Click Fraud in Forbes - A Perspective

Last week and again this week, Andy Greenberg from Forbes has written an article on Click Fraud by interviewing Shuman Ghosemajumder from Google and Tom Cuthbert from Click Forensics.

I hope that in future issues Forbes will interview representatives from Yahoo!, Microsoft, Ask, Looksmart, and other advertising networks, as well as representatives of other organizations dealing with click verification and click fraud. Although Shuman’s opinions on behalf of Google are extremely important, it would be a shame if other, equally valid commentary and opinion were not added to the debate. To represent just two organization’s opinions would be quite limiting for Forbes’ readers.

Although Google is the overwhelming leader in the space, they are not alone. Unfortunately, more often than not, when people start examining click fraud related issues, they focus in on Google. This is an error for more than one reason. The first is, Google’s not alone out there; more importantly, Google is the technology leader, and as such has dealt with more of the issues than their competitors. While Google does have a problem, their competitors are potentially worse off. In fact, our data indicates that Google’s referrals have less fraud than others.

People need to differentiate between ads displayed on Google’s search network, and Google’s content network. With our recently launched PPC Assurance service, we can see a clear distinction in patterns from the Content network v. the Search network.

PPC Assurance doesn’t specifically look at click fraud; it examines whether or not your ads displayed in accordance with the terms and conditions of your contract. eg: geo-targeting, day-parting, scheduling, and the like. It also uses sophisticated algorithms to detect suspicious click activity including erroneous page reloads. There are more problems in the content network than in the search network. Is it always “fraud”? NO! There are mistakes. To reach the milestones that Google does every month requires their network to serve out an average of over 50,000 ads per second, 24/7/365.

As an advertiser, you want to protect yourself from Click Fraud. You can help minimize your exposure by enabling various campaign settings. If you only sell your products or services within a limited territory, limit your ads to those territories. Certain times of the day, and days of the week convert better; focus your ads where they are the most effective. Also, run different ads on the search network than on the content network, and monitor the differences. There’s lots more you can, and should, do to limit your exposure to problems, and most importantly to improve your ROI. In our view most people don’t take the time to do the simple changes to target their campaigns, a serious mistake.

But here’s the corollary: the more campaign parameters you implement, the more opportunities you open up for mistakes to occur, and for you to be incorrectly charged from an undesired click. These incorrect clicks are not “click fraud” — they are errors in the execution of your campaign. You do want to catch these errors, and all the advertising networks, Google included, want to know when they happen. They can’t correct an issue if they don’t know that it’s happening.

Ironically, that was a point made in today’s article in

“Q. Are click-fraud auditors hamstrung in their efforts to assess click fraud accurately because they lack data that Google has, particularly click-through rates (the number of times an ad is clicked for each time it appears)?

A. Actually, we (analytics companies of all types) have access to several kinds of data that Google doesn’t have. Most importantly, we see what happens on an advertiser’s site when a click leaves Google’s page and goes to the landing page. We see how deep the clicker goes in the site and whether the click converts into a sale.”

All advertising network providers have this blind spot. They see a lot more traffic than any one of the analytics firms do. But, they don’t see any of the traffic once it leaves their network; thus, there is a weakness in their analysis for potential click fraud. The ad network providers simply can’t catch all the mistakes or the fraud out there. Analytics firms can see what’s going on within any of the sites they are providing service to. In our case that’s data from a few thousand sites, representing millions of pageviews per day. It allows us a significant insight into web user behavior within web sites. If a user from a specific IP address doesn’t behave normally, we could identify it. In fact, we just completed a group of patents that deal with abhorrent behavior, malware and click fraud. That’s for another day though.

On the question as to whether or not Google, or any of the providers should be more transparent with regards to identifying the means they use to sort out click fraud, I believe they are operating in good faith. The ad networks’ standard response is to refuse to disclose methodologies for fear of tipping off fraudsters, which would only make it easier for them to figure out an alternate means to spam the system, and get bogus clicks through the network. Does this create a transparency problem for the ad networks in their relationship with their advertisers? Yes and no. What this lack of transparency does to is reinforce the critical need for third-party audit and verification systems (like our own PPC Assurance). After all, neither Google nor any other of the advertising networks can credibly provide this service. Would you let the IRS do your taxes? Would you let Google grade its own homework? Probably not.

One other question struck a chord, Quote:

“Q. Is Google really motivated to end click fraud?

“Every time a fraudulent click occurs and is billed, Google profits and advertisers lose. So they do profit in the short term.

“But Google clearly has an interest in building trust with advertisers long term, and that trust is diminishing as click fraud continues to grow. If Shuman really believes that it’s in Google’s interest to end click fraud, he should embrace a third-party system and make use of our data, rather than try to discredit us.”

My answer: Yes, they are highly motivated to end “click fraud.” Their entire business is built on the credibility of their network. Some other networks may have less motivation, but the major networks are all keenly interested in wiping out the problem. The problem exists, and will be a continuous battle, but I believe it’s disingenuous to suggest that they are not working steadily towards resolving the issue.

I do believe that all the networks need to embrace a third-party audit and verification system. But such a system should not exclusively deal with click fraud; to paint all mistakes as “click fraud” does the entire online marketing industry a disservice.

Finally, the article makes a point:

“In traditional media, companies exist to make sure that advertisers get what they pay for. Nielsen does this in television, Arbitron in radio, circulation auditors in print. As the online ad market matures, the same kind of companies will develop. No matter how much Google tries to diminish the role of click fraud in advertisers’ campaigns, it’s here to stay, and a third-party system is necessary to build trust and help grow the industry.”

We agree, 100%. That’s why we built PPC Assurance; Quality Assurance for pay-per-click. We’re not trying to resolve the click fraud issue; that’s a different problem than the one referred to in the paragraph above. Neilsen’s TV ratings doesn’t tackle fraud, nor does Arbitron. They ensure that advertising displays in accordance with the terms and conditions of the contracts between advertisers and the ad networks. We recognize that advertisers want and need to know that they are only paying for the traffic they actually wanted to get. Click fraud is something completely different, and lumping audits and verification into the same basket as click fraud does both a disservice.

PPC Assurance - lets you monitor your online ad campaigns: Don’t Guess - Know!

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Click Fraud in Forbes - A Perspective”

  1. Greetings,

    You raise a very good point in your comments that all of the news stories typically focus on Google when they discuss click fraud.

    Granted, Google is the leader in PPC marketing, but it’s also interesting and educational to see the scope of this problem in Yahoo and Microsoft… as well as see what they are doing to combat the issue.

    I hope you don’t mind a plug, but we are actually doing a free click fraud webinar in October where we’ll have Tom from Click Forensics, along with an executive from Microsoft and a big-time advertiser who was a victim of fraud engage in a roundtable discussion. People can register for free at

    Again, if the link is against the rules, feel free to remove it. I just thought it was applicable to what you said.

    Boris Mordkovich

  2. Egor says:

    Hello, was searching Google for pay per click search and your blog regarding Click Fraud in Forbes - A Perspective looks really interesting for me. I will definitely bookmark it and come back for more cool postings to read! Cheers!

Leave a Reply