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Exclusive: Google’s Click Fraud Rate is Less than 2%





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UPDATE: Ghosemajumder has clarified that my assumptions of less than 2% should be based on “invalid clicks”, which means the actual number is more likely just a fraction of one percent!

Back in November, Google’s business product manager for trust and safety, Shuman Ghosemajumder, declared that click fraud invalid clicks at Google was “on average is in the single digits, quarter over quarter.” I recently sat down with Ghosemajumder to discuss exactly how large of a problem click fraud is at Google. Whether intentional or not, he gave me access to information and shared data never before seen outside of the walls of the Googleplex.

For those of you short on patience or time, here’s the revealing information gleaned from my conversation with Ghosemajumder:

The click fraud rate – as discovered by most AdWords advertisers – is on average, less than 2% of all clicks through Google’s system.

So why did Google break its silence to MarketingPilgrim.com on this touchy subject? How did we manage to get the real click fraud number out of Ghosemajumder? Read on.

Proof Google’s Click Fraud is Less than 2%

Ghosemajumder sat down with me during the recent Search Engine Strategies conference and went thru a PowerPoint presentation that he confirmed was previously shown only to employees of the world’s largest search engine. He explains how Google has a four-stage process in identifying and filtering what it calls “invalid clicks”. Google’s definition of invalid clicks includes non-fraudulent clicks (such as a visitor genuinely clicking an AdWords ad more than once) and “click fraud” (those clicks that are obviously not legitimate).

Ghosemajumder shared with me the following diagram* which explains the makeup of Google’s AdWords clicks.

As you can see, out of all clicks on the AdWords network, Google is able to filter out the majority of invalid clicks before reports a served to the advertiser. You’ll notice a small amount of “click fraud” that falls outside of Google’s invalid clicks filters. That small amount represents the click fraud often discovered by advertisers, through the AdWords console, and click fraud detection companies.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The blue “invalid clicks” circle you see above, represents the “single digits” number Ghosemajumder previously shared in November. By deduction, we can already estimate the actual percentage of click fraud that escapes Google’s rigorous filters and detection systems is barely 1-2%. However, Ghosemajumder then proceeded to share another graphic that more clearly describes Google’s filters and appears to confirm that undetected click fraud is less than 2%.

Google’s Four Layers of Click Fraud Filters

Google utilizes four layers of click fraud detection. The first layer is purely automatic and is used to filter clicks from both “search” and AdSense partners (contextual ads). This filter is able to detect invalid clicks in real-time, with the goal of removing them before they ever show up in the AdWords console.

The second and third layers are aimed at filtering only AdSense clicks. The second layer is what Google calls its “flagging system” and is an automatic process to remove invalid clicks from the AdWords system. The third layer of filtering is a “manual review” process with more than two dozen Google employees manually reviewing and removing any suspicious clicks.

Google’s goal is to have the first three layers of filtering identify 100% of all invalid and fraudulent clicks. Those clicks that manage to escape Google’s filters are what causes many advertisers to raise concerns and has spawned the growth of many so-called click fraud detection companies. The fourth layer of click fraud detection falls to these advertisers and detection companies and is what Google calls “requested investigations”.

Here’s a representation* of the slide shared by Ghosemajumder.

Ghosemajumder confirmed that the blocks representing each layer of filtering were to scale and that the internal version of the graphic includes the actual percentages. After studying the graphic, I asked Ghosemajumder to comment on my perception of the numbers each block represented.

If Ghosemajumder had already confirmed the total amount of invalid clicks represented a number in the “single digits”, which I assumed would be around the 8-9% mark, the amount of user-detected “requested investigations” looked to be a number in the 1-2% mark, at most. While Ghosemajumder would not reveal the exact number, he did confirm that my estimate was on track, “if not less”. Wow! A user-detected click fraud rate of less than 2% is a world away from the 20% number given by some click fraud detection companies.

This is an amazing revelation and clearly shows that Google is getting tired of speculation and rumor filling the void left by the lack of transparency Google has with regards to their click fraud numbers. Ghosemajumder confirmed that internal discussion are ongoing as to whether Google should reveal exact numbers and put an end to the inflated estimates often quoted, when discussing click fraud. The biggest reason Google has for being hesitant about revealing the exact numbers, is fear that Yahoo and Microsoft will be able to leverage the numbers to deduce more information about AdWords.

Not All Click Fraud is Click Fraud

So how does Google explain the 15-30% click fraud numbers that have surfaced over the past several months? Ghosemajumder described how they monitor hundreds and hundreds of different signals in its efforts to detect click fraud. These identifiers are a strictly guarded secret with only the “click quality” teams having access to the information. Many advertisers – and click fraud detection companies – are looking at the wrong signals and often class valid clicks as fraudulent, or request refunds for clicks that Google had already discounted.

He gave a number of examples of how valid clicks could be misidentified. One included an advertiser seeing many clicks from the same IP address and surmising they must be fraudulent. Ghosemajumder described how many of these types of clicks are indeed valid, with so many people using corporate computers sharing the same IP, or ISPs assigning the same IP to more than one customer. Another common example of how click-fraud detection companies get it wrong is when counting reloads of an advertisers landing page. He described how a customer could click through to the landing page, view a product page, and then hit their “back” button, returning to the same landing page. Without correct tagging, Ghosemajumder said that one click and five page re-loads could easily be mislabeled as six clicks from the same visitor.

