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Old 07-22-2005   #1
sebastian
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Low Quality Clicks - Googles Cash Cow

Recently, we had a situation where Google openly admitted that a huge number of clicks in which we were charged were what they call "low-quality clicks" and not considered "click fraud" ...meaning - no compensation for the clicks.

To be somewhat protective of my situation, I will speak generally - but it appears that a high-traffic web site "contest" was responsible for our huge click count on some unusual terms.

The terms normally draw anywhere from $5 to $50 a day, yet we were seeing charges in excess of $300 before 9:00 a.m. EST

The "contest" web site was using Google Search boxes on it's site designed for people to use to search for "answers" to the contest trivia questions. This got the site extra revenue with the search box, forced the searchers into Google to hunt for info building Googles brand, BUT hosed us as the searches ended up creating mega impressions and clicks on our adwords.

These people obviously had no intention of buying yet they racked up huge dollars in clicks on our account.

While this is technically not "click fraud", it brings up a very difficult situation. I think all of us who have been using Adwords for any real length of time can admit that click costs have been rising steadily without a comparable ROI rise. The more Google continues to release little products that pay revenue to webmasters utilizing the product, we as advertisers will feel more and more pain with rising click costs without rising ROI.

QUESTION: Wouldn't it make sense, much like utility companies, to compensate your good customers when something is "out of whack"?

To put another way - If you have been running a campaign where there was a general level of activity, yet one day this activity goes haywire, through-the-roof with click cost shouldn't an investigation not only be necessary, but mandatory?

Furthermore, if it is found that the traffic was originated via some crafty means that obviously was not "natural traffic flow", should Google compensate it's clients back to a normal level?

The analogy I like is utility companies. If a pipe bursts in your front yard and you incur a huge water bill from all the excess water running into your yard, the utility companies will credit you back, charging you only normal level of water usage as long as you can prove the situation and show that it has been fixed.

Shouldn't Google do the same thing. When web sites develop a crafty way to push a lot of people to Google and encourage, rather directly or indirectly, that they click Adwords ads, isn't that in a grey area of the terms and conditions of using Google search boxes and tools? ...and again, shouldn't they compensate advertisers who had to endure the costs associated with these clicks?
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Old 07-22-2005   #2
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That's quite a nut to crack Sebastian - I'd guess that you have a case on your hands worthy of some restitution, but I don't know whether you legally have a leg to stand on.

If one of the major PPC outfits (Yahoo!, MSN - when they get there's out, or Google) were to offer it, my guess is that the others would need to as well. If I were building a new PPC system, this type of customer service would certainly be a good way to draw users away from Adwords...
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Old 07-25-2005   #3
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Very interesting indeed. I think the PPCs are still trying to figure out where to draw the line. Your utility analogy is a good example. Yes, the utility will reimburse you for all the excess water/sewer fees you incurred, but what about another example? Your electric company flips some switch by accident and creates a power surge that fries your home computer, TV, and other appliances. Should they pay to replace them? This actually happened to a friend of mine, and the answer was NO, the electric co would NOT pay for the damaged appliances. Or this one: the city is replacing the sidewalks in your neighborhood, even though you didn't ask them to. Who pays for the sidewalk? YOU do, not the city. Again, it all comes down to where you draw the line. I agree that Google probably should give some kind of credit for the clicks that obviously came from people who had no intention to buy, but should they give you a 100% refund? A 50% refund? A small token? Nothing? The industry is too new for there to be a standard answer.

All that said, I'd keep pursuing it if I were you. We had a similar situation recently with a silly ad promoting a contest - but luckily it turned out to be a rogue affiliate, so we didn't pay for the zillions of clicks to our site. It would have been a HUGE deal if it had come from PPC, though, and I definitely would have hounded them for a refund. Good luck!

