Safe Lead Generation Tips to Avoid Being Burned by Click Fraud

Click fraud is a growing epidemic that’s plaguing online advertising. Time and time again, marketers are tricked into thinking traffic from bots are real, human leads. Click fraud can cost you money and potential leads. Reduce your fraud risk by employing these five safe lead generation tips. Tip No. 1: Know where you’re buying traffic from First, do your research. Investigate the company, and only buy traffic from reputable networks. These networks are often direct-owned and operated companies that have been around for a while. More importantly, they offer customer support. Lack of customer support is a big red flag. If a company refuses to put a rep on the phone with you, it’s possible that traffic you think you’re buying from California is coming from an entirely different country. Keep the communication flowing and don’t be afraid to notify your network of problems. If you have a dispute or question about the traffic you’re receiving, let the network know immediately. If you wait too long, you risk losing out on legitimate traffic to your site. Remember a reputable network won’t avoid you and will have no trouble providing support. Tip No. 2: Make sure your network has checks and balances How a network protects itself is a good indicator of how your company will be protected. Verify if a network has a system of checks and balances in place for click fraud monitoring and protection. Don’t hesitate to ask questions such as: How do you filter your traffic? What steps are you taking to prevent click fraud? How are you ensuring that the traffic you’re sending me is good, clean, converting traffic? By making sure the network has checks and balances on their end, you’ll know the right steps are being taken to help you avoid being burned by fraud. Tip No. 3: Always track and monitor user behavior To protect yourself from fraud, it’s imperative to always track and monitor user behavior. Although most fraudulent traffic doesn’t turn into leads, sometimes bogus traffic gets through. Distinguish the real from the phony by using an analytics tool like Google Analytics or a click fraud protection platform like Traffic Advisors® to monitor traffic coming into your site. These tools will enable you to spot suspicious behavior such as: Repeated clicks from the same IP address. Unusual spikes in click volume and impressions. Significant drop in conversion rate. For instance, let’s say you normally see 175 impressions per day with an 8% CTR. You log in and see 2,000 impressions with a 30% CTR, and no increase in conversions. This is a prime example of click fraud. Tip No. 4: Use a CAPTCHA form For an added layer of protection, stave off fraud by utilizing a CAPTCHA form like this one from Facebook. Captcha The form requires users to prove they’re human by typing a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers. These are designed to keep the bots at bay, as most bots are incapable of filling out these forms. Unfortunately, as bots become more intelligent, CAPTCHAs aren’t 100% foolproof. Nevertheless, a CAPTCHA will catch a large chunk of non-human fraudulent traffic. Tip No. 5: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you buy a $2 keyword for two cents, don’t expect to get the same quality of traffic. There’s a reason that deal seems too good to be true: it’s likely fraudulent traffic. Clean, converting traffic generally costs more, simply because people are willing to pay more for those high-quality publishers. In this situation, ‘keep up with the Joneses.’ It’s worth spending a little more money for quality traffic instead of wasting money on bad traffic. While it’s worth exploring keywords and shopping for lower costs, don’t settle for a publisher that’s obviously ‘too good to be true.’ Conclusion Click fraud remains an issue, and it’s up to you to protect yourself and your budget. Safeguard your leads by incorporating these tips. Not only will you save money, you’ll also give yourself peace of mind.

