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Click fraud is a major issue when it comes to search marketing and big money is at stake.

The source of the most insidious click fraud: rogue third-party publishers who participate in PPC ad networks run by companies like Google and Yahoo and who use click fraud in an attempt to intentionally inflate their earnings.

In the absence of these third-party publishers, a large chunk of click fraud would go away, right? You'd think so but an interesting phenomenon is being reported by advertisers using Facebook's self-serve PPC ad platform: they're seeing signs of click fraud. The problem: Facebook doesn't run a network so there are no obvious third parties with a strong incentive to abuse the system.

Unlike the click fraud that usually is attempted on networks like Google AdSense, for instance, many of the advertisers having trouble with Facebook aren't disputing the legitimacy of the clicks Facebook is sending; they're disputing that the clicks even exist at all.

TechCrunch points to "scores of complaints" posted by advertisers who are baffled by the click figures that Facebook is reporting. One reported that his PPC tracking application was reporting ten times fewer clicks than Facebook's ad platform was telling him he received. I could think of a number of ways this might occur but it's all conjecture at this point.

The really bad news for Facebook advertisers: this is a real problem. Brandon McCormick, a Facebook employee, responded to the TechCrunch post and admitted that there is a problem:

Over the past few days, we have seen an increase in suspicious clicks. We have identified a solution which we have already begun to implement and expect will be completely rolled out by the end of today. In addition, we are identifying impacted accounts and will ensure that advertisers are credited appropriately.

This raises more questions than it provides answers:

  • Who is behind the Facebook click fraud and what is the motivation?
  • What methods are being used to perpetrate the click fraud?
  • When did Facebook first learn that it might be vulnerable to the scourge of click fraud?
  • Why didn't any automated fraud detection systems Facebook has in place pick up on the problem sooner?
  • How can Facebook be sure that this issue only started a few days ago? Will they go back and look at past data to see if they missed earlier incidents of fraud?

Until these questions are answered, one has to wonder if this won't turn into another impediment to Facebook's monetization.

Photo credit: jelene via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 22 June, 2009 by Patricio Robles

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

2353 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Matthew Smith

I posted a couple comments on the original TechCrunch article. You're getting close, but you're expecting too much for people to connect the dots - Facebook has been accused of inflating their advertisers' click numbers.

Their response was: 'Yes, we're a victim of "that" click fraud and now we'll clean it up and make it go away.' But no one accused them of having click bot problems. They accused them of defrauding advertisers. When I ran tests, I paid for clicks that never showed up in analytics or in my server logs. Apparently it's happening to others.

Their response did not address the original complaints. Something really stinks here and by the looks of it every website that's picked this up has bought their cooked response.

almost 7 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

The need here is to try and find a “common currency” that everyone can trust. As with non-digital currencies like dollars, pounds, euros, yens and yuans, there will always be issues of valuation to some degree, but we need to get much closer than the 1:10 indicated in your article Patricio.

I suspect that, of the fabulous “billions” of online spending indicated over recent years, a lot more than half of it emanates from small players who are taking on trust whatever the supplier makes out the component parts of that price to be. They may have a crude measure of £100 spent = £500 of business generated, but rarely will they know what a “click” in “pay-per-click” is, was or achieved. And certainly not so that they can tell that this “click” was worth nothing at all, versus this “click” which turned into 80% of my revenues for the last quarter. Nor indeed, often, that this “click” doesn’t even exist.

We spent a couple of very unhappy years using the ABCE recommended WebTrends analytics package (without tagging to try to filter robots and spiders) and it was only when I’d managed to get my Doctorate in (load of old) Analytical Statistical Sciences that we switched to extending Google Analytics to measuring our ad impressions and clicks, and ended up looking at the same numbers that our advertisers were seeing through their Google Analytics (if they had it!). Bearing in mind that we make our 100% living out of delivering targeted web traffic, so had lots of motivation to work out what was going right, and wrong, and sorting it out, whereas for most this is just a brave new world in which they are dabbling.

I then have plenty of anecdotal stuff, from quite switched-on small businesses, about thousands “wasted” on AdWords and the like, and can see even how some of the big boys implement their online strategies. And I’m not full of confidence that any of them know that much about the specifics of paying for a “click” or transferring that into business. Conversion does seem to be a “new” coming art of web marketing after all, does it not? But until we do have a reliable currency, called “The Click”, if you like, I think the whole online spend is going to have a very fragile base and be prone to disappear as fast as it arrived, to be replaced by “The Contact” maybe – as in a real person you know you met through a social/business/consumer media/space.

So then “clicks” will be as worthless as a barrow-load of old Deutschmarks, and a “contact” that we register to attend one of your webinars could be £100+?

almost 7 years ago

David Iwanow

David Iwanow, SEO Product Manager at Marktplaats.nl

My clients are starting to look seriously at Facebook as a quality ad platform as with over 200 million users to target, its not a matter of hit and miss with very accurate selection criteria to target with your ads. 

Ive done a bit of a simple breakdown of the benefits and steps how easy it can be to setup a campaign on my site covering Facebook social media campaigns.

While I agree there is no clear party who would benefit from Click Fraud at this stage, I belive it is likely to be less than the other Ad networks because of its targeted nature.  The other point is the typically size of campaigns on Facebook are still a fraction of what a client would spend on Adwords. 

One other point as to why there has been such a difference in figures reported in their web analytics package if the client is sending visitors to a Facebook group, fan page, event page or Facebook app.  It is likely that a larger portion of visitors get the required information from within Facebook and will not click onto your site. 

It depends on your purpose for running Facebook campaigns, from a demographic rich targeting option it is perfect, for branding its great and the average CPC is so much lower than Adwords its still profitable even with click fraud and low site visits.

almost 7 years ago

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