Google Becoming More Transparent

There is no doubt that we’ll see Google becoming more and more transparent in its efforts to share click fraud information. They have no reason to keep quiet for much longer, as Ghosemajumder explained. Google is already filtering more than 98% of invalid clicks, before they show-up in the AdWords console, their goal is to filter 100% and suggestions they are not doing enough are misguiding in their eyes.

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* The graphics shown above were not supplied by Google, but we believe they are accurate representations of what was shared with us.

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  • http://www.searchenginejournal.com Loren Baker

    Andy,

    Great story, but here’s a question.

    In Q3 of 2006 Google AdWords brought in $2.69 Billion in revenue, does this mean that there was somewhere around $50,000,000 in click fraud committed in Q3 2006 alone?

    If so, that’s a whole lotta click fraud.

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  • http://www.searchmarketingstandard.com Andrey Milyan

    Whoohoo. Andy promised and Andy delivered ;) Good stuff.

  • http://www.famousagents.com Jim Messenger

    Nice scoop Andy.

  • DazzlinDonna

    Andy, did he share actual data with you, or just pretty graphs?

  • http://ABCSearch.com Simon Chernin

    Great story. It was only a matter of time until the Google “thinktank” come up with something. I can see this being very beneficial to smaller ppc networks who have a robust click fraud prevention mehtods as well.

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  • http://seo-theory.blogspot.com/ Michael Martinez

    This is a better explanation of their process and why they fell confident in that process than Google has yet published, but it fails to address the core issue of whether Google actually knows an invalid click when they see it.

    Click fraud technology was developed to influence the original banner networks that paid on a per-click basis. When DirectHit came along and based its rankings in part on click-throughs, the click fraud technology was adapted to manipulate DirectHit’s results. I’ve been told it is also being directed at Yahoo!’s click-through processing.

    The more sophisticated click fraud networks use multiple servers in geographically diverse NOCs cycling through dozens of IP addresses that reside in multiple C-blocks. They used timed routines to simulate random but apparently natural surfing activity, whereby the “surfers” stay on pages for certain lengths of time.

    Adapting this technology to influence a PPC network like the search engines operate would be child’s play because the technology predates what the search engines have done.

    Until the search engines start outing these proxy networks, they have failed miserably to indicate that can even detect their existence.

    I would, however, be be better satisfied if the search engines explained — in at least as high a level as this presentation — how they strive to monitor such proxy networks.

  • http://www.searchmarketingstandard.com Andrey Milyan

    This is the case of “don’t ask, don’t tell” strategy. On one hand, search engines want to appear as “good guys” to the advertisers and keep this issue from hurting them on Wall Street, but at the same time they don’t want to shoot themselves in the foot with doing too much.

    I had a nice chat about this issue with Tom Cuthbert from ClickForensics a few weeks ago and he seemed to be very enthusiastic about coming up with some industrywide click fraud standards that everyone can accept.

    Until Google and others continue to encourage services like AdSense for Parked Domains, there is little sense in talking about serious effort to combat click fraud.

  • http://speedypin.com SpeedyPin

    They’ll never release the real stats (for obvious reasons). Maybe this is nothing, but 2% is an “acceptable fraud rate” for most etailers.

    – Eric Itzkowitz

    p.s. If this number’s changed please let me know.

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  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    Thanks for all your feedback. Dazzlin, while he didn’t show me actual numbers, I quizzed him on what numbers each chart represented, and got the numbers that way.

    Ghosemajumder has since clarified that it’s less than 2% of all invalid clicks, which means unidentified click fraud at Google is just a fraction of a percent!

  • http://www.artisaninteractive.com Scott Woodard

    Great scoop Andy!

    My gut reminds me of the old Rumsfeld quote, “As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

    We all know Google has a ton of really bright people who must spend a great deal of time on this problem since it direct threatens their business model. At the same time the “unknown unknowns” make me wonder.

  • Hank Aaron

    These statistics are a complete misrepresentation of reality. The point is that 2% is how many of the invalid clicks are accounted as click fraud after merchants “request investigation,” – NOT how many fraudulent clicks are missed by Google, which is the real number anyone cares about. In other words, out of all merchants, 2% are caught by merchants checking for fraud – and I think it’s obvious that most merchants don’t bother doing their own fraud detection.

    The reality is, we don’t, and Google doesn’t, know how many clicks are fraud and REMAIN UNDETECTED as fraud. Only a very careful accounting of every single click for some slice of traffic could turn up something close to valid data for that question, but it certainly would vary wildly depending on circumstance. Until we see any actual proof of a valid study, this is all fudging around with numbers in a spreadsheet.

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    Scott/Hank, you both make great points. Google in effect is only telling us the numbers for click fraud they know about. There’s must be lots of fraudulent activity that goes unnotived by them.

    It’s certainly the first time they’ve revealed their own internal numbers – or at least a very strong hint.

  • http://www.aceemploymentservices.net Shaun Stevens

    I thought so .

  • tarta

    Well maybe i didnt read it that good … But is there any proof of all this?

    Some google guy showing you some powerpoint presentation doesnt prove alot really.

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    Tarta, IMHO it’s pretty solid evidence.

  • http://www.autotropolis.com Car

    I think the article makes a false assumption that click fraud affects retailers, across the board at ‘less than 2%.’

    First, some industries are more attractive to fraudsters. More specifically, completive industries where fraudsters stand to gain more than a pretty penny per click. However, in the areas where the price of a click is at a premium, I would stand to wager click fraud is more than 2%.

    We experience no click fraud when promoting car forums, pictures or research. However, when we move into the more lucrative areas, such as automotive loans, we notice questionable clicks not only abound but thrive.

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  • http://www.apogee-web-consulting.com/blogger/blog.html Richard Ball

    Andy – What Andrey Milyan (comment #13) said about AdSense for Parked Domains is crucial to understanding why these numbers reported by yourself and Google are meaningless. Read this Google help page:
    http://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=50002

    The last paragraph is particularly relevant: “Depending on the design of the site, a parked domain site will be classified as either a search site or a content site. That means your ads may show on parked domain sites if your campaign is opted in to the search or content networks.”

    WTF? Google will charge its customers (the advertisers) paid clicks on the search network that originate from parked domains. A company that engages in this sort of practice is not going to appease its advertisers regarding click fraud with a few pretty pictures.

    For your next exclusive, can you find out what percentage of PPC traffic comes from parked domains? Of that, what’s the split between search and content network? Now, that’d be worth something.

  • http://www.traffick.com Andrew Goodman

    Wow indeed. Great exclusive, Andy.

    Proof? Is Google blowing smoke?

    I really don’t see why they would. Other traffic sources have, and it has seriously impacted their credibility. Advertisers can easily cross-check this type of info against the tendency of clicks to convert.

    If you’re working on real accounts, you can often see during the holiday time the conversion rates and cost per order numbers trending into very affordable territory. You aren’t going to see conversion rates of 5-10% on mediocre, relatively unoptimized ecommerce user experiences, if there is tons of fraud floating around out there. To me, having watched a large number of campaigns closely, Google’s account rings true. I won’t believe it all when it comes to the AdSense network, but then again, we all bid low on that inventory, don’t we?

  • http://equtilities.com OBCENEIKON

    its less than 2% because not only do they filter out fraudulent clicks, but valid ones as well. I was banned from adsense for supposedly clicking my own ads, but not one time did I click my own. I appealed the case and was denied.

  • http://www.apogee-web-consulting.com/blogger/blog.html Richard Ball

    Andrew Goodman – With all due respect (I list your book on squidoo.com/adwords-tweaker), your comment “when it comes to the AdSense network, but then again, we all bid low on that inventory, don’t we?” is a little out of touch. Those of us that have been managing AdWords accounts since 2002 have seen the changes at Google that tilt the equation in Google’s favor. Now, I honestly think Google is trying to simplify the PPC advertising process, but they’ve inadvertently exacerbated the perception of click fraud.

    What do I mean by this? Take AdWords Starter Edition for example. It hides the complexity of AdWords by not letting advertisers opt out of the search network or content network. It hides the notion of CPC by using the Budget Optimizer. Would you recommend that a brand new advertiser use contextual advertising? Would you recommend they use the B.O.? They can’t “bid low on that inventory” because they don’t even know it exists. Now, when they start tracking their results, they’re going to *think* they’re experiencing click fraud because they’re getting all this traffic that’s NOT search engine advertising.

    Note, too, the the newly offered hosted business pages are tied to AdWords Starter Edition. Any business that uses that new product is locked into the content network and can’t set lower bids. Is this going to help with the perception of click fraud? Frankly, I don’t understand why more people haven’t dug into the details. Google should kill off Starter Edition. Yes, we *all* need to bid low on the content network – especially new advertisers.

    Google, are you listening?

  • http://www.searchenginecollege.com/blog.htm Kalena Jordan

    Nice scoop, but I think the Google guys are trying to sell us the green coolaid again. I would bet that this info has been carefully “leaked” to cause just the right amount of distraction in time for a Click Fraud Christmas.

  • Rene

    Agree with Hank Aaron. This “exclusive google’s less than 2% click fraud proof” is just a nice google’s PR campaign.

    If I know my wife meets 100 men a year and I [personally] find her cheating with two guys a year, it doesn’t mean her “cheating ratio” is only 2%! I most likely don’t know about the other 8-20 guys she sleeps with since most of the time I work out of town.

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  • http://gregbo.livejournal.com/ CPCcurmudgeon

    With all due respect, this does not constitute proof. And even if it is true, this does not mean individual accounts cannot experience substantial levels of click fraud. The Tuzhilin report backs this up.

    I would also like to point out that there are ways to cleverly generate traffic that looks like any other traffic that arrives at a site. This can’t be reliably distinguished by algorithms, humans, or anything else. Such traffic is generated from botnets, viruses, and click rings.

    I’m still unconvinced of these claims.

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  • http://www.netpaths.net/ cvos

    I think Google is intentionally leaving this data vague. It is quite possible that the AGGRAGATE click fraud is only 2%, but the majority of click fraud occurs in the content network and on adsense sites.

    Click fraud on Google.com is likely very low, since there is nothing to gain except frustrating a competitor – and few people make the effort to automatically click lots of ads. There is no incentive.

    However, there is a huge incentive to falisify clicks on your own adsense website, and this is where the numbers lie.

    I also speculate that google may be sharing data from North America only, as click fraud is generally higher in other areas.

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  • http://www.readycompanies.com ReadyCompanies

    wow – i really hope it is 2 % and not more – Google should give automatic rebates of 5% of ad charge for invalid clicks to all its advertisers as a credit

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  • http://www.stareclips.com/?click-fraud-rate umopapisdn

    These figures are generally consistent with my own.

    http://www.stareclips.com/?click-fraud-rate

  • http://www.shmula.com/277/google-click-fraud-statistics Pete Abilla

    The percentage Ghosemajumder shared is interesting, but insufficient. Metrics like this require additional numbers such as sensitivity, specificity, false positive rate and false negative rate. These additional numbers give us a better picture of the measurement system and whether or not it is reliable.

    If you’re ruler is not to scale, your measurements will be off the mark.

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  • http://www.immobilienagentur-hamburg.de Immobilienmakler Hamburg

    Thank you for the points, I must tell, I never received a bigger refund from Adwords. But I often hear and read that Adsense accounts are deleted because of POSSIBLE click fraud. That makes me trust more in Google Adwords.

  • Curtis

    That 2% is a blanket statement for a channel that is anything but uniform. 2% on low CPC? Sure, why not?

    Now, look at the big boys. Mesothelioma. Structured settlements. $100/click. You think those are only 2%? There’s a LOT of money to be made off of those clicks.

    If you believe that percentage is accurate for those terms, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

  • http://www.unitedwebsite.com/zoltan Zoltan

    2%, wow… what about overture?

  • http://www.wwip.com Brett Smith

    I would like to believe that this was true but just feel the number has to be higher then 2%.

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  • http://www.searchenginecollege.com/blog.htm Kalena Jordan

    oh and what the f…’s a Gravatar?

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  • http://www.johndemayo.com john demayo

    As noted previously, 2% of clicks, not $. If it is anywhere near 2% of clicks, the % of $ is likely well north of 10%, perhaps north of 20%.

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  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    Kalena, a gravatar is the pretty picture you are supposed to be able to use next to your comment. Unfortunately, Gravatar.com is going thru a major restructure, so hardly anyone has one right now.

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  • http://www.smtusa.com Terry Howard

    I guess my biggest issue with a recent experience with Google on click fraud was that if their system reports to me that a % of my traffic has been flagged as invalid clicks, why not give me that data passed the campaign level only? It would be infinitely helpful to me to know what keywords or even just what ad groups had the invalid clicks so maybe I can implement some negative keywords or contain my bidding for those terms. When I asked for this level of info on my own account I got the “must protect our fraud filter methods” line. How would I reverse engineer anything from knowing what keywords you think are getting invalid clicks? That’s all I want to know, not how you obtained the data, but what the heck the data even is! So basically you’re told you got some crap traffic coming through but don’t you worry you’re pretty head we’ll credit it for you and the crap traffic continues every day from now on! Just give us the info on where the crap is coming from and I’ll do my job and flush the toilet. I really don’t see how allowing that simple info puts anything in jeopardy.

  • http://www.lookwhatgmanfound.com G-Man

    While the graphs are pretty and some of the numbers are interesting, it still doesn’t go into much depth. I do appreciate the effort but obviously Google is still hiding the various techniques that they have in place to detect click fraud.

    We can all argue until we’re old and grey about what methods Google is or is not using to detect this click fraud but I bet that they’ll never reach that goal of 100% detection. It’s a nice goal tho isn’t it?

    G-Man

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  • http://dallas-seo.blogspot.com Mark B

    Great article Andy! This really helps to better understand how the fraud is classified and filtered. I am not surprised by the focus on clicks through Adsense but surprised that more layers are not in place for the search only campaigns as I still see some very questionable clicks coming that way.

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  • Frauded

    We recently reviewed our adwords account and found a startling increase in content network ad clicks beginning in June 2006. Our ad campaign is highly specific and prior to June we received 10-15 clicks / month total. In the last 4 months the clicks were 60,160,200,350 just on the content network and were set to hit 450 in December. Also note that in the months above the google search clicks remained between 10-15 / month.
    After analyzing site traffic and sales the most likely explanation is a recent surge in content network fraud, our estimates point to 90% click fraud.

    We also don’t believe this is unique to our company, we have seen similar content network metrics on accounts belonging to 2 of our clients.

    The bottom line in our case, turning off the content network completely results in a 90% reduction in ad spending with no change in leads or sales. In a higher volume ad campaign with the same metrics spending would stay the same and sales would increase by the amount of fraud.

    We were shocked to see that google claims only 2% click fraud or “invalid clicks”. This is a no brainier, is it really in google’s best interest to stop this as they make 70-90 percent of the revenue generated from this fraud without having to commit the fraud themselves.

  • http://www.traffick.com Andrew Goodman

    Frauded,

    If this is the worst example of “fraud” we can dredge up, then things must be pretty rosy indeed.

    I’m not sure that this really provides much proof of actual fraud, and even if some is getting through, it wouldn’t be hard to combat by lowering bids a bit. Fraud on the search network would be more serious.

    400 clicks on the content network should only be costing you around $160 or less if you’re bidding correctly. Just because the traffic isn’t converting on those 400 clicks doesn’t mean it’s fraudulent. It may mean your ad is showing up somewhere it shouldn’t be – somewhere that isn’t very targeted.

    Increases in clicks aren’t surprising, either. New publishers are always being added onto the network, or your position may jump up so that you actually appear on pages that would have shown your competitors’ ads previously. This may be a sign that they have lowered bids, so you should, too.

    You haven’t offered much evidence of anything untoward, as disappointing as it may be that $160 worth of clicks didn’t convert to anything.

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  • http://www.stickyeyes.com Gary Beal

    In 7 years of monitoring logfiles I can and have detected click fraud rates of 11%-30%.

    These are just the non-US clicks that are identified.

    Google has never been close to my figures, and when I do get reimbursed its a fraction of the submitted amount.

