How Search Engines Manage Click Fraud

The auditing process

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In the session "Search Engines on Auditing" the speakers discussed how search engines handle auditing concerns.

Richard Zwicky, Founder & CEO, Enquisite, discussed auditing issues with PPC and how they try to figure out what went wrong.
Analytics ecosystem:






Ways ad networks protect you:

Invalid/discounted clicks

Real time behavior analysis

Proactive filtering

Over-time analysis

Mathematical models

Honeynet projects- open proxy

Zwicky said ad networks don’t see what happened after the click left their network, which is why it is important for you to audit your campaign.

You can make ad networks better by using the parameters they have to tighten your campaign and actively control your results. Not everything that goes wrong is fraud.

"When you have an issue, file a claim – it’s the only way you will receive help," Zwicky said.

Shuman Ghosemajumder, Business Product Manager for Trust & Safety, Google, said there are 2 main incentives for click fraud, attacking advertisers and inflating affiliates.

How Search Engines Manage Click Fraud

Numerous methods:

Manual clicking

Click farms

Pay-to-click sites

Click bots


Ghosemajumder said Google uses a three-part system for invalid click detection:

1. Filters- automated algorithms filter out invalid clicks in real time, analyzes all clicks, and account for the vast majority of invalid click detection.

2. Offline analysis- automated algorithms and manual analysis

3. Investigations- rare

"When we mark clicks as invalid, we’re not charging the advertisers for those clicks," said Ghosemajumder.

Nearly all invalid clicks are detected proactively. Reactively detected invalid clicks are a negligible proportion (less than 0.02%).

"The impact of invalid clicks at Google is minimal."

Several features help and protect advertisers:

AdWords Auto-Tagging

Site Targeting

Site exclusion

Invalid clicks reports

Placement reports

IP exclusion

AdSense click area change

  • Takeaways:
  • Validate data collection methods
  • Define conversions carefully
  • Use advanced analytics features to spot trend in data
  • Conduct experiments to get more data


How Search Engines Manage Click Fraud
Top Rated White Papers and Resources
  • http://www.RygestopGuiden.dk Rygestop

    I guess this must be high priority for Google, because click fraud can kill the whole system…

  • http://www.hitful.com Anonymous

    That’s all BS… Google knows that the scammers use virtual credit cards and disposable cell phones to create and verify AdSense and other accounts. They also know that they profit from all fraud they don’t catch. 0.02% is a BS number unless it is the number they try to catch but probably don’t. They know they can’t even detect the sophisticated click fraud that mingles garbage traffic with fraud clicks. PHP proxies on $2-4/month hosting + one virtual windows host to run an IE7 browser pilot through those cheap private proxies that are only open to the one windows host.

    Google “Black Hat SEO forum” and you’ll find ten thousand schmucks boasting about how google does nothing to stop them. And its true… google does nothing to stop them… I see maybe one message a year on those forums saying “Google blocked me”… and that person is far from blocked from trying again.

    PPC is quickly heading towards PPM… it is an arms race and Google is rapidly losing.

  • http://www.yiwu-sourcing-agent.com Yiwu

    I think its hard for Google to do such thing, may be it cut out some of them..

  • http://www.flowersbypost.com Jersey Flowers

    my experiences with Google have been very good with regards to invalid clicks (where a % might be fraudulent).

  • http://www.gravetown.blogspot.com ulwan

    Thanks for this info..
    that surely makes it more interesting to any PPC marketing dude like me..IT can help my PPC campaign fare better and it will benefit google as well..click fraud must be stopped!

  • http://www.cashrightaway.com Amalaki Guy

    it really comes down to whether or not if you are still getting a good conversion rate. i mean, even if there are fraudulent clicks, you have to look at the bottom line conversion rate

  • http://www.esansocal.com cecillya

    Your articles are very interesting, I will visit again. thanks

  • http://www.dogarthritiscare.com Andrei Istrate

    I believe this will be very diffcult for google to achieve, but its a very important issue, as fraud click can really kill google and let the whole system down.