Online Fraud and the Sneaky Places It Hides

In part one of our online advertising fraud series, we learned that advertisers waste over $6 billion a year in fraudulent advertising spend. Fraudulent accounts are abundant, and with good reasons: there are no rules, no consequences, and no regulations for their actions. With 67% of online bot traffic originating from residential IP addresses, it’s more likely than not that you, too, have been affected by advertising fraud. In part two of this series, we’ll take a look at where we find ad fraud, and why each form of fraud is so popular with fraudsters. Search Ad Fraud or Click Fraud (CPC) Arguably one of the largest subsets of online advertising fraud is search ad fraud, or click fraud. It takes place when a person or bot mimics a legitimate user, generating a click without having any interest in the result of that click. Click fraud is usually prevalent in pay per click programs, where advertisers pay for click performance, with the end goal of converting those clicks. When a bot is present, however, the clicks generally don’t convert and add no value to the advertising. Nevertheless, these bots cost advertisers 20% of their pay per click budget each year. This type of fraud has become particularly popular because it can infiltrate the smallest of publishers, and the largest of brands. In a recent report by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), 52% of the traffic from premium publishers, who were previously believed to be unaffected by fraud, was found to be fraudulent. That number is often even higher for smaller publishers. The use of a third party traffic scoring system helps mitigate the damage caused by click fraud by filtering out the fraudulent clicks. But this issue will remain abundant until all third-party systems can agree on what’s considered a “fraudulent traffic signal” and what’s not.Impression Ad Fraud (CPM/CPV) One of the fastest growing segments of fraud is in the display sector. Advertisers pay for these ads by the view, or by the number of impressions left with a viewer. But what if the ad is never actually viewed. The debate on viewability stems from this issue. Can the user see your ad or video? And if so, how long must they look at it before it’s considered ‘viewed?’ While the Media Rating Council (MRC) has adopted standards for viewability, this simply established guidelines for how the fraudsters can circumvent the system. Some examples include: Domain Spoofing In addition to duplicating the content of your site, fraudsters can also take over your URLs. With a reputable or premium brand, these URLs likely already appear on a whitelist, taking half of the battle out of the fraudsters’ hands. By simply introducing a line of code, they’re able to make advertisers think their fake websites are worthy, reputable entities. Since premium brands are held in high regard and often appear on whitelists with ease, a larger bid generally comes along with the elite status. Content Fraud A website’s content helps a brand form trusting relationships with its customers. For fraudsters, it’s quite the opposite: the content opens an opportunity to capitalize on a brand’s established trust and steal their traffic. A recent study of content fraud showed at least 1 in 5 sites are affected by site scraping. Fraudsters scrape entire sites in an effort to get advertising on their own site. Since they get paid for the advertising on their site, it benefits them to serve a site that looks legitimate to increase user engagement.

Bank of Baroda investigating Rs 350-crore bill discounting fraud

India's second largest lender Bank of BarodaBSE 0.57 % is investigating a bill discounting fraud running into Rs 350 crore. The listed bank, which has suspended a senior official after it stumbled upon the irregularities in its Ahmedabad operations, will soon have to decide whether to provide the amount in the September-end earnings number. A senior official of the government-owned institution told ET that the matter has been reported to the Reserve Bank of India. "There is a suspected fraud. An internal probe is on. If the money cannot be recovered, the bank will have to take a hit... An established company is involved, but I'm not in a position to disclose the name... We sensed something was wrong when a few bills bounced," said the person who declined to share details as an investigation is underway. It is understood that one of the bank's offices in Ahmedabad ended up discounting bills against which the underlying trade transactions were fake or non-existent. In typical bill discounting transactions, a bank buys the bill before it is due and credits the amount (after deducting certain discounting charge) to the customer's account. It's a facility that sellers and exporters avail of from banks to obtain finance. A fraud is perpetrated when typically a buyer and seller, acting in connivance, win the bank's confidence by carrying out a string of regular transactions where the buyer (either local or overseas) agrees to honour the payment. As these come across as normal trade transactions, the bank agrees to raise the bill discounting limit. After a default — when a buyer fails to pay up — the seller comes up with explanations like product defect or cash crunch faced by the buyer for non-payment. Once the bank is convinced, the seller makes a new shipment, discounts a new bill and uses the proceeds to repay the bank for the previous transaction. As this is repeated for a few more shipments, the amount increases due to the interest cost. While the specific modus operandi in the Bank of Baroda fraud is still unclear, it is possible that the customer concerned — which, according to a banker in Ahmedabad, is a textile company — had used a similar ploy. Such frauds surface as increasingly larger amounts and frequent discounting evoke the bank's suspicion. In recent times, the facilities offered by many banks for working capital have increasingly been misused by borrowers facing cash flow stress — in particular, the trade bills discounting facilities offered by banks has been a source of frequent 'kite flying' (without actual trade transactions) for funds generation by borrowers. "At some point when the amount becomes too large to handle, the parties abruptly discontinue. Since in several cases, these are in the nature of unsecured finance, a bank may be left with no choice but to absorb the losses," said another banker.

What is Click Quality?

