Click Fraud’s Unseen Downside: How the Search Dilemma is Dividing Small Business and PPC

Written on
Dec 6, 2006 
Michael Stebbins  |

Click fraud has been getting a lot of attention lately, with various repercussions from the Google settlement. But there is an unexpected, and unfortunate, consequence of click fraud that is just coming to the forefront: a large number of small businesses are abandoning pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns altogether.

Case in point: Rebecca owns a small business in Kansas City. Her webmaster offered to set up a few Google PPC ads to drive business to the site. In the first month, $80 brought something close to 20 leads. The following month, 20 leads came in, but the costs soared over $800. Rebecca told her webmaster to shut down the campaign. “I never want to advertise on pay-per-click again.” She announced, “I’m done with it.”

Rebecca’s situation isn’t unlike many small businesses that start out using Google or Yahoo! PPC campaigns. Understanding how click fraud occurs, in relation to how PPC campaigns are set up, can help advertisers such as Rebecca continue to reap the business advantages of PPC without falling into the click fraud trap.

Click fraud occurs when a person or a programmed script triggers a “pay-per-click” event charged to you (the advertiser) without the intent to view your website. What would motivate someone to do this? Follow the money: PPC ads don’t just show up on the search engines. They also show up on various sites where the site owner gets some of the advertising revenue for each ad-click they can provide. Some of these site owners hire groups of people to click on their ads or write sophisticated software (robots) that click on their own ads. It’s quite profitable, and arguably, not illegal, so it continues to be ubiquitous in the industry.

Three Steps to Click Fraud Freedom

PPC campaigns can bring excellent results, so the objective is to not only continue with PPC but also to tune up your PPC campaigns, all the while banishing click fraud from the picture. Here’s how in three easy steps:

Step 1: Identify ads that are generating click fraud. A legitimate web session has notably different characteristics than a fraudulent session. Legitimate visitors tend to linger on good content pages and often reach goal pages — something that’s hard for a click fraud perpetrator to imitate. A session caused by a fraud perpetrator may appear to request several pages, but won’t focus on key content pages. Fraud perpetrators use the minimum activity necessary to trigger a pay-per-click charge.

That is why fraudulent sessions end quickly and will rarely request goal pages.
A good web analytics tool that includes a click fraud report can identify which PPC ads are attracting this unusual behavior. Combinations of two or more of the following behaviors will indicate likely click fraud.

• A large number of visits where the client IP addresses are similar
• A large number of sessions where there is no referring domain
• A higher percentage of visitors that don’t reach goal pages
• A sudden, disproportionate increase in sessions from a particular ad
• An affiliate domain that refers a high number of single page visits
• A particular affiliate domain that refers a high number of sessions with near zero time on site

Pay a quick visit to referring sites that appear frequently but still generate low page counts or low time on site. If the site is merely a link list, and has no relevant content, then you should be highly suspicious of click fraud.

Step 2: Make your ads less attractive to the fraud perpetrators.
This involves lowering or eliminating syndication, narrowing geographic targets and messaging, and blocking bad affiliate sites. First, login to your PPC account and, for each ad campaign, adjust the following attributes to decrease the likelihood of click fraud and increase the chances of attracting real site visitors.

Michael Stebbins is vice president of marketing for ClickTracks Analytics, a web analytics software and services company based in Santa Cruz, California. Michael has authored several patent-pending web analytics methods and occasionally speaks on web analytics and click fraud topics

Reader Comments.

Most small businesses will never go through this process you have outlined. Its way to much work, they will need help or will abandon PPClick altogether. SMB’s may work towards alternative and more “turn key and safe” solutions for their business. These will be proposed to them by their YP sales reps, CSearch, other local site operators. The long tail needs needs a lift.

Posted by DC | 1:45 pm on December 7, 2006.

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