For anyone engaged in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, click fraud is a big concern. Intentional click fraud is when a click occurs on your ad by a person, or an automated script or computer program simulating a person, for the purpose of generating an improper click charge. The person or company committing the fraud is doing so for the purpose of costing you money and has no intention of making a purchase.
There's another type of activity going on, that, while not click fraud in the traditional sense of the definition provided above, still hovers at the edge of legitimacy. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sites showing YSM ads and, through a partnership arrangement with YSM, getting paid when your ad is clicked. If you think that's not a problem, read on.
Most PPC marketers know their PPC ad in YSM is automatically shown on Yahoo's distribution partner sites. Here's the 'official' list: http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com/srch/srch_affnw.php. That doesnít look so bad, does it?
But what about all the sites NOT on the list? Sites showing your ads that, when clicked, put money in the partner site's pocket, in Yahoo's pocket, and take it out of your pocket, all the while delivering a click that is unlikely to convert. What happens when these sites get crawled by search engine spiders and other robots?
I don't want to give these guys a link, but I'm sure you'll figure out the url: www[dot]recipes[dot]com
Upon arriving at the site, you might reasonably assume it's a directory or index of sites related to recipes and cooking. It claims to present 'comprehensive search friendly indexes'. Let's take a closer look...
A click on the 'Healthy Recipes' link in the top navigation bar returns a listing of links. At the top of the page in tiny text it reads: 'Sponsored Results: Healthy Recipes'. There's a 'more' link in the lower right. In the URL we see the key phrase 'healthy recipes' has been passed in.
Now do this: in another browser window, go to www[dot]overture[dot]com (YSMís site). In the search box in the upper right, type in the phrase 'healthy recipes'. Now go back and forth between recipes[dot]com and the Overture search results. Notice anything?
All recipes[dot]com is doing is re-serving YSM paid listings. When a user arrives at recipes[dot]com and clicks on a link, recipes[dot]com gets a fee, YSM charges you the cost for the click, and you end up with a click that is less likely to convert to a sale or lead.
Letís dig in a bit more. Here's the code for the destination of the first link:
redirect.php?term=healthy+recipes&host=www.rachael raymag.com&jump=http%3A%2F%2Fwww60.overture.com%2F d%2Fsr%2F%3Fxargs%3D15KPjg18BStpXyl%255FruNLbXU6HT kQZdwcH2o4JwVsw6WIAMrSkpBv4sMf7Yz%255FVITPMisFeRiK eL9KIVKfXl2KPKHUrMHgrdDOCLpfGnosJSdfrwG4IfkrEqsZmQ 6pNNSBwHZGe3cZq%252Dnu3ZItCCShcsge1L%255Fy2BpaQ%25 5FnYvujPIcFbiqmgcrohyBN88J66Mpl5%255FOLpoISLpdftCe kzDDfehBwqp9k%252DSiTSljLSKg4h4a%255FP60FBQM%252De 3AfY0MubH1nImRYeHrxNRfHzeU8fZj4RvjvXrpyotqICOPieNp oHUFS9n6Zjio%255Fgtc2riFgfDfP4duvzKnSr3QZXjhPU94dU N4WrW0MQeBcSgqvBNiUYWyU%255FmVpS6%255FAK%252DCEykn fFUD%252DZS5ONBG7lmRmWMzXjLBF%255FpLjBsKJKNi0Aygvr a2uFsxk50HzOGWIdFV6oyCuHPy%26yargs%3Dwww.rachaelra ymag.com
From this code we can see this link sends the clicker through Overture.