I would like to lay down a definition as to what I think constitutes click quality. In one short sentence, I would describe click quality as the factor which will turn a click into a conversion. The lower the click quality , the less likely a conversion is going to happen. A conversion is the end action for which the site was designed. This can be a sale for an e-commerce enabled site, a sign-up to an e-mail subscription, a sales lead, or a click to another site for affiliate marketers. What is a high quality click? A high quality click comes from someone in your targeted region(s) who is motivated to buy your good or services. This comes from a highly optimised campaign only displaying your ads in the locations and to the people who matter, this is the holy grail of PPC advertising. Where are the low quality clicks from? The low quality clicks from from a number of locations: Click fraud, competitor and publisher Made for Ads Sites (MFA) Parked Domains Adwords for Domains Click Bots Click Farms Clicks from Outside your Geo-Targeted Zone The conclusion to this post is very simple, reduce your low quality clicks as much as possible in increase your chances of conversion and increase your advertising return on investment.

The Forgotten Victims of Click Fraud

I spend a lot of time writing about advertisers suffering from click fraud problems, but I think there is a forgotten victim of click fraud; the falsely accused content network publisher.

I read many blog posts from legitimate content network publishers running Adsense or Yahoo publisher network ads who are being banned due to click fraud attacks on their sites by competitors trying to remove them from the blogging niche.

Why Would This Happen?

If you are writing in a very crowded niche, there are only so many blogs and readers to go around. It is only natural that the driven and ambitious members of that niche will stop at nothing to get their share of attention, if their content is not quite up to scratch, it is time to turn to more dubious practices, make blogging in the niche financially inviable by removing a key revenue stream; their Google or Yahoo income.

How will this happen?

Your competitor will repeatedly click on your ads. The click fraud will be picked up by your ad provider and they will consider your account as fraudulent, you will then be banned from showing adsense/YPN ads.

As in all click fraud attacks, the actual clicking will be done via one or more of the following methods:

Manual clicking – a person sits and repeatedly clicks on ads.
Click Bots – the competitor will program a click bot to automatically clicks on your ads repeatedly.
Click Farms – your adversary will employ groups of people to manually click on your ads. As most blogs are small concerns, it is unlikely that click farms will be employed in this brand of click fraud.
What Should You Do?

I think the key to protecting your ad publisher income is to pro-actively monitor your ads, and to report any suspicious activity to your ad provider. If you are seen to report problems, Google or Yahoo will appreciate your transparency (something they never show to advertisers, but that is anther story all together) and you will hopefully be above suspicion.

The clicks will probably be marked as invalid and you will not benefit from that revenue generated, but I think the protection of your account as a long term revenue stream is more important.

What are you looking for?

Unusual click through levels, repeated clicks coming from the same IP address and clicks coming from weird user agents.

This will require analysis of your publisher metrics and access to your web server log files.

How The Heck Do I Do That?

A very good question, you can monitor for unusual click through rates from your Adsense or YPN account. Keep an eye out for unusual spikes in traffic. Unless you have done some pretty amazing blog marketing, your click through rate will be pretty flat, and a sudden increase in clicks is a warning you should take notice of.

With regards to analysing referral information, you will need a bit more technical knowledge, and I will leave this one for my next post on this subject. In preparation for this you may want to review this excellent resource from Aaron Wall’s SEO Book:

I am keen to get other blogger’s opinions on this topic, please leave comments on any of the following subjects:

Can you recommend a plugin which gives you click tracking of your ads?
Have you been banned and re-instaed, how did you do this?
Do you suspect niche competitors are clicking on your ads
Ideally I would like to create a series of easy to install and update resources which can help to proactively monitor ads for click fraud

If Click Fraud is a Business Tax Then I Am Your Accountant.

There has been an article doing the rounds for some time on the internet which says that click fraud should be treated as a business tax. The article entitled Click fraud is just another business tax by Info Security Magazine talks about click fraud from an information security perspective and comes up with the premise that click fraud should be treated as an overhead on your PPC campaigns.

I would like to examine this idea and tell you why I think I am the accountant to get you a tax rebate.

One way people measure the return on investment for a pay per click campaign is to set a cost per acquisition level. This is a monetary amount which determines how many clicks a company is prepared to pay for, in return for a sale. An example would be a company selling an item for $49. They set their cost per acquisition level at $2.50. Daily budget, max cost per click and other PPC variables are then adjusted to match this desired indicator. If click fraud is one of these variables, then so what ! It is accepted as long as the desired conversion levels at the set cost per acquisition are made. This is the business tax levy.