  • http://www.oralseymour.com Oral seymour

    What can I do to combat click fraud on sites such as pricegrabber and nextag. And what do I do after I have concrete evidence? I found that these sites are very reluctant to help.

  • Guest

    I don’t believe that Google really does much to detect and prevent fraudulent clicks. Our conversion rates have dipped lower than that of the other 2 main PPC engines. When business is down for the world, they are still sending the same amount of traffic. Although it is nowhere near our cap, it seems that searches for our products should slow as well. I truly believe that they do not care and they depend on the revenue…yes even from fraudulent clicks.

  • therunk

    thanks.. this article usefully

  • http://www.planetberries.com Planet Berrry

    Thanks for the article and tips. Very challenging topic and one we share an equal concern over.

  • http://www.websiteadvertising.net Guest

    Click fraud is getting harder to pinpoint I do like your article hopefully google can do something about it before it gets worse

  • http://k12tshirts.myshopify.com Mark

    We are looking for new clickers, to promote “Buy American, or By By American”

  • TentsOnTrucks

    If you think about it, even at .02% google is still making a killing. If they recive 1 billion dollars in clicks the .02% will still make them 2 million dollars profet.

    • http://real-adsense-alternatives.com Guest

      Google claims that any money taken from cancelled affiliates goes back to advertisers.

      That is a lie-as both an ex adsense user and heavy adword client-i was victim both ways.falsely(yes falsely) accused of click fraud all my earnings wee seized,but since it was y own adword ads I was accused of having incentives on-i received no money back as an advertiser.
      Nor as any other other person ever that I can find.

  • http://officialsafetyandsecurity.com Debbie Morgan

    Thanks, Mike, for this great information. I switched my safety and security web site PPC from Google to Yahoo search because I was concerned about click fraud. Not that Yahoo isn’t free of it but I think it’s less so.

  • http://www.how2makeawebsite.com How to make a website

    Superb post. A real behind the curtain Google action. Great stuff! fighting the cheats.



  • http://www.netopoly.net Bob

    .02% click fraud is the best one I’ve herad this month. I’m laughing so hard it’s hard to type. Yes I agree investigations are rare, very rare. Why do I still see “Click our sponsor’s link to keep this site free” followed by “Sponsored ads by Google”? I have to stop, my side is starting to hurt from laughing so hard. My suggestion “Don’t use the content networks until the SEs clean up their act”.

  • http://www.eronerd.com Nerd

    Thanks for this informative post. I became interested the moment I’ve read the title in my inbox. By the way, how can I audit my campaign?

    • Hank

      There is a service called PPC Probe (www.ppcprobe.com or Google PPCProbe for it) that can monitor all the clicks from your PPC campaigns in real time. Good for detecting fraudulent clicks as well as a way of fine tuning your KW list.

  • Wiser now

    Up until 12 months ago my company spent $5,000 per month with Google for AdWords and $1,200 per month with Yahoo. Each time I (webmaster) gathered evidence to suspect click fraud my complaints fell on deaf ears; both were quick to reply with ‘canned’ messages about how they supposedly combat click fraud… but our sales in proportion to number of clicks was extremely off balance and made no sense. I finally took matters into my own hands; I pulled out from Yahoo and I cut our google Adwords budget in half – to $2,500/mo. After 3 months our sales did not decline even one percentage point; then I reduced it to $2,000/mo and, again, our sales figures remain the same and have been holding for 12 months now. I plan to fine tune it further. The moral of the story is that we are all paying ‘blindly’ for a service that is not transparent and who’s results we can’t accurately monitor – all of which is an Ad vendor’s dream; we must pay whatever it is they demand and HOPE we are getting value for our money. Well, I have decided that this Ad philosophy, for my company, is a costly waste of money and FOOLISH, and I’m now learning how to ‘game the system’.

