International Search War Crimes

It's about time we opened the click fraud can of worms. Most heads of state dodge the issue, opting for vague notions of "it is a concern" or "the media has sensationalized the issue." Both are true. Yet neither position offers advice to the advertiser preparing for battle.

Laws of War

If search is war, we understand that there are universally accepted means of conflict. Smart bidding, clever copy, optimized landing pages and solid analysis are welcome tactics. Securing clicks simply to incur a charge, however, is classified as an atrocity. In its most simple form, a competitor repeatedly clicks on your ad, draining your marketing funds. On the other end of the spectrum is automated click fraud, where a bot simulates the human action of clicking on an ad.

Click fraud can also involve mercenary-like sites, known as affiliates. For the purposes of this topic, we will limit the definition of "affiliates" as sites running PPC ads, such as Google's AdSense, where the site's publisher gets a cut of the revenue. The more clicks, the more money the publisher makes, as the advertiser is held prisoner of war. One brand-side marketer spoke on terms of anonymity, "My personal opinion is that affiliate programs (I'm painting all revenue sharing-style arrangements with a very broad brush) are the root of all evil in the click fraud arena. They create perverse incentives for networks, publishers, etc. that I believe are responsible for the vast majority of spam e-mail, spam sites, spyware, etc."



Heads of State

As in any war, complaints are traditionally issued to the heads of state, who respond with diplomacy. Jessie Stricchiola, known for addressing click fraud as early as 2001, reminded an online SEMPO webinar audience that "publishers are communicating to advertisers that they are operating in a safe advertising environment; however, the publishers also acknowledge that they do not have all of the data necessary to fully audit clicks."

And of course, there is Google's CFO, George Reyes, who has made no mistake in signaling that "Click fraud is the biggest threat to the internet economy."

Much of the search world expects more from the search superpowers in a time of crisis. Kevin Lee, Chairman of Did-it ,recommends that the engines "take extra care in expanding relationships into new publishers. The engines should be quick to sue any publisher who engages in click fraud. That will help restore marketer confidence in the networks."

International Criminal Tribunal

So who exactly should be held accountable? And who should be the judge? According to Michael Caruso of ClickFacts "There is no sheriff in cyberspace, so we must police ourselves." His firm is one of many currently working with clients to identify and claim lost monies due to click fraud.

In such an environment, Strichhola offered this advice: do your homework. Advertisers should be actively benchmarking, documenting and auditing PPC data on a regular basis. It is also helpful to maintain a good relationship with the publishers, in order to receive prompt attention when an issue does arise. She also suggested that interested parties visit expert Ben Edelman's work on the topic.

Truce Flag

What most search insiders will not tell you is this: the general consensus is that the topic is exhausted. One industry colleague discreetly conveyed (in secret code on a self-destructing device delivered by homing pigeon) that "while everyone knows that click fraud is out there, it is being adequately addressed by the search engines, agencies and advertisers."

Next story loading loading..