Some People Will Click On Anything

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Pose whatever theory you like as to why, but an AdWords experiment revealed that people will click on just about anything – even if the ad tells them their computer will be infected with a virus if they do.

Some People Will Click On Anything
Some People Will Click On Anything

Didier Stevens, who works for European IT services firm Contraste Group, conducted a six-month AdWords experiment to see if people would click on an ad with the text "Get infected here!"

And people did, 409 of them to be exact, excluding the bots.

On his blog, Stevens remarked on the inexpensive ease of which an ad can be set up on Google. Sinister minds require the crime fighters to have sinister minds as well. Stevens’ first thought was that AdWords could easily be used to push malicious content to the first page of the search results.

One of the more interesting facets of the experiment is that Stevens wasn’t the least bit sneaky in setting it up. He bought the domain drive-by-download.info (.info is a notorious hub for malware). Google approved the ad.

The website itself has a simple message: Thank you for your visit.

(Though, honestly, it would have been much funnier if Stevens had employed the famous Douglas Adams message from God: Sorry for the inconvenience.)

Over a six-month period, the ad was displayed over 259,000 times, clicked 409 times (click-through rate of 0.16%), and cost Stevens about $23 (6 cents per click). Only seven clicks were suspected to come from bots, which Google successfully filtered out before billing.

Malware crooks are definitely targeting the right browser; 98% of the clicks came via Internet Explorer.

Stevens’ experiment echoes findings of other studies conducted by industry experts. At the Search Engine Strategies Conference in New York, a panel on searcher behavior noted: "You could run an ad that said ‘bad prices, bad products’ and people would keep clicking."

The results also seem to echo his own previous, more intensive study following AOL’s Data Valdez data leak. Upon examining that data, Stevens found that for every 2800 click-throughs, one landed on a "spamdexing" site.

Though the need, effectiveness, and benefits of cost-per-action models have been hotly debated, proponents of CPA billing will no doubt cite information like this, adding to click-fraud numbers for justification.

Indeed, the bottom line seems to be that the lowest common denominator (i.e., unskilled or unaware searchers) will be as present in the CPC world as the ever-hated clickbot. Chalk up the click-happy searcher as a cost of doing business, then, just as grocery stores put up with grape-grazers and hotels write off towel thefts.



Some People Will Click On Anything
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  • Ilya

    Some people thought the ad was clever, that’s why they clicked. Trojans, viruses and malware do not advertise like that.
    “Don’t click here” link might produce similar results.

  • John_ka

    I think it would be funnier to say “please do not click this ad again”

  • Coenraad de Beer

    One more reason why Google should increase the number of URL’s you can filter as an Adsense publisher. It is often the site displaying malicious ads that gets the blame and not Google. And it is because you have so many people acting like zombies, clicking on absolutely everything without thinking. I guess some people get a kick out of clicking ads. What should we call it, going on a clicking “trip” or getting high on Google Ads?


    • girlfriday@www.research-resource.com

      People are curious and it doesn’t cost them anything – unless you have a website and you’re promoting it, most people don’t even understand what “sponsored links” means. I don’t think they get a kick out of clicking on Google Ads, just that they want to see everything about everything and they don’t know the difference between clicking on the natural search or the sponsored search.

  • Peter (IMC)

    The only thing I find really interesting in this article is this quote:

    “Only seven clicks were suspected to come from bots, which Google successfully filtered out before billing.”

  • girlfriday@www.research-resource.com

    It has got to be the curiousity factor and plain reverse psychology. It almost sounds “interesting”, and since it takes no more effort than a click, people will want to see if “bad prices” or “infection” is a joke or a come on, or something they should see. They are so used to advertising and other contact that “tweaks” them and their interest, that the stimulus provokes unthinking reaction.

  • Shahab Akhavan

    Thats not true at all, people these don’t
    click on ads that much any more.


  • Christi

    It would be interested to see what age group the “clickers” were in. I know a 12 year old who loves the “Don’t Push This Button” button, it came from a Myspace page, and that age group seemed to love to do what the ads say “don’t” do.

  • M.K. Jackson

    A few people draw parallels between this experiment and the ‘Don’t Push This Button’ Ads seen on myspace. I have to say that this is very different though, the ‘Don’t Push…’ clearly is an advertisement and I’ve clicked it just to see what they’re selling. But an ad that says it will infect your computer is something entirely different. It just shows how powerful curiosity really is, that people risk getting a virus just to find out.

  • http://www.mypeoplesearch.net Douglas Kieber

    It’s real funny that people behave like this. Probably due to the fact tha most surfers feel bored and click on anything that looks different.

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