    • http://www.diamondonnet.com/ Diamonds

      Wow, we had almost the same experience, we actually stopped our Adwords for 3 months because of this foolishness. Optimized the campaigns and started it back again for the Holidays. Funny part is that when we stopped advertising, our traffic was close to the same amount as we were having before we pause the campaign. Its just amazing how much fraud there is for CPCs, we will never know if what Google claims is true since they do not show the IP address of these users from Analytics and even if you do send them evidence, they just ignore you. As for Yahoo, you had to prove that the clicks were fraud, we had to show them copies of logs before you could get credited for those bad clicks which is so much of a hassle. This is just one of those things that you have to blindly trust google.

  • http://www.SuperSaunaSuits.com Robert Brady

    For the last two months I have been paying very close attention to my traffic stats – receiving an extremely high amount of traffic from blueseek.com and primosearch.com (found out thru whois they are the same entity). The resulting clicks last on my page for .01 seconds, and I am getting as many as 40-80 hits per week from these websites that are PURE ADSENSE content.

    Site exclusion filters doo nt work, domain filters do not work. Blueseek and Primosearch are pure adsense sites. They also employ subdomians to get around the filters.

    I submitted a claim, got the same canned responses back as everyone else. I gave Google total access to my web logs, my tracking stats and visitor history. They still state that there does not appear to be any fraudulent action taking place.

    Google says that their records show only organic results coming from these two websites, which can’t be true because these sites only display sponsored listings.

    AS previously stated by others before, The number of clicks in my adwords have increased, but the conversion rate for my sales have remained the same.

    I quit.

    Another thing that bites me is using programs like SEO or Keyword programs to find niche keywords, then building pages, blogs and websites to focus on those keywords and fill the pages with adsense ads.

  • Mark

    There are click-through sweat shops all around the world. From independent SEO black hatters that you can hire in an IRC chat room, to companies in India and China that have dozens of employees paid $5.00 a day for clicking on your ads, or your competitors’.

    These illegal click shops inflate bid prices, shrink-up your daily ad spending budget, or put you out of business. And virtually nothing is done.

    And why should anything be done?

    Google tells you that less then 0.02% is fraud, but even if that were true, we’re still talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. Other experts say the percentage is probably much higher, around 0.12-15% in fraud clicks.

    Today click through fraud is a huge business and these people are seldom, if ever, caught. If they are, they can change their setup and IPs within an hour and start all over again. You can wipe-out a competitor within a month, or even a day. And if you complain too much that something is not right, regardless if you can spot all the fraud, you will be ignored completely, perhaps even banned as well.

    Click through fraud is corporate espionage at its best and it’s on such a large scale that it fuels and feeds thousands of IT workers throughout the world. And as an advertiser, we are almost helpless as there is very little transparency in this business, but plenty of policy.

    Advertiser prepare and buyer beware.

    • http://www.StunningDefense.com Guest

      I detected click fraud early on and jumped out quickly. I find it very difficult to throw money at such an uncontrolled, unverifiable advertising scheme. I await patiently for a system that is verifiable and proves to me that I’m getting what I’m paying for with proven results. Are you listening Google, Yahoo and MSN?

  • Guest

    Burned once by Yahoo and could not even find a way to complain.
    I don’t think that I want to stick my hand into the fire again.
    There are better ways to find customers.

  • http://www.newpathweb.com.au Newpath WEB

    Great article. Click fraud is a serious problem for online marketing campaigns, and will remain so for quite some time, however its good to see that Google are keeping a close eye on proceedings and trying to curb this activity.


  • http://www.balistupa.com/pages/bali-web-design.htm Bali Web Design

    great post. click fraud can danger our online marketing campaign. So google and yahoo should work hard on it.

  • Nick

    The 0.02% mentioned in the article was the percent of invalid clicks that were detected reactively (ie manually) as opposed to proactively (ie by automated processes). The 0.02% is not the percentage of total clicks that are invalid. It seems most readers misinterpreted that.

    The actual percentage of invalid clicks is much higher than 0.02% and most of them are never detected. 99.98% of the invalid clicks that are detected were caught by automated process, while only 0.02% were caught by a person.

  • http://www.coloncleanserfaqs.com Marsha Gellerman

    Nice informative article but don’t you think this will equally help scamsters and fraudsters to “improvise” on their methods.

    Good for advertisers though. I now know, how my account is protected from false clicks……….

  • Craig

    It’s not just click fraud Google ignores. We had our account hi-jacked, @

    • http://www.arucc2006.com Article Man

      Yes of course, you are right, when you personally experience something you end up summing it up that way, but then considering the huge volume of transactions that take place at G i think they have to have some method to deal with such peculiar situations. Even an unaware employee at G might have worsened the situation.

  • http://www.visualizeyourbusiness.com/ Drake

    I use Adsense, and once upon a time used Yahoo to market content.
    Click Fraud can be lessened by better technology and commitment by Search Engines but it’s the current ‘state of play’ that lets Click Fraud flourish. If you advertise ‘blindly’ on a whole swathe of sites you get ‘burnt’.
    When online advertising shifts so you can be much more direct, like moving away from the shotgun Adwords approach, then you can lessen the fraud – however, this takes more resources and time to focus your campaigns.
    Either way, someone has to invest the time into beating Click Fraud – will it be Search Engines or You?

  • Guest

    Spent soo much on advertising and conversion rate was bad. Also I know using ad sense sometimes Google doesn’t pay for legitimate clicks.

  • http://www.vlcplayerdownload.com Daniel Wells

    So far I have been lucky, but we just launched a new advertising program. Maybe after time we will get more fraud but for now it seems that 88% of Adwords traffic is converting. Of course we are at a low dollar ad. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be paying $2 to $5 per click! Our program is low competition advertising because we give the software away for free.

  • http://www.affiliate-programs-cash-generator.com tim fulcher

    The problem is that click fraud is a major issue and that whatever operators do to lesson it, they are unable to remove it completely – this is often because of affiliates who earn money from the clicks that occur on their sites

    However to complain about click fraud is to complain about the wrong issue

    The real issue is the massive overpricing to the point of “ripoff mainia” of the major PPC companies, together with the hyped up bogus promises along the lines of “this is the best advertising on the internet” – which sadly catches out the unwary who are desparate to get traffic to their sites, and is probably illegal under trading standards legislation.

    The prices charged per click bear no relationship to the likely effectiveness or ROI of the advertising concerned, and the PPC companies know this

    The business model of the PPC companies is to charge as much as possible, knowing that the advertising will be very unlikely to yield profitable results – its a kind of licence to print money for the companies concerned

    Now you might think that its fair to massively overcharge if people are mad enough to pay the price i.e. just charge whatever the market will stand – but is it moral?, is it ethical?

    Massive overcharging says something about the basic moral and ethical fibre of the companies concerned, and their hyped up dubious promises of advertising success, which they actually know themselves is false

    My own solution woud be for the anti-trust authorities to recognize that some PPC companies take such a massive share of the market, that they are clearly acting as monopolists, are anti-competitive, against the public interest, and therefore should be broken up, and sold off.

    If the prices charged were much less, then click fraud would cease to be an issue as affiliates would make such a small amount of money on each click that it wouldnt be worth the effort generating invalid clicks. Equally the advertising would be more effective because the cost per sale would be much more managable, and indeed profitable

  • http://www.preferredseat.com Greg

    It’s really tragic because for a small business whose customers have moved to online advertising our cost have gone up dramatically. One of my biggest problems with Google is that even if you are advertising for a local business in a specific geographic area, you are paying the national rate to compete against large corporations that are paying more partly in hopes of capturing the customer, even if they don’t profit from the initial sale.

  • http://www.topsemseo.com TopSEMSEO

    There are some excellent posts in this forum. I did a lot of research on this subject after my previous company was burned for $25,000 in invalid clicks with Google AdWords over the course of two months. (No, we never got any portion of our money back.) Here is what I found:

    Google claims there is only .02% click fraud because they claim to filter out the majority of fraudulent clicks in real-time (Phase 1) or before earnings are paid to AdSense publishers during their analysis in Phase 2. (Note: only very egregious offenders make it to Phase 3.)

