Google Puts Clickfraud Rate At Under 2 Percent

Andy Beal over at MarketingPilgrim has a nice article on how Google’s click fraud rate is less than two percent, at least according to Google’s own figures. This is based off the "invalid" click rate that Google gave him, which includes click fraud and clicks that aren’t actually billed. I could have sworn that Google had given this type of invalid rate before but can’t track that down — so that definitely seems new. The idea that Google self-reports a click fraud rate far below that of some third party estimates is definitely not. Here’s a dive into Andy’s article, along with some other reports for context.

Andy talked with Google’s Shuman Ghosemajumder, business product manager for trust & safety, about click fraud detection. Shuman explained that a chunk of all clicks are considered "invalid" and not charged to advertisers. Indeed, back in July, Google made it possible (and also see here) for advertisers to see exactly the percentage of invalid clicks that Google was screening.

Not all invalid clicks are fraudulent clicks. For example, someone "double clicking" quickly on an ad would cause the second click to be deemed invalid, and the advertiser wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be billed (see About invalid clicks from Google for more on this). But some of those invalid clicks are fraudulent, people trying to make money by clicking on things like their own AdSense ads or trying to hurt competitors by clicking on their links.

A portion of fraudulent clicks are NOT caught by Google’s filtering. That’s a known fact, given that Google itself issues refunds. What’s the percentage? Google doesn’t say. Plenty have asked, such as when I asked Google CEO Eric Schmidt about it earlier this year:

Danny: Google must know the rate of click fraud that is escaping [you], or have some real estimates, but we never see numbers. It’s fair to say Yahoo! doesn’t give me a number either. Yahoo! will say "we’re better than industry standards." And I’ll say "what are you at?" [And they say] "Well, we’re better than industry standards."

Eric: Just so you know, last week we announced a program where our advertisers can see our estimate of the click fraud rate. So that’s an example, and hopefully a good response to your question. To the degree that our systems can detect click fraud, which is a very serious problem, we detect it. We believe we have it under control. We believe that that is getting better. And so we’re trying to get advertisers more of a sense of how it’s working within the limits of how our systems work.

Danny: That’s a great example, because on the one hand, that is more transparent— but then what you don’t tell us is, here’s the total amount of money that was spent, here’s the total amount of money we issued in refunds for click fraud that got past our system. You do the math, that’s your rate.

Google has said click fraud is in the single digits on average, so at worst, less than 10 percent. That brings us to Andy’s post today. He was shown a chart listing the various ways that invalid clicks are filtered, with bars in proportion to the amount of invalid clicks detected. Looking at the small bar of "requested investigations" — the percentage of invalid clicks investigated because Google itself has not flagged them — he asked if this was in the one to two percent range. Shuman wouldn’t give him a figure but did say Andy’s estimate was either near those amounts or that they were less.

So to be clear, two percent of all clicks are investigated by Google as being possibly fraudulent after billing has happened. Some amount of fraudulent clicks, of course, are never reported. That will take the figure up. However, some amount of the investigated clicks will be cleared of fraud, taking the amount down.

Of course, instead of this guesswork, Google could really be transparent and do exactly as suggested above — report how much money it pays out in refunds for clicks deemed to be fraudulent. That would form the basis of a real, self-reported rate from Google. By the way, Yahoo could do the same.

Yahoo made much play when announcing its own clickfraud settlement that it was found to have a clickfraud rate below the "industry estimates." These are estimates that I’m fairly certain Yahoo had previously said were inflated. Google certainly has said that. I asked Yahoo if they were found to be so good, why not just publish their actual clickfraud rate. Like Google, they declined.

For more on the internals of click fraud at Google, see my past article The Abridged Version: Independent Report On Google’s Click Fraud Detection Practices, which has an expert witness in the click fraud case that Google settled examining the click fraud detection system over time, 47 pages of examination!

For the issue of why Google disagrees with higher estimates third party firms have given, you can see this post Google made back in August that took aim at some companies. Fair to say, some of those companies don’t agree with Google. A recent estimate came out in October that prompted Google to state again that the reports were "considerably" more than it sees internally.

Postscript: See also Revisiting Google’s 2 Percent Or Less Click Fraud Rate

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Legal: Clickfraud

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://seowebmaster.com/ இ Search Engines WEB

    There has to be some significant correlation between …THE AMOUNT OF TIME, spent on a landing page, and the liklihood of it being click fraud, especially if there was no navigation to other links within a site.

    There are a number of sophisticated trackers that display both the exact time spent – in seconds – for every visitor/ per visit – as well as the navigation paths they took within the site, as well as to external links (if there were any)

    Webmasters could use their own cumulative statistics when confronting Google with their suspiscions.

  • Strayinma

    Watching this conversation was the best part of SES San Jose. Tough questions on click fraud, and strong final statements.

    I’m shocked and in complete disbelief of Google’s recent claim that, after filtering, just 2% of total clicks are fraudulent. I would like to hear what percent of Google’s revenue this 2% of click spam receives and am in favor of Google publishing post it’s refunds each month.

    Perhaps it would be more believable to post *too* much information; and, it would be a great follow-up act to the forward thinking (CYA) manuever of providing Spam amounts to advertisers to thwart questions to Google about being idle on click fraud.

    I, for one, would enjoy knowing all clicks, spam clicks, revenues, payouts, chargebacks and refunds that Google records and is booking. And I would like to know the keywords, referring domains and IP addresses of the spammers — including those found by the automatic filter AND from “requested investigations.”

    Then, I expect Google to stand by it’s data and unapolegetically ban these sites and IP addresses from affecting the campaign. Further, in addition to refunds, keyword CPC should be lowered to the minimum for these keywords. Then I might be slightly more satisfied with Google’s fight to end click fraud.

    Google spokespersons are obviously telling us the clicks (and, therefore, refunds and chargebacks?) will be as insignificant as the % of spam clicks. Reducing the clicks will have nominal effect on their traffic; so, Google should also be as casual on losing the revenue that these clicks generate.

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