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|Click Bot Wars|
What can we do to protect ourselves and our sites?
One of the background hums of AdTech this week has been fraud in the PPC space.
With proxy servers and click bots rampant around the web, it is quite easy for someone to run up thousands of clicks on your ads in a weeks time.
The question still outstanding is, how to stop it? According to most, both Google and Overture have done a fair to moderate job at stopping it, but it sounds like the prolevel participants out there with proper software are starting to make an impact.
Do you think this ongoing click bot warfare in the affiliate space is going to poison the well of advertisers? And how do we has site owners and advertisers protect ourselves and our checkbooks?
All I know is that the ppc I buy pays very well and I am always looking to buy new terms. As long as that holds true I would very much encourage all of the naysayers here to stay out of ppc, don't need you boosting the cpc anyway.
As for the adsense clicks I get paid for, I can't imagine how they could not be giving a nice roi for those that are purchasing.
Yes the sky is probably falling and the dam is bursting and the volcanoes are blowing, but people are still making money and leads off of ppc and that is the bottom line folks. You can run from cover from the falling sky or play the game the choice is up to you.
>> ROI is ROI, if the quality of traffic drops then so does the CPC, in the end the cost per sale/action is the same for the advertsier. <<
I'm not too familiar with click fraud but... I always thought that they target a single ad which then wouldn't drive overall click prices down but rather drive the victim out of an otherwise lucrative area. Is that not what's happening? Because it seems to me that it would be obvious to Overture or Google when an ad was under attack by the disproportionate number of clicks.
There is another motivation for someone to "click attack" an AdSense publisher (webmaster) besides trying to knock out a competitor's ad. It could a malicious SERP revenge attack.
Suppose a competitor of yours see's your SERP results above theirs. He goes to your site and sees that you have AdSense ads. He runs an IP hopping click bot to blast away at your AdSense ads, across multiple pages, until your account gets terminated. In this case he would need a LOT less numbers than he would trying to drain a few competitor's Ad budgets. Just enough to get Google AdSense to target you for fraudulent clicks. He wouldn't have to try too hard to be clever either because the more suspicious it looks the more effective it will be at getting your account closed; and if he uses proxies he would be pretty much untraceable.
This would be a very effective DOR (Denial Of Revenue) attack, especially since currently Google AdSense does not work with you to help solve the problem, but simply terminates you without any avenue of recourse.
The possibilities for abuse are incredibly high with this system. So many people run small sites on the side of their main job. If they entice high-cost ads, clicking only one ad on their own site a day could cost the advertiser $30 or more, bringing the site owner, I don't know, $10? $10 a day is over $3000 a year, more than enough to pay for hosting costs and provide a tidy side income with little work.
And one click a day? Flies right under the fraud protection radar, probably, and is easy for the site owner to justify to himself (it's only one click a day!).
The expansion of the AdSense program has switched around my preference for PPC engines. It used to be Google AdWords felt more legitimate and Overture clicks were often suspect.
Overture has some dodgy affiliates, and we certainly get fraudulent clicks from them. But at least even their smallest affiliates are set up as search sites. There's some hurdle to get over before you scam the system. AdSense makes it too easy for anybody with a token site to participate in fraud.
My biggest client saw an over 25% increase in AdWords cost in Oct over Sept. We traced about $10000 in costs over a two-week period to one AdSense member. It's a 3-page site with minimal content. It's obvious that the site exists only to generate AdSense revenue for the owner.
And it's not a matter of still getting ROI, because the quality of clicks from this site was very low. We get good ROI off of search ads, but not content. Last week we shut the content-matching off. It's just intolerable. I'm sad that this one AdSense site will continue to make money for its owners, but better our client's competitors pay it.
|AdSense makes it too easy for anybody with a token site to participate in fraud. |
That's true, and it's the inevitable consequence of Google's decision to go for market share at the expense of quality and advertisers' peace of mind.
It's possible that Google will find ways to bring advertisers like your client back into the game--e.g., by letting advertisers include or exclude specific domains or by some other method. If that doesn't happen, then competitors of Google are certain to step up to the plate. IMHO, the ideal network would be a cross between AdSense (contextual "content ads") and Tribal Fusion (handpicked sites organized into categories).
Still, for what it's worth, I'm seeing a lot more AdSense ads for major advertisers on my own site. Such big-name, big-money advertisers obviously don't think fraud is a reason to avoid content ads. Maybe they figure that click fraud isn't nearly as expensive a problem as "waste circulation" in traditional media, such as invalid addresses on rented mailing lists or even their own frequent-flyer membership lists.
