Archive for the ‘Click Fraud’ Category

Click Fraud v. Click Quality Assurance

October 2nd, 2007 by Richard Zwicky

I read Andrew Goodman’s review of PPC Assurance this morning with great interest. That may appear to be an incredibly obvious comment, but my interest was two-fold. First, I enjoyed learning about how Andrew is using PPC Assurance, and the value his client(s) have derived from it.

Secondly, and most importantly, I was interested to see how our message on click quality is being understood. Essentially; not all “bad clicks” are click fraud, and not all bad clicks are really bad. How’s that for simple?

If a click doesn’t match your campaign parameters, then it’s traffic you did not want. Therefore, it’s bad. (kind of). But if you didn’t pay for it, do you care? Might as well have been an organic click in that case, right? So, where’s the issue with having visitors arrive at your web site from a paid campaign, when you didn’t have to pay for those visitors? With Google’s invalid clicks, this is what you’re getting. Unfortunately, people confuse these “acceptable” bad clicks with “click fraud”. It’s not.

Of course, there’s the other problem; knowing which clicks you paid for that didn’t match your campaign parameters. These are what we call “undesired.” Andrew did a great job on explaining both these “acceptable” and “undesired” clicks.

Knowing what is going on in your campaigns is paramount. “Know every Click” is a by-line for us.

When reporting for customers, we’ve observed that some PPC campaigns are more open to issues than others. The larger the network, the more potential trouble points will exist. Also, the narrower, and more focused a campaign is, the harder it is for the ad network to serve the ads out properly all the time, and the more clicks requiring refunds will exist. Knowing when the problems exist, and being able to easily resolve these issues is what PPC Assurance is all about.

However, just using a normal analytics package doesn’t help you understand which of these clicks you paid for, and which you didn’t. Standard web analytics services are great tools for reporting on user activity within a site, and improving paths through to conversion. That’s extremely valuable, but very different from “search analytics” which is what we do.

Click Fraud tracking is also very different from what we do at PPC Assurance. In click fraud, visitor behavior is being analyzed to ascertain if it is “normal.” We don’t do that. We perform the same type of function Nielsen serves to TV, and Arbitron to radio: Did your ads display in accordance with the terms and conditions of your contract? If it didn’t we provide you with the mechanism you need to resolve the issue with your provider.

Can you imagine contracting services from anyone without some way of testing whether or not terms were met for payment? Well, if you’re buying PPC ads right now, you are effectively blindly trusting that your service provider is executing on their contract word for word. It doesn’t matter how much trust exists between parties, verification is a business requirement.

Any established business has audit trails in accounting, and means of verifying a variety of business metrics. Click Fraud detection does not provide this service, it provides an evaluation of the quality of the traffic referred by an ad network.

As I wrote last week in my post about Click Fraud in Forbes as an advertiser you want to protect yourself from Click Fraud, but not all mistakes in campaign execution are “fraud.” As an advertiser, you need to be cognizant of the quality of the clicks which reach your site, and you need to know that the contract you’ve entered into with your ad network provider is being honored. If you wanted clicks from just the U.S., you only want to be billed for clicks from the U.S. Simple. But just because you sometimes don’t doesn’t mean it’s click fraud.

Andrew knows the difference. He’s demonstrated today that PPC Assurance provide everyone with a simple way of knowing every click, and monitoring campaigns so that when problems do arise (and they do), you’ll know immediately, will be able to respond quickly, and will be able to resolve the problem without jumping through a lot of hoops.

PPC Campaign - Tracking URL's - ValueTrack Tag

October 1st, 2007 by Richard Zwicky

When you enable campaign tracking URL’s in Google using their ValueTrack tag, there’s quite a lot of information you can collect. It’s an extremely valuable option which anyone running a PPC campaign should enable.

What it does is allow your analytics software to track individual PPC campaigns more precisely. I wish every ad network offered a similar feature: it makes your campaign tracking much more transparent, and makes it a lot easier to understand what is actually going on within individual campaigns.

Have you ever looked at your stats and wondered if you paid for all those clicks from China when your campaigns were geo-targeted to the U.S. only? Have you tried running one campaign weekdays and a different one on weekends, and been left wondering if the ads ran properly, or if you paid for the clicks that came through from a campaign on the wrong days? The ValueTrack tag lets your analytics reports drill into this information easier.

Even with the ValueTrack tag turned on, it’s still not simple, which is why we built PPC Assurance.

But one thing that has become apparent is Google update times. Since we’re monitoring so many campaigns, a really clear understanding of how quickly Google responds to changes in your campaign settings or configuration is pretty obvious; you can actually see it in the graph below.

Some people believe that if you make a campaign update, the effect is immediate. It’s not. It takes a while not only to get “published” but also to get published across the network. First off, many changes will take until the next day to be promoted to the live network. But some changes will take a few days to make it to live status across the entire ad network. Here’s an example:

For purposes of explaining data, we use 4 colors:

  • Green: Good PPC traffic: It matches what you set for campaign parameters.
  • Yellow: This traffic does not match your campaign settings, but due to the number of invalid clicks you were credited for, we’ve established you did not pay for it. So, it’s deemed “acceptable.”
  • Red: This is traffic you paid for, and it did not match your campaign settings. We term it “undesired” traffic. You’ve paid for it, and you ought not have.
  • Gray: this is “missing” traffic. Don’t worry about this at the start of the campaign, but you need to watch it as a campaign unfolds. In this case it reflects traffic which is not matching the campaign parameters as set. It’s not actually missing, it’s not matching, because the campaign info from the ValueTrack tag was not being transmitted. The amount of PPC traffic could be ascertained, but not matched to which campaign it belonged at the granular level.

So Gray (or grey depending on where you are sitting ) is the color you need to focus on in this example screenshot. The reason it’s gray in this example is because up until June 25, there was no tracking code enabled. We were able to validate that there was traffic to the site from the various PPC Campaigns, not if it matched the settings on a granular campaign by campaign basis, (we can work without the ValueTrack tag, but for this example we’re not doing so). We added the ValueTrack Tag to each of the customer’s campaigns early in the morning on June 25, but it was only midday (12:00 PST) on the 26th when Google’s network actually started referring traffic with the tracking tag information attached. It took until June 29 for all referrals to start incorporating the tag.

So, when you make an update to a Google PPC Campaign, where you are adding a tracking tag, be aware that the change is not immediate. It seems to be pretty consistent that most of Google’s adservers will update within 24 hours, but that it can take up to four days for it to propagate fully.

Once the integration period is over, you need to watch for the grey spikes for a completely different reason. But I’ll post about that at a later date.

Click Fraud in Forbes - A Perspective

September 25th, 2007 by Richard Zwicky

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!

Enquisite Launches PPC Assurance Reporting Suite

August 20th, 2007 by Richard Zwicky

Here’s the announcement - PPC Assurance, our first revenue product is now live. It’s designed for anyone running a pay per click campaign. You don’t need to be knowledgeable about PPC to benefit from this service. This is a PPC management service which helps anyone from a beginner to recognized market experts make their PPC campaigns more successful. We’re not kidding. Our testers, focus groups, and reviewers came from both groups; absolute beginners, and the best in the world. They all found PPC Assurance to be simple, intuitive, and dead simple to use. It’s not easy making something simple!

San Mateo, CA. August 20, 2007 — Enquisite, a search analytics firm has today unveiled its PPC Assurance reporting service at The PPC Assurance suite fills the void in third-party verification of Pay per Click (PPC) charges. The suite empowers businesses with a simple way to audit and verify their PPC charges, and automatically submits instances of improper billing for a refund.

When a business contracts a PPC Provider (such as Google AdWords or Yahoo Search Marketing) to display their advertising, they set out Terms and Conditions for the display of the advertising; these parameters include when, where, and how the ads should display. Campaign conditions might include such options as geo-targeting, time of day and day of the week scheduling, specification of which networks to display the ads on, and excluded sites.

While companies can customize their ad campaign parameters in order to more effectively spend their ad dollars and reach a specific target market, there has been no effective means of validating whether the ads have been displayed in accordance with the agreed upon conditions.

Enquisite’s patent-pending PPC Assurance reporting suite provides businesses with the data needed to validate their Pay per Click charges. PPC Assurance equips companies with easy-to-understand information that confirms whether or not individual paid ads are being properly displayed. This allows companies to effectively resolve possible PPC overcharges, fine tune campaigns and maximize ROI on paid search spending.

Enquisite’s CEO Richard Zwicky explains: “The search engines and advertising networks are working hard to ensure that PPC campaigns execute properly. But problems do arise. Advertisers need to know when something goes wrong, and how to resolve the issue. Advertising networks need to know what’s happening as well, so that they can improve their services. PPC Assurance provides both parties with the objective information they need, leading everyone to a quick and equitable resolution.”

This year, online marketing campaign spending is expected to exceed $25 billion. The medium of search marketing has escalated to a point where it is routing significant dollars away from other typical marketing and advertising channels including print and TV. With audit systems at present almost non-existent, an important gap exists that requires companies to pay their online advertising bills without 3rd party validation of the accuracy of their campaigns. The phenomenon of paying un-validated online ad bills is akin to a situation where a home buyer would purchase a new home based simply on his faith that the seller was accurately representing the property. Though the seller might not purposely misrepresent the value of the property, it is generally accepted that a buyer should obtain an independent third-party inspection before they pay for it. This professional third-party inspection validates that the facts are as presented and leaves the purchaser with peace of mind and in-depth knowledge about the wisdom of their investment.

PPC Assurance empowers companies of all sizes with independent verification of their PPC campaign charges, and a simple resolution mechanism to settle billing disputes.

About Enquisite:

Enquisite is an award winning web analytics firm, specializing in search analytics. Enquisite’s SAAS reporting suite is currently used by thousands of companies worldwide. PPC Assurance is the flagship for fee service offering in the Enquisite suite of reports.