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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Google AdSense for Domains + DomainSponsor.com = Fake Searches Click Fraud

Google is billing advertisers for paid search clicks when, in fact, no searches have taken place. This is click fraud. Let me explain how this works. Suppose someone goes to a parked domain like iowagop.com. This is what they'll see:

domainsponsor parked domain

Next, they see the "hot" list. Hot what? Clicking the "Iowa Straw Poll" link, they'll see a page populated with Google AdSense for Domains ads:

google adsense for domains ads

Let's suppose they click on one of these ads, provided by Google via DomainSponsor. When did a search occur? Is clicking on a link equivalent to typing keywords into a search box? No, this is a fake search. Google classifies these kinds of paid clicks as search clicks because they occur on a parked domain that has a search box on the site. That's fraud - click fraud, distribution fraud, syndication fraud. Call it what you like. It's fraud. I'm going to call it fake searches click fraud, to make it clear what's going on here.

wired logoNow, how do I know about this particular example? I paid for these clicks during a recent AdWords experiment. That experiment was mentioned on the Wired site. Hmm, maybe if Wired decides to write a nice story about this fake searches click fraud, Google and/or DomainSponsor (owned by Oversee.net) will cease this practice of charging AdWords advertisers for fake search clicks. ;-)

Why am I writing about this now? Since first blogging about this garbage traffic from parked domains issue back in January, I was under the impression that Google was working to provide more transparency for advertisers and more control over ad distribution. Instead, they've become inexplicably opaque about ad distribution. Still, with Google being a bit more open about click fraud issues, I was certain they'd deal with this subset of click fraud, these fake searches on parked domains. For a company that's been blasting other companies' paid links as spam, they need to clean their own house, first.

Note to Matt Cutts: Even though you work on the organic search side at Google, you've been talking about invalid clicks and click fraud. How about dealing with *these* invalid clicks: Google paid links farmed out to DomainSponsor and generating fake search clicks, billed to advertisers? TIA. Maybe have this meeting.

Note to Shuman Ghosemajumder: I know you've read some of my previous blog posts about click fraud. Thanks. I do hope you read this one and realize how serious a problem fake searches click fraud has become. Whether it needs fixing in AdWords (perhaps with the creation of a domain network, separate from the search network) or something needs to be addressed with your distribution partner, DomainSponsor, please fix it. We can't trust what you say about click fraud, if Google is actually perpetrating fake searches click fraud via parked domains.

Note to AdWords advertisers: Try this method of blocking all DomainSponsor parked domain traffic. Or, call 1-866-2-Google and ask for manual exclusion. Perhaps if this revenue stream dries up, Google and/or DomainSponsor will solve the fake searches click fraud problem.

Note to domainers: I'm not talking about direct navigation and generic keyword domain names (like RumCakes.com). I'm talking about fake search clicks from other types of parked domains. I agree that domainers are not responsible for the quality of traffic that leaves your parked domains. However, the parking companies and PPC providers are responsible for delivering targeted traffic. I suspect you can appreciate my frustration with Google and DomainSponsor.

Related Posts:
AdWords Team Sabotages Google Corporate Mission & Philosophy
Distribution Fraud is the Real Click Fraud
Not Search Engine Spam

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14 Comments:

Blogger Stephan said...

Please learn something about domain parking payouts and revenue before you start blathering.

The search starts when the person lands on the first page and starts drilling down by either typying in a domain name or selecting one. This is established processing of domain searching or "topic searching".

quit whining and buy yourself a decent domain for one, dude.

Sun Oct 21, 08:59:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Richard said...

Stephan, I don't think you understand the core issue here. It's not about parked domains. They happen to be the vehicle for click fraud, in this case. It's about PPC advertisers opting into search advertising and NOT contextual advertising but being charged for clicks where no actual search occurs. These are not generic keyword domains where the act of direct navigation is akin to a search. No, this is about clicking on links after direct navigation. That's fine for PPC contextual advertising but not PPC search engine advertising.

Do you understand the difference between the search network and the content network on Google AdWords? Do you understand how DomainSponsor routes parked domain clicks through the searchportal.information.com URL on *both* the search and content networks? I suggest you buy some PPC advertising and track the sources of your paid clicks. See where your money goes. IOW, put yourself in the shoes of PPC advertisers for a minute.

