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The Response of Search Engines to Click Fraud

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We’ve spoken briefly about PPC search engines and how they have responded to various incidents of click fraud.

Not all search engines have programs in place that routinely check ad accounts for warning signs of click fraud, but more and more are instituting such programs in light of the increasing incidence of click fraud and pressure from their advertisers to deal with the problem.

The two largest search engines, Google and Yahoo, both have publicly admitted that click fraud is a problem that is a significant threat, not just to their “business model,” but to their overall success.

In the recent pre-IPO filings by Google, for example, the company included a paragraph pointing to click fraud as a risk potential investors should consider before purchasing Google stock. They stated that:

“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 are unable to remain competitive and provide value to our advertisers, they may stop placing ads with us, which would negatively affect our net revenues and business.”

Each of the two major PPC search engines defines click fraud in a slightly different manner.

Google defines it as “invalid clicks, as any method used to artificially or maliciously generate clicks or page impressions” (Salar Kamanagar, Director of Product Management, Google).

The Yahoo definition is “clicks arising for reasons other than the good-faith intention of an Internet user to visit a web site to purchase goods or services or to obtain information.” (Dina Freeman from Yahoo Search Marketing).

Obviously, the Google definition is much more specific than that proposed by Yahoo, and its response to click fraud at this point is a touch more detailed and drills down further into the raw data.

Still, both search engines have proprietary in place, which are constantly being upgraded as new methods of click fraud become apparent or the level of detected click fraud increases.

Google has developed a separate team that deals solely with click fraud issues. One part of the team is responsible for constantly revising the automated software detection system, so that it can detect the differences between normal, human clicks and those made by robots.

Basically, the system analyzes traffic to websites to see if they fit known patterns of activity that indicate click fraud, such as never leaving the landing page, repeated clicking within a certain timeframe from the same IP address, and so on.

The second part of the Google click fraud team is composed of individuals who manually look at individual cases of suspected click fraud.

These investigations may come about as a result of a complaint filed by an advertiser who feels they have been a victim of click fraud, or cases that have been identified by the automated system.

Although all search engines are very tight-lipped about revealing how much they have refunded to advertisers on click-fraud claims, Google has refunded money lost by advertisers, and publishers have had their payments adjusted if they are suspected of affiliate-related fraud.

Despite their stated good intentions, and evidence of quick action on claims by advertisers of suspected click fraud, many advertisers feel that Google is not doing enough to combat the problem and are frustrated in their attempts to reach the level of proof that Google expects in order to qualify for a refund.

No doubt it is in this search engine’s best interests to keep its advertisers happy, but it is a complex problem.

Yahoo Search Marketing, like Google, has proprietary software designed to detect click fraud.

This software has been refined on a regular basis since 1998, and now checks at least 50 points of data, from the more obvious ones, such as IP addresses, cookie information, or the visitor’s browser’s information, to more sophisticated recognition of patterns of behavior on an individual website.

If the cumulative number of data points concludes that the activity is likely not valid, the advertiser is not charged for the click (although Yahoo is unable to remove the information from the advertiser’s logs, leading some to question how far Yahoo is actually going to combat click fraud).

Yahoo also encourages advertisers to report suspicious behavior that they end in their own tracking of ad activity, and will investigate further and issue refunds when appropriate.

Keep in mind that if your claim is denied, you should appeal and get them to take it seriously.

Some other PPC search engines also have formalized systems in place to detect click fraud.

Chief among these are I.ookSmarts TrueLeadTM system and FindWhat. Other PPC search engines, however, do not have formal click fraud systems in place, but do monitor traffic on an informal basis.

All will consider any claims made by an advertiser who claims to be a victim of click fraud.

Keywords: Click Fraud, advertiser,


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