    While the .02% is (possibly) technically correct, Google is seriously misleading the public by publishing numbers in this manner. True click fraud, by some estimates, is as high as 25-30%. The fact that Google filters these fraudulent clicks (or “invalid” clicks, as Google officially calls them) does not mean that the fraudulent clicks did not occur. It simply means that Google catches them and does not charge the advertiser for them. Google’s “no harm no foul” attitude is very misleading because the attempt to commit fraud is much higher than Google reports. The low number gives advertisers a false sense of security, which of course benefits Google because they need to make sure the money keeps flowing.

    The root of the problem is Google policing themselves. If you read their own documentation and the independent research report published by a professor who was “invited” to analyze Google’s click fraud operations, Google claims the click fraud operation has complete autonomy to do their jobs, which Google claims makes their efforts highly effective.

    However, anecdotal evidence and the general perception in the industry is contrary to this opinion; click fraud appears to be much higher than .02% of all billed clicks. When hundreds (if not thousands) of people have the same opinion (or “gut” feeling) about something, I personally tend to give it credence. As a result, I have to believe Google’s “adjusted” number of .02% click fraud is way underreported.

    But that’s just my two hundreds of a percent…I mean my two cents.

  • http://netguidecentral.com Net guide central

    Click fraud was of no concern to me. Actully my friend did a few times at first when he started out on adsense. Google never caught him. He must have earned close to 125$. Well i did not have the guts like him to test it out. but hey if he can do it (who’s not much into the internet security stuff) anyone can. if the guy is a bit of a techie i guess he could get some more advanced techniques to bypass google.

    Anyway i suggest you personally have a tracking system of your own on your website. If you feel you have been subjected to click fraud raise a claim with necessary proof.

  • http://www.cancuncd.com Eduardo Fernandez

    Im experienced user or adwords and overture and I can see on advertiser that most of them put Ads on every where, bad redirected and worst message, they are losing ton of money in clicks that never convert in customer, My recomendation make a better campaig, Ads explicit, redirected to especific page and use especific keys not general you can save 80% of your campaign and avoid fraud too

  • Andrew W

    If Google are so sure of the success of their advertising model, why dont they offer a Pay Per Order model, with integrated order analysis so that only clicks that end up as sales generate a cost – obviusly at a higher price.

    Or are they too scared of the money they would lose as a result?

  • http://www.fruitmachinecasino.com AdWords Angry

    A great article and I’m glad its not only myself concerned about click fraud at AdWords.

    I’ve been trying to contact our Google sales rep for weeks and, given we spend about

    • Kat

      I’ll just be blunt 😉
      What the *%$#% happened to Google AdWords customer support and Account Management? I had a full Account Management team, as we spend over 30k per month. They have since dissolved and I now speak with people who’s names I can’t pronounce. The ethnic thing is not a racial slur from me, in fact I am NOT racist, but we all know that outsoucing is a load of crapola. And is GOOGLE NOW OUTSOURCING TO OTHER COUNTRIES? Did I hear the employees drink Evian and various other fancy things? I really had higher regards for Google.
      I recently had an “optimization specialist” call me to help with a brand name campaign. She took 1 minute to consult, had a techie revise the campaign, and came back with garbage, obviously with no knowledge of my account structure or products. And as she learned it was incorrect, she did everthing she could to get me off the phone and kept asking “are we done with this call?” Yeah.
      Also, I now get these computer generated responses from Google customer service reps when they block us from our brand names and our company TM block is backfiring. There is no human paying attention to my very urgent TM requests.
      Let it be known that I smell a Yahoo meltdown at Google. If this is not a meltdown and just a way for them to grow bigger and badder, well, I have some very sound advise for you Google. The first mistake a company makes before they crumble, is a cut in customer service and account management. You are sure to upset your big spenders and they WILL cut their budget on you and re-allocate marketing funds – VERY QUICKLY!

