Google report slams ‘inflated’ click fraud figures

9 Aug 2006

Google has claimed that technical flaws in the work of several third-party click fraud detection consultants are responsible for an inflated number of ad clicks on its search engine being categorised as fraudulent.

Click fraud is usually defined as the practice of clicking on an internet ad with no intention of legitimately browsing a site for commercial purposes or making a sale. It is most commonly used by firms clicking on competitors’ ads to knock them off the sponsored links section on search engine pages.

Some estimates claims that approximately 14pc of clicks on ads on Google, Yahoo! and the other major search engines are fraudulent.

Both Google and Yahoo! have always said these high figures were inaccurate. Google claims the new report explains why this is so.

According to Shuma Ghosemajumder, business product manager for trust and safety with Google, there are two main reasons for the high number of fraudulent ad clicks reported by third-party consultants.

“The problem lies in 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 webpage,” he reported on Google’s blog.

“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. This generates fictitious ad clicks in the consultant’s reports. For example, if a user browses deeper into an advertiser’s site, then hits the back button, this causes a potential reload of the original landing page, which a consultant would record as an additional ad click — even though no Google ad click actually occurred.”

The other main reason was technical problems with the installation of “cookies” to track advertising activity, the analysis found.

“Some consultants ‘cookie’ users and track their activity across their network of client advertisers,” Ghosemajumder explained. “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.

“These kinds of flaws in methodology cause click counts in consultant reports to be artificially inflated,” he added.

The Google report analysed the findings of three third-party auditing firms — AdWatcher, ClickFacts and Click Forensics — which, according to Google, represented the vast majority of the last 100 reports advertisers submitted to it.

Both Google and Yahoo! have settled multimillion dollar law suits in the US this year relating to click fraud.

By Niall Byrne