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How Much Is PPC Fraud Really Costing Your Business?

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How Do These Types of PPC Fraud Work?

Broadly speaking, there are two types of ways you can fall victim to PPC fraud:

  • Human interaction.
  • Automated interaction.

The most common ways you’ll find this kind of fraudulent click action are as follows:

Repetitive Clicks

The simplest way to commit click fraud is to simply click on a paid ad every time you see it.

Unhappy customers, disgruntled ex-employees, or other people with a grudge against your company are happy to waste a few bucks of your marketing budget for fun.

Organized Click Campaigns

Leveling up on the repetitive clicks here, if you really want to cause some damage you can pay for sustained traffic to any link.

You may have heard of click farms, which are organizations designed to generate clicks for a whole variety of reasons, from social media boosting to vindictive clicking on paid ads.

Bot Traffic

Automated bots have become a lot more sophisticated in recent years, including being designed to mimic human behavior on websites.

Bots can either be built into software such as apps, and harnessed as a co-ordinated network known as a ‘botnet’, or operated from servers in specific locations, such as click farms.

In recent years, there have been several high profile cases of organized crime syndicates operating ad fraud networks.

The most famous of which are Methbot, Hyphbot, and 3ve (Eve) which all made millions from generating bot traffic onto paid ad campaigns.

Bots and web crawlers aren’t always malicious, with many websites using this automated traffic to collect data and collate information.

However, the technology is a potent way to generate that traffic onto paid ads and collect the payout for unscrupulous ad fraudsters.

It is estimated that around half of all internet traffic today is automated.

This includes bots and web crawlers for non-malicious purposes.

On top of this, it is estimated that anything up to 25% of traffic online is generated for fraudulent means.

This Type of Fraud Doesn’t Happen to My Business, Does It?

Fraud affects pretty much every type of PPC campaign.

Although some of the most targeted industries might be quite obvious, some of the others might come as more of a surprise.

On-demand and local services often have a high cost-per-click and relatively fierce local competition.

For this reason, click fraud can be rife in industries such as:

  • Locksmiths.
  • Plumbers.
  • Waste disposal.
  • Building and remedial works.
  • Orthodontists and specialist health services.
  • Tourism-focused services.

Being on-demand, many of these businesses would expect that people searching for them to be ready to purchase.

There’s not a lot of research time when looking for an emergency plumber or a locksmith.

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As such, the conversion on their clicks should be relatively high, which makes a $40-50 cost-per-click seem worthwhile.

A recent case study on a waste disposal service in Australia uncovered a practice that is all too common.

One competitor had orchestrated a campaign of clicking on the paid links of other businesses in the area, and only the combined efforts of several business owners using click fraud detection software uncovered the perpetrator.

This type of competitor click fraud is alarmingly common.

But you’re not an on-demand service?

You’re a startup or small business running a low key banner ad campaign, simple YouTube video ads or perhaps popping some ads on Facebook and Instagram.

Or maybe you work for an agency managing a broad range of client’s PPC ads.

If you run display ads on any network from Google or Bing, to Facebook’s increasingly diverse portfolio, you are in prime position to fall victim to ad fraud.

The Impact of PPC Fraud

The financial impact of PPC fraud is going to be one of the biggest concerns for any company.

Beyond being out of pocket, there are other ways that click fraud and ad fraud can cause problems to your marketing campaign.

Being knocked down the search engine result pages, or worse still, completely off them, is going to mean a lot of missed opportunities.

If click fraud is effective, and it uses up your daily budget, your target audience won’t see your ad.

Even if the money gets refunded down the line, it is a case of missed opportunities.

How many potential customers may have seen your ad and clicked on it that day?

That’s an income that can’t be replaced even if you do get the fraudulent ad spend replaced.

For businesses that focus the majority of their marketing on PPC advertising, this disruption can cause a knock-on effect on their business development.

Small businesses and startups increasingly rely on PPC advertising in important phases, such as product launches or for seasonal peaks.

Being hit for anything up to 20% of your marketing budget is one thing, but it’s the loss of income that will be much more important for most.

So How Much Is Click Fraud Costing My Business?

This depends on your industry and ad spend.

Ilan Missulawin, CMO of ClickCease, says, “We find that across all our accounts, most clients see anything between 4-20% of their PPC ads are subjected to fraud.”

It’s hard to define an average amount that companies spend on PPC ads, with the range running from $1,000 a month to $50,000 a month or more.

By some estimates, U.S.-based law firms spend anything up to $100,000 on ads each month.

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Online gambling sites will spend multiples of hundreds of thousands monthly on PPC advertising, with some of the most lucrative potential returns.

Taking an average of 15% off those totals, and it becomes obvious why this form of fraud is so popular.

So, if you’re working with a monthly marketing budget of $20,000, you can reasonably expect that around $3,000 of that is going to the fraudsters.

“Most companies are subject to some level of click fraud on their Google or Bing Ads, it’s just a case of how much,” Missulawin says. “It’s not always constant or consistent, but it happens, and much more regularly than people may think.”

Although there have been some recent cases of large advertisers suing fraudsters, in general, the practice of ad fraud isn’t one that is being tackled.

In fact, the stats for Google ad fraud have been consistent for years, and despite the odd closure of a click farm or fraudulent operation shut down, there are limited restrictions legally.

So what click fraud or ad fraud protection processes are in place currently?

What Are the Advertisers Doing to Tackle Fraud on PPC Ads?

Google attempts to fix issues with invalid clicks.

For some repeat clicks, or clicks from obvious fraudulent sources, Google automatically blocks these and will automatically issue a refund (although this can take time).

If you spot something that you think is fraudulent on your Google Ads you can raise this with their customer support for processing.

However, the definition and analysis of what makes an invalid click may be part of the issue here.

Google doesn’t focus on creating anti-click fraud software and, in fact, some issues that should be identified as fraudulent can often be missed.

The same applies to Bing, Facebook, Taboola, Outbrain, et al.

The way sources of clicks are identified is where the problems can start. Google treats each visit from each IP address as a unique occasion.

So if you have a cellphone that clicks on your ads in one location, then uses a VPN or logs on to a different wifi network and clicks again, it will look like a new visitor.

Organized click fraud often has processes to mask or change IP addresses regularly, making it hard for Google’s algorithms to keep up.

What Can I Do to Beat Click Fraudsters?

When it comes to avoiding click fraud, software solutions like ClickCease are without a doubt the easiest way to deal with everything that comes your way.

There are methods you can use to do it yourself too, so we’ll take a quick look at both options.

See also  Google to sunset Message Extensions in Google Ads

Anti-Click Fraud Software

There are plenty of choices, but ClickCease is the industry-leading option for good reason.

How does it work?

ClickCease assigns each device that clicks on your ads a unique device ID which helps to identify patterns of fraudulent activity.

This means that even if that IP address is changed, it’ll be clear that a specific device is a repeat visitor.

When it comes to botnets and click farms, ClickCease also keeps a blacklist of suspicious sources, so if there is a shady character doing the rounds you’ll be able to block them.

Using software such as ClickCease also saves you a lot of time doing the fiddly things that come as part of the manual option.

And, with a handy visual dashboard, you can view things like fraudulent sources locations, times, most affected campaigns and even get an overview of the type of traffic clicking on your ads.

For advertisers running multiple campaigns on Google or Bing, or for any business with a high cost-per-click, ClickCease will likely save you time, money, and stress.

The Manual Option

You don’t have to pay to block click fraud and ad fraud on your Google Ads or Microsoft Advertising networks.

Tweaking the settings in your Ads dashboard will limit your exposure, but be warned, with increasingly sophisticated techniques being deployed, these are not 100% guaranteed to work.

  • Timing: If you run your ads 24/7, look at when is the most effective time to run your ads and limit your chances of exposure to fraud.
  • Location: Target specific areas, the more specific the better. Also, try and exclude locations where you think fraud on your ads may happen.
  • Negative keywords: Fraudsters often target quite broad search terms, so get specific with your keyword tagging and don’t be afraid to use negative keywords.
  • Monitor ads daily: Make sure to regularly check your ads for suspicious IP addresses and activity. Spikes in activity but without corresponding conversions may indicate fraud in your ads.

Ready to Beat Click Fraud?

If you think your Google or Microsoft Ads are being targeted by ad fraud or click fraud, you can check for free using ClickCease.

Simply sign up for their 7-day free trial, register your site and your ad campaigns, and get a look at what’s really happening.

Eliminate PPC fraud on your ads and take back control over your marketing spend.

Sign up for your free 7-day ClickCease trial here.

The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

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Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

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Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

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Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

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Survey says: Amazon, Google more trusted with your personal data than Apple is

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MacRumors reveals that more people feel better with their personal data in the hands of Amazon and Google than Apple’s. Companies that the public really doesn’t trust when it comes to their personal data include Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram.

