I talk with hundreds of marketing professionals a week. One common thread that I often hear from SMB’s is that their competitors are clicking on their ads to charge them money. Or, that they aren’t getting the return possible on paid search because someone’s been paid to click on their ads. While click-fraud is a very real issue to the tune of $7 billion a year, Google’s main purpose from day one was to have the trust of its users.
In 2003 they developed the Click Quality team. This team’s sole purpose is to establish the rules for invalid clicks and to proactively try to thwart attempts at click fraud. While doing some research, I was able to find the mission statement of the Click Quality team from internal Google documents:
“Protect Google’s advertising network and provide excellent customer service to clients. We do that by:
• Vigilantly monitoring invalid clicks/impressions and removing its source
• Reviewing all client requests and responding in a timely manner
• Developing and improving systems that remove invalid clicks/impressions and properly credit clients for invalid traffic
• Educating clients and employees on invalid clicks/impressions.”
In their efforts to be as effective as possible, Google has established 4 major lines of defense to be both proactive and reactive to cases of potential invalid clicks: pre-filtering, online filtering, automated offline detection, and manual offline detection, in that order. This way they can see possible patterns from automated systems or people who act like robots and refund you before you get charged. But, then they can also be reactive because often times it is people who are not necessarily acting like robots, therefore making it much more difficult to detect invalid clicks.
So, if I think I am a target of invalid clicks, “How can I investigate and be proactive in my research?”
Google’s response is to optimize, no sh*t! What does that mean though? It means you should make sure that your ads and keywords are showing for relevant searches so that the people clicking are more likely to convert. That doesn’t really help with click fraud, where the clicks are coming from malicious sources, which can happen on the most relevant search terms. So, you should go to the “Dimensions” tab and add the columns for invalid clicks under performance. This will let you see how many invalid clicks Google’s expert team has already caught and what percentage of your click total it relates to. Not super helpful for prevention, but you’ll get to see how much they’ve already caught.
If you aren’t already implementing Google Analytics into your site, you should. Within Analytics you can do auto-tagging, which will give each of your clicks a unique URL. This allows you to see when the clicks are happening and from what IP address. Repeat IP address doesn’t necessarily mean invalid clicks, but can be an indicator depending on the timing of the clicks. This will help you to see if you get clicks from the same place everyday, or if you get many clicks in a couple minutes from a single source. The patterns that you would see in here are typically caught by Google’s team, but you’ll need this info if you want to have Google investigate your case.
So you’re still not satisfied with the results, but you’re out of information available to you. If you’ve taken all of the previous steps and still think that you’ve been charged for invalid clicks, you can report your findings directly to the click quality team yourself. They’ve even made it easy with a form, but they still want your side of the story. So when submitting the form they are looking for this information:
- The campaign(s), ad group(s) and/or keyword(s) associated with the suspicious clicks
- The date(s) and time(s) of the suspicious click activity
- Any data in your weblogs or reports that indicate suspicious IP addresses, referrers, or requests
- Where your ads appeared when they received the suspicious clicks (e.g., the URL of the Display Network webpage)
- A paragraph describing the trends in logs and/or reports that led you to believe that the click activity is invalid
They then ask for 3-5 days to investigate and determine if invalid clicks have actually occurred. Reporting directly to them is a last ditch effort for an advertiser, and I assume should be reserved for cases when you really feel like an issue has occurred. Google wants you find out as much information as possible before putting their internal resources to work.
Google has built their search engine based on trust and showing you content relevant to your search. They are doing everything possible to stay one step ahead of would be malicious business practices to arbitrarily increase costs with AdWords. If you’re ever in question, you now have the tools to start researching on your own, before contacting the authorities at Google.