I have been an AdSense publisher since 2003 (active since 2006). I have been pleased overall with the program. They always pay on time and the amount listed. I like that they don't show any malicious ads to my site's visitors. They are the best program currently for my site by a large margin. They have been nothing but dependable. I used their e-mail form to try to get an explanation on my situation. Their cut and paste response telling me to investigate possible sources of invalid activity in the future was less than satisfactory.
Here's my story. I apologize for the length of the post, but I feel like it is necessary to give as much information as possible in my case. I was shocked to see my EFT for March was 42% less than the estimated earnings. I had my two biggest revenue days, three of my top five number of clicks days, my three highest CTR% days, and my highest RPM day of all time. The madness all started on Friday, March 7. I had nearly 900 more clicks than my daily average in January and February, a CTR that was more than 2% higher than my daily average, a CPC that was more than double my daily average and my highest RPM ever on that day. Estimated earnings were over $730.
When I saw the staggering numbers developing on that day, I checked my site to investigate to see what kind of ads were running that could be achieving those levels. I frequently saw ads for Quicken Loans Billion Bracket Challenge on Yahoo. I don't know if anybody saw these ads across the internet, but they would have been very clickable. Everybody fills out a bracket for March Madness and wants to win a billion dollars, right? They started accepting entries on March 3 according to their rules page. They only accepted 15 million entries and only from the U.S. According to my March stats, 90.9% of the revenue, 77.2% of the page views and 83% of the clicks I received are from the U.S. My site receives many unique visitors daily, largely from the U.S..
My number of clicks went back to normal levels of 110-120 from March 8-11. I don't recall seeing any of these ads on these days, but they still may have been running. The ads and clicks picked back up on March 12. I had around 200 more clicks than my daily average, a CTR% that was much higher than my average and a CPC that was similar to March 7. Estimated earnings were $228. Then things became even more crazy on March 13. I had over 500 more clicks than my daily average, a CTR% that was lower than March 7 but much higher than my average, but the CPC had dropped very significantly from March 7 and well below my daily average. Estimated earnings had fallen to $61 despite all those clicks. What happened here? Were these ads so successful that they were now getting all those clicks for peanuts? This was days before the bracket had even been officially announced. The clickthrough rate of under 3% on these 3 days wasn't out of line. I actually thought they would be much higher. How many billion dollar contests do you see?
These March numbers are all still listed in my reports. There was one $.30 deduction for invalid traffic. I have read about the so-called "click bombing" on various forums. I have seen totals on a handful of mornings which were obviously inflated. These have always been corrected later in the day. These numbers in March were never adjusted down and corrected. I have to assume that they were correct. I simply wasn't paid for the many clicks delivered. I went back and compared my estimated vs. finalized earnings all time. It's always been very close. I have never seen such a wide discrepancy. There are very small monthly deductions (usually under $1-$3) for invalid traffic. My site has no history of delivering a large amount of invalid clicks. My site has always been in compliance.
I read these terms on one of Google's pages:
"Also note, as outlined in the Terms and Conditions, AdSense reserves the right to adjust a publisher’s earnings in the case that an advertiser who advertised on their site defaults on payment. Historically, however, the impact that this has had on publishers’ finalized earnings compared to his estimated earnings is low."
Is this a case of the advertiser defaulting on payment? That seems very unlikely. I read that this particular company spent $21.1 million on AdWords in 2011. Did they receive so many tens of thousands of clicks on this likely highly successful campaign that their funds quickly became exhausted? Do they pay Google only for the clicks they want and deem valid? Did they want a much lower CPC than they were orignally paying in the early days of the campaign?
A 42% difference between estimated vs. finalized earnings and a $900+ reduction doesn't seem like a regular occurence to me. It's not a low impact. They basically wiped out two complete days of my earnings. I don't consider myself a big-time publisher. I was depending on receiving close to the full amount to pay bills. Imagine my excitement when I saw the amounts on those two all time high days and the disappointment when I saw the EFT amount.
I have read similiar stories on forums about this happening in March (and in previous months). It can't all be invalid clicks. Aren't there any successful ad campaigns that receive actual clicks these days? When so many publishers had similar large daily spikes and then finalized drops in March, I believe Google should give an official explanation of what exactly happened here. This particular campaign had to be more successful than the sponsoring company was expecting. I only want to be paid for the legitimate estimated 1500-2000 clicks sent to this site. It's not even about the money. It's the principle of being paid for valid clicks and traffic sent. Maybe Warren Buffett can cut me a check since nobody won the billion.