In I step as your accountant. It is estimate that the current click fraud tax rate is 16.6%, if I were able to get you a tax rebate and lower your cost per acquisition I am sure you would sit up and listen. Here is an example of the tax cut in action:

If 16% of your clicks are worthless click fraud which will never convert and your cost per click is 0.05 then you can reduce you cost per acquisition by 40 cents per sale.

$2.50 / $0.05 = 50 * 16% = 8 * $0.05 = $0.40

If you are selling 100,000 units a month at $49 that is a substantial saving of $40,000 in your cost of acquisition bill.

How do I do this? I take copies of you web server logs files run them through my detailed analysis procedure and find incidents of click fraud for refund. I also find other low quality (but legitimate) click sources which can be excluded from you campaigns in the future to cut costs. Anyone interested in a review of their pay per click traffic for low quality clicks which increase the cost of client acquisition, please see my consultancy section.

I firmly belive in the tag line of this site, “only pay for quality clicks”. Clicks that have some change of conversion. I say don’t pay the tax, get in professional help to cut your tax liability.

I would like to end with an extract from the original article:

But right now, if you really can’t bear to pay a percentage to online scam artists, the best thing you can do is stay away from PPC advertising. Otherwise, think of it as a tax on your advertising budget. And like any tax, it’s best to get expert advice on how you minimize the bill.

Crusade Against Parked Domains

I am starting a click quality campaign, and I invite you the reader to join me in a foolhardy charge against the massed ranks of the search engines.

The cause I have taken up is the fact that certain parked domains are members of the Google Search Partner Program. This means that if you opt into the search partner programme, you will pay the same price to show your ads on low quality parked domains as you would on high quality search partner properties such as AOL or even the main Google search page.

In my experience, parked domains produce low quality clicks, this means that you will be less likely to gain your desired action from the click, be it a sale on an e-commerce enabled site or a sales lead where a potential client contacts you about your services.

What is A Parked Domain

A parked domain is a domain name which has been registered but is not serving any real content. The site owner will be publishing Adword ads in line with the domain name’s context, for example if the domain name is, Google will display ads for widgets on those pages.

What is Google Search Partner Program?

The search partner is a group of Googles trusted partners whom are allowed to run syndicated ads on their own properties. The ads come from a special par of the adwords programme called Adsense for Domains

The difference between Adsense for domains and the wider Adsense service is that Google trusts the quality of these parked domains to be higher, and as a result you pay a premium for any clicks coming from that domain.

Why are my search queries showing there?

Because you have opted into the search partner ad distribution system. I am not being disrespectful of the whole programme, it contains some excellent quality properties such as AOL and ASK, and these will bring high quality clicks, but there are also the chaff.

Google Claim these are high quality Clicks!

In a recent query about the quality of parked domain clicks Google said

Please note that since these clicks are legitimate, we will not be able to
refund the cost of any clicks that you received from these sites. We have
found that AdWords ads displayed on parked domain sites receive clicks
from well-qualified leads within the advertisers’ markets. In general, we
have noticed that the return on investment gained on these pages is equal
to or better than that gained on other pages in the search and content

I would argue that Google does not have the post click data to confirm this information.

What to Do?

The best way to show your displeasure with parked domains is to opt out of them, in recognition of their low quality (in my opinion anyway). Google have added a function in your Adwords account which allows you to stop running your ads on any parked domains, content network or search partner. From your Adwords account, do the following:

Tools-> site/category exclusion ->select your campaign ->page types

From this page, check parked domains, it is as simple as that.

This does of course beg the question, why create an opt out process if the clicks are of such high quality.

What Outcome Do We Really Want?

Transparency of the search partner programme. Let me decide where my ads are showing. I want to show my ads on high value properties such as AOL but not on shoddy MFA parked domains. If I decide to run my ads on parked domains, then acknowledge their low quality and discount my click, don’t charge me premium rates.

Give me Your Feedback

I invite readers to leave comments on this post if they join the crusade, in particular comments from people who have advertised with search partners and have received a high ROI from parked domains would be welcomed. My rants against parked domains are from my own experiences only.