ClickForensics Forms Group to Speed Curbs on Click Fraud

Search for “stop click fraud” on Google and you’ll end up with a slew of paid listings from vendors selling auditing software that claims to do just that. One of those firms promising to identify phony clicks, ClickForensics, has formed an organization comprised of advertisers and agencies who want to get a grip on the problem.

According to ClickForensics, it is participating in the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Click Measurement Working Group, and hopes its efforts help facilitate IAB measurement guidelines dealing specifically with Pay-Per-Click (PPC) search advertising.

“It would have been nice to have the [IAB] initiative started earlier, but it’s good that it’s going now,” commented ClickForensics CEO Tom Cuthbert.

The new council will be moderated by recently-named ClickForensics Board Advisor Kevin Embree, and is set to meet quarterly. Embree was appointed to the position earlier this month, being charged with developing guidelines and standards in conjunction with the IAB initiative. Embree previously headed up eBay’s anti-phishing efforts.

“I’m disappointed that it’s taken this long to get search to the forefront [of IAB initiatives],” lamented Jason Clement, associate director of SEM at Carat Fusion, who will co-chair the new Click Quality Council. “It’s a great idea to get mostly advertisers and a few agencies in to start discussing [click fraud],” he suggested. He argued the importance of having input beyond the world of publishers, in order to “get the perspective of folks that are doing a lot of the buying.” The IAB’s members are mainly Web publishers.

“We feel a responsibility…to represent [advertisers’] thoughts and concerns in this process as standards are developed,” stressed Cuthbert. ClickForensics monitors ad campaigns for click fraud on behalf of more than 2,500 advertisers and agencies. In addition to providing “a place for candid feedback,” he said the council’s goal will be to help define click fraud, something that has yet to be accomplished in a way that’s accepted industry-wide.

“The fundamental issue is we don’t have industry-wide agreement on what is a click,” said Greg Jarboe, spokesperson for the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO). “So the question is, if I click on an ad and I come back a few minutes later and I click on it again, is it click fraud [or an expression of interest]?”

Last December, SEMPO reported that three times the number of online advertisers and SEM firms said click fraud was a serious issue as compared to the year before. The group is now working with analytics firm Fair Isaac Corporation to assess the current state of click fraud and help arrive at a solution. Fair Isaac has a history of working with financial services clients to deal with credit card fraud.

Several factors have contributed to what some see as sluggish movement towards both defining and reducing click fraud. For one, some think search engines and publishers earning ad revenue from paid search ads have a stake in downplaying the scope of the problem. When Outsell claimed in July that advertisers have lost $800 million to fraudulent PPC search ads, it didn’t take long for Google to release a paper which singled out the research firm as hyping the issue, and stated, “to date, we have not yet discovered a single legitimate vulnerability as the result of a third-party click fraud auditing report.”

Carat’s Clement also suggested agencies and advertisers have not taken strong enough positions on click fraud, in part because they outsource search engine advertising to SEM firms.

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