If you still have your Overture (YSM) window open with the 'healthy recipes' results still up, roll over the same link to see where it goes:
www23.overture.com/d/sr/?xargs=15KPjg189StpXyl%5FruNLbXU6HTkQZdwcH2o4JwVsw 6WIAMrSkpBv4sMf7Yz%5FVITPMisFeRiKeL9KIVKfXl2KPKHUr MHgrdDOCLpfGnosJSdfrwG4IfkrEqsZmQ6pNNSBwHZGe3cZq%2 Dnu3ZItCCShcsge1L%5Fy2BpaQ%5FnYvujPIcFbiqmgcrohyBN 88J66Mpl5%5FOLpoISLpdftCekzDDfehBwqp9k%2DSiTSljLSK g4h4a%5FP60FBQM%2De3AfY0MubH1nImRYeHrxNQobTaQ9fZi4 RblyH%5Fuu%5FtjICOPieNpoHQFS9n6Zjmpigxbr7iFgfLNctF ivDisOMWrHmerbEFyekx5RP7kbgqKbHdi7%5F%2DlY2VkQenx9 yK%2DHraYBCI5ZFoXqN60LoYLgXi7sUQQfhX8UNTauTkKLxVfk gyrvhW2zlswg%2DkhqPreDeFz&yargs=www.rachaelraymag. com
Except for the www23 prefix and the xargs variable (which is used to track the click), the link is the same. That means when someone clicks on the link at recipes[dot]com, rachaelraymag[dot]com gets charged.
1. On the recipes[dot]com site, replace 'healthy+recipes' in the query string with any other search term, like 'tennis+rackets'. Now the links show sites for tennis rackets. Or from the homes page, do a search for any term. I guess recipes[dot]com isn't just a recipes site....
2. recipes[dot]com doesn't have a robots.txt file. It isn't providing any special instructions to spiders or bots crawling their site, such as banning them from crawling the links.
3. The links don't have a rel=nofollow. Search engine spiders will follow the links from recipes[dot]com through to Overture (YSM).
4. When recipes[dot]com gets crawled and search engine spiders or other bots follow the outbound links, Unless YSM is doing something on their end, the advertiser is getting charged.
Now go to Google and search for 'healthy recipes'. Scan the results around position five. recipes[dot]com is running AdWords ads to drive users to its site, where they will then click on YSM ads and make recipes[dot]com (and YSM) money.
In the lower right of the recipes[dot]com site is a link to the company that runs the site (digimedia). Clicking on that link takes you to the company page. Once there, click on the 'Portfolio' link. Now feel a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach if you use YSM as you see all the other sites this company runs that are doing the exact same thing as recipes[dot]com.
It gets worse. Go to www[dot]cheapcomforters[dot]com. Check out the links on the home page. Now go back to the Overture search and search for 'cheap comforters' Compare the results with the cheapcomforters site. Click on any of the links on cheapcomforters site and compare the resulting links with Overture search results for those terms.
Still feeling good about the money you pay to YSM? Maybe you should go to onlinecareerdirectory[dot]com. EVERY link on this page goes to a site the does nothing but list YSM paid ads. Here's another: onlineemploymentguide[dot]com. Explore here and you will find that the links either go directly to sites that show YSM paid listings or to sites that have other links that eventually put the user on a site that shows YSM paid listings.
In the strictest sense, is this click fraud? Hair-splitters out there will probably say no. But these sites are misrepresenting YSM paid search ads as directory and index listings. They aren't masking them from search engines. They are advertising through other PPC engines (and probably other ways) to get traffic.
Personally, I wouldn't want my paid ads to be shown on sites like these. Spider and bot clicks notwithstanding, I know from personal experience that clicks from such sites convert at a much lower rate than clicks from ads show as a result of an active search.
I ran PPC campaign for a client where just one of the sites I mentioned above was sending in excess of $30 worth of clicks a day, and those clicks converted at 1/20th the rate of clicks coming from the actual Yahoo search. When I addressed my concerns to YSM, sent server logs, and requested a refund (by that time in excess of $1,000), it was denied. When I asked them to stop serving ads to the site (and some others I had identified), they refused. I turned off the campaign in YSM. All told, for that campaign, I was paying almost $50 a day for clicks from sites like these.
I wonder why YSM doesn't list these sites on their Distribution Partner page.....