The other side of Click Fraud

Krebs On Security took a look at the practice of click fraud that depletes a competitors ad budget. The practice is to run up the costs and maybe get them to blow their wad early in the day. I have spoken to people over the years who certainly felt their AdWords campaign was a waste of time and money. While many focus on click fraud on the AdSense side, it seems that the AdWords side is also a big problem.

From the article:

Today’s post looks at a popular service that helps crooked online marketers exhaust the Google AdWords budgets of their competitors.

One of the more well-known forms of online ad fraud (a.k.a. “click fraud“) involves Google AdSense publishers that automate the clicking of ads appearing on their own Web sites in order to inflate ad revenue. But fraudsters also engage in an opposite scam involving AdWords, in which advertisers try to attack competitors by raising their costs or exhausting their ad budgets early in the day.

Enter “GoodGoogle,” the nickname chosen by one of the more established AdWords fraudsters operating on the Russian-language crime forums. Using a combination of custom software and hands-on customer service, GoodGoogle promises clients the ability to block the appearance of competitors’ ads.

“Are you tired of the competition in Google AdWords that take your first position and quality traffic,?” reads GoodGoogle’s pitch. “I will help you get rid once and for all competitors in Google Adwords.”

The service, which appears to have been in the offering since at least January 2012, provides customers both a la carte and subscription rates. The prices range from $100 to block between three to ten ad units for 24 hours to $80 for 15 to 30 ad units. For a flat fee of $1,000, small businesses can use GoodGoogle’s software and service to sideline a handful of competitors’s ads indefinitely. Fees are paid up-front and in virtual currencies.

Read the full article here

New Stealthier Ads Are A Big Hit For Google

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John Koetsier wrote a very interesting piece on Venture Beat on how the new look of Google ads is boosting click through rates. Back in March Computer World explained,

Google is testing some changes to the way it displays search results, including a tweak to how it presents paid links that could throw off unsuspecting users.

Paid links in Google’s search results are marked today with a yellow shaded background. Under the experimental layout, which is being widely tested with users, a small yellow button that says “Ad” appears in front of paid links instead.

Now the Venture Beat article took data from a study conducted by Adobe, that shows the change has worked and it should be good news for the company ahead of its quarterly earnings report due out today.

From the article:

The data is in, and Google’s new stealthier, blended-in, less-obviously-an-ad offerings have boosted clickthroughs tremendously: They’re up 20 percent just in the last quarter. That should be good news for Google when the company reports Q2 earnings tomorrow.

A massive Adobe ad study of over $2 billion in ad spend shows that not only are clickthroughs up, so are costs: CPCs rose slightly by four percent over the same period. In contrast, Yahoo/Bing search ad CPCs declined.

Why?

“Mobile and tablet are having an impact there,” Adobe director of product marketing Tim Waddell told me yesterday. “Not to mention the switchover to Google’s new ad types … going away from the different background colors.”

Google Ads used to be obvious, with a different background color than the rest of the page, which clearly highlighted them as commercial content. At the beginning of this year, however, Google changed its format, giving ads the same white background as the rest of the page and replacing it with a substantially smaller “Ad” notification.

Read the full article which contains some interesting charts comparing the results here.

Google Releases Data to Help With Adwords Confusion

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Google has released a couple pieces of data over the last two days that are worth reviewing for those who use the Google Adwords product.

Google released a white paper to try to dispel some myths when it comes to the subject of quality score. As Ginny Marvin pointed out on Search Engine Land,

There has always been a healthy amount of debate over the importance of Quality Score as an indicator of Google AdWords success and the amount of focus that should be devoted to it.

Today, Google issued a whitepaper called “Settling the (Quality) Score” to help advertisers use Quality Score to guide optimizations. Will it settle the debate? Maybe not, in fact it may just spark more conversation, but if you’re involved in paid search at all, you’ll want to check it out.

Google describes Quality Score being like a “warning light in a car’s engine” as opposed to being a “detailed metric that should be the focus of account management.”