Sun Oct 21, 08:27:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would suspect that Google would defend their position with the argument that the term typed into the browser address bar -- that gets the user to the parked-domain site showing the ads -- is effectively "the same" as if the user typed that "keyword" into Google's search box.

Google is saying that if the advertiser has bid to have his advertisement display as a result of a Google search for his specific keywords, he would also want his ad to display as a result of some attempt at "direct navigation" to a web address containing his keyword(s). This may or may not be true.

I think the key question on whether or not this action (of treating parked-domain traffic as Google "search") would be considered "fraud" (either civil or criminal) would depend upon the extent Google discloses their actions to the advertiser buying keywords. It also could depend on how explicitly Google shows the advertiser his traffic from the parked-domain sites after the fact. Effectively, if Google doesn't break out (clearly) for the advertiser this traffic he is receiving from the parked-domains -- and especially if the practice of serving ads to parked-domain sites isn't explicitly disclosed prior to the advertiser buying keywords for the "search" network -- Google could be engaged in fraud.

You might want to run what Google is doing by a good business/contracts attorney and see what he/she says.

I think if you read "between the lines" in the 3rd Quarter Earnings Conference Call transcript, close to the discussion about the MySpace advertising you discuss in your previous post, you'll find the reason why Google is involved with their the domain-parking partners -- it is helping them to make a lot of money!

I think most Google advertisers are pretty oblivious to their "junk clicks." For most business people, advertising is a very "slushy" undertaking, it is not something they monitor real closely. They look for results in "general terms" when looking at their advertising budget. A lot probably miss any form of "click fraud" because they simply do not look for it.

I think Google is probably exploiting the advertiser's normal behavior toward advertising. They will push things to the limit to keep their revenue high, so long as no one is the wiser.

I think you do a good job in getting the word out; advertisers should pay close attention to their Google advertising. Google's "Don't Be Evil" slogan isn't the same as an affirmative slogan such as, "Be Fair and Honest." The "Don't Be Evil" doesn't seem to prohibit being "just a little sneaky" toward the customers (the advertisers).

Mon Oct 22, 12:16:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Neil Matthews said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your post, and I would like to add that I think Google needs to clean up the whole MFA (made for adsense) site problem where whole sites are dedicated to displaying adsense or in this case adwords for domain ads.

Google are loosing advertiser trust through garbage links from the content network, MFA sites and now it appears adwords for domains

Mon Oct 22, 10:45:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Russ said...

Richard, I get your point and have to agree with Stephan. You have exactly ZERO chance of getting anywhere with this argument. At best google will tell you it's "search engines and our special friends who we believe have as good or better quality traffic" on the search feed.

Google is syndicating the search feed to MORE partners, not fewer. Ask.com and others sub-syndicate it to even more partners.

If you don't want traffic from google partners vote with your feet/wallet.

Mon Oct 22, 09:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Richard said...

Anonymous - You bring up some great points. I'd like to address this one:

<<
I would suspect that Google would defend their position with the argument that the term typed into the browser address bar -- that gets the user to the parked-domain site showing the ads -- is effectively "the same" as if the user typed that "keyword" into Google's search box.
>>

I can see that argument. Using the generic keyword domain name example from my post, if I were bidding for the keyword phrase "rum cakes" I'd be all right with my ad showing on rumcakes.com. Direct navigation using generic domains is a search.

However, that's not what's happening with much of the traffic I see in clients' (and my own) accounts. The ads aren't being displayed for that "direct navigation" search. Instead, the direct navigation happens and the parked domain is populated with links which drive the user to a new page. These links aren't necessarily related to the domain name. Even if they are, there's more of a contextual relation. Point is, the ads aren't being displayed for a direct search.

For the example from this post, the direct navigation is to iowagop.com (equivalent to a search for "iowa gop"). Then, users clicked on the "Iowa Straw Poll" link and that's when they saw an ad. I'd call that "indirect" navigation. ;-)

That's the problem - contextual clicks being disguised as search clicks. It goes beyond the issue of ads being distributed to sites beyond the control of the advertiser, although that issue needs to be dealt with, too.

Mon Oct 22, 11:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Richard said...

@Neil - Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the post. I try to craft original PPC advertising posts that help fellow PPC advertisers. Good luck with your Fraudulent Clicks project.

