Lions and Tigers and Click Fraud, Oh My!

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The current issue of Business Week screams across its cover “Click Fraud – The Dark Side of Online Advertising.”

Now, I know this is a hot topic and some advertisers have been able to prove that anywhere from 10-15% of the clicks coming to their sites are being generated in fraudulent manners. (meaning a robot or thief clicks on the ad to benefit from a PPC payout with no intention of buying whatever the site advertises.) The article features volleys from both the advertisers and the major PPC players. The most pointed accusation claiming that the search engines could make this go away if they didn’t benefit from it so much.

Here’s the point I want to make. The opportunity for fraud from almost every advertising medium has existed ever since advertising was invented. Clicks and online tracking just make it easier to measure. Common theory suggests that 25% of all 3rd class mail never makes it to the recipient, a client of mine recently hopped on his motorcycle to check out all of the billboards he had recently purchased – only to discover that about 1/2 didn’t exist (some of the contract locations didn’t even have signs installed at all.), scores of unaudited web sites and print publications grossly overstate circulation and traffic numbers.

I’m not suggesting that every media outlet and medium is fraudulent, I’m just saying that maybe click fraud isn’t that big of a deal – my bet is that the search engines do a better job at monitoring and fighting fraud than the typical local TV affiliate. But, hype du jour sells.


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  1. Are you kidding? I feel like this piece is trying to be provocative for the sake of being provocative.

    Click fraud is a serious problem concerning the industry currently. If we subscribe to the “oh well, this has always happened” theory you prescribe here and continue down the path of accepting that advertising dollars are spent without a calculable end, we trivialize the process of media planning and buying. Click fraud shows that there has to be accountability in media spending and provision – that there must be a justifiable rationale for the price and delivery of media properties.

    The idea of not knowing which “half of my advertising is wasted” is ridiculous in this day and age. The technology to ensure that a purchased service is provided exists currently, and while we can’t ensure consumer engagement, we can ensure delivery.

    There’s a word that describes the act of taking payment or trade in kind for a service that remains un-rendered. It’s theft.
    Click fraud is exactly that, no different that “providing” media properties that don’t exist, or “running” ads that never see broadcast. There needs to be an accountability that exists in the digital realm, and it will come – soon and with positive effect for the industry overall. Sustaining the idea that click fraud and it’s real world counterparts is water under the bridge is foolish.

  2. Nick,

    Nothing wrong with a little provocation, but now that’s not my point. My point is that of course click fraud is stealing and an evil thing. Bad click frauders. But, the hype around it is driving a lot of folks away from using PPC needlessly.

    And, I certainly wasn’t advocating blind, untrackable ads spending, in fact, anything but. Set up tracking every aspect of your advertising, get obsessive about it, (that’s how click fraud is discovered) but don’t let the hype in this one medium allow you to dismiss it offhand.

  3. John,

    I think that click fraud being a “hype” piece in the current media is a good thing. As any good PR flack will tell you – a good investigation of any subject will air all the dirty laundry – leaving it to drive forward with a transparency that other associated subjects will not have. (clear as mud? – good)

    The best thing that can come out of the media hype is a proposed solution to click fraud issues, the focus on what PPC does do (successfully), and the lack of similar accountability in other mediums.

    A good look at how the system functions will eventually benefit PPC and internet-based solutions as they are inherently trackable, while other mediums are decidedly not. In this day and age everybody is striving for accountability down to the last dollar, that transparency is necessary – and so is the need for a solution to forms of fraud. With that said, media coverage will only drive suppliers to create a solution faster – then hopefully they’ll start looking to expose fraud through other mediums that have consistently under-provided. (OOH seems a good starting point)

  4. I think PPC is actually too easy a target for fraud at the moment. The hype is well-deserved. As far as I’m concerned there’s never an excuse for dishonesty in business guys: I’d steer well clear of anyone who’d been proved of practicing click fraud, or any other kind of adverising fraud. I’m all for organic ranking: it can outpull PPC if it’s done propertly.


  5. Stay on the Search Engine’s own SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) and you reduce your risk dramatically. We’ve tried the network and regardless of the fraud issue, the clicks had extremely low conversion.

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