All this just gives weight to Affiliate Marketing. If you are PPC-ing and worry about getting hammered hand it over to an affiliate network where you're pay on the terms you set. It might not give you the same ROI, but I think the balance now is more in favour of the affiliate schemes as PPC becomes either cost prohibitive or too risky. I think that now at least a balance between the two advertising avenues should be considered by people wanting to get the best out of the online marketplace. When Search Engine Watch redid their site one of the most noticeable things about it to me was the massive prevalence of Affiliate schemes, right down to their newsletter - which I still enjoy Danny. So clearly there is something to be said for them. I cannot believe that click-fraud does not take place and if you're in a premium marketplace then it's like thowing money on the fire, you might as well have paid for traditional non PPC optimisation ;)
Just wondering how much a high-profile ad campaign in other media (such as magazines, television, and newspaper) is likely to stack up.
Typically such advertising is not related to the article, feature, or show that people are reading/watching. Even with a sponsored show (eg. displaying ads for Pizza Hut which include the Big Brother house while Big Brother is on), there are bound to be (at least in Australia) 2 or 3 unrelated advertisements. And Pizza Hut is only marginally related to the Big Brother show.
So how much return per "click" do they expect for a TV or print media ad? The advertisement is paid for at the outset, and it's certainly possible that they could have no responses whatsoever to the ad.
Certainly online advertising would seem to have a much lower entry threshold. More accessible to the small business owner. This would be where the biggest problem exists - fraudulent clicks driving up costs for the smaller sites.
Ultimately I'd rather 100 small businesses advertising through AdSense than 10 large ones. Yes, EPC can be higher for large businesses, but there's only so many sites people will browse on a particular topic before seeing all these ads - and possibly clicking on one or two. So realistically then, across the board, we really get lower EPC.
Diversity is the key. We need that 100, or 1000, or 10000 small businesses to advertise. So we need an incentive to keep them advertising.
Hence fraudulent click detection. Advertisers need to be assured that when someone clicks on a link, they will typically have a level of interest. If the site that clicking on the link takes you to is badly presented, or the product is of poor quality - well, bad luck to the advertiser, they're probably wasting their money in advertising at all.
But an advertiser wants to know that (as an example) 1 click in 10 will give a sale. If they pay 10c per click for a $100 product, then a 10% success rate - 10 sales out of 100 clicks - nets $1,000 in sales. Take the cost of the 100 clicks - $10 - and you have what I would think is an excellent return. Not to mention an advertiser who comes back for more.
Now for myself as a publisher, I want as many of those clicks to occur from my site as possible. Hey, it's all good money, and money is good :-)
How do I tackle that? By trying to write useful content that people want to read. Not by inciting them to click on links, or by clicking on them myself. I figure that my success is based on my own hard work. I optimise my site as much as I can for search engines, I write what I hope are useful articles - solely within the objective of my website - and I try to keep the users up to date via the forums. Keep them coming back, keep the content fresh, and I have the best chance I can possibly of earning revenue from AdSense.
I have no fear of clicking on ads on other sites - because if I do click on one, I'm genuinely interested. And I certainly don't begrudge the revenue received by the people running the ads on their site. I have purchased a number of reasonably high cost products through various ad links quite recently (including AdSense links on other sites).
I know that people out there will click on the ads on their own website to try to increase revenue. Or that there may be clickbots out there to target competitors (or hurt specific advertisers). I also know that Google will detect as much as humanly possible, and I believe that - if the worst was to happen to me - I would be able to enter a reasonable dialog with Google (based on my experiences so far) to try to resolve the issue without being barred.
I think that there really is too much talk about fraudulent clicks in some ways. I have seen some topics which have convinced me that the person writing is trying to justify their own fraudulent clicks, or their violation of the TOS. Let's face it, it's not the most black and white area - and that's cool. But I have enquired with Google directly on my own actions (such as putting up an article about why we have ads on our site - I checked the wording with them, they requested a correction which could have been taken as an incitement to click, and they were satisfied), and they're not ghouls. Far from it.
I really think if your own behaviour is seen to be above reproach, then you should have nothing to fear. And based on my experiences with Google, this is pretty much exactly the case.
<<Still, for what it's worth, I'm seeing a lot more AdSense ads for major advertisers on my own site. Such big-name, big-money advertisers obviously don't think fraud is a reason to avoid content ads. >>
It takes a while, especially for larger companies, to figure out whether their campaigns are working. Give it some time and then we can see if a larger percentage of advertisers opt out of adsense.
So, I guess Brett you expect Google to drop AdSense?
Reading between the lines, you believe there is no way to stop the fraud to a meaningful degree and that the click bots will account for a higher and higher proportion of clicks.
