Click Fraud - Is It Happening to You?
by Pierre Zarokian

Navigating the pay-per-click search engines can be truly 
exciting from a business owner's standpoint. No other form of 
advertising rivals the interactivity of being able to turn your 
web site's advertisement on and off like a light switch. 

Bam! You're number one in Yahoo - what could be easier. 

What new advertisers don't know, and it's not listed in the fine 
print, is that there is an inherent downside to PPC engines. A 
downside, that only gets bigger as time goes on. 

Let's say you set your account up in Overture and you place $500 
to buy keywords for the next month. You are happy with your 
purchase and you can't wait till the next day when the phone 
will start ringing and the e-mails will come flooding in. 

You go to your computer the next day, log on to the advertiser 
interface and notice that you have gone through all of your 
monthly budget overnight and have not received one e-mail or 
phone call. 

You have most likely just been a victim of click fraud. 

Click Fraud is when a business receives invalid clicks on paid 
listings by a competitor or individual who has no intention of 
using your services. A click is invalid when an individual does 
it for the sole purpose of costing you money or financial harm. 
Click Fraud may occur from competing advertisers or simply 
individuals just wanting to harm or frustrate others.

What typically happens in all pay per click engines is that 
where people are making money, there is some form of monetary 
predation. So in a nutshell most advertisers experience some 
form of click fraud, even if on very low levels. 

This advertising flaw stems from the competitive nature of the 
bidding system. For an advertiser to take advantage of the 
maximum benefits from Overture's pay per click system, a company 
must bid in the top three positions of Overture. When a company 
can maintain one of the top three positions, their ad is 
displayed throughout the Overture network, which consists of 
Yahoo, Alta Vista, MSN and Lycos among others. 

When a web user goes to Overture directly or any of the Overture 
partner sites, the user cannot simply hit a site repeatedly on 
the same keyword and accumulate chargeable clicks. Overture's 
system monitors the usage through an elaborate proprietary 
filter that looks at the click to determine its validity. 

Mischievous individuals will often execute click fraud through 
Overture's partner sites so that it is harder to detect the 
fraudulent activity. 

For instance, take the keyword "health insurance," for example. 
If you were to go into Overture and click any of the sites 
bidding for position, you will cause the business to pay for 
that click. On the other hand, if you back out and click the 
site again (from the same page) the second click will not accrue 
money on the client's account. 

However, when that same user goes to another network partner 
like Yahoo or Alta Vista, types in the same keyword, clicks on 
the same web site, it can and usually will count against the 
bidding clients account. 

Sites that are most susceptible to fraud are usually the 
companies that are in the top five or better listings - as well 
as industries where frequent bidding wars occur. 

Overture and Google are both well aware of this problem and have 
taken technical measures to determine and identify improper use 
of their systems. Overture addresses the issue by distributing 
the following information to interested parties:

"Our Click Protection System is sophisticated software that 
evaluates each of our advertisers' clicks. This software makes 
decisions as to the validity of any click. Our (Overture's) 
Click Protection System uses search and click data to make both 
rules-based inferences and pattern recognition-based inferences 
about which clicks are valid clicks. We have two patents pending 
related to this technology, so we cannot currently disclose too 
many details about the methods we use. While the details cannot 
be disclosed, the core mechanics involve many data points. Each 
click is evaluated along 20 to 50 data points. Some of the data 
points evaluated are:

- IP address 
- User session information 
- User cookie information 
- The network to which an IP belongs 
- The user's browser information 
- The search term requested by the user 
- The time of the click 
- The rank of the advertiser's listing 
- The bid of the advertiser's listing 
- The time of the search 
- The time of the click

If the data points indicate that the click is not a valid one, 
our Click Protection System marks the click in our billing 
system, and the advertiser is not charged for it. However, we 
are unable to remove the click from the advertiser's own Web 

The software will detect some, but not all fraudulent activity. 
If you the bidder- are suspicious of the activity of your 
account, you should contact Overture's client services department 
where they have click activity specialists that will do an 
investigation of your account activity. If they determine that 
the suspicious activity may be valid, they will conduct a more 
thorough and detailed investigation.

The single best way to help Overture help you - is to be prepared 
with raw data when making a claim. 

There is really no way to prevent click fraud. As competition 
increases and more companies turn to PPC advertising, this 
problem can only get bigger. Overture's click protection system 
is not fool-proof, so you as an advertiser must take some 
responsibility and check for suspicious activity.

The first step is to obtain your website's server logs if you 
don't already have them. Your web host should usually be able to 
provide them.

The items to look for when analyzing your logs are:

- Repetition of IP Addresses
- An irregular or large number of clicks coming from the same 
  geographic region or country.
- IP addresses belonging to cloaking software companies
- Keywords that normally do not get any traffic are now getting 
  an unusually high number of clicks.
- Your click throughs have doubled or tripled without having 
  had any bid changes or rank changes

Google's distributed information is very similar as their web 
site states:

"Google closely monitors all clicks on AdWords Select ads to 
ensure that there is no abuse of the program. This includes 
analyzing all clicks to determine whether they fit a pattern of 
fraudulent use intended to artificially drive up an advertiser's 
clicks. Google's proprietary technology automatically 
distinguishes between clicks generated through normal use by 
users and clicks generated by click spamers and automated robots. 
As a result, we're able to filter out clicks you don't want and 
ensure they don't show up on your reports or bills."

Both Overture and Google want to preserve the integrity of their 
engine's bidding environments. After all, when it becomes too 
discouraging for a business to effectively bid, the advertiser 
will pull up stakes and leave the system. 

The following is some solid information that will help people 
identify and rectify the problems if and should they ever 
surface. While this information is basic, it has been proven 
to work for companies to have some recourse to mischievous 

1. Get your data ducks in a row. Compile statistical data so 
   when making your claim to Google or Overture, you provide 
   very concise information for them to pursue. 
2. Don't make claims based on speculation or suspicion. 
3. Have a good statistics program like Web Trends. 
4. Monitor your bids daily and set aside some extra time for a 
   weekly and or monthly review. Keep an eye out for new top-
   level bidders and document their appearance in the lists. 
5. Stay on top of Overture/ Google. If your claims have 
   credibility and you do your homework, it will be easier for 
   you to develop long-term contacts inside. 

The bottom line is you've got to do some of the investigation 
yourself and not rely 100% on the pay-per-click companies 
catching all suspicious activity.

Pierre Zarokian is president of offers search engine submission and optimization 
services and guarantees Top 10 Rankings. For more info visit: