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.