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Search Engine Marketing 4 Less

Click Fraud Threat

So, how does all this geek talk affect the PPC advertiser? It's a $5 billion+ dollar market and with a 20% + fraud rate, we are talking about a 1 BILLION dollars fraud per year. Even Dr. Evil may be impressed by such a number. It's greater than the cumulative GNP of a few banana republics. And a fair chunk is ending up in the coffers of these fraudsters. We know from anecdotal evidence, how people are clearing up to 20 grand a month. All, courtesy of the hapless PPC advertiser.

We want to emphasize that there are lots of authentic sites serving genuine content. But unfortunately the existence of these people (as discussed above) reduces the ROI of many advertisers to the extent that they rethink their interest in PPC. In the word of one of our organic SEO customers, with PPC “you always get a little less back than you put in”. It needn't be that way, if you stay nimble. Convincing search engines to refund money is a lot tougher and a lot more work than proactively watching for problem visitors and taking steps that you deem appropriate.

Some things you can do to stay ahead of the game. This is by NO means an exhaustive list, but it's a start. It's sorted by the level of protection in ascending that you may need.

1> Let your visitors know that you are tracking them and know quite a bit about them. For instance, if you visit www.sofizar.com , you will see information about yourself. You can display this information to all your visitors, or only to some of them. It can be in-your-face or subtle, but it will remind at least some of the fraudsters that they are being watched. Sofizar provides free sample code and connection  to its database allowing you to display “premium” information(like City, ISP, ISP contact number).

2> Invest in a serious visitor tracking software. Set alarms based on the number of times a person clicks on your site in a certain time period(hourly, weekly, monthly). Display the same information to someone who is definitely PPCing your budget to death, as a custom message box. Something harsh, if the pattern keeps  up.  “We are logging the usage, and we are noticing that you keep clicking on our site through PPC. If you don't cease, we would be forced to call your local ISP at +91-23-344-5678”(if you see the information that we can glean about visitors, you will know we can get even more specific). This will weed some of the casual fraudsters.

3> Start checking for things that we have discussed earlier, by investing in an industrial strength data collection package. Based on your data collection, one strategy is to score each visitor, deducting(or adding points), based on the following (non exhaustive) list.

a. Visitor conversion/past conversion history.

b. Visit Depth Analysis.

c. Visit Time Analysis(time spent on each page, and time of day the visit happens).

d. Cookies/Javascript/”Unknown OS”

e. Keyword Cost analysis.

f. Anonymous Proxy Server

g. Is part of “Fraudster list”.

h. Country/Localization analysis(are you really targeting people in Sao Paolo , Brazil for your French Restaurant in New York ?).

4> Do pattern matching. See what your top 20% of your customers do as part of a “macro pattern” and match the visitor against that pattern.

Keep in  mind that you will get a few “false positives” and vice versa. A few innocent people may get tagged unfairly as “fraudsters” while a few “fraudsters” may well give you the slip. It's not an exact science, but over a period of time you can get fairly close. If you decide to take up your case with Google, you have to make a very convincing case. All based on meticulous data, instead of (what may be considered by them as) paranoia.

Over the long term, as the threat evolves and the  fraudsters improve, you have to keep adapting your strategy using your friends, diligent data collection, statistics and pattern matching.

Have we started a revolution?

We have been getting a lot of email from adsense publishers, not all of it complimentary regarding our piece above. We will be writing a piece from the point of view of the publisher and the issues that they face. Meanwhile, send your comments to: