Online advertising has been hailed as one of the most effective and economical ways to reach customers in the new millennium. Google Adwords, Google Adsense, and Yahoo! Pay-Per-click are three of the more common publishers of online advertisements. Recently, Click Forensics, a web market researcher, determined that 13.7% of clicks are fraudulent.

Google and Yahoo! both offer online advertising programs that allow website owners and even bloggers the money-making opportunity to show “contextual ads” on their own pages. A contextual ad is advertising on a website that is targeted to the specific individual who is visiting the website; they use a system that scans the text of a website for keywords and returns ads to the web page based on what the user is viewing, either through ads placed on the page or pop-up ads. The search engines then pay the publisher most of the generated revenue.

Click fraud is easy. Here is how. You place an ad and watch the clicks build up and this looks great, at least for a while. Your competitor finds your ad and camps out at the keyboard repeatedly clicking your add. The dollars add up in a hurry. This malicious mischief can also be automated with software robots pushing the clicks through to your website. You get stuck with click fees. The motivation is to make the competitor waste money on online advertising. This is an obvious source of fraud.

But it turns out the publishers (the firms selling the ads) also commit fraud. They know best that volume of clicks is the prevalent indicator of success. Pushing the numbers helps the publishers sell more online programs. The Click Forensics report indicated that the fraud is actually greater (up to 30%) at the smaller publishers of which there are hundreds of firms to numerous to name.

What this means to folks like us (I use Google Adwords) is that we need to carefully monitor our online advertising. Truthfully, clicks are just clicks. Focus on the real measures of online marketing success which could include sales leads, website registrations, online purchases, and sample requests—these are the metrics that really count.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2008 All rights reserved.

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