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Monday, October 23, 2006

Click Fraud Minimization Strategies

A few weeks ago BusinessWeek warned about click fraud. Now, The Washington Post publishes this sensational title: 'Click Fraud' Threatens Foundation of Web Ads. What these articles continually fail to identify is the degree of control which advertisers have over their online advertising. The Post article does at least recognize that:
Experts think click fraud is especially prevalent on sites affiliated with search engines. Those sites display ads on behalf of large search engines and include many popular Web logs and mom-and-pop businesses.
In the case of Google's advertising platform, AdWords, advertisers can choose to distribute ads on just Google and/or Google's search network and/or Google's content network. By opting out of the content network, then, advertisers mitigate the bulk of the risk of click fraud. Neither Google nor Yahoo do a good job educating users about the risks of contextual advertising. When an advertiser purchases PPC advertising through either Google AdWords or Yahoo! Search Marketing, the advertiser is, by default, buying both search engine advertising *and* contextual advertising. The advertiser can, however, opt out of contextual advertising. On Google AdWords, the content network box needs to be unchecked at the campaign level. On Yahoo! Search Marketing, the Content Match option needs to be turned off for the account.

For advertisers new to search engine marketing, it would be wise to disable contextual advertising while learning effective search engine advertising techniques. Since the BusinessWeek clickfraud article ran, many clients have been asking about click fraud. I've explained to them some of the strategies I've been employing to minimize their click fraud risk. I figure these strategies might be useful for others. I'll identify click fraud minimization strategies for Google AdWords, since that platform is winning the search engine advertising war.

Click Fraud Prevention Strategies for Google AdWords
  1. Isolate content network budget in separate campaign(s)
  2. Don't bid for top position (for either search or content ads)
  3. Work to increase ad rank through relevance not bids (for search ads)
  4. Track content traffic and block bogus sites (using the site exclusion feature)
  5. Bid less for content ads (instructions for combined search + content campaign)
Those strategies will help prevent click fraud on both the search network and content network. But what do you do if you are already experiencing click fraud? If the click fraud is occurring on the content network, you don't want that traffic to chew up your daily budget and, effectively, disable your search engine advertising. It's crucial, then, to isolate the click fraud.

Click Fraud Isolation Strategy for Google AdWords
  1. Create 3 new campaigns: Google only, search network only, content network only
  2. Move ad group experiencing click fraud activity to Google only campaign
  3. Copy ad group to search network only and content network only campaign
  4. Set very low budgets and/or low bids for the 2 network campaigns
  5. Use separate tracking URLs for the 3 ad groups
Most AdWords accounts have campaigns set to run on Google and the search network and the content network. I prefer to create campaigns for Google plus the search network and then separate campaigns for the content network. Regardless of the initial configuration, the strategy of creating 3 new campaigns to isolate click fraud activity works. The ad group can continue to run in the Google only campaign since there's a low risk of click fraud on Google itself. By running the ad group in separate campaigns for the search network and content network, the advertiser can identify where the click fraud is occurring. Action can then be taken while the keywords can continue to deliver results for the advertisers. For example, if the fraudulent clicks are coming from a bogus search partner, the Google only and content network ad groups will deliver results. The advertiser could pause the ad group in the search network campaign and could report the clickfraud to Google. That's where the separate tracking URLs come in to play. Google is more likely to refund for fraudulent clicks if traffic data from the advertiser's web server log file is provided.

Yes, click fraud is a problem. Yes, the search engines need to educate advertisers as to the differences between search engine advertising and contextual advertising. Yes, the search engines could take it a step further and isolate search engine ads from content ads. Since they don't, it's imperative for advertisers to take matters into their own hands and to structure their search engine advertising accounts in order to minimize click fraud.

Update: This blog entry has been published as a Search Engine Guide article.

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