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Old 07-25-2005   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mel66
Very interesting indeed. I think the PPCs are still trying to figure out where to draw the line. Your utility analogy is a good example. Yes, the utility will reimburse you for all the excess water/sewer fees you incurred,
The utility company in this case cannot be regulated by a surge protector or for that matter home owners insurance


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but what about another example? Your electric company flips some switch by accident and creates a power surge that fries your home computer, TV, and other appliances. Should they pay to replace them? This actually happened to a friend of mine, and the answer was NO, the electric co would NOT pay for the damaged appliances. Or this one: the city is replacing the sidewalks in your neighborhood, even though you didn't ask them to. Who pays for the sidewalk? YOU do, not the city. Again, it all comes down to where you draw the line.
The electric would be covered by home owners insurnace and could be prevented by surge protectors.
The city rules are dependent on the laws of each particular city and township are you know them going in and can choose your town by them.



Quote:
I agree that Google probably should give some kind of credit for the clicks that obviously came from people who had no intention to buy, but should they give you a 100% refund? A 50% refund? A small token? Nothing? The industry is too new for there to be a standard answer.


Melissa
There is not guarantee that people clicking on any PPC are intending to buy... I have never seen that anywhere and to expect an engine to give a refund because of that is off base. That someone created a competition to promote clicking is a form of click fraud however it is not as blatant but as direct as asking people to click on the paid listings and is not allowed under the TOS...
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Old 07-26-2005   #5
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Originally Posted by AussieWebmaster
The electric would be covered by home owners insurnace and could be prevented by surge protectors.
The city rules are dependent on the laws of each particular city and township are you know them going in and can choose your town by them.
I agree with you, Aussie. The PPC industry is too new to have such regulations, laws, and insurance policies in place. Yes, they have their TOS, and I agree that paying people to click on ads is a violation of the TOS, but what about "encouraging" people to click in exchange for a contest entry? As you say, that's more of a gray area. These types of scams are new and there are no rules or laws that cover them. Unlike choosing your city based on the laws and regulations that were already in place, I'm sure no one chose PPC only to fall victim to these new scams that no one thought of in advance.

Bottom line, I think we're saying the same thing!

Melissa
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Old 07-26-2005   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mel66
I agree with you, Aussie. The PPC industry is too new to have such regulations, laws, and insurance policies in place. Yes, they have their TOS, and I agree that paying people to click on ads is a violation of the TOS, but what about "encouraging" people to click in exchange for a contest entry? As you say, that's more of a gray area. These types of scams are new and there are no rules or laws that cover them. Unlike choosing your city based on the laws and regulations that were already in place, I'm sure no one chose PPC only to fall victim to these new scams that no one thought of in advance.

Bottom line, I think we're saying the same thing!

Melissa
That competition is a plea for clicks any way you look at it.
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Old 07-26-2005   #7
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Did Google act with Negligence?

This is a tricky scenario, as I am not aware of any precedence for refunds on "low quality clicks".

It is "my" opinion that Google is not the party that ought to reimburse you (please don't turn red with anger). Your monetary loss was due to the actions of a third party. When we feel cheated, we tend to seek restitution by invoking "deep pocket theory", wheareas Google has the deep pockets in your situation. I think the attention ought to be turned towards the culprit, even thought it may seem as if collecting from him or her may be complicated, impossible, or simply not worth the time and expense.

I don't think Google acted with negligence. Your example with a bursted pipe or a power spike demonstrates clear negligence. Furthermore, Google is not a monopoly, (although they may feel like one due to their overwhelming market share) unlike many utility companies. If you disagree with Google's policies, you do have the option not to use their services. You are not afforded that option with utility companies in many jurisdictions.

Keep in mind that Google is at the top of their industry because they serve their customers with absolute professionalism, expertise, and they listen. They are eager to provide advertisers and publishers with the best possible online experience, and are VERY receptive to feedback. If you feel they did act inappropriately, write to their legal department.

If I were in your position, I'd be ticked off as well, and write the loss off as a cost of doing business.

-My 2 Cents
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Old 07-26-2005   #8
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Your monetary loss was due to the actions of a third party.
True; however, This third party is a Google Partner and has been accepted into Google's Adsense program. (not that any 13 year old with a goDaddy hosting account couldn't achieve the same status ...but that's another beef...)