With a high degree of fraudulent clicks the cost for each click would have to be so low that most good sources of content wouldn't bother with it.
If the payout is too low I would pull the ads from our sites, what the level is I can't say. I can say we do not pursue affiliate (CJ type) advertising for this reason: not enough income.
If the fraud is not held in check AdSense will reach an event horizon, cross the line and pulled into the black hole of junk advertising, disappearing from prestigious content pages.
We will then wait for Larry Page and Sergey Brin's next Big Bang.
|It takes a while, especially for larger companies, to figure out whether their campaigns are working. Give it some time and then we can see if a larger percentage of advertisers opt out of adsense. |
Well, several fairly large advertisers have been on my pages since the AdSense network was launched in June. Ditto for a number of smaller but long-established companie that advertise regularly in traditional media. It's possible that some of the affiliate sites have dropped out, because I don't monitor advertisers that closely, but I have been noticing many of the same name-brand advertisers (large and small) week after week, month after month.
Why? I suspect it's because AdSense is a bargain compared to other media that such companies are using.
Take direct mail: I placed a small order with a mail-order vendor of travel accessories a while back through an affiliate link, and I'm now getting a deluge of catalogs from mail-order companies that obviously bought that vendor's list and are hoping I'll order something from them, too. I don't know what the typical mailing costs for printing, postage, and the rental of my name, but it's almost certain to be more than the vendors would have paid for a targeted AdSense lead.
Similarly, my wife regularly gets brochure mailings from cruise lines because somebody who bought the two-year-old mailing list of a now-bankrupt cruise line has been selling her name to other cruise lines. What's the ROI on those cruise mailings? Common sense would suggest that it would be cheaper and more productive for the cruise lines to send brochures to people who have requested them by clicking an ad in an article on a site for cruisers or a destination site.
Fact is, click fraud is just another type of waste, and you're always going to have some waste in advertising and direct marketing--whether it's from defunct names on a mailing list (people who have moved or died), people who are in the bathroom when your ad appears on radio or TV, newspaper readers who fail to open the travel section on a given Sunday, or magazine readers who never finish the continuation of the article on Caribbean diving vacations that would bring them to page 110 (where your ad for a health spa in North Carolina appears). If Google, Overture, and other PPC programs can keep click fraud to a level no higher than, say, obsolete names on a mailing list, mainstream advertisers aren't going to agonize over it--especially if the bottom-line ROI or cost per lead is better than what they've been getting with print advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, etc.
I do think AdSense and other online "content ad" media will need to give advertisers more control over where their ads appear, if only to give the advertisers peace of mind. But click fraud isn't necessarily a problem if it can be kept to background-noise levels.
|All this just gives weight to Affiliate Marketing. If you are PPC-ing and worry about getting hammered hand it over to an affiliate network where you're pay on the terms you set. It might not give you the same ROI, but I think the balance now is more in favour of the affiliate schemes as PPC becomes either cost prohibitive or too risky. |
Affiliate marketing doesn't work very well for many of the niche audiences that AdSense and other targeted PPC media can reach.
Let's say you're a travel agent who specializes in French barge cruises, or a passport expediter that handles short-notice passport and visa requests for residents of a specific country. It's very hard for the typical publisher to justify running affiliate ads or links for such a specialized service--and for you as a vendor, the overhead in dealing with hundreds of affiliates (each of whom might have just a few pages on French barge cruises or passports) is prohibitive. That's where AdSense comes to the rescue: It lets you, the niche vendor, reach targeted readers on many different sites in one fell swoop (and without the hassle or ongoing expense of an affiliate program).
Thanks for pointing out this out to those who thought I was talking about small niche business markets in my previous post ....
- for those, largely all you need is good traditional page optimisation plus a through to order tracking tool - or you could blow it all on PPC like most people. Ooops! Or you could get match driver to help you spend even more. Ooops ver2.
But affiliate programs have their own problems in the form of commission stealing from scumware programs.
Note we use affiliate programs ourselves so I'm not knocking them. I'm just saying there are wide-spread problems with those too when it comes to dubious practices out on the web.
I think that the fundamental problem with the outlook that says that click fraud is rampant and will result in the downfall of ppc advertising is that, for traditional companies at least (IE: Giant Co's that account for let's say 5% of the 100,000 advertisers, but 50% of the revenue), for it to be a problem, you have to have an extremely high % of clicks being fraudulent, like 3 out of every 4.
Keep this in mind:
Know Maxim magazine? It reaches 873k people a month and a standard full page ad costs 167k.
