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Click fraud has always been an issue for advertisers using paid search, but for many, it has been considered a cost of doing business.

So long as campaigns are profitable, worrying about click fraud hasn't always seemed like a priority.

But according to Click Forensics, the scourge of click fraud continues to grow and in Q4 2008, its Click Fraud Index, which tracks paid search campaigns across a network of search engines and advertisers, recorded its highest overall click fraud rate ever: 17.1%.

The click fraud rate for Google AdSense and the Yahoo Publisher Network was 28.2%, up from Q3 2008 but down slightly from the same quarter a year ago.

The most disturbing statistic: botnets accounted for 31.4% of fraudulent clicks, an increase of nearly 10% from Q4 2007. Because click fraud originating from botnets is often much more difficult (and sometimes impossible) to detect, their use is a troubling statistic. Google and Yahoo will definitely need to step up their game when it comes to fighting this type of fraud since it has the potential to wreak havoc if it continues to grow out of control.

But a tough economy brings out less sophisticated scammers too and some are using old techniques to cheat advertisers. Click Forensics' president, Tom Cuthbert, stated that "we’ve started to see old schemes like click farms reemerge" and advised advertisers to be on the lookout for these types of threats.

Of course, the continued march of click fraud is not surprising but in these tough economic times when every dollar counts, search advertisers will need to be even more vigilant and should watch their campaigns like a hawk.

Patricio Robles

Published 28 January, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (1)

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...ianb

Interesting highlights, from a company that benefits from paranoia. I think we need to read the quoted values in this light :-).

The web is based upon trust and so easy to subvert for financial gain. That's life and you just have to accept that unless you are prepared to accept change. Harsh perhaps but true.

Botnet's are clearly technically interesting (to some people) but often they tend to leave fingerprints which clever software can try and recognise. Perhaps that's why these are popping up as the most worrying (they are starting to see these now).

I would suggest that, depending upon the situation, client side highjacking is still the largest growing threat. This ranges from simplistic Jascript/AJAX attacks to applets deployed within applications such as facebook. With these it is possible to hide from detection fairly effectively without too much effort.

On a positive perspective I would suggest that the people behind this tend to get caught for a very simple reason - they get greedy :-). The reward is a lot higher than a job at click forensics ;-).

search advertisers do need to be more vigilant and I would suggest a watchword is believe no-one except the bank account balance. Even site conversion statistics can be spoofed (or made and cancelled using click farming techniques).

almost 8 years ago

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