Google Calls Click Fraud Much Ado About Nothing

As rumblings over click fraud reach a fevered pitch, the company that’s received most of the flack has put out a report dismissing much of the concern as little more than the result of shoddy accounting.

Google unveiled its “How Fictitious Clicks Occur in Third-Party Click Fraud Audit Reports” white paper yesterday during a Search Engine Strategies conference panel discussing the very issue. In it, the company claims, “to date, we have not yet discovered a single legitimate vulnerability as the result of a third-party click fraud auditing report.”

Presented by Google’s Click Quality Team, the paper identifies what Google believes to be the true causes of so-called “fictitious clicks,” or “events which are reported as fraudulent but do not appear within Google’s logs as AdWords clicks.” The company expresses concern that “erroneous information” from click fraud auditing firms has driven advertisers to change search campaign settings. Google also claims in the paper that its feedback has neither been met with positive response nor much interest from auditing firms.

The document reads, “We do believe that there is a place for third-party click auditing firms in the industry’s value chain, but only for those who can deliver real value to all stakeholders. In fact we would value having true vulnerabilities in our invalid click detection systems pointed out to us. However, to date, we have not yet discovered a single legitimate vulnerability as the result of a third-party click fraud auditing report.”

Google singles out third party click auditors AdWatcher, ClickFacts and Click Forensics, providing examples of data files in the paper that the search giant says illustrate examples of “fictitious clicks.” Research firm Outsell is also mentioned in the report as hyping the click fraud problem.

Click Forensics CEO Tom Cuthbert contended, “It’s hard to argue with [Google] when they’re looking at one pebble on a sea shore….The fact that it’s all grown to this point and that Click Forensics continues to grow, indicates to me that advertisers are not satisfied with what Google calls its ‘reasonable approach.'” The company has set up a Web site discussing the issue at

In its paper, Google provides a variety of reasons for what its deems to be misinterpreted clicks, including registering advertiser site landing page reloads as multiple clicks on their AdWords ads. Those reloaded pages, explains Google, could have occurred when a user opened a new browser window, refreshed a landing page or used the browser’s back button to revisit the landing page.

In one example shown in the paper, the company comments, “And just as with ClickFacts, Click Forensics is inflating the number of ad clicks due to an inability to distinguish between user behavior on the advertiser’s site and actual ad clicks.” Google asserts that in some cases, clicks that were labeled as fake were actually registered as real clicks in their logs and often converted at the same rate or better than other valid clicks. The paper also blames basic engineering errors and a failure of sample-based testing for inflated click fraud audits.

Google suggests that third-party auditing firms should employ its auto-tags to better distinguish between real clicks and page reloads, and include those tags in their reports. The company also notes it will work with click fraud auditors to address engineering and accounting problems.

In addition, Google plans on working with the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Click Measurement Working Group to advance solutions. According to IAB SVP, General Manager Sheryl Draizen, the newly-formed group counts Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Looksmart as its only committed members; however, “a number” of other companies have expressed interest in joining, too. Draizen added that no click fraud auditing firms are IAB members at this time.

“Clearly [click fraud] is an important issue,” stressed Draizen. “Really, as an industry I think that we have shown that we really are committed to providing marketers with the highest level of transparency.”

Zach Rodgers assisted with the reporting for this story.

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