The survey asked over 1,000 internet users in the U.S. how much they trusted certain companies such as Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon to handle their user data and browsing activity responsibly.

Amazon and Google are considered by survey respondents to be more trustworthy than Apple

Those surveyed were asked whether they trusted these firms with their personal data “a great deal,” “a good amount,” “not much,” or “not at all.” Respondents could also answer that they had no opinion about a particular company. 18% of those polled said that they trust Apple “a great deal” which topped the 14% received by Google and Amazon.

However, 39% said that they trust Amazon  by “a good amount” with Google picking up 34% of the votes in that same category. Only 26% of those answering said that they trust Apple by “a good amount.” The first two responses, “a great deal” and “a good amount,” are considered positive replies for a company. “Not much” and “not at all” are considered negative responses.

By adding up the scores in the positive categories,

Apple tallied a score of 44% (18% said it trusted Apple with its personal data “a great deal” while 26% said it trusted Apple “a good amount”). But that placed the tech giant third after Amazon’s 53% and Google’s 48%. After Apple, Microsoft finished fourth with 43%, YouTube (which is owned by Google) was fifth with 35%, and Facebook was sixth at 20%.

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Rounding out the remainder of the nine firms in the survey, Instagram placed seventh with a positive score of 19%, WhatsApp was eighth with a score of 15%, and TikTok was last at 12%.

Looking at the scoring for the two negative responses (“not much,” or “not at all”), Facebook had a combined negative score of 72% making it the least trusted company in the survey. TikTok was next at 63% with Instagram following at 60%. WhatsApp and YouTube were both in the middle of the pact at 53% followed next by Google and Microsoft at 47% and 42% respectively. Apple and Amazon each had the lowest combined negative scores at 40% each.

74% of those surveyed called targeted online ads invasive

The survey also found that a whopping 82% of respondents found targeted online ads annoying and 74% called them invasive. Just 27% found such ads helpful. This response doesn’t exactly track the 62% of iOS users who have used Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature to opt-out of being tracked while browsing websites and using apps. The tracking allows third-party firms to send users targeted ads online which is something that they cannot do to users who have opted out.

The 38% of iOS users who decided not to opt out of being tracked might have done so because they find it convenient to receive targeted ads about a certain product that they looked up online. But is ATT actually doing anything?

Marketing strategy consultant Eric Seufert said last summer, “Anyone opting out of tracking right now is basically having the same level of data collected as they were before. Apple hasn’t actually deterred the behavior that they have called out as being so reprehensible, so they are kind of complicit in it happening.”

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The Financial Times says that iPhone users are being lumped together by certain behaviors instead of unique ID numbers in order to send targeted ads. Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg says that the company is working to rebuild its ad infrastructure “using more aggregate or anonymized data.”

Aggregated data is a collection of individual data that is used to create high-level data. Anonymized data is data that removes any information that can be used to identify the people in a group.

When consumers were asked how often do they think that their phones or other tech devices are listening in to them in ways that they didn’t agree to, 72% answered “very often” or “somewhat often.” 28% responded by saying “rarely” or “never.”

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Google’s John Mueller on Brand Mentions via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s John Mueller was asked if “brand mentions” helped with SEO and rankings. John Mueller explained, in detail, how brand mentions are not anything used at Google.

What’s A Brand Mention?

A brand mention is when one website mentions another website. There is an idea in the SEO community that when a website mentions another website’s domain name or URL that Google will see this and count it the same as a link.

Brand Mentions are also known as an implied link. Much was written about this ten years ago after a Google patent that mentions “implied links” surfaced.

There has never been a solid review of why the idea of “brand mentions” has nothing to do with this patent, but I’ll provide a shortened version later in this article.

John Mueller Discussing Brand Mentions

John Mueller Brand Mentions

John Mueller Brand Mentions

Do Brand Mentions Help With Rankings?

The person asking the question wanted to know about brand mentions for the purpose of ranking. The person asking the question has good reason to ask it because the idea of “brand mentions” has never been definitively reviewed.

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The person asked the question:

“Do brand mentions without a link help with SEO rankings?”

Google Does Not Use Brand Mentions

Google’s John Mueller answered that Google does not use the “brand mentions” for any link related purpose.

Mueller explained:

“From my point of view, I don’t think we use those at all for things like PageRank or understanding the link graph of a website.

And just a plain mention is sometimes kind of tricky to figure out anyway.”

That part about it being tricky is interesting.

