A Google Inc. analysis of click fraud audits from third-party consultants has found fundamental flaws that exaggerate the size of the click-fraud problem, according to a report released yesterday by the search giant.
In the report “How Fictitious Clicks Occur in Third-Party Click Fraud Audit Reports,” Google’s Click Quality Team found that the most significant flaw stemmed from the fact that many click fraud consultants don’t count actual ad clicks.
“Rather, to determine the number of ad clicks, they use a number of other signals, including counting visits to a particular web page,” says Shuman Ghosemajumder, business product manager for trust and safety, in a blog posting at the Google site. “As a result, the consultants count page reloads and subsequent visits on an advertiser’s site as multiple clicks on the advertiser’s Google ad.”
In addition, some consultants create “cookies” for users and track their activity across the network of client advertisers, Ghosemajumder says. “One often-used consultant implements the cookie in such a way that clicks on Yahoo ads can be counted as clicks on Google ads, and vice versa,” he says. “These kinds of flaws in methodology cause click counts in consultant reports to be artificially inflated.”
In one instance, a consultant claimed that 1,278 clicks were fraudulent while only 850 actually even appeared as clicks on Google’s log, he says.
Google also found that clicks identified as fraudulent by consultants often converted at nearly the same rate or better rates compared to other clicks. In one case, so-called fraudulent clicks converted 5.1% of the time, slightly below the advertiser’s overall conversion rate of 5.8%, Ghosemajumder says.
“The pervasiveness of these problems concerns us, especially because advertisers may be hurting their businesses by changing their campaign settings based on erroneous information,” he says.