Pay Per Click Advertising Fraud - The Inside Story from Joe Holcomb, senior vice president of marketing at the Blowfish search engine, comments on his personal blog about click fraud. His goal?
My only concern is that someone from inside the pay per click industry finally address the issue of click fraud, head on, without skirting the truth.
Holcomb then goes through a litany of complaints and concerns in his article. Some highlights below:
Holcomb starts off with history, covering click fraud as having its origins with PPC-based banners on adult sites and says that despite trying, the adult industry couldn't stop fraud and the search industry isn't having much luck either.
He breaks click fraud into two types: competitor and automated. Competitor click fraud is your competitor trying to cost you money -- or anyone who may have a beef and wants to hurt your budget.
Automated click fraud is what he sees as the real concern -- something designed to click on PPC ads en masse. While he doesn't explain why, the intent I'm presuming is to help an affiliate make money by creating fake clicks that earn cash.
Holcomb says that the search engines are pushing the competitor side of click fraud to downplay the seriousness of the automated side:
That is what the search engines are telling the public because it is what they want you to believe. It?s PR spin folks. It masks the real problem of what is going on right now.
Actually, I haven't heard them give any type of coordinated party line at all. We've had them say everything from click fraud of any type is a tiny problem to Google's CFO famously saying in December that it's a big threat, period.
Holcomb's concerned that advertisers aren't speaking loud enough and "buying the garbage" that the search engines have things in control. Again, I'd counter that's an attitude that's been rapidly changing. Click fraud is an increasing issue among advertisers I've talked with.
I don't think it's an issue that advertiser have been duped into believing there is no problem. Instead, I think it's more an issue that as costs have risen, they're taking a closer look at what exactly they are paying for and some are spotting irregularities.
In addition, as more and more stories have come out, other advertisers have had their awareness raised. It's a process we'll continue to see all this year, especially given we have our first click fraud related lawsuit having been filed.
One point he raises really resonated with me, because I just talked with someone at the SES Munich show last week about it. This was an affiliate who wasn't paid the full amount he was expecting because the search engine he worked for decided some of the traffic he sent wasn't targeted properly. Was a refund then given to those advertisers, since he wasn't being paid? He's still waiting to hear.
Holcomb touches on this in explaining this is why refunds, when they come, often aren't detailed to show bad traffic sources. If it turned out one particular source was bad -- then rightfully, every advertiser should get a refund from that case, rather than the important ones or the ones who have investigated.
In the end, he calls for two things. First, that search engines improve their technology to fight click fraud. Second, that this happens through advertisers forcing the search engines to "change their ways."
I certainly agree. I've said before at our conference evening forums that I'm amazed that advertisers still haven't flexed their economic muscles and demanded, at the very least, the ability to pick and choose the sites that will carry their ads.
Folks, you fund the search engines. You shouldn't have to be begging, hoping and pleading for source exclusion, as people are in this current thread on our forums: How To Get MY Ads Shown On Specific Content Network Pages. It's absurd. Demand that it be given to you or threaten to pull your ads. And if you don't get what you want, then get together and declare that you'll take a day off from ads, then two, then three and so on.
Need more to read? BlowSearch Offers Source Exclusion; When Will The Majors Do The Same? is a recent blog post that looks at how BlowSearch and Mirago before it have managed to do what the majors will not. Pay Per Click Advertising Fraud - The Inside Story - Part II from Holcomb goes beyond source exclusion to talk about things BlowSearch is trying to do to prevent click fraud, including this promise:
BlowSearch will catch the cheaters, ban them, and put their URLs on public display for everyone to see on a quarterly basis once last piece of our click fraud detection is in place.
I'll be interested to see if that really happens. Interestingly, some "cheaters" might feel the public display is worth the publicity. Legal action might be a stronger deterrent.
Here are some forum threads to visit, if you'd like to discuss more. Protest PPC Engine Content Partner Distribution from last year is still open, if you want to see comments from those who wish the majors would provide source exclusion. BlowSearch Blows Up Costs is a forum thread not on PPC problems with BlowSearch but with forum moderator AussieWebmaster's less than happy experience with a cost-per-view product.
Also see More On Click Fraud, The Lawsuit & The Need For Third Party Auditors for a round-up of recent click fraud stories. Another one is in the works, as they're coming fast and furious.