking-down the competition could this mean a pending doom for Adwords?” If this is what actually happened to Ken’s campaign, than this is the perfect definition of click fraud.
Responses to Ken’s initial post were full of useful information and tips to help combat click fraud. The first step when you suspect fraud has occurred is to inform Google, Overture, or whoever else sponsors your ads. This was illustrated nicely Marbant, who said, “…noticed the same a few weeks ago but never since. Google mailed me a voucher, saying that abuse was noticed.” This means if there is suitable evidence, Google and Overture will reimburse you for the fraudulent clicks. However, there are steps that you can take to ensure click fraud doesn’t occur to your campaigns.
Poster TimH offered Ken this advice:
“If you are concerned with Google AdWord fraud then the first step is to remove your Google ad from their affiliate network, so your ad is only shown on the Google search engine… By eliminating that exposure, you limit your company from 99.99% of the population that could profit from sending fraudulent clicks through your ad.”
On the SearchEngineWatch forum, moderator Sebastian had some interesting observations concerning click fraud and the ad sponsors, “the engines should NOT do their own fraud protection. It should be a third party company that has demonstrated quality integrity and functional superiority to tackle this problem... an "auditable" company that WOULD release fraud statistics. How can the engines be allowed to NOT release fraud statistics?” Good question.
Before everyone goes out and cancels their PPC campaigns, there are some statements that should be considered. Peter (IMC), a poster at WebProWorld, offered this advice, “Unless you suspect that most of your clicks are fraudulent, I wouldn't worry too much about click fraud. Just maintain a dynamic campaign, manage it well, and AdWords will do you good.” And kjohnson5576 had this to say:
“PPC makes the difference between ‘making a living and just barely living.’ Lots of fraud yes, but there is no better way yet to get interested people to the site consistently. Say you rank #1 in the SERPs for 4 major keywords. That's great, but what about the other 150 words people are looking under?”