Google is now offering AdWords advertisers the ability to see how many invalid clicks that Google catches before they are billed. "Estimating invalid clicks" from the Official Google Blog has more about this good move, which should help to better educate advertisers.
Concern about click fraud has been rising over the years, though whether click fraud itself has risen remains a debatable point. In my The Abridged Version: Independent Report On Google's Click Fraud Detection Practices post yesterday, I highlighted one example of this -- of how Google is conducting more investigations into click fraud reports but not paying out more. The independent expert who compiled the report felt this was due to people having more concerns rather than more click fraud occurring.
Still, that same report highlighted what many search marketers already know. It's difficult to know what exactly is going on within the black box of Google's ads billing system. The reporting Google is doing will help shed a bit more light into that box.
Specifically, there are new reporting options to see "Invalid Clicks" and "Invalid Clicks Rate." Check these, and you'll see all the clicks that Google has filtered before you were billed, plus the percentage of those clicks versus the total clicks to your campaign. More help from Google is covered here.
It will be especially interesting to see what stats individual advertisers start to share publicly. Going back to that independent report I mentioned, it covered how Google catches far more invalid clicks through its filters compared to those found when investigations are done after billing. Some advertisers might find they have double-digit invalid click rates. That's not a reason to panic, in the sense that you aren't paying for those clicks. You should be reassured.
Then again, I suspect anyone seeing high levels of invalid clicks being caught might also want to take a harder look at what they are actually getting billed for beyond this, since the high rate might suggest they are in a click-fraud prone industry and perhaps stuff is still slipping past the Google filters. Of course, a low rate might warrant a further look since perhaps Google's not catching stuff it should.
Confused? Here's the overriding advice. Everyone should be auditing their click logs, watching for odd things, just as you would your credit card statement. Google and Yahoo both have long had systems in place to automatically catch fraud. The Google move significantly helps advertisers understand that this protection is already in place. But it doesn't relieve the advertiser of being prudent and doing their own review, as well.
Finally, isn't giving this data making it easier for those who want to conduct click fraud to test what can get through? What prevents someone from opening an account, then trying various things until they find a way to generate clicks that Google can't catch?
"If you want to invest a huge amount of time and resources, you could already run those type of experiments. It doesn't provide significantly more feedback to fraudsters," said Shuman Ghosemajumder, Google's business product manager for trust and safety.
By the way, though the reports are said to be "real-time," they actually give you a total for an entire day. You can't see minute-by-minute catches.