07 December 2007

The China Syndrome: Update on (alleged) Google Adwords Click Fraud

As you may have read in my previous blog entry on this topic, I am convinced that Google's Content Network is not really the best place for advertisers to submit their ads, at least until they understand some of the issues.

Specifically, I recommend avoiding certain countries for placement of ads -- which of course doesn't mean that you won't get clicks from those countries (because you will if the click fraud is organized), it means instead that your ads won't be served to end users originating from those countries. The actual location of the Web servers hosting the ads is irrelevant. The web is such an international place, that the location of the server is often different from the location of the beneficial owner.

Today, I received an email and call back from Google UK, who kindly undertook to look into my complaints. I have to say that it is a pleasure to do business with the people at Google, as they know their stuff. Professional and courteous to a fault. This was in response to my informal request to the Google Country manager, Dr Karl Pall, who forwarded my concerns to the Google UK Public Affairs Manager, who in turn passed me on to a very knowledgeable Adwords specialist, Patrick Singer. I am still waiting for a response to my support request to the Google Adwords Quality Control team, which I expect will come next week.

The upshot of the call was that Google has done a lot of work to improve its transparency of reporting for advertisers. Specially, the newly introduced Placement Report is able to show which web sites were used to host the ads that I paid for. Together with the Campaign Report (which showed an average Invalid Click Rate of 10.66% (with up to 25% on one campaign), I was able to identify the source sites for most of the traffic which I consider fraudulent. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be an easy way to identify which country or region generated traffic on specific referring sites, at least without some manual correlation.

Unfortunately, Google didn't agree with my assessment that most if not all of the China-originating clicks were fraudulent, although I agreed to wait until the full results of the Quality Control team are available next week. I do note that some of the suspicious Web sites had a 50% CTR -- with one site having 100% CTR, which I find remarkable! (It's almost as if the site was generated by a Web server designed for someone to click on the ads.... hmmmm.....)

So, the bottom line -- I continue to be impressed by the resources that Google are throwing at this. The Adwords Reports have tremendous depths, and would repay serious study -- but it's almost a full time job to master this business, and tuning the ads for the best effect would be a valuable service. (There are probably consultants who do this.) Unfortunately, I am still not convinced that any of the Content Network Clicks are valid, at least for certain countries and regions.

My hope is that the Google Quality Control team can "follow the money" -- to see if there is any pattern as to the financial beneficiaries of this apparent fraud. I am sure I'm not the only one affected by this. Sadly, my company's investment in Google Adwords has yet to yield a single valid lead, despite spending nearly 2,000 Euros with Google -- at least based on my knowledge of all sales communications and email enquiries. My next step is to add some sort of conversion tracking, i.e., some type of click-through form for collecting lead information, so I can add some more detail into the Google Reports.

No comments: