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How widespread is click fraud

41 clicks, 22 aren't valid

     
8:50 pm on Dec 10, 2015 (gmt 0)

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One of my sites is struggling compared to the rest, so I decided to try Adwords. Its been many years since I used them, and in the past I had success with them.

I have my campaign set for a USA audience only, the site isn't relevant to anyone outside of the USA. Here is the result of the first day (so far):
41 clicks recorded by Google. Of these clicks:

3 from Iran
4 from a DigitalOcean server farm
3 from South Africa
1 from OVH server farm in France
2 from Google's company IPs
2 from Giglinx server farm
1 from linode server farm
1 from Midphase server farm

So out of 41 clicks, almost half (17) are not human and/or from outside the area I specified. It appears click fraud has become widespread. I can't help but think Google overlooks it, because it only took a minimum of effort for me to determine via headers these visits were not valid. In the past there was occasional click fraud, but I never saw anything this bad. I've contacted them concerning this, and will see how it pans out.
1:40 pm on Dec 11, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Please keep us up to date on this. I had to cancel my last campaign for this reason.
5:54 pm on Dec 11, 2015 (gmt 0)

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That does seem unusually high.
I'm not defending it, but, let me just say that one of the customers a site got was using a company IP, which was outside the region that was specified. Clearly, there was something complex going on in the IPs and how they could view the campaign. However, it turned out to be one of their biggest new customers. That was a one-off, but might explain the odd one here or there.

As I said, that does seem unusually high, and, yes, i'd like to know what happens as it really is a huge problem, and probably time to discuss the issues again.
7:07 pm on Dec 11, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I received a call from a Google rep about an hour ago, saying they will send me an email with a link I can use to fill out a form with more information, including sending raw server logs. I'm in the process of putting together the data for them.

I do applaud them for a quick and personal response, especially over such a small spend (my intent is to ramp up the campaign over time as I gather data). My concern is that I have to be so pro-active about click fraud when their systems ought to be better at it. I don't expect perfection from them, but at least a better job than they are doing so far.

The interesting thing is that suddenly the invalid clicks stopped shortly after I reported it. I hate to be conspiratorial, but it's almost as if they turned a fraud filter on after getting caught with a hand in the cookie jar.
2:06 pm on Dec 15, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@motorhaven May I check... When you say you've set your campaign to a USA audience only, is your target (in 'Location Options' / 'Advanced') set to 'People in my targeted location' rather than 'People in, searching for or who show interest in my targeted location (recommended)'? Similarly, is your 'exclude' set to 'People in my excluded location'? Because if you choose the default options, you may think you're only getting traffic from your location but actually you get a whole lot more.

However, I would say that Google always immediately asks for server logs whenever there's a dispute. This isn't necessarily to be applauded, as I believe this to actually be obstructive. Google already knows the source of all clicks. Remember, it has its own 'bad click'/bot filter and this often takes several days before all bad clicks are removed. Many (most?) customers would be unable to provide server logs, so this is a very effective way for Google to avoid the majority of complaints.
2:16 pm on Dec 15, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Nobody here can tell me that Google does not have the ability to filter out this traffic. The mere fact that Google is allowing it tells me that Google is more concerned about money than quality. This would also explain why all the tweaking of adwords display settings has been useless. Google is simply ignoring our directives, and we have lost the ability to target.

Please keep us updated. If this pans out to be a widespread problem, we are looking at a major case of fraud committed by Google.
2:27 pm on Dec 16, 2015 (gmt 0)

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thanks for the updates, wondered the same thing
2:52 pm on Dec 16, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Yes, I selected people within my targeted location. I'm on the fence about whether the raw log entries are obstruction on Google's part. It may be they want to know which clicks are in dispute, date/time, etc. - then again it may not be! :( Though what you (Simon) said about the logs does sound plausible, especially for smaller campaigns where it costs more in IT time to provide logs than one would save being refunded. It adds up to big $$$ when a company is dealing with as many clients as Google is.

I provided them with logs yesterday, which includes many other clicks I had not reported (the logs include additional days). Some of are borderline, others are clear cases of an issue: outside the USA, fetches only the page and no CSS/JS/images, etc. None of these, borderline or not, fetches an additional page. With "real" users I'm seeing about a 60% rate of a 2nd page fetch.

I'll provide updates, it may be a few days, I'm preparing for a meeting with a large client and it's a higher priority.
3:52 pm on Dec 16, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@motorhaven Google already records all information about every click. It doesn't need your server log. The very pleasant Google staff may tell you over the phone that Google doesn't store this information, but here is the relevant text from Google's page on invalid clicks:

We help protect advertisers from invalid traffic by working to isolate and filter out potentially invalid clicks before they ever reach your account reports. Each click on an AdWords ad is examined by our system. Google looks at numerous data points for each click, including the IP address, the time of the click, any duplicate clicks and various other click patterns. Our system then analyses these factors to try to isolate and filter out potentially invalid clicks before they ever show up in your account."


Please also see Google's policy on privacy and how long it retains data (e.g. it retains IP address for 18 months):
[googleblog.blogspot.co.uk ]

The relevant text from Google's current privacy policy:
When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location. We use various technologies to determine location, including IP address, GPS, and other sensors that may, for example, provide Google with information on nearby devices, Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.


Again, I can see no reason why Google needs your server logs.
8:29 pm on Dec 16, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I don't get why people are clicking on ads. The only person who makes money is Google. I have clients that use click fraud detection software and constantly find stuff that Google does not catch.

As far as paying for views that nobody sees that is nothing new. The DVR has made that a major part of advertising on TV. Even before that people went to the bathroom and did other things while commercials were on.

I also think broad match and showing previous ads on new searches is wrong. I have to compete with morons that don't know how to use negative match. I constantly see ads that have nothing to do with what I searched for. I also don't like the fact that I see ads for what my wife searched for before me. Google is the only game in town for the most part and can do whatever they want.
4:05 pm on Mar 2, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Just got my monthly invoice from google, credit for invalid activity: $1.00, one dollar even, exactly, to the penny... that is adorable google, just adorable...
4:32 pm on Mar 2, 2016 (gmt 0)

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It'd be nice to hear how motorhaven got on.
5:21 pm on Mar 2, 2016 (gmt 0)

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They gave me a song and dance about no fraudulent clicks found. As a result they lost my business and I'm using Bing Advertising. I've had much better results there, for less money!
4:34 pm on Mar 31, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I have been seeing very poor results from Adwords as well and the vast majority of clicks are questionable. The campaigns, ad copy product images, etc. I use on Google are identical to what I use on the Bing Yahoo network and Google is the only search engine that I am having these problems with. Something is very fishy with Google, and I'm very concerned that they are not doing a good job at explaining why the click quality is so abysmal and so little is being refunded for invalid clicks. If I don't see some improvements, answers and/or credits, this will be the last month I use Adwords.
4:46 pm on Mar 31, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@mrengine Is it search ads, Shopping or both where you're seeing these issues?
9:41 pm on Mar 31, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I'm seeing the problems with both, but conversions for search ads are even worse. I would expect a decline in search ads because of the loss of ads in the right sidebar, but I bid high to get the mainline position.