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More than One Side to the Click Fraud Story

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The votes are in, and a sizeable percentage of commenters appear to believe that Andy Beal’s exclusive on Google’s click fraud detection process is just telling one side of the story.

As you know, over the years we’ve been hard on all search engines (especially second-tiers and Yahoo) when it comes to low quality traffic in general, and in particular glitches and poor traffic in the content networks.

That said, I’ve long been with Andy in that I could never see where these various “accusers” were getting their numbers.

In my seminar at post-SES (Incisive Media training) last Friday, I asked the group of 23 workshop participants what they were hearing. What the press (as opposed to industry insiders or colleagues) was talking about when it came to the search industry. I’d expected various top-level stories and the nonsense about Larry’s plane hammock. But no, they only recalled one basic thing about media coverage of search marketing: click fraud. Hmm.

There are several components to the click fraud debate, and now, to the “click fraud remediation industry.” If you assess how various practitioners are dealing with this, there are the self-promoters and fearmongers, and then there are those, like ClickTracks, who take a low-key approach to educating the marketplace about how you might document the forms of click fraud that slip through the cracks.

The info about how much fraud exists at various levels of the filtering process simply rings true to me, and I manage or oversee a lot of different campaigns. The stuff that finally gets detected by an advertiser, that hasn’t been caught by Google’s algorithmic or human reviews, is a tiny proportion of overall clicks (if it exists at all).

So then the tactics of how to deal with the (rare instances of significant) fraud have to be weighed. Is submitting a special type of forensic report going to “impress” Google and make them more likely to refund you? I haven’t heard many instances of this. All it seems to be is sales efforts by the third party fraud detection companies to find potential customers who have potentially large fraud claims, getting a % of a fraud refund as a cut of the action. As yet, I have no evidence that those third parties have a superior causal effect in terms of Google’s refund decisions or amounts when compared with your own actions backed up by your own analytics; indeed, it’s just as likely that they might be counterproductive.

I had an odd exchange with one student in Friday’s seminar on this topic. I basically wanted to point out that whether or not you use a third party service, the end result is that you submit your fraud claim to Google, and they decide whether to give you a refund. No matter how fancy your forensics, you know what? Your request does little other than to trigger a request for Google to do its own forensics. The attendee at the seminar contended that “we don’t need to be at the mercy of Google” if we “opted out of the lawsuit settlement,” which I’m afraid conflated a request for a refund with a class action claim. I’m also afraid that we are, in fact, at the mercy of Google when it comes to a click fraud refund decision. You submit your complaint. They decide. There is no third party body helping or adjudicating claims. Hope that clarifies things.

So does this post, too, qualify as a “release from Google’s PR department”? Well, say it if you like, but what do you do to act on the sentiment? Set up an autoresponder to ping Google daily with fraud claims? Probably not. So… what do you do then? Continue managing campaigns to the best of your ability? Or… wait a minute, do you even manage any campaigns?

So, I’ve noticed that most of those who like to talk about fraud either sell something related to this, or do very little if any advertising at all. Those who are “thinking about” paid search, amazingly, seem incredibly eager to discuss the topic – as it excuses their inaction on deploying a new type of (highly effective) advertising.

Yep, there are isolated cases. Those need to be rectified. There remain disputes over what counts as an actual click. But the number of cases and the dollar cost of invalid clicks (those that actually get charged to us) may well be much smaller than we’ve been led to believe.

If I offended you, please be offended enough to make this Diggbait. Thanks for your time.

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Andrew Goodman is Principal of Page Zero Media, a marketing consultancy which focuses on maximizing clients’ paid search marketing campaigns.

In 1999 Andrew co-founded Traffick.com, an acclaimed “guide to portals” which foresaw the rise of trends such as paid search and semantic analysis.

More than One Side to the Click Fraud Story
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