Google and click fraud: As wholesome as milk?

In “Microsoft vs. Google: Who wins,” I put forth that Google is winning the PR battle, hands down, trumping Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL…in mainstream media.

In “Microsoft vs. Google: Who wins,” I put forth that Google is winning the PR battle, hands down, trumping Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL…in mainstream media.

Google also is playing a good PR game in the blogosphere, as evidenced by today’s marketing pitch for Google’s “rigorous filters” against click fraud, presented courtesy of the (aptly named) “Marketing Pilgrim” blog.

Google point-man on click fraud is Shuman Ghosemajumder. His Power Point slide “proof” of how click fraud through Google can not be more than a “fraction of one percent!” of activity apparently so bowled over the “Marketing Pilgrim” that a custom carton of fresh Google AdWords “milk” was designed in honor of Google’s purported: "2% click fraud, four levels of filtration, 98% filtered."

Just as consumers rely on third party regulatory oversight for verification of milk freshness, however, so must Google AdWords customers demand third party oversight of Goggle’s accounting for clicks, as I have often underscored at this Digital Markets blog.

I have spoken at length with Ghosemajumder, sans Power Point slides. The opportunity to go beyond formulaic public relations statements yielded interesting tidbits of insight into how Google accounts for valid vs. invalid clicks and on its mechanisms for detecting “fraudsters,” as I report in “Google ‘gift’ to advertisers: ‘Free’ Google employee clicks.”

I also note however, the double speak nature of Google’s click fraud stance:

According to Google, its advertisers are charged for “valid clicks,” but not for “invalid clicks.” A straightforward analysis of Google’s accounting for clicks, therefore, ought to start with definitions: What is the definition of a “valid click” and what is the definition of an “invalid click.”

Clarity is difficult to come by, however, as Google often publicly defines the two terms simply in relation to each other.

I asked Google for the definition of an “invalid click.” Google’s base response: “Any click Google doesn’t charge for.” A “valid click,” in Google’s view, therefore, is one that Google charges for.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) believes that there should be a standardized accounting for clicks, not simply company-specific ones.


I interviewed Greg Stuart, IAB President, on its Industry-wide Click Measurement Working Group aimed at creating a set of Click Measurement Guidelines, as I present in “Interactive Advertising Bureau CEO on click fraud in ‘Real Deal’ exclusive interview.”


He told me: 

Click Measurement Guidelines will provide consistency in measurement. When you pay for a click you will know you are paying for the same damn thing wherever you buy it. Now, there is no ability for that, without the guidelines. 


The IAB is partnering with the Media Ratings Council (MRC) to reinforce its Click Measurement Guidelines efforts with mechanisms for independent auditing against the measurement guidelines.


I interviewed the MRC President, George Ivie, as I present in “Media Rating Council: Click audits support advertiser ‘Bill of Rights’”. 


Ivie told me he likens the MRC and IAB joint effort to establish click measurement standards and mechanisms for independent auditing against the measurement guidelines as the development of a “Bill of Rights” for the interactive industry guaranteeing all parties transparency and accountability.


What is the bottom line?


The IAB and the MRC have called for advertisers, agencies and marketers to “let their providers know about their needs as customers, about needs for auditing and certification,” and so have I, since last August when I heard Ghosemajumder at the SES conference in San Jose.


SEE "Google, Yahoo click fraud audits: When will advertisers demand them?"


The cold, hard facts of search engine Pay Per Click advertiser agreements trump Google and Yahoo public relations bravado aiming to mollify advertisers into accepting, at face value, search engine claims that invoiced charges are justified.


Search engine Pay Per Click charges will never be transparent, unless search engines allow for third party independent auditing of advertiser accounts so that advertisers will actually know if they are getting what they are being charged for, or not.


Google and Yahoo do not believe advertisers have the right to secure independent audits of their invoiced charges.


It is up to advertisers to defend their own interests and demand that Google and Yahoo allow for third party, independent auditing for click fraud, of their charges to advertisers.


After all, why wouldn’t advertisers want to increase ROI even more?