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Does LinkedIn Have an Invalid Click Problem?

  |  March 16, 2012   |  Comments

Just like with PPC search, you have to be aware of the issues of click quality on your social platforms.

If you're marketing to businesses (B2B) or simply marketing to businesspeople (for example, it may make sense for a golf or automotive advertiser to target businesspeople), then you may want to consider not just Google, and Microsoft's adCenter, but the non-search social platforms for CPC. In particular, you may want to consider LinkedIn and Facebook. Yet, just like PPC search, you have to be aware of the issues of click quality.

Last month, LinkedIn sent the below message to advertisers, including myself. I got the letter on February 28 and the subject line was: "Refund notice regarding your LinkedIn Ads account." The letter may have gone out to all LinkedIn advertisers or only those with audience extension turned on, or perhaps only a small group of advertisers. How many advertisers got the refund letter, I don't know, but Robert Fleming, CEO of the eMarketing Association who uses LinkedIn to drive conference attendance, mentioned to me that he got a refund letter too, so it can't just have been me. A copy of my letter follows.

We've recently identified and blocked an external entity that was generating invalid clicks on ads served on LinkedIn's site (www.linkedin.com). A small portion of the advertising impressions, including yours, were impacted for a short duration of time as a result of this incident. As such, we are refunding all amounts that were charged to your LinkedIn Ads account caused by this event. We've refunded the below amount to your credit card.

Refund Amount

US $$ [deleted the amount and yes, they put two dollar signs in there ;-)]

You will be able to access this information on your Purchase History in your LinkedIn account.

We strive to make sure that our LinkedIn Ads platform is as secure as possible. Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you for being a valuable LinkedIn member.


The LinkedIn Team

The letter above especially calls out an external entity that was "generating invalid clicks on ads served on LinkedIn's site." Bots and crawlers can have a material impact on the number of invalid clicks that occur on any ad. The IAB and the industry have been aware of the threat of bots and spiders for many years, and the IAB even provides publishers with an "IAB/ABCe International Spiders & Bots List," but even publishers using the IAB list often supplement the list with their own internal lists or license lists from third-party providers. Bots can hit ads for a variety of purposes. Some are simply sloppy coding by a college student thinking about building the next Google, other bots are written in an attempt to harvest advertiser lists or advertiser data. Similarly, toolbars or browser applications (plug-ins, toolbars, or helper apps) can be poorly coded and interact with ads and content in a way that generates invalid clicks. Even viruses and malware can generate clicks. Those forms of clicks that originate from user machines are particularly challenging to filter and require better algorithms, because at first glance the clicks look normal, coming from a diversity of IP addresses and computer types.

PPC search has had its challenges with invalid clicks, and when publisher networks are involved, the sub-category of fraudulent clicks. Google even settled a class action lawsuit regarding click fraud. Advertisers have differing opinions as to what percentage of clicks they are paying for within Google and Microsoft platforms. Similarly, advertisers on Facebook have differing opinions on the level of invalid click activity that makes it into their invoices. You'll often see more clicks in your site from a publisher than your invoice states, as the publisher filters clicks. The question becomes whether the publisher did a good job filtering the clicks or not. Some advertisers think that invalid (or fraudulent clicks) are simply a cost of doing business online. Others think that the publishers do a great job, and some advertisers believe that the publishers actually pad results with a certain number of billed invalid clicks because they are a way to inflate revenue. Display advertisers have a similar set of opinions around invalid display ad impressions, but that's a different story for a different day.

The IAB and many of its members as well as the Media Rating Council (MRC) have been fairly active in making sure that through definitions of industry standards and an audit process, advertisers can trust in the fact that the systems and processes of those publishers who have been audited have met at least the minimum industry guidelines and standards. The concerns of early PPC advertisers had a lot to do with the IAB taking a stance on click quality.

Do you think LinkedIn has a problem with invalid clicks that goes beyond the refunds you may or may not have received at the end of February? If so, tweet me or contact me. I'd love to learn about it.

In the meantime, use LinkedIn if the ads are working for you, or even try LinkedIn if you've never tested its platform, but as with any form of online media, test it, measure it, reconcile it, and watch for evidence that you may not be getting what you pay for, or use your agency to act as your advocate and technology stack.


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Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee, Didit cofounder and executive chairman, has been an acknowledged search engine marketing expert since 1995. His years of SEM expertise provide the foundation for Didit's proprietary Maestro search campaign technology. The company's unparalleled results, custom strategies, and client growth have earned it recognition not only among marketers but also as part of the 2007 Inc 500 (No. 137) as well as three-time Deloitte's Fast 500 placement. Kevin's latest book, "Search Engine Advertising" has been widely praised.

Industry leadership includes being a founding board member of SEMPO and its first elected chairman. "The Wall St. Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," Bloomberg, CNET, "USA Today," "San Jose Mercury News," and other press quote Kevin regularly. Kevin lectures at leading industry conferences, plus New York, Columbia, Fordham, and Pace universities. Kevin earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1992 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, a New York psychologist and children.

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