Sunday, April 19, 2009

Click fraud or just a poor Adwords campaign?

Here is a specific example of a campaign I have been struggling with for a few months. It relates to a specific condition (endometriosis) that afflicts a significant part of the female population. 
The suspicion has been that this is an example of where competitors or website owners are deliberately clicking on the high value ads. Why would they do that?

Competitors may do it to increase my costs or turn me off advertising for that keyword. It simply becomes hard to justify the return on investment for that keyword. Site owners who place Adwords ads on their site have an incentive to have visitors click as many ads as possible as they get paid for each click. It should be pointed out that both of these practices are certainly unethical and are likely to also be illegal and may lead to a site owner or advertiser being banned from using Adwords.

Detecting click fraud

Actually identifying click fraud can be difficult. This issue generates a lot of angst amongst all the big online ad distributors and has also lead to substantial payouts to advertisers where it is detected. 

A simple way of doing it is to look for dramatic changes in performance of your ads over time. This requires you to actively monitor your Adwords performance and factor out the effect of any specific campaigns or recent changes you have made. Look for:
  1. An abnormal number of clicks from the same IP address.
  2. Keyword performance - a sudden increase in CTR (often with higher bounce rates or lower average time on the site).
  3. Decline in the number of conversions or rate of conversion.
  4. An increase in the number of visitors who leave your site quickly
  5. A large number of impressions, without the accompanying click on your ad - this may be an attempt by a competitor to artificially lower your CTR and as a result your quality score (so you may pay more for a page 1 listing or not appear at all).
  6. Abnormally high clicks and impressions on affiliate websites
  7. A large number of clicks coming from countries outside of your normal market
Our Case

Endometriosis is a fairly well searched term (the cost per ad is high in Adwords which is another indicator of advertiser interest), it is in the top 20 pages of the OGCG website that generates traffic from Google and a few local competitors advertise heavily on the term. So, with my knowledge and skill I should be able to turn it into a productive term.

Well, no. I've had to turn off advertising for the keyword "endometriosis". 

You can see from statistics below that it has a low click through rate (CTR) and a high cost per conversion. It simply doesn't justify the expenditure. In our case I'd be loathe to call it click fraud but the results are just not what one would expect for such a prevalent condition. This is the second time around I've tried to identify a productive niche. Perhaps I need to accept the keyword isn't as specific of an intent to seek treatment as I believed.

(Click to Enlarge)

You can find out more about click fraud on wikipedia.

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