He didn’t elaborate on why it’s tricky until later in the video where he says it’s hard to understand the subjective context of a website mentioning another website.

Brand Mentions Are Useful For Building Awareness

Mueller next says that brand mentions may be useful for helping to get the word out about a site, which is about building popularity.

Mueller continued:

“But it can be something that makes people aware of your brand, and from that point of view, could be something where indirectly you might have some kind of an effect from that in that they search for your brand and then …obviously, if they’re searching for your brand then hopefully they find you right away and then they can go to your website.

And if they like what they see there, then again, they can go off and recommend that to other people as well.”

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“Brand Mentions” Are Problematic

Later on at the 58 minute mark another person brings the topic back up and asks how Google could handle spam sites that are mentioning a brand in a negative way.

The person said that one can disavow links but one cannot disavow a “brand mention.”

Mueller agreed and said that’s one of things that makes brand mentions difficult to use for ranking purposes.

John Mueller explained:

“Kind of understanding the almost the subjective context of the mention is really hard.

Is it like a positive mention or a negative mention?

Is it a sarcastic positive mention or a sarcastic negative mention? How can you even tell?

And all of that, together with the fact that there are lots of spammy sites out there and sometimes they just spin content, sometimes they’re malicious with regards to the content that they create…

All of that, I think, makes it really hard to say we can just use that as the same as a link.

…It’s just, I think, too confusing to use as a clear signal.”

Where “Brand Mentions” Come From

The idea of “brand mentions” has bounced around for over ten years.

There were no research papers or patents to support it. “Brand mentions” is literally an idea that someone invented out of thin air.

However the “brand mention” idea took off in 2012 when a patent surfaced that seemed to confirm the idea of brand mentions.

There’s a whole long story to this so I’m just going to condense it.

There’s a patent from 2012 that was misinterpreted in several different ways because most people at the time, myself included, did not read the entire patent from beginning to end.

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The patent itself is about ranking web pages.

The structure of most Google patents consist of introductory paragraphs that discuss what the patent is about and those paragraphs are followed by pages of in-depth description of the details.

The introductory paragraphs that explain what it’s about states:

“Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs… for ranking search results.”

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Pretty much nobody read that beginning part of the patent.

Everyone focused on a single paragraph in the middle of the patent (page 9 out of 16 pages).

In that paragraph there is a mention of something called “implied links.”

The word “implied” is only mentioned four times in the entire patent and all four times are contained within that single paragraph.

So when this patent was discovered, the SEO industry focused on that single paragraph as proof that Google uses brand mentions.

In order to understand what an “implied link” is, you have to scroll all the way back up to the opening paragraphs where the Google patent authors describe something called a “reference query” that is not a link but is nevertheless used for ranking purposes just like a link.

What Is A Reference Query?

A reference query is a search query that contains a reference to a URL or a domain name.

The patent states:

“A reference query for a particular group of resources can be a previously submitted search query that has been categorized as referring to a resource in the particular group of resources.”

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Elsewhere the patent provides a more specific explanation:

“A query can be classified as referring to a particular resource if the query includes a term that is recognized by the system as referring to the particular resource.

…search queries including the term “example.com” can be classified as referring to that home page.”

The summary of the patent, which comes at the beginning of the document, states that it’s about establishing which links to a website are independent and also counting reference queries and with that information creating a “modification factor” which is used to rank web pages.

“…determining, for each of the plurality of groups of resources, a respective count of reference queries; determining, for each of the plurality of groups of resources, a respective group-specific modification factor, wherein the group-specific modification factor for each group is based on the count of independent links and the count of reference queries for the group;”

The entire patent largely rests on those two very important factors, a count of independent inbound links and the count of reference queries. The phrases reference query and reference queries are used 39 times in the patent.

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As noted above, the reference query is used for ranking purposes like a link, but it’s not a link.

The patent states:

“An implied link is a reference to a target resource…”

It’s clear that in this patent, when it mentions the implied link, it’s talking about reference queries, which as explained above simply means when people search using keywords and the domain name of a website.

Idea of Brand Mentions Is False

The whole idea of “brand mentions” became a part of SEO belief systems because of how that patent was misinterpreted.

But now you have the facts and know why “brand mentions” is not real thing.

Plus John Mueller confirmed it.

“Brand mentions” is something completely random that someone in the SEO community invented out of thin air.

Citations

Ranking Search Results Patent

Watch John Mueller discuss “brand mentions” at 44:10 Minute Mark and the brand Mentions second part begins at the 58:12 minute mark

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