Click Fraud: Can it happen to you?

  

Beware Advertisers: Click Fraud is For Real

Like most businesses, when I was introduced to Google’s Pay-per-Click advertisement program called Google Adwords, I was overjoyed. No more advertising in costly magazines and journals which hardly generate any leads. Here I only pay when someone is eagerly and actively looking for my product or service.

Too good to be true… only pay for leads that click on your ad. So my ad can show for thousands of impressions a day, but I only pay for the handful of people who click on it and visit my web site.

And it was good too, because my SEO business started getting leads that were hot - literally as soon as I started the ads. So I was happy… and I increased my daily budget on Google and increased my cost-per-click, so that my ad could rank higher up on the search result pages.

Clicks Galore…
And I naturally started getting more hits from this extra exposure. Getting 10-20 clicks and ever 40 clicks a day became the norm. My spending with Google also skyrocketed. As I became happier, I became complacent too… as long as I was getting more visitors to my site, I wasn’t complaining…

Until I got my latest invoice from Google. Boy, I was jolted right out of my seat. It seemed that Google had maxed out my daily budget times the 31 days in the month. I had got new business from Google, but I didn’t know I was getting this many visitors from my ad campaign.

A quick look at my Google AdWords campaign showed me a huge number of clicks over the past several days and weeks. The number wasn’t 20 or 30 clicks anymore. It was in hundreds of clicks a day. Funny, I hadn’t received so many quotation requests or emails from people joining our eMarketing Ideas Newsletter or commenting on our blog . Something funny was going on…

Content Targeted Ads Can Blow a Hole
Upon careful investigation, I found that people searching for my SEO & Email Marketing services had remained steady on Google. It was the Content Targeted ads that were blowing the hole in my budget. Everyday, I was getting close to 100s clicks on the content network.

Curious to know where these clicks were coming from, I started playing with the Google Adwords reports, looking for a way to find out where my ads show on the content network.

Google Ad Placement Reports
Good for me, as Google had recently introduced a new report called the Ad Placement Report, which shows where the ads are displaying on the content network. I ran the report for a month, and Wah! What did I find…

My ads were showing in thousands on a few good sites like About.com, my articles on eZineArticles are showing my ads too, but I also noticed that the most number of clicks were coming from a blog and a web site with a strange name. Well, if they are showing my ads, they must be relevant to my products / services. So I copied and pasted their URL on my browser window to see what these sites were about.

And was I amazed? These sites talk about gibberish, anything goes… the site is plastered with Google AdSense ads on the top, left, right and center. In fact, I had to scroll several pages to "find" the Content. which wan tiny, and not much relevant too.

Victim of Click Fraud
The site had no Google Page Rank. If you don’t know page rank, visit our SEO FAQ section. And strange is that it had no Alexa ranking too. Next, I checked the domain for when was it created, and all the WHOIS information. Turned out that the site was registered about 3 weeks back, hosted in China, and was solely meant to display adsense ads.

And it was pretty clear to me that the owners or creators of the site were clicking on the ads themselves. Boy, I was angry. Very Very angry!

Google comes to Rescue
I immediately wrote to Google Adwords team about this site that was creating this massive click fraud. The good thing about Google is that they create a support ticket immediately, and told me that their Click Quality team will investigate it within 3 days.

Seems like their support center is moved closer in Asia, because all my support tickets were answered in the day time, and promptly. I was happy and within 3 days I got a reply back confirming my doubts. They found the site, and identified it to be a Fraudster, generating invalid clicks. They banned them for life, and told me a refund was on its way.

Although with a good ending for me, it was a harrowing experience altogether. I had reduced my Google advertising budget, and was spending much more time monitoring my ads in the last week than required.

A Lesson Learnt
This happened to us because we were too focused on managing our clients Ad accounts. We used to spend a lot of time tweaking their ads, increasing their Click-through-rate (CTR), and getting them higher placements. In fact, we had no time to spend on our own Google campaigns.

This was a good lesson learnt. There were many takeaway pointers for me, and would like to share with you too.

1. Never leave your Google Advertising accounts unattended or running on auto-pilot. Keep checking on a daily or weekly basis in the least. If you have outsourced your advertising to a Search Marketing (SEM) company, ask for regular reporting, and do some spot checks - ask for ad-hoc reports on clicks, content network etc. for a specific period. They should be able to provide that to you fairly quickly, and you can get a bearing of what’s going on.

2. Setup separate bids for ads showing on the content network. Typically the leads coming from the content network are not that "hot", so you don’t have to bid the default set for the Search network. Of course, Google tries to keep your bid from the Search network as the default for the content network too, but you can change it only if you know where to.

3. Look for click & spending trends: how many clicks you get on a daily or a weekly basis - a sudden hike or plunge can point you to what went wrong.

4. Analyze all your previous ad trends for the last whole year, and write to Google if you suspect you have been a victim of click fraud and claim back your spent money.

Lastly, a plug for our own SEM Services , We are now managing Google Ads for a few very prominent business and professional practices in Singapore, and our clients are very happy with the results . If you would like to enquire about managed advertising on Google or Yahoo to get more leads , more "hot" prospects looking for your products or services, do contact us for a quote quickly, and get the extra exposure you need .

To your success…

Cheers,
Vinai Prakash
CEO, BrandRich Marketing
* Focused on Search Engine Optimization, Search Marketing on the Internet & Email Marketing
http://wvw.brandrich.com

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Comments

Hi there, been surfing the net for adwords bids and found your blog reg raud: Can it happen to you?. You relly know your stuff! I\’d like to see more posts here. Will definitely bookmark it and come back.

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