@Russ - I understand why you think I have ZERO chance of getting anywhere with this argument. After all, if an influential search industry figure like Danny Sullivan (who wrote Google AdSense For Domains Program Overdue For Reform in 2005) hasn't convinced Google to change, how can I? No delusions - I'm just getting the truth out there. ;-)

Mon Oct 22, 11:25:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I represent a major online advertising company that specializes in a new form of Internet advertising . I am interested in buying advertising on your website and all your park domain names on an ongoing basis, that GURARANTEES that you will get a 100% conversion rate on 100% of your website traffic.
Your website appears to be running ads on some of your pages and we want to pay you a fee for every visitor you receive and GURARNTEE that you will get a 100% conversion rate on 100% of your website traffic. I would like to fill you in on more details. Are you the correct contact in regard to business development for your website?
Like I said we want to pay you a fee for every visitor you receive on your website and all your park domain names.
If you need more details please visit us at tinyurl.com/3yp4yr
THANK YOU

Sat Dec 22, 08:43:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Sam said...

I really don't see any issue here.

When I click on a "related" or "suggested" search on Google.com or Ask.com, looks like the same as when clicking on one of these parking pages.

In the case of parking, the only difference is that the "related" piece apply to the domain name (or so I suppose).

Looks fair to me.

Wed Dec 26, 09:21:00 PM EST  
Blogger Richard said...

Hi Sam (of SmartDividend.com). First, sorry for the delayed reply. You make a fair point about ads being displayed on suggested searches. However, I've argued in the past that when the search engines artificially drive traffic to search results, there's the potential for click fraud (or at least the perception of click fraud).

In an ideal world, search ads should be pure search ads, i.e. only displayed when someone actually actively types keywords into a search box. It's a question of intent. If they click on a link, whether it's a suggestion, an editorial link, or a link on a parked domain, should that action of clicking on a link be construed as a search? If not, should the search engines either display contextual ads or no ads?

BTW, I've argued more recently that parked domains where true direct navigation is involved might actually be better than search ads.

Thu Feb 14, 10:12:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Christina said...

I put analytics on my site and then did some adwords for a very popular search term "Web Hosting". I'm getting clicks from sites like:

cnycwx dot com
mar0c dot net
xgirls dot com

They come for 0 seconds and I get RIPPED OFF!

Sun Feb 24, 10:34:00 AM EST  
Anonymous ShuwiX said...

Richard, You don't understand. These are not same clicks as with normal content site. PPC is much lower.

If You ever park You'll find out.
For example Sedo has Google feed, and clicks are valued mostly at 0,1-0,2$ for invest, trade, bank, mortgage, loan, attorney.
Those clicks in normal adsense cost few dollars each.

This is comparison of some domain companies, check it and see.
http://domain-parking-comparison.blogspot.com

Sun Sep 07, 07:55:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Chandler Hall said...

Richard,
Your perspective is interesting and worthwhile.

I wonder if Google's Chrome browser design has taken this issue into account? Notice...there isn't a separate search bar, there's just the one input field. It becomes much harder to technically argue that the person was guessing at a domain and not searching for something with those words.

Paranoia? Conspiracy? :-)

J. Chandler Hall
GAP and an Adwords Forum Top Contributor

Fri Nov 21, 02:21:00 PM EST  
Blogger selfbelief said...

No one seems to have established the
'parked site' fraud that is taking place.
Our domain names are being used in these 'parked-domain names. without our permission they are stopping our use of the domain in setting up the web site.
The perpetrators have our name in the 'html-code on their site.
Such blatent theft.
The Global company SEDO with offices around the world also have our sites on sale at $9.00

Yet ICANN- Go-Daddy and HOSTGATOR all tell me they are powerless to stop the scammy Internet behaviour.

When are we going to 'clean up'
the wonder of our present age in communication. In my opinion it is so simple if all have the mind-set
NO SCAMMY THIEVING ON THE INTERNET

Take a look at
how2bwell.com,
nlp4teachers.com,
how2boldhealthy.com
teachingtrainingreview.com
all these sites belong to the charity HEALTHWATCH
But are in use at the searchportal
GOOGLE advertising network.
Please contact me if you can tell me how to stop the thieving
RAY TWINE trustee for health watch
harleystreet100@netscape.net

Fri Feb 05, 08:48:00 PM EST  

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