This "third party" utilized Google's search box to encourage users to search through the box. Why? they get revenue when the users do this. They encourage their contest listeners to go to the radio station web site to search for this info - and thus, the people click what makes the most sense for them which will almost always be specifically targeted ads.

Look, I agree it's not fraud, but it does open the door to some crazy potential activity going forward. More media entities are realizing that the web is a necessary vehicle for their brands. Using radio as the example, stations can have better contact with their listeners, they can run contests to get email addresses and they provide all sorts of archives for listeners who may have missed a certain show plus putting DJ voices to faces and on and on.....

The problem for PPC comes in when these media entities who have the power to influence thousands or millions of people ALL AT ONCE, begin directing them to Google, or Yahoo or any search product to merely hunt for information. The advertisers get killed in this model with almost zero chance of a conversions to at least substantiate the traffic.

My beef with Google is still this: If you have a client who has experienced a longtime pattern on a set of adword groups or keywords, and all-of-a-sudden they experience a huge jump in activity with zero conversions, Google should compensate that client back to an acceptable level of normal activity.

It's just good business and goes a long way towards business relationship longevity. Period.

Last edited by sebastian : 07-26-2005 at 03:22 PM.
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Old 07-26-2005   #9
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If I were in your position, I'd be ticked off as well, and write the loss off as a cost of doing business.
Why write it off when you can get it back?

If you're going to invest your marketing budgets in PPC then you should be monitoring for click fraud just as you have security in place if you on a physical store to protect your business.

Click fraud shouldn't just be written off as a cost of doing business, especially with all of the click fraud services that have popped up, even free ones like VeriClix.

Hoping that the PPC networks will do all the work and always refund what you've lost is like having a store with no security and relying on the police to catch all of your shoplifters.

I agree with you sebastian, I just don’t trust the PPC networks to always dig into their pockets and hand over money for fraudulent ::ahem:: 'low quality' clicks....without a little nudging.
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Old 07-26-2005   #10
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Click fraud money is worth recovering if: (Cost of fraud) > (Cost of recovery)

Cost of recovery for clicks that are "questionable" is likely to be higher than fraudulent clicks.
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Old 07-26-2005   #11
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Cost of recovery for clicks that are "questionable" is likely to be higher than fraudulent clicks.
Are you saying there should be a third category of click type? I dont think I follow.
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Old 07-26-2005   #12
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From what I understand from the initial post, somebody put affiliate Google searchboxes on a site and arranged for people to use them, knowing that their use would most likely make money. He could have put links to Google's homepage for the purpose, but he chose to use the affiliate search. The result is that the clicks on some advertisers' ads went through the roof. The intent seems pretty clear to me, but the normal organic results are listed along with the ads, and, unless I'm mistaken, the competitors were encouraged to use the searchbox but not specifically to click on ads. so it doesn't strike me as being fraud in any way. Underhanded, yes, but not fraud. I would even question that it's against any of Google's TOS.

However, I do agree that Google should recognise the unusualness of it, and reimburse the advertisers to the normal level. After all, Google intends the ads to be genuine ads, and not a playground for games at the advertisers' expense. It wouldn't be difficult for them to withhold payment to the affiliate, and refund the advertisers for clicks that they (Google) never intended to happen in the first place. If it were me, I'd pester them about it.
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Old 07-26-2005   #13
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...unless I'm mistaken, the competitors were encouraged to use the searchbox but not specifically to click on ads.
Phil, the google search AdSense thingey: does that show ads above the organic, or below? To be honest, I have never used it (either for myself or on another's site).

Excellent! By sheer dumb luck, I found in about three seconds :
http://www.google.com/custom?hl=en&l...ch&sitesearch=

(appologies for the long URL, but it is probably all needed).

So, the issue, in part IMHO, is that the custome search box, as opposed to the Google version, shows three ads first, and clearly seperated from the Organic stuff. So, this would mean that a heck of a lot of people would get 4 ads esentially above the fold. Being a quiz, and people being lazy, chances are they would click an ad. In this case, there really are a heck of a lot of factors that are out of whack, and it would be a nice PR exercise to help out here

Also, again, it would be nice to better target AdWords to sites. Does anyone know which of the following three this type of SERP is classified as part of:
Show ads on
Google or
search network or
content network??

I don't know, but that SERP isn't Google IMHO, as Joe Blogs searchbox user isn't the same as Joe Google user, and being able to opt out of such SERPs would be the ideal solution.

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Click fraud money is worth recovering if: (Cost of fraud) > (Cost of recovery)
Well said. That is the equation too few people do!
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Old 07-26-2005   #14
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OK, so I tested a SERP I know excludes Content sites, and that ad on the custom SERP shows, so scratch classifying that as a contrent site. Anyone got an account that has excluded Search Network to test that theory?
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Old 07-26-2005   #15
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Trivia Question Contest

Google recently refund a client of mine a significant amount of money for a similar situation. The client received a high dose of traffic for people searching to the answer to a question to a trivia question for a few key phrases.

Even though they said it was not a case of fraud, they refunded the questionable clicks.

This was a case of a phrase getting an average of 3 clicks/day and then going up to several thousand clicks.

I'm not sure it is fraud, but not sure the advertiser should have to pay for it either.
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Old 07-27-2005   #16
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Quote:
Click fraud money is worth recovering if: (Cost of fraud) > (Cost of recovery)
Its difficult for many adverisers to know what their fraud problem is unless they find out by using a tool or service. This most often then shows both the cost of fraud and the cost of recovery. However, with all the services out there, inlcuding a free one I mentioned, you really have no excuse for not protecting your ppc investments.

Quote:
From what I understand from the initial post, somebody put affiliate Google searchboxes on a site and arranged for people to use them, knowing that their use would most likely make money.
Seems that this fits into a general definition of fraud AKA G's 'low-quality' clicks (users clicking on your ads with no intent of buy.) I think that is part of Yahoo!s definition.

Quote:
Even though they said it was not a case of fraud, they refunded the questionable clicks.
Its been my experience that G, as an example, will never say 'fraud' but only 'low-quality' so thats really moot.
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Old 07-27-2005   #17
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Originally Posted by Jeff Martin

Its been my experience that G, as an example, will never say 'fraud' but only 'low-quality' so thats really moot.
Okay... but I have heard the fraud term from my Google people and the refunds to reflect them... how accurate the numbers are everyone realises is open to interpretation.
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Old 07-27-2005   #18
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Okay... but I have heard the fraud term from my Google people and the refunds to reflect them... how accurate the numbers are everyone realises is open to interpretation.
Are you speaking with the reps in California? Iv'e never had them use that term to define activity I have been refunded for. They usually use the terms 'low-quality' or 'suspicious' to define what they are refunding.
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Old 07-27-2005   #19
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Originally Posted by Jeff Martin
Are you speaking with the reps in California? Iv'e never had them use that term to define activity I have been refunded for. They usually use the terms 'low-quality' or 'suspicious' to define what they are refunding.
I agree there is a tendency to couch terms... but have had them admit there is a certain amount of click fraud... they are not doing it, but they have helped people with access to the means to create a fraud situation.
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Old 07-27-2005   #20
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I know this doesn't directly relate to your point...but did you have a really high daily budget? If you normally spent $20 a day and then you spent $300 by 9:00 am, that would seem like a big overage. Unless of course you have your daily cap set above $300.

I don't want to argue against your premise, because I do agree that, especially in your particular case, obviously "low-quality" clicks should be compensated somehow. But I do wonder if you have the right to challenge their policy since you must have had a high daily budget. If your daily was set to $50 let's say, then you'd have been refunded anything over 20% of that in a single day.

Again, not trying to be argumentative, but just wondering what your exact situation was here. Thanks.
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