04 December 2007

Massive organized Google Click Fraud in China

I have evidence of massive and organized abuse of Google's AdWords program, especially based in China. This is certainly not a new problem. Bruce Schneier blogged about Google's Click-Fraud problem last year in Wired -- although he focuses on two types of click fraud, whereas my own case seems to be a third type, no doubt driven by human click-farmers rather than 'bots. There's also an excellent article on this problem in Business Week, which specifically mentioned the Chinese connection.

Last month, I spoke with Dr Pall, country manager for Google here in Austria. I conveyed to him my concern, that as a small business advertising with Google's AdWords program, I simply didn't trust the results I was seeing, especially when I found that I was spending hundreds of Euros via the Content Network portion.

This month, I decided to collect some real numbers on the extent of this problem, to pass on to Google (to date, I didn't get a response.) Specifically, I set up some new ads for real products and services that my company provides -- products with a very specific and limited market focus. I deliberately enabled the Content Network option, and waited to see what would happen.

I didn't have to wait very long, as the screen shot below shows.

This activity occurred within a couple of days of my ads being activated. I find it very interesting to see that 100% of the click-throughs to my site are directed via charged Content Network -- which means every one of those clicks cost me money, and earned money for the Web sites which hosted the ads at the time. Not a single click came from a search. And the majority came from 42 different cities throughout China -- which of course means not a single one is genuine.

The bottom line -- be very cautious when enabling Google's Content Network. Watch it closely, and especially don't enable it in China (India also shows some evidence of fraud, but on a smaller scale.) I am hoping that Google will be open about this problem, to restore confidence in their advertisers after last year's settlement.

I will be doing some further analysis, and will post the results in my blog. I'd also be interested to hear from others who have seen similar patterns. Note that I don't think this problem is unique to Google -- probably, it is also prevalent with other advertisers. I really like Google's way of doing business, and will continue to do business with them -- but I feel that more needs to be done to stamp out such obvious gaming of the system, which costs money for no return and wastes valuable time.

Google -- what are you doing about this?

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