    GaryTheScubaGuy

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  • bg

    My employer owns nearly thirty online businesses and uses Adwords, among others, to advertise. After receiving a frustratingly low reimbursement (less than 0.1%) from the Lane’s Gifts v. Google Class Action Suit, we are researching the details of the case. In hind sight of course we should have done this before deciding to admit ourselves into the suit, but there didn’t seem to be a compelling reason to opt out. That and the utter lack of information regarding the case were reasons enough to sign on as a class member.

    Anyways, I had some questions about the conclusions drawn in article above. (1) Am I to suppose that the discovered levels of click fraud by advertisers are equivalent with the actual amount of click fraud that escapes the previous 3 tiers? That I may discover 2% of fraudulent clicks does not mean that I’ve discovered them all. (2) Does anyone have the ratio of allowable clicks to invalid/fraudulent clicks? For example, of 100 clicks on an advertisement how many are fraudulent (before any screening measures)? Google may in fact be rigorously trying to minimize fraudulent clicks, but my concern lies in terms of how many total clicks are fraudulent. Detecting 98% of fraud is a laudable achievement, but are they catching 98% of detected fraud, not total fraud?

    I appreciate your comments to these questions. I would also ask that you point me in the direction of further resources to continue my research into the matter. Anyone else involved in the class action suit?

    Take care and happy holidays.

  • http://www.traffick.com Andrew Goodman

    Here I go again.

    bg, if I may say so, you seem obsessed with click fraud.

    Is there a marketing program lurking anywhere in there?

    As for the class action suit. Isn’t that a red herring? I’ve been in these before, with other similar situations. LookSmart ripped us off, misled us, and we applied and received a small credit in the suit. That’s class action for you.

    Meanwhile it absolutely does not mean that Google has no further obligation to you. Perhaps it means you have fewer options to actually sue them, but you weren’t going to do that anyway.

    What you can do, is document any click fraud that may have occurred, if indeed it did. And then directly request a refund. That process hasn’t gone away just because there was a suit.

    And now, back to your regularly scheduled marketing program. There is one, isn’t there?

  • http://gregbo.livejournal.com/ CPCcurmudgeon

    bg,

    Only the fraudsters know how much actual fraud there really is. The engines may be able to detect all the fraud, but may not, depending on how clever the fraudsters are in making it look like “legit” traffic. This isn’t that hard to do, when using botnets, spyware, or click farms.

    As to the class action, I don’t know that there is much that can be done, since you didn’t opt out. There are some US Congressional inquiries into click fraud, but it’s not clear yet that anyone will see any money from them.

    My advice to you is to reduce your ad spend in accordance with the fraud you suspect, and look into alternate, less fraud-prone options such as CPA or fixed fee advertising.

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  • http://www.diem-artwork.com.ar Diem

    I recently was banned from google adwords due to “click fraud”. I would like to know if there was a way to know if some of my users were really clicking on my google ads to give me a hand or if google has a way of detecting how many people click and then go back to my site. Any news on what kind of tech google uses to find this out?

  • http://www.ppcsearchenginemarketing.org/ PPC Guy

    Does this 2% only include Adwords advertisers that noticed invalid clicks? Beal’s statement seems ambiguous, “The click fraud rate – as discovered by most AdWords advertisers – is on average, less than 2% of all clicks through Google’s system.” If that’s the case what about the other advertisers that didn’t notice these “invalid clicks”?

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  • http://gregbo.livejournal.com/ CPCcurmudgeon

    The question is, if a competitor (or some other fraudster) can arrange for an ad to be clicked on 100 times every day from computers that it can’t be associated with, can the engines or networks solve that problem? If the only thing that differentiates those 100 clicks from any other 100 clicks received on that ad is the intent to do fraud, can the engines and networks detect that?
    Whenever this issue is raised, it’s met with silence (except from individuals such as Bruce Schneier and Lauren Weinstein from the Internet technical community).

  • http://www.stareclips.com/?click-fraud umopapisdn

    There ARE ways that aren’t exactly perfect, but can often be quite accurate. Google is silent about the method they use, for good reason. Imagine, for instance, that Google had an alarm system for their building. And those concerned about Google’s building being secure might ask “Is there a passcode for the alarm?”

    Google’s response might be, “Yes.”

    Then someone could ask, “Is the passcode at least 4 digits long?”

    The answer, “yes.”

    “Is it at least 6 digits long?”

    “No.”

    “So it’s just 4 digits? How secure is that?”

    “No, it’s not 4 digits.”

    “Aha, so it’s 5 digits!”

    “Correct.”

    “But, is it something easy? Like 12345? That would be terrible if it was!”

    “No, it’s not easy.”

    “Are there 5 unique digits in the number, or is there a repeated digit? I would imagine one is more secure than another, right?”

    “There are 4 unique digits, with one repeated. There are only 30,240 possible combinations of 5 digits if all of them are unique. Many more number combinations are allowed if a digit can be repeated.”

    “Ah, that’s good… that’s good. So, it’s pretty secure, right?”

    “Very.”

    “Can the control panel be seen through a window?”

    “Yes. There is a south-facing window where the control panel can be seen.”

    “Couldn’t someone point a camera into the window to see what code is being punched into it?”

    “When the code is being entered, our staff is trained to block the view from the south-facing window.”

    “Ah, good… good. Very secure.”