In other words, it’s a signal not a KPI. It’s a mash-up of expected click-through rate, ad relevance and landing page experience, but, as we know, the score we’re shown isn’t the actual score given at any moment during an auction. The score we see represents overall performance in the auctions.

You can view the white paper here

Today Google released a video on the AdWords auction and Ad Rank, this is the scoring system that places ads in the order they appear. The video shows that Google uses a second price auction. I think this was helpful for someone like myself who has spent a limited time running an adwords campaign. It can be confusing/frustrating when you don’t see your ad and not sure why.

 

Ginny Marvin noted:

It’s no coincidence that two resources — the Quality Score paper and this video — are being released in short order. The company started an initiative, spearheaded by Matt Lawson, Google’s Director of Performance Ads Marketing, to provide more resources and best practice overviews with advertisers than it has in the past.

Ad Impersonation Is The New Click Fraud

Lori Weiman wrote an interesting piece on Search Engine Land a few hours ago, the article focused on a different type of click fraud.  PPC Ad impersonation occurs when an impostor advertiser takes a well known website address, and uses it as the display URL of their own advertisement.

From the article:

When you first hear about PPC fraud rings, you tend to think of click fraud where an automated system, not a real person, is generating fake clicks on an advertiser’s ad. However, PPC impersonation is actually a much larger problem than click fraud, and marketers need to be watching to ensure their brand isn’t negatively impacted.

Click fraud was a bigger issue in the past, but now is mostly dealt with by tighter controls from the search engines. Ad impersonation has overtaken click fraud and is now the prevalent form of fraud on PPC advertising. The search engines are only just beginning to work with vendors like The Search Monitor (full disclosure: my employer) to identify it and take it down.

In May 2014, The Search Monitor detected fraudulent PPC ads running on Bing, Yahoo, and Google. The fraudsters impersonated more than 300 advertisers on a global scale.

The fraud was not confined to any particular type or size of company. It spanned several industries, including leading businesses in automotive (JC Whitney), home furnishings (Joss & Main), software (MobiStealth), printing (Tiny Prints), home & garden (Ace Hardware), travel (BookingBuddy), firearms (Brownell’s), and services (Deluxe).

Read the full article to see some real life examples that Weiman discovered.

Counterfeiters Using Google Adwords is a Big Problem

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Randy Pickard made a guest post on Search Engine Land that took a look at all the counterfeiters buying ads on Google that trick consumers into buying knock off goods.

The article looked at a few categories, one being prom dresses.

From the article:

Among the websites buying AdWords sponsored ads for [prom dress] related terms, approximately half of these websites are filled with copyright-infringing photos of designer dresses.

The prom and special-occasion dress product categories are target rich for counterfeiters. A common occurrence is for a teenage girl to come into a boutique, look at a designer dress, and then “showroom” the boutique by searching on Google. There, they discover links to offshore online stores with photos of (what appears to be) the exact same dress — selling for less than half the price.

Of course, the result of buying a cheap prom dress from an offshore retailer is fairly similar to that of buying a “rolex” from a New York street peddler. When the dress arrives (if it does arrive), there are lots of tears flowing from the naive teenager buyer who wanted a special dress for her special night.

The consequences of counterfeiters utilizing AdWords to rip off naïve buyers is having a ripple effect that is hitting special-occasion dress retailers particularly hard. Google’s lax filtering of counterfeiters victimizes both teenage girls preparing for prom and fashion retailers’ whose businesses are losing hundreds of thousands of sales per year.

Read the full story here

Pickard summed it up asking,

Going back to the original question in this post: Is Google “evil” for not doing a better job filtering out counterfeiters? The search engine giant proved that they have the capability to do so in the case of counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Should Google be expected to put a stronger effort into blocking counterfeiters in order to meet the standards set by their code of conduct?

Google actually has a place where you can check on what is being reported as far as copyright takedown requests.

The Google Transparency report shows stats such as the top reported sites The domain names for URLs that were requested to be removed. Each request can specify many URLs and many URLs may have the same domain name.

It also shows the top companies doing the reporting. You can check out the page here