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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

How Google Uses Fake Searches Click Fraud to Hide Typosquatting Revenue

Google earning revenue from typosquatting is not a new story. How they hide it, though, and the fake searches click fraud involved is an important story to tell. Before showing a specific example, I'd like to preface this post with a few points:
  1. The fake searches click fraud I've seen in numerous client accounts originates from parked domains, but this does not mean all parked domain traffic is fraudulent. On the contrary, parked domain traffic from generic keyword domains has the potential to be better traffic than search engine traffic. I'll explain that concept more in a future post. Here's a preview.
  2. The real issue is distribution fraud. Google is distributing contextual advertising on its search network. If the clicks came from the content network, at content bid pricing, and advertisers had visibility to see the domains in question, these kind of clicks wouldn't be fraudulent.
  3. Google has failed in their mission to organize the world's information. They also use terms like squatter on their corporate site. A company that uses such language but then profits from typosquatting needs to be held accountable.
  4. I am a proponent of Google AdWords. In fact, I think it's currently the best PPC advertising platform on the market. However, it has a structural flaw that enables click fraud. The mere presence of a search box on a parked domain should not classify all clicks from that domain as search clicks.
With that out of the way, let me walk you through an example. This is not a theoretical example. I had a client who experienced a spike in garbage traffic from AdWords. When I reported the invalid clicks to Google, they denied the traffic was fraudulent. That led me to write Not Search Engine Spam, one of the most widely read posts on this blog. If you haven't read that post, you might want to read it now. The rest of this post will make more sense.

At the time, I didn't want to show the site where the clicks originated, both because I didn't want my client subject to more garbage clicks and I didn't want the parked domain owner or parking company (DomainSponsor) or Google to earn more revenue from the site. My client has lost confidence in the AdWords search network and has now opted out entirely. They've given me permission to post a few more details so that other companies understand the click fraud that exists on the AdWords search network.

InfoPass (infopass.uscis.gov) is a U.S. government site that allows the public to schedule appointments online to meet with immigration officers. Because we live in a dotcom world, though, many people type infopass.com when attempting to get to the InfoPass site. Here's what the typosquatting domain looks like:

infopass.com

A couple of items worth pointing out:
  1. The Infopass.uscis.got link reinforces the conclusion that this site is intentionally typosquatting on the infopass.uscis.gov domain.
  2. Traffic from this parked domain is routed through Google's search network simply because the site has a search box (at the bottom, no less).
  3. The first link reads Appointment Scheduler.
Someone who sees this site, thinking it's the real InfoPass site will click on the Appointment Scheduler link expecting to schedule an appointment with an immigration officer. Instead, they'll see Google ads:

infopass.com ads

Notice how the page says "Search results for ..." at the top? Google does, indeed, classify these as search results. Any clicks on the ads on the page are charged to AdWords customers as search clicks. That's why this is click fraud. It's a trick. Who is tricked? The end user and the advertiser. The end user doesn't find what they're looking for. Their time is wasted. The advertiser is left holding the bag as end users click on ads, not finding the appointment scheduler they're expecting. The advertiser's money is wasted and their trust in Google greatly diminished.

If these clicks came from the AdWords content network, this wouldn't be click fraud. It would still be deceptive, but I wouldn't call it click fraud. Going to infopass.com and then clicking on a link that reads Appointment Scheduler is not equivalent to someone typing "appointment scheduler" in a search box or navigating to a generic keyword domain like appointmentscheduler.com. No, these are NOT search results. Google should not allow them to be classified as search results. Perhaps there's a contextual relation between the words "infopass" and "appointment scheduler" but there's no direct search involved. Advertisers should not be billed for these invalid search clicks. This is click fraud - fake searches click fraud, distribution fraud, syndication fraud. There are many names for it. Call it what you like. Google, however, calls this acceptable practice.

To compound the deceptive nature of this traffic, all clicks are routed through searchportal.information.com URLs. PPC advertisers looking in their server logs would not see any indication of the typosquatting domain. The actual domains where the ads were displayed are hidden. They aren't even visible via AdWords reporting. In fact, because these invalid clicks are routed through the search network, there is no AdWords report that will display the origin of the traffic. There is an AdWords report for content network traffic, but it hides traffic from parked domains. It lumps all AdSense for Domains traffic into a single "Domain Ads" category:

domain ads

That's pathetic for a company whose mission is to organize all the world's information. Think about that.

What do you think? Is this click fraud? If so, who's going to put an end to it?

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Google is causing me to up my CPC when I am at the number 2 position? If I do not want to be number 1 on a page with only 6 advertisers showing ads, why should I be forced to up my CPC to #1 and waste money on a page that only 6 ads are showing? They are constantly doing this to my adwords account and nothing I call and say can change it from what the reps are telling me. Google has become a big scam engine to try and please the high Wall Street estimates they have placed on earnings. Google and its owners should be charged with fraud and shut down!

Sun Nov 11, 05:15:00 PM EST  
Blogger Dave said...

This post has been removed by the author.

Thu Dec 06, 01:42:00 AM EST  
Blogger Dave said...

I see that Google is trying to set up an opt-out, but doesn't understand the problem. Some get terrific conversion through parked domains. Google should deal with the actual problem, not create (and force) an opt-out when that isn't the problem.

Thu Dec 06, 01:48:00 AM EST  

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