    This hypothetical discussion of security, and making sure the building is secured well, only makes things less secure. With this information, someone is now armed with knowledge as to how to thwart the security. For instance, someone could look through the south-facing window to see which numbers on the keypad appear more worn or used than others, then knowing that one digit is repeated and that the remaining digits are unique, one could come up with a short list of possibilities rather than being faced with the much larger set of possibilities.

    So, the more information Google reveals about HOW it DETECTS fraud, the more information they would give to would-be-fraudsters to circumvent their detection.

    In any case, I would like to illustrate a method that Google COULD be using. By analyzing the user behavior on a controlled website, Google would be able to formulate statistics that represent normal non-fraudulent user behavior. For instance, they might see that a 90% of typical users spend about 19.3 seconds on a website before leaving the page, that 8% of typical users spend 11.2 seconds on a website before clicking an advertisement, and that 2% of typical users spend 3.9 seconds on a website before clicking on one of the ads. By analyzing this data using various barometers, Google could then detect anomalies in activity. Maybe there seems to be an unusually high number of users in a group that are only spending 1.2 seconds before clicking on one of the ads. These anomalies could be investigated further to determine if there are other patterns of behavior that would suggest fraud. By catching these, stopping the fraudsters, but not revealing their secret formulas, would-be-fraudsters would be stuck trying to GUESS (and mostly failing) what this formula is, or how to appear as a fully legitimate user and not a statistical anomaly.

    http://www.stareclips.com/?click-fraud

  • http://gregbo.livejournal.com/ CPCcurmudgeon

    The method you suggest has several holes in it, such as:

    Since the site is controlled, it is not typical of any behavior except those individuals who participated in the study.

    It is trivial for fraudsters to manufacture traffic that looks like non-fraudulent traffic. They can use human clickers, or capture keystrokes from infected machines and replay them (possibly on other infected machines).

    What it comes down to is that (except for some very basic attempts to defraud, such as repeated clicks from a small number of machines on a small number of ads), what separates fraudulent traffic from non-fraudulent traffic is intent, not pattern. When (if) the engines and networks are able to determine the intent of a click, they will have solved a far more difficult problem than click fraud. Aside from the security professionals I have mentioned, Dr. Tuzhilin has commented on the impossibility of solving this problem.

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  • http://www.vintagecomputermanuals.com Vintage Computer Manuals

    This is a fact of life.
    As your product becomes more valuable – theft whether it is shoplifting, counterfiting or click fraud becomes always more of an issue.
    The classic neverending question is always ” Do I as an innovator , seller or manufacturer concern myself with this problem and focus on it or do I focus my efforts on more major areas as profitiability or product research ?”

  • http://gregbo.livejournal.com/ CPCcurmudgeon

    VCM,

    I guess it depends on how much fraud is actually out there. Or how
    much expenditure can’t simply be written off as the cost of doing
    business.

  • Donna

    That’s a lie, that’s a BIG LIE !!! Click fraud on Google is WAY higher than 2%

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  • Jeff Miller

    Google telling us that they have a 2% click fraud rate is like the mongoose telling us how many eggs it stole from the hen house (“only 2%, I swear…to the best of my knowledge, I didn’t not take any more eggs than that.”).

    Hey mongoose, what’s that behind your back…?

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  • http://www.vintagecomputermanuals.com retro computers

    It is always amazing that even with modern technology it is a question of how you wish to portay the numbers or stats to your advantage or end conclusion.
    Two slogans or historic sayings come to mind:
    1) There are numbers and there are statistics
    2)Figures don’t lie but liars figger.

  • http://www.glendalegolfs.com Glendale Winnipeg

    You have to hit the ball on the fairway.
    It is amazing how off the mark these experts and pros can be.

  • Mark levey

    Are you for REAL Andy- What a Load of BULL***T!!!

    As if a representative of Google would be giving you the correct figure for which they have are stealing from their client’s worldwide.

    If you are stupid enough to believe this story, then all I can say is you deserve to be RIPPED OFF !!

    Next thing we will hear from Google is that they are going to give all the fraudulant money created by their own click fraud to charity – All FIVE HUNDERD MILLION DOLLARS FROM ONE QUARTER ALONE – What a joke,

    Truthfully Andy – WAKE UP TO YOURSELF

  • Mark levey

    Are you for REAL Andy – What a Load of BULL***T!!!

    As if a representative of Google would be giving you the correct figure for which they have are stealing from their client’s worldwide.

    If you are stupid enough to believe this story, then all I can say is you deserve to be RIPPED OFF !!

    Next thing we will hear from Google is that they are going to give all the fraudulant money created by their own click fraud to charity – All FIVE HUNDERD MILLION DOLLARS FROM ONE QUARTER ALONE – What a joke,

    Truthfully Andy – WAKE UP TO YOURSELF

  • http://arrif.blogspot.com Mohamed Arif

    Hi
    The messages are very useful. Keep it up.
    Googlers are watching our site using which technique.Ill show my google analytics a/c. Where my site is popular in world wide which has unique users of 50% and New also in 50%
    http://arrif.blogspot.com

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  • http://www.salecalls.com/ Salecalls

    I think this number is true. 2% invalid clicks are real for now days.

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  • http://horisly.blogspot.com horisly

    that’s good for advertiser, then ads publishers get benefit.

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  • http://www.spotesya.com/ Hans

    Here I go again.

    bg, if I may say so, you seem obsessed with click fraud.

    Is there a marketing program lurking anywhere in there?

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  • http://www.study-habits.com/study-guide.html Study Guide

    So there is no reason to fear CF? Kinda like Global Warming (wink, wink) huh?

