We're hiring

We love digital - Call
03332 207 677
and say hello - Mon - Fri, 9am - 5pm

Call 03332 207 677

Stephen Logan

Should Search Engines Do More to Tackle Click Fraud?

20th May 2010 Paid Search 3 minutes to read

With Microsoft in the US courts tackling alleged click fraud from RedOrbit Inc. we look at whether more can be done to stop click fraud from happening and should search engines be more proactive in tackling it?

Click fraud has always been a blight to paid search. It costs businesses millions of pounds every year whilst helping to boost the coffers of the fraudsters and hosting search engine. Whilst the likes of Google and Microsoft have publically taken strides in rooting out the perpetrators and make it more difficult to defraud customers, there is an unavoidable incentive for them to avoid stamping it out entirely. Profits.

Yesterday it was announced that Microsoft had filed two cases against RedOrbit Inc. for allegedly developing a sophisticated click fraud campaign, which saw their own site visitors increase dramatically [see: Microsoft Sues Over Online Advertising ‘Click Fraud’ | Bloomberg]. The claim suggests this automated scheme has cost adCenter users hundreds of thousands of dollars. This case highlights two possible issues.

Firstly, it shows that the search engines are trying to clamp down on click fraud; a good thing. Secondly, that click fraud methods are becoming increasingly sophisticated; not quite as good.

But should click fraud really be seen as unavoidable? Who should be responsible for preventing click fraud? Paid search operators, advertisers or lawmakers across the world?

Microsoft clearly feel like they have a strong case in this particular instance. They have detected irregularities and amassed a certain amount of evidence to link them to one source. Unfortunately this is largely an exception to the rule.

But with over 10% of all clicks still from fraudulent sources, are the search engines really doing enough away from these showcase trials? As already mentioned, it is something of a double edged sword for them. With more clicks come higher profits. However, if customers become disgruntled they stand to lose them, which impacts future income.

Advertisers are still encouraged to report when they believe their campaigns are being targeted by click fraud [see: Do You Suspect Click Fraud? Here’s a Simple Solution…]. However, it isn’t always that simple to differentiate fraud from regular clicks. Some identifiers include clumps of clicks from a region and regular visitors from a single server. But shouldn’t Google, Yahoo and Microsoft be doing this work for you?

PPC isn’t perfect unfortunately. But search engines have done plenty to improve standards, which has seen a marked improvement in fraud figures. But at 12.7% in Q2 last year [see: Click Fraud Figures Continue to Improve], there is still plenty that can be done to protect advertisers in what is still very much a developing platform.

Unfortunately search engines are largely victims of their own success though when it comes to policing paid search. With millions of individual campaigns live at any one time, they aren’t always able to accurately track down the low level click fraud that will be affecting many advertisers.

Until there is an active deterrent to the fraudsters themselves or a way of automatically clamping down on suspicious activity, there will always be click fraud. This leaves the search engines open to criticism. It will also mean that millions will continue to be wasted on worthless clicks.

So should they be doing more to combat click fraud? Certainly. What more can they actually do to counteract it? Well, that’s another problem entirely. As long as people are able to benefit from draining other advertisers’ budgets, they will continue to do so. Also, with (seemingly) undetectable methods being developed, risk of capture is falling and the work the search engines have to do is increasing.

Will click fraud levels ever be zero? Probably not; which is why it is still so important that you monitor you accounts for suspicious activity. If you spot anything, report it to the search engine in question immediately. They can then investigate and compensate you for any losses. The more information you can give the search engines about your fraud though, the less likely you will be subject to the same attacks in future.

This collaborative information sharing remains the best way to make it difficult for fraudsters to operate or expel them entirely. But what do you think, should the search engines step up their efforts to end click fraud? Is it fair that PPC advertisers who pay search engines still need to raise their own suspicions? Can you see any way to stamp out click fraud entirely?

Share this post

1 Comment

What do you think?

  • aspect-ratio google-adwords-analytics-attribution
    Conor Maurice

    Attribution 101: Google Analytics and AdWords

    In today’s multichannel world, there are mountains of data which provide insights into how users have interacted with your business and their path to conversion (or non-conversion). It is important to understand performance with multichannel marketing, which can be achieved through attribution modelling. Attribution refers to assigning credit to something (a channel, touchpoint, etc.) for the role it played in the final conversion. An attribution model is a rule, or set of rules, that assigns this credit correctly to the right channel or touchpoint.


    Conor Maurice
    26th Mar 2018
  • aspect-ratio bing-logo-woodsign
    Liam Huckins

    Why Bing is a Valuable Paid Media Platform

    For a long time, Bing, the UK’s second-largest search engine, has been underappreciated and, in some instances, even ignored.  Often regarded as the inferior search engine to market leader Google, Bing has historically struggled to appeal to many in the digital world. Most PPC analysts would give justified reasons for neglecting Bing for so long; these include the volume of traffic and the user experience just not matching up to Google. However, the validity of these assessments is now diminishing. Bing has grown and improved rapidly in the last couple of years; if you are not integrating it into your comprehensive digital marketing plan, you run the risk of missing out on a large portion of your chosen market and significant revenue.


    Liam Huckins
    8th Mar 2018
    Paid Search

Digital Ideas Monthly

Sign up now and get our free monthly email. It’s filled with our favourite pieces of the news from the industry, SEO, PPC, Social Media and more. And, don’t forget - it’s free, so why haven’t you signed up already?