You can pretty much be sure that by using ppc advertising (even with the current 'fraud' rate) you can reach that many people, in a week, for 1/2 that cost; at most. And, on top of that, each of those people will be looking for exactly what you are selling, thereby meaning that they are worth, on a conservative basis, 5 times as much each.
So for it to even be comparable to what is normal for traditional companies, the amount of fraud has to increase at least 10 fold. And actually, it would have to increase far more than that because the resulting loss of ROI for the 'small guy' will result in the CPC dropping along with it. I just can't see that happening.
If you take into account that G/O are actively working on ways to combat the small small percentage of people who even know what a click bot is, along with the costs that basic advertising outside of PPC costs, it really is a stretch to even remotely consider that this will cause the end of the ppc market.
Textual Advertising 'Blindness', well now that's a whole different ballgame!
With an average click of 1%, a big-big advertiser can have 420,000 clicks in non competitive keywords (as ad background inventory) and 42,000,000 impressions at the same cost of a 30 seconds spot on the superbowl.
Superbowl 2002 ad price: 2.1M
Superbowl 2002 have 58 advertisers.
Adsense lowest bid: 5c
Adsense is really cheap.
|Thanks for pointing out this out to those who thought I was talking about small niche business markets in my previous post .... |
- for those, largely all you need is good traditional page optimisation plus a through to order tracking tool...
That may work fine for people who search on "widgets" when they're ready to buy widgets, but it doesn't reach the broader audience of readers who:
1) Are looking for "decision support" in the form of information or reviews, and who make the decision to buy only after they've obtained such data; or...
2) Who aren't searching for the term "widgets" (or "French barge cruises or "passport expediters," for that matter) but learn about the product or service while browsing an online or offline publication.
Now, some small businesses may be able to succeed only by targeting searchers, just as other small businesses may be able to succeeed only by targeting people who use the Yellow Pages. But big companies can't afford to limit their audiences that way.
andriodtech - you're right of course both forms have their own merits and pitfalls.
europeforvisitors - if you're looking at providing informational pages "swing the person over to this new product" then the PPC network has got to be even more cleverly/carefully played. If you are going for a "buy now" audience then you've got only so much you need to worry about - product, buy, confirmation. If you're running PPC campaigns on an "informational" audience level, then you've got to consider all the points mentioned before plus the "sales message" or "informational message". This is where your quality of writing comes under scrutiny. Clearly I'm not questioning anyones ability here to write a sales message I'm just mentioning that there is a difference and accompanying risk when going down a PPC route that looks at an "information" seeking audience rather than a "buy now" audience.
And for that reason, in niche markets, I would choose traditional optimisation over PPC.
Thing is traditional optimisation is a completely different ball game to PPC - an expert in PPC isn't an expert in traditional optimisation. Secondly, it's also harder (for webmasters) to find real information about it, and how to make it work for them, and thirdly, suprisingly is not overly promoted by search engines, as it not a revenue generator.
Call me a die hard but there's still allot of money to be saved doing it the old way instead of completely embracing PPC. I do know it's here to stay though :)
|If you're running PPC campaigns on an "informational" audience level, then you've got to consider all the points mentioned before plus the "sales message" or "informational message". This is where your quality of writing comes under scrutiny... |
And that's why advertising agencies and big advertisers hire copywriters. :-)
Your emphasis on affiliate pages and SEO may make sense for the small entrepreneur (at least while that party lasts), but don't forget that there's a larger world of advertising and marketing, too. On my site, for example, I'm seeing AdSense ads from specialized travel-related companies that have been running ads in magazines like THE NEW YORKER for years or even decades. PPC "content ads" are an incredible opportunity for such companies, because now--for the first time--they can use media advertising to reach readers with specific interests, as opposed to readers who merely fit a demographic profile.
Content ads also represent an opportunity for other mainstream businesses such as hotel chains and airlines that want to eliminate the middleman. And, of course, they're great for big mail-order vendors (the Land's Ends and L.L. Beans of the world) that can target specific targeted groups of readers with specific products and deals.
Again: The future of content-targeted PPC ads is with mainstream advertisers--more specifically, with mainstream advertisers that sell products or services on the Web. For such advertisers, AdSense and networks like it are simply a more efficient way to reach the prospects they've been reaching by traditional media and direct-marketing channels all along.
well, all these fraudulent measures is what stops a lot of people from advertising. The overall ROI falls. But anyways that does not stop advertising from taking the benefits.
If you have 10 clicks, and 3 are geniune, and one gives you a sale, advertisers feel it's still fair to pay for 10 clicks.
However, companies all around are trying their level best to stay away from these junk clicks creators. The war will remain ON for ever I feel.