  • http://orange.pinkygirl.org Seo Test

    click fraud is an enemy to advertiser. with a protector click fraud we can protect advertiser from lost their budget when they want to start some advertising campaign. if some click fraud not in control with click fraud protector, you can imagine how many advertiser budget can be lost everyday.

  • Guest

    My former web site company suffered from Google AdWords click fraud abuse. We disputed the charges with American Express since we use those cards for such things. It worked! American Express sent the dispute to Google and they never respnded so the charges were removed. Use your American Express card for such transactions and NO I am not a representative with American Express. I am not sure what I am going to do about using Google AdWords as I am conflicted about this for my new E-Commerce biz, but I’ll be using my AM card to put the charges on and they will back me. Run the campaign on and off I guess. And watch Google closely.

  • http://acheapwebdesign.com aCheapWebDesign

    Almost all visits I got from the content network were of 0 seconds.
    While it was different for clicks from Google search.

    I’ll recommend any new advertiser to avoid advertising on the content network at all costs.

  • Cpnnie

    I am reading these comments above, and found this site doing search on “click fraud”. FYI, I would highly recommend NOT doing “content network”. This is when they put your ads on adsense sites and people DO click to earn money on their own adsense site. My budget definitely lasts longer and bounce rate went down. Also, I would only do EXACT keywords and phrases, by putting brackets on your keywords [ ]. This eliminates search clicks for stuff that has nothing to do with what you are selling. Ex: if you are selling cars (real ones) bracket that keyword [cars], so someone looking for toy cars does not click on your ad.

    Something I have noticed in my anylytics concerns me. I did an evaluation for one full year 1/08 to 1/09. Now listen to this…………

    Out of 2562 cities worldwide. the top 20 cities with the most clicks are cities in which google has MAIN business locations. I am talking the differenc between 1 to 20 clicks in other areas, and 100’s to 2,000 in google locations. Another ex. For regions (states) out of 251 workwide, the top 17 with the highest clicks are googles main headquaters states. CA, NY, GA, WA, etc. I also checked other regions such as NC and FL to name a few that came up high and did a bit of research and found that google does have a location there.

    I am not a big spender and just run a small buisness allowing maybe only 10.00 a day. Of course google isn’t even going to listen to me. But if 8.00 out of that 10.00 is fraud, it still isn’t right. I work two jobs, just to get the bills paid.

  • Connie

    I am so upset, I actually spelled my own name wrong above. Doesn’t anyone think that out of 11,610 vists to my site, that 1187 came from California ( for one full year) of all regions worldwide?

  • http://www.seethrureviews.com/Rocket-Spanish-Download-Reviews.html Rocket Spanish Reviews

    Personally, I find that managing click fraud for the small timers is becoming increasingly hard to manage. For a guy that has a daily budget of $10, even a few invalid clicks a day effect the campaign.

  • http://designpakistan.com Website Design

    I do not believe Google manages click fraud effectively.
    Most of the clicks for my site from content network are click fraud.

  • http://ebusinesscorporate.com eBusinessCorporate

    Click fraud is there, was there and will always be there. I dont think anyone can come out with a solution to completely eradicate the search market industry frauds. Not to say Google themselves making it so easy to integrate adsense for anyone. I just wonder how Google detects them. Surely not by IP, not by click pattern and not by website alone. Maybe combination’s of these. I do wish people would be more cautious and intelligent enough to understand that click fraud will do them no good. Come on. How long will it take for you to click and click and click until you reach the miraculous 100$ threshold?


    Adarsh thampy

  • http://designpakistan.com WebDesign

    I will mention my experience with AdEngage.com
    Each and every click that I received from there was of 0 seconds, quite opposite to clicks received from Google.

  • http://melayuboleh.inventorymanagementsoftwares123.com/ Boleh

    Spent soo much on advertising and conversion rate was bad. Also I know using ad sense sometimes Google doesn’t pay for legitimate clicks.

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