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Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can be a great way for website owners to earn some pocket money, and for businesses to advertise their sites online. However, pay-per-click fraud, where clicks on PPC ads are illegitimate for one reason or another, is a growing problem which Google, Yahoo! and other PPC providers are now endeavouring to tackle. There are several kinds of PPC fraud.
- Affiliate Fraud: An affiliate is a website which features pay-per-click advertisements. The owners of these sites earn a small commission every time a visitor to their site clicks on one of the advertisements. Affiliate fraud occurs when the website owner attempts to artificially increase the number of clicks on the advertisements (and consequently, their profits), either by clicking the adverts themselves, employing others to do so, or using an automated piece of software to "click" the ads.
- Competitor Fraud: Because advertises pay for their advertisements "per click", a business owner might decide to use up their competitor's click budget by repeatedly clicking their advertisements.
- Unintentional Clicks: Although not strictly fraud, there are certain circumstances whereby clicks can occur which are not from people interested in the content of the advertisements. Software such as search engine spiders can "click" a PPC link whilst crawling a site. Well-designed websites can often avoid this problem, as can the better-designed PPC engines, but some clicks still get through. Link-checking software can also cause PPC ads to clock up more clicks.
If you are a PPC affiliate, do not attempt to rack up clicks by clicking the adverts on your site dozens of times yourself. You are likely to be caught and there can be hefty fines or even criminal charges for PPC fraud. Similarly, do not be tempted to click your competitor's advertisements repeatedly. Google and others monitor click quality and follow up allegations of click fraud.
If you are using PPC advertising to promote your website, make sure you keep an eye on your click logs (you can buy, or download for free, logging software packages of varying complexity which can furnish you with this sort of information) to watch out for spikes in click frequency, or multiple clicks from the same IP. Most PPC providers will reimburse you for fraudulent clicks. There is also PPC fraud and analysis software available from several retailers online, if you do not have the time or resources to check manually.
If you do detect click fraud, clearly document the activity you are suspicious of, including date and time, IP address of the clicker, and the keyword. Write a covering email and send it with your records to your PPC provider. Google, Yahoo! and other PPC providers have acknowledged the problem and refund millions of dollars every year in PPC fraud reimbursement.
By Natalie Catchpole