"With an average click of 1%, a big-big advertiser can have 420,000 clicks in non competitive keywords (as ad background inventory) and 42,000,000 impressions at the same cost of a 30 seconds spot on the superbowl.
Superbowl 2002 ad price: 2.1M
Superbowl 2002 have 58 advertisers.
Adsense lowest bid: 5c
Adsense is really cheap. "
You are comparing apples to oranges here. The average business will not advertise during the Superbowl.
I believe the google will take mores steps to prevent fraudulent clicks in the near future or when it gets worse. They are still in the beginning stages and they keep coming up with new and more useful updates.. I hope it doesn't become a bigger problem, but thing about this, it's the same for those who have 1-800 numbers. Some are by month but some are by call... it's the same... or is it... I forget now... ha ha ha!
|You are comparing apples to oranges here. The average business will not advertise during the Superbowl. |
... but the big-big business could do it on Adsense with really cheap rates.
Do you understand now? Need more explanation?
|... but the big-big business could do it on Adsense with really cheap rates. |
Right. And AdSense doesn't have to be a cheaper alternative to Super Bowl commercials. It can just as easily be a cheaper or more effective alternative to magazine advertising, direct mail, or telemarketing.
Speaking of telemarketing, a member of this forum once suggested that "don't call" lists may encourage a shift of dollars from telemarketing to contextual ads. That was an interesting observation. Major e-mail marketers may also find that contextual ads work better than e-mail, now that opt-in sales pitches, newsletters, etc. are being lost in the flood of spam for sex aids, mortgage refinancing, dating services, and prescription painkillers.
If someone only views one page, how do you propose determining the amount of time they spent on your site?
Also, whilst you can extrapolate certain information from behaviour on the site, I wouldn't place a lot of weight on the user agent string as it is obviously extremely easy to fake.
In fact, if I were writing a bot, I would use the most frequently used agent string, to best hide my activity.
Some joker has been hitting my AdSense ads with a clickbot since last night, to tune of several hundred clicks per hour. (If it isn't a clickbot, the nitwit must be awfully bored and on his way to a case of carpal tunnel syndrome from thousands of manual clicks!)
I suppose it's always possible that Google's counter got stuck in overdrive, but that's unlikely since nobody here has cried "Eureka! I'm rich!" :-)
|Some joker has been hitting my AdSense ads with a clickbot since last night |
That's just awful... :-((
Someone was praising you in another thread for being "transparant" (i.e., open about your site and your MO).
I'm not saying the "joker" necessarily chose to target you because of you visibility on WebmasterWorld, but I'm beginning to think there's nothing wrong with good-ole paranoia... Don't get noticed, fly below the radar, attract no flak.
|Some joker has been hitting my AdSense ads with a clickbot since last night |
Sorry to hear that EFV, This kind of situation was always in the back of my mind, and has kept me quiet a lot of the times when I wanted to agree with you in defense of Adsense.
While I am not a fan of being proactive in the case of a CTR increase due to changes of formats, i think that since this is evidently someone trying to do you harm that you contact Google.
Good luck, and I hope that this sabotage does not cause you problems.
Hey, europeforvisitors. In addition to contacting Google, check your logs very carefully for any types of ongoing spidering. There's a good chance you can block this activity by IP address or by browser ID.
You never know, but personally I doubt it's malicious. I see all kinds of crazy behaviour from bots every single day.
Adsense is pretty much nonsense.
The publisher knows what their site is about and probably tried several ways to monetize their traffic. But now they are making more form Adsense then they made doing it themselves.
The advertiser is betting he can monetize the traffic better then the owner after he pays the owner and Google for the privilege of advertising on site he has never seen or been to. Also he has to trust the way Google decides where he goes and the publisher decides where to place the ads.
The fraud on Adsense is getting bigger, and the fraud on PPC campaign regardless of the SE is growing everyday. Get on any big KW or KW combo and tell me that is true clicks. Uniques/raw is about 1/3 on these types of words.
Off the beaten path it is about 9/10.
|Some joker has been hitting my AdSense ads with a clickbot since last night, to tune of several hundred clicks per hour. (If it isn't a clickbot, the nitwit must be awfully bored and on his way to a case of carpal tunnel syndrome from thousands of manual clicks!) |
EFV, what ever came of this? Did you notify Google and if so, what did they say? Were you given some type of assurance that your account is still in good standing?
I hope the advertisers don't have to pay for all of those clicks.
I notified Google on Friday morning but haven't heard back yet.
IMHO, such brute-force clicking is pretty stupid, regardless of who's doing it or what they hope to accomplish.
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