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
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.
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 purplewidgets.com, 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.