    Seriously, Google is doing a great job and people are still whining. I find that distasteful.

  • http://www.webmaster-money.org Webmaster Money

    I was always wondering how the are detecting the fraud. But anyway it is tempting to click on banner if you know that there is high bid.

  • http://www.mircturkey.com mirc

    VCM,

    I guess it depends on how much fraud is actually out there. Or how
    much expenditure can’t simply be written off as the cost of doing
    business.

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  • http://www.k111k.com انمي

    tanks

  • hlawton

    Are Google, Yahoo and MSN robbing you?

    Why PPC waste/fraud is still continuing and why Google, Yahoo and MSN won’t help you find it.

    I have spent time looking at all the reports Google/Yahoo/MSN have been providing it’s customers for some time now.

    The one report that none of them provide is “Length of Visit by Keyword”.

    This is a report that would help anyone with managing PPC campaigns in a major way.

    So, why is this report not supplied by any of the search engines out there?

    It’s simple!

    If you knew which keywords people were clicking on and then just jumping out you could adjust you spending on those keywords accordingly.

    All the major search engines have the data and tools available to provide you with this report.

    I also believe that with the data that most of the major search engines collect that they could even provide us with a much better report than the “Length of Visit by Keyword” report I’ve been talking about.

    I would love to see the raw data that Google collects on the sponsored ad clicks.

    I bet if any of us could analyze that data we would save tons of money on our campaigns.

    As a side note…
    Wouldn’t you love to know what products have the best conversion rates and lowest advertising costs? Google and the others have this information. What power these people have!

    Another note…
    Google and the others know what products don’t sell well over the internet. They could come up with a list of products that have never sold well over the internet and at least warn people before they waste your money. I think a large percentage of people who try to sell something over the internet are wasting their money and I’m including the people who really know what their doing.

    They won’t help us with this critical data because they know once you see the waste you will adjust your advertising campaigns to reduce it. That would cost the major search engines billions of dollars once you do.

    Google and the others are basically hoping people don’t figure this out. Their saying lets give the customers a bunch of reports and analytics and hope they never notice what we’re not giving them.

    The report should at least contain:
    IP Address, Date/Time, Search term, Campaign keyword(s), Length of Visit, Number Pages Viewed, Conversion.

    All the major search engines are guilty of not providing its customers with this information.

    I have been looking for a tracking site that provides this information but have not had much luck.

    I’m sure I could find a service or piece of code out there that will provide the important data but why we are not getting these reports from the major search engines out there is a crime.

    Harvey Lawton

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  • http://free-ps3-for-me.blogspot.com Michael Samuel

    I stopped PPC advertising because of the click fraud problem! I think Google should protect its advertisers more than that…

  • http://www.abcdesign.dk/business-intelligence.htm Gry Gabrielle, WebDesigner

    My suggestion is simple:

    Just make sure you never go for any other channels than the search results in google.xxx because the fraud is not from your colleges, its from hungry AdSense sites.

    Actually we where closed out by our Google Adsense testing, because our colleges in our local network was clicking on adds, and at that time we didnt now that (our colleges) and we went from PR5 to PR4 some days later.

    Thats why we decided AdSense didnt make sense for us. I Assume theres a army of AdSense sites who wants to earn money, and they are asumeably very creative in their ways to make webdesign and have people clicking. Random AdWords Roboting who dont target your own pool but only occasionaly i have been reading about. I Love Google, that why i love to critize also, likewise with my husband… :-)

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  • http://www.secureyourtrademark.com trademark registration

    Even so, 2% is still too much. Some company’s advertising is in the hundreds of thousands. That quickly adds up to thousands of dollars that go to fraudulent clicks. It’s kind of scary to think about.

  • http://ist.psu.edu/faculty_pages/jjansen/ Jim Jansen

    Here is a URL to an academic research article on this subject — http://ist.psu.edu/faculty_pages/jjansen/academic/jansen_click_fraud.pdf

    Reference: Jansen, B. J. (2007) Click fraud, IEEE Computer. 40(7), 85-86

    I do not believe that the 2% applies to content ads.

  • http://www.traffick.com Andrew Goodman

    Jim, I can’t help but notice you cite your own article. Looks like you’ve done a lot of interesting research relevant to online marketers, user experience analysis, etc. I sympathize with the plight you must face in presenting reliable “trend analysis” in the context of some of these publication processes — for example one of your articles from 2006 is covering long-defunct user experiences from search engines like Excite, Alltheweb; references to user interactions with Yahoo as “directory-based,” and so on. The references seem to be 5-7 years out of date by the time they are published.

    As to what constitutes an “academic research article,” we will have to disagree. This looks to me like a short unrefereed overview article in a magazine. Some of your other articles conform more closely to the norm of a refereed journal article that would be worthy of the title of “academic research article.”

    Here, I don’t see the research. I see some decent common-sense definitions and terse recommendations and conclusions. But no independent data or critical insight.

    @hlawton: Any decent analytics package, such as Google Analytics, will give you bounce rates by keyword, and time spend on site by keyword, if that’s what you want.

  • http://ist.psu.edu/faculty_pages/jjansen/ Jim Jansen

    You know, upon reflecting on this article, the only way to really know the click fraud rate is to run an experiment between a trusted third party and the search engine.

    This the only way to get all three data points in the same place — the content provider, the search engine, and the attacker.

    Basically, set-up fake online stores with sponsored search accounts. Then, attack these online stores with various click fraud techniques over a period of time.

