I spoke at length yesterday with Shuman Ghosemajumder, Google’s Business Product Manager, Trust & Safety, about “click fraud.” 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.” Barry Schnitt, Google spokesperson, was also on the phone.
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.
Google’s AdWords policies characterize “invalid clicks” as “clicks generated by prohibited methods.”
What are the prohibited methods? Google’s non-exhaustive listing states “repeated manual clicking or the use of robots, automated clicking tools, or other deceptive software.”
GOOGLE PROHIBITED CLICKS ANALYSIS
Google told me it relies on two principal automated methods of analysis to uncover prohibited click activity:
1) Pattern Recognition Analysis of click sequence for signs of a malicious pattern to drive up an advertiser's clicks and or a publisher's earnings.
2) Statistical Anomaly Analysis to detect abnormal network behavior based on historical metrics.
GOOGLE REPORTING OF INVALID CLICKS TO ADVERTISERS
Google recently added an “invalid clicks” column option to AdWords customers’ “performance” reports.
Google announced the feature in the name of transparency and puts forth that it enables advertisers to “have a much more detailed picture of invalid click activity in their account.”
Google AdWords describes the purpose of the reporting:
You can now run Campaign Performance and Account Performance reports featuring the number and percentage of invalid clicks that have been determined to be invalid and automatically filtered out by the AdWords system.
You are not charged for these clicks – the system's sophisticated detection and filtering techniques have identified these as invalid clicks and prevented them from being charged to your account.
Google’s disclosure to advertisers of the number of clicks it has determined to be invalid within advertisers accounts serves to support Google’s contention that it has the click fraud problem ”under control.” Google’s reporting on its own determinations of the validity of clicks within advertisers’ accounts, however, does not provide a direct means for Google advertisers to audit Google’s “valid” click charges with the goal of assessing if “invalid” clicks were incorrectly determined by Google to be “valid.”
GOOGLE INITIATED CLICKS ON GOOGLE ADS
Google and its employees click on Google ads for a variety of reasons, both professional and personal:
1) Automated load testing of Google advertising system; 2) Manual, ad hoc verification to “make sure that everything was working”; 3) Personal interest in advertiser offerings.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt revealed last month at the Search Engine Strategies conference that he clicks on Google ads “all the time”:
I do it all the time, probably because I want to make sure that everything was working. But I purchase a lot of stuff online. And now with Certified by Google, if I can get a plug in for that service, we actually have a system where my credentials, my credit card and address and so forth and so on are stored at Google. You can click on the advertiser and you can immediately purchase the product.
Google told me that Google automatically pre-filters out clicks on ads emanating from Google IP addresses so that the clicks are not deemed to have occurred for accounting purposes.
Ghosemajumder proudly noted that in fact Google advertisers are actually receiving certain clicks "free" from Google. Apparently, when the Google CEO does his online shopping via Google Checkout, his clicks on the “Certified by Google” ads are cost-free "gifts" to the advertisers.