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Calling B.S.: How to Find and Prevent Click Fraud

Published: January 19, 2012

Author: Susan Waldes

One of my PPC Associates clients is in a highly competitive lead-gen industry where CPCs of $50 and higher are not uncommon. Unfortunately, that means that click fraud is more prevalent in this industry, and in the last six weeks they’ve gotten hit twice.
The first fraud was within their remarketing campaigns. Though remarketing was producing leads within the CPL goals, the CPLs seemed to me inflated for a remarketing effort. I dove into placement reports and found a group of junky sites that were driving up costs with no conversions. The numbers didn’t add up. I couldn’t see how dozens of real people were both visiting my client’s fairly niche site and then these junk sites and clicking every day. I quickly excluded these placements and filed a fraud report with Google, noting the $1,750 in spend that I thought was fraudulent. Three weeks later Google, concluded the investigation, found even more fraud than I had identified, and refunded the client $4,100!
A couple of weeks later, right after the holidays, I was running a placement check on the same client’s GDN campaigns. I’d recently switched these campaigns to CPA target bidding.  Some of the CPCs stood out to me as pretty ridiculous at 50% or 75% of the CPA target. How did the CPCs get so high? Well, because these placements were converting at 50%+ rates. It is totally possible to get a similar result that isn’t fraud, but in this case, I was able to see this pattern across several similarly structured, non-topical blogs that all were producing similar results. Excluded, reported, this time getting $2,875 back for the client.
The argument that there is too much fraud to participate in GDN is long-dead. With the amount of targeting and transparency available now, there is no excuse for not taking advantage of this highly valuable traffic source. That said, there will always be fraud, and Google is only as good as catching the fraud that they know about or know the patterns of. Some tips for making sure you aren’t paying for sham clicks:

  1. Be vigilant – Keeping a close eye on GDN campaigns is critical, as is investigating even small performance changes. This will help you identify potential fraud early as well as find optimization opportunities.
  2. Think like a crook – From a search marketer’s standpoint, CPA target bidding is a great optimization tool. From a crook’s standpoint, it’s a lever to drive up CPCs by converting at a super-high rate (very easy to do in many lead gen efforts). I still think CPA target bidding is a great tool, but if I hadn’t “thought like a crook,” I wouldn’t have recognized why these clicks were converting – which made the fraud become clear to me.
  3. Don’t make assumptions – I wouldn’t have caught these frauds if I assumed, as many SEMs assume, that remarketing placements don’t need to be checked. Fraudsters will take advantage of anything they know you are less likely to check.
  4. Cap impressions – Unless part of your marketing strategy is to annoy people, there is no reason to serve them your ad hundreds of times a day. Additionally, if you do become subject to fraudulent activity, impression-capping limits the impact that fraud can have on your account and daily costs.
  5. Report issues to Google – The benefit here is in both recouping the dollars and in making the fraud algo and fraud team smarter to prevent future problems for everybody. Google continues to up the pace of new tool releases, and with each comes the potential for a new fraud pattern they have not identified yet.

(If all that sounds like too much trouble, hire a great PPC agency that loves getting money back for its clients!)
– Susan Waldes, Senior SEM Manager

1 S Wacker Drive
Suite 2250

Chicago, IL 60606(650) 539-4124


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