It's been a long time since I've engaged in serious spam fighting - about a decade. In 1998, the O'Reilly book Stopping Spam
mentioned a spam filtering solution I had designed and helped implement for AOL's usenet system. Now, I find myself confronted with a very different form of spam, garbage traffic from Google's AdSense for Domains
program. This new spam is costing my Google AdWords
clients money and wasting my time. If you want the details, read my last post where I posed the question, "Is Google Partnered with Spammers?
" Unfortunately, it looks like the answer is yes. After noticing unusual traffic from Google's Search network (not the Content network), I filled out the form
to contact Google's Click Quality Team
and expected to wait 3-5 business days for a rigorous review. Instead, within a few hours, I received this canned response:
Our team received your report regarding suspicious clicks on your AdWords ads. Thank you for your patience while we researched this issue.
After thoroughly reviewing your [snip] campaign from [start date] through [end date], we were unable to find any conclusive evidence of invalid clicks charged to your account. The clicks your ads received appear to fit a pattern of normal user behavior.
Our monitoring system is designed to protect advertisers' ads from unethical or automated activity. Multiple data points are automatically analyzed for each click, as our system aims to discard potentially invalid activity before it is charged to your account.
Richard, please know that clicks from users on the search network are not automatically considered invalid. We've found that AdWords ads showing on the search network often receive clicks from well-qualified leads within the advertisers' markets. As a result, the return on investment for these pages can be comparable to that of Google search. To determine the value of traffic you've received from the search network, we recommend you monitor your conversion rate.
If you aren't satisfied with the value of the traffic from searchportal.information.com, please reply to this email. We can then assist you in preventing your ad from appearing on these pages.
To learn more about measuring conversions on your site, please visit https://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=6099&hl=en.
We hope this addresses your concerns. Please let us know if you have additional questions that we may assist you with.
I don't think they understood what the problem was. I wasn't talking about the entire Search network - just invalid clicks from one of Google's AdSense for Domains
partners. A whopping 72% of clicks for a single exact match keyword
originated from the searchportal.information.com domain. Investigating this domain, it turns out to be owned by a company called Oversee.net that owns DomainSponsor, a parked domain operation. Now, I don't have a problem with domainers or parked domain sites. What I do object to, however, is a situation where my clients opt into the Google AdWords Search network, expecting to pay for search engine advertising. Instead, they find themselves paying for garbage traffic. Let me emphasize that this garbage traffic originated from the Search network and not the Content network. The Content network was not enabled for my client's campaign.
I'm quite annoyed with Google, because now I have to waste my time researching this problem and devising strategies to minimize the risk of further garbage traffic for all of my clients. In the meantime, Google seems to be ignoring the detailed facts I provide them and is happy to take my client's money and share it with this company. Is this Oversee.net a bunch of spammers? I don't use the word lightly, so I'm not going to claim they are. I'm more annoyed with Google than with them, because it's Google's system that is permitting them to take money from unsuspecting AdWords advertisers. This text from the DomainSponsor site is misleading:
In the DomainSponsor program, when a user types in your parked domain name, they are redirected to a custom DomainSponsor landing page populated with targeted keywords, ads and content relevant to what they are looking for. These ads are placed by advertisers who have agreed to pay DomainSponsor each time their ad is clicked. DomainSponsor shares every dollar earned through traffic and searches from your domain equally with you. So each time a visitor clicks on an ad, we both get paid.
None of my clients have "agreed to pay DomainSponsor each time their ad is clicked." What's perplexing is that none of the clicks came from actual searches. You can tell by the format of the referring URL. Again, read my last post on Google and spammers
if you want the details. Rather than being reactive, I'm going to be proactive and implement new strategies for my clients. Skip to the end of this post if you want those strategies. Now, I'm going to post research I've found that suggests this problem is well documented, has been ignored by Google, and is only going to get worse for Google's AdWords customers. Consider this timeline:Sep 2004
- Karsten M. Self identifies domainsponsor.com as a homepage hijacking site
- A blogger details AdWords clickfraud
- Respected Search Engine Watch (and now Search Engine Land
) editor Danny Sullivan
declares Google AdSense For Domains Program Overdue For Reform
- Microsoft Research includes information.com and domainsponsor.com in a list of Typo-Squatting Domains that Serve Questionable Advertisements
- AdWords for Domain Garbage Traffic
thread on SEW forum illustrates search traffic pattern that suggest click fraud: "The proportion of the search traffic is way out of line (Google 20%, domainsponsor 29%, information 41%)"
- Search Engines Making Millions Off Type-In Traffic From Domains
- Click Fraud
thread on SEO Chat says, "virtually all of google traffic is coming from searchportal.information.com"
- Oversee.net Buys Domain Portfolio of 35,000 Names
, CEO claims, "An estimated 10-20% of paid search traffic now comes through direct navigation. This provides a great opportunity for Oversee.net, which has a rich history in this space."
- An outfit called Chesterton Holdings
is exposed as a "domain tasting" rat
- Chesterton Holdings
shares the same corporate address as the Oversee.net company headquarters?
- Oversee.net Completes Acquisition of Ten Domain Portfolios
- Oversee.net posts a 640% growth rate
- Jeffrey K. Rohrs
drafts The Sausage Manifesto
, An Open Letter to Paid Search Networks on Behalf of PPC Advertisers
pose this question: Is Google Partnered with Spammers
What's next? Is there anyone at Google who can solve this problem? Perhaps Shuman Ghosemajumder
? Until Google stops this practice of distributing search engine ads to places other than actual search engines, I recommend that AdWords advertisers implement one
of the following strategies:
- Turn off the Search network entirely
- Lower bids to stay out of the top 5
- Split ads into 2 campaigns: Google only w/ normal bids + Search network w/ lower bids
- Request Google block *.information.com + *.domainsponsor.com
I've uncovered a disturbing fact that might suggest that Google is, in fact, partnered with spammers. Again, I'm not calling anyone a spammer. I'm simply reporting facts I've found while trying to sort things out for my clients. I'll list two sources, so there's at least some sort of corroboration. It appears that Oversee.net is the creator and distributor of spyware, a malicious adware program called SearchAndBrowse (sources here
). If that really is the case, then Google is, in effect, taking AdWords advertisers' money and funding a spyware company. That'd be awfully ironic considering that Google has published a proposal to help fight deceptive Internet software
which specifically mentions spyware.
Could someone at Google please sort this out? For any AdWords advertiser who happens to stumble upon this post, check your server logs for searchportal.information.com and read my above recommendations for dealing with this garbage traffic on the Google AdWords Search network. Call 1-866-2-Google if you are experiencing click fraud on the Search network. Let them know Rich@Apogee
sent you. ;-)
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