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SES 2006: Fiery Click Fraud Session

David A. Utter
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-08-08

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The potential for click fraud to drain an advertiser's budget requires those entrepreneurs to audit their paid search ads and be aware of the impact click fraud can have.

Staff writer Doug Caverly of WebProNews filed this exclusive look at the SES 2006 San Jose session on Auditing Paid Listings & Click Fraud Issues.

Should you be wary of click fraud consultants?
Shuman Ghosemajunder thinks you have cause to be concerned:

A rigorous technical analysis by Google engineers has found fundamental flaws in the work of several click fraud consultants - flaws that help explain why widely quoted estimates of the size of the click fraud problem are exaggerated.
The pervasiveness of these problems concerns us, especially because advertisers may be hurting their businesses by changing their campaign settings based on erroneous information.

The session on Auditing Paid Listings & Click Fraud Issues included a couple of people who may have an interesting discussion on tap given Google's contention that click fraud analysis has fundamental flaws; Shuman Ghosemajunder made that claim in a Google Blog post today, and named Click Forensics as one firm that gets it wrong. Click Forensics CEO and president Tom Cuthbert participated in this session with Ghosemajunder.

(Jason Lee Miller mentioned to me that these sessions tend to get pretty animated, with advertisers and search engine reps going at each other over click fraud. Too bad Ghosemajunder's post didn't come out yesterday before the session. Any bets that he planned it that way? - David)

The panel at the session mentioned some of the recent lawsuits that have taken place over click fraud, like Google's settlement with Lane's Gifts in an Arkansas court. Lori Weiman of KeywordMax commented on a number of advertisers opting out of the $90 million Google settlement, and said it was "because we want to preserve our rights…to perhaps file out own independent lawsuits."

Yahoo is one of the defendants named in Lane's; its click fraud claim process is overseen by a federal judge. John Slade, Senior Director, Global Product Management Yahoo! Search Marketing, said defining click fraud is "a real big deal. For the entire industry, the settlement of these lawsuits is a positive development."

Ghosemajunder mentioned the posts he made to Google's Official Blog and the Inside AdWords blog, detailing Google's analysis of click fraud claims made by third parties like Click Forensics, which currently contends that fraud represents 14.1 percent of clicks.

Said Cuthbert: "We're collecting both the technical behavior . . . then we also get behavioral data. We would love to get engine data." Ghosemajunder followed that up with his observations based on Google's analysis of click fraud.

He called the numbers from another firm, Outsell, an "opinion survey" and how Outsell's survey "is not an accurate reflection at all of the problem." Ghosemajunder proceeded to describe Google's findings while criticizing the third party work:

"We're not making any judgment on what the internal dynamics have been . . ." he said, in answer to whether he thought they were intentional or unintentional. "A single legitimate click . . . has resulted in the detection of five fraudulent clicks" in one of the methodologies covered in the report. "This has resulted in implied click fraud rates . . . that are impossible, click fraud rates above 100 percent. We don't know why these basic sanity checks have not occurred…We're recommending that immediate action has to take place."

The rest of the panel were not pleased with the revelation, especially Weiman. "I'd like to read this study that you came out with," she said. "We only report on the first click that occurs on the first landing page."

Ghosemajunder told her that Google had not reviewed her firm. "We haven't covered your system," Shuman said to Weiman, but they have covered others. "I'm not sure what methodology your system is using, but we actually provide demonstrations" of what is in the report.

Cuthbert said: "I will stand behind our methodology. I'm really looking forward to reading your report, and I'm glad that we're in it. That's pretty cool." (UPDATE!; Looks like Cuthbert was ready to launch the first shot, with Reasonable Is Not Enough, but got pre-empted by Ghosemajunder.)

(A later comment by Ghosemajunder during the session is interesting. "We're not saying that their methodology is flawed . . ." Shuman says. He calls the subject of the report "a completely different issue" than going after the methodology.

But in the post on Inside AdWords, he writes of flaws in the methodology of all three firms studied in the analysis (which would include Click Forensics) and also cited "evidence of the consultants' defective methodology." - David)

The proceedings became a little antagonistic between Ghosemajunder and Weiman, as well as between Ghosemajunder and Jessie Stricchiola. Moderator Jeffrey Rhors suggested a hand-holding round of "Kumbiyah" as the audience enjoyed the combative discourse.


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About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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