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  Category: Articles » Internet & Online Businesses » PPC Search Engines » Article

Click Fraud and Forced Search

By Karen Barr

Over the last few years, advertising on the internet has changed in many ways. One innovation that's hanging on is the Pay-Per-Click (PPC) method used by search engines.

The basic premise is that you, the advertiser, purchase a keyword or keyphrase in the search engine. For example, if I was running a site about dieting and losing weight, I might purchase the keyword "weight loss". Naturally, this is a pretty popular search term, and many other sites will also be purchasing the term. So I set the amount I'm prepared to pay for each click, and my site will be displayed above or below other advertisers, depending on whether I've paid more or less than them.

The search engine doesn't charge me for every time my ad is displayed, only for when a searcher clicks on my ad. So I have to calculate the cost per click, versus what my expected conversion rate is (the number of times I can expect to make a sale for every time my ad is clicked) and work out my return on investment (ROI). Here's an example:
I bid $1 dollar on the search phrase "weight loss"
I can expect to make a sale to one in 10 searchers - a 10% conversion rate
So I'll be spending and average of $10 to make one sale. My product sells for $25, so I'm getting a 250% ROI - not bad.

All sounds good - apart from the spectre of click fraud. Click fraud is where you receive hits on your ad which are not down to interested searchers and potential clients - draining your advertising budget for nothing.

There are two common types of click fraud. The first is where rival websites deliberately set out to drain your budget by repeatedly clicking your ads, either through manually surfing or using software to generate thousands of hits to your ads. Because most search engines allow you to set a capped budget, once you've hit your cap, your ad will cease to display - giving your rival websites a clear shot at your market.

The second type of fraud is relevant to the PTR world. This is the nasty known as "forced search", and it is sadly quite common, probably due to many people not understanding the implications.

This type of fraud arises from search engines running affiliate programs whereby they pay people to advertise their search engine, and reward them for every "valid search" made through their engine. A valid search would be where the interested party has searched on a phrase and visited one of the websites shown in the results - thus earning the search engine its revenue from the advertiser.

It's easy to see where the problem lies: the affiliates have no real interest in drawing quality traffic to the engine, they simply want people to make valid searches, so that the affiliate gets paid. This is fine as far as it goes - but when they find a PTR program which caters specifically to this urge, we get the forced search program. This is where the program owners specifically require the members to make "valid searches" on the ads - or they don't send them mails. These programs tend to be the ones offering high amounts of cash per mail - they can afford to offer up to 5c per mail, because the advertisers will pay well for valid searches. As long as the program owner can offer a pretty good guarantee of the number of searches, the advertisers will keep coming back.

You'll be able to spot a forced search PTR program quite quickly - after a few days of joining the program, you'll start to receive mails saying things like "We're sending you this because we don't think you know how to make a valid search" or "Please remember to do a valid search if you want to remain in our active searchers group!" When I get a mail like this, I resign from a program immediately.

There are two reasons for you to steer clear of these programs - the first is altruistic and takes the long view, the second self-motivated. Firstly, you know you're assisting people to commit fraud. The advertisers paying the search engines are the ones getting their wallets drained, and you're just the bottom feeder in a chain stretching from the search engine, to the affiliate, to the PTR program owner, to you. Secondly, the search engines are getting much more aware of click fraud and are developing tools and software to stop it. People can and have been taken to court for click fraud. What do you think's going to happen when the PTR program owner is implicated? You're not going to get paid any time soon... and all that clicking and searching you did will have been a big fat waste - for everyone.
About the Author
Karen Barr is the owner and webmaster of the digital art site, Forgotten Worlds.

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