    Then compare logs from the Websites, the search engines, and the attacker logs.

    Jim

  • anonomous

    My fraud clicks are 6% but would be much higher if i used adsence.

    I can only guess the good man Andy was expecting all this apposing feedback.

    “Actually the reported 2% invalid clicks come simply from complaints buy advertisers”.
    As an advertiser myself,I only report about 1% of my estimated 6%. Its just a hassle, (like getting minutes credited for a dropped call). I think thats also one reason ‘Google Analytics’ wont report the ip addresses.
    We spend a simple $40,000 a yr on Google This figure does not including customers you’re charged for, that click on you two or three times in teh same day, for example if the customer needs to re-contact you they often will re-google you and re-click you.

    Theres many things Google could do to give us more accurate information and results. Many feel if they do this they would loose millions. A general belief is you only give your customer better service when your forced to by competition, and currently Google has no competitor that offers thees options. But the ROI is much greater foe my company then the blood sucking yellow pages lol.(die) In that comparison I’m very happy.

  • http://albums-for-sale.com Joe Williams

    Just got banned by AdSense for making too much money on Feb 19, 2008. All websites that we had were generic business websites and everything was legal. Google Adsense’s email indicated a ‘bad business model’. Our translation is ‘We are paying you too much money’. Go figure. We had been up and running for over a year until our websites were getting noticed by Alexa.com and Google AdSense’s mysterious partners.

  • http://www.stickyeyes.com Gary Beal

    I spoke with Adam at SES London 2008 yesterday and he shed some light on duplication across multiple websites showing up across multiple Google SE’s. He explained that its not a negative factor except when there are high multiple instances of it.

    He also mentioned multiple 301’s in a short time span may have implications as well.

    Thanks Adam!

    GaryTheScubaGuy

  • Chris Longwell

    As a business owner that is just getting started in online advertising…one thing is for sure. Google does not make small businesses feel comfortable with using there services. I would be willing to say the majority of advertisers are small businesses like mine with small advertising budgets. Google put the onerous on business to come to them with all the information. Their training talks about knowing all your competitors ip addresses. The click fraud “training,” if you can call it that, talks to you like your 10 years old and do not have the intelligence to understand what Google does to combat it. “Little Jimmy….little Jimmy are you listening. Don’t you know little Jimmy that not all clicks are fraudulent clicks.” The entire tutorial was them trying to convince me to not pursue because there is nothing to pursue. Give me a break!

    The other thing that bugs me is how people let companies like Google and Apple off the hook. “You can’t talk that way about our precious Google and Apple! We believe everything they say is true…because they are not Microsoft.” Any publicly traded company is going to do WHATEVER is necessary to keep up the bottom line. Including showing us silly pictures like the one posted in the article with the three circles. Wake up! That’s insulting!

  • Chris Longwell

    As popularized by Mark Twain. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”

  • http://www.spotesya.net/ Selin

    Even so, 2% is still too much.

  • doug

    Google Crick Fraud is 20-30% based on my own experience with adsense. Of course Google would say it is low. Does anyone actually believe Matt Cutts and Google’s PR machine.

  • http://www.traffick.com Andrew Goodman

    Wow, that was scientific.

  • Avi

    After we installed a tracking code in our web pages, we found that 75% of Google’s clicks were frauds.
    We got massive amount of clicks from different countries in hours that people sleep there!
    Google placed our adds along with Sex ads and Tourist guides…(we make scientific instrumentation).
    Within 24 hours after we complained, all of those clicks disappeard. That clearly shows that Google got a hand in those clicks.
    Our monthly bill is now 75% lower with no effect on our sales.
    Webmasters, don’t let them cheat you!

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  • http://www.macrophotos.net/ Flickr

    That’s only the invalid clicks they caught. From our experience, it’s much higher and Google’s customer service staff fight hard to deny any compensations or responsibilities.

  • http://www.metroserviceswpg.com Metro Services Wpg

    lots of coloured graphs and charts that i do not understand
    The simple answer to all of this “Do you believe in the tooth fairy ?”

  • http://www.tendertiger.com prasad

    i think there some element of click fraud on google we had given http://www.tendertiger.com add on google we do received some invalid and dummy click
    regards
    prasad

  • http://www.yelp.ca/biz/pizza-place-winnipeg-4 Levels of Poor Service

    Hate to say it do you believe in the tooth fairy or free pizza and beer ?
    Wherever money and schemers are together it does not take too long for ideas of the “easy and softer way ” to arise and develop
    Some even enjoy or prefer to earn their money this way
    To put it another way – figures don’t lie but liars figger

    Levels of Poor Service’s last blog post..pizza e. (1.0/5) on Yelp.com

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  • http://www.cuff-n-collar.com/Cufflinks-c12/ Cufflinks

    I have used google ads before and have often wondered how many of the click I paid for were in fact click fraud

  • Malson Mahoney

    This article is a couple of years old now, but I have not seen a tremendous improvement in stopping click fraud. The idea that every business has to watch out for itself reminds me of EBAY and the hands off policy catching fraudulent sellers. Too much money involved for Google to make a change. If it is truly 2% that still comes out to tens of millions in fraudulent clicks.
    The bottom line is businesses that use Google services still make money. Enough to put up with fraudulent clicking I guess. For them(google) to come out though and say they will not track IPs for a business is absolute bull. They can instantly create a report on just about everything, but the ip of the machine that clicked through an ad…give me a break.

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