Stealing Clicks

Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg recently published a story with dueling perspectives from my friend Shuman, of Google, and me highlighting our differing views of the click fraud problem. It got me thinking about how far the community has come toward solving the click fraud problem and how far we still have to go.

It was just a little over a year ago when search engine giants – Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft – publicly pronounced their support for the development of industry standards for measuring click fraud with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Around the same time they also promised to work directly with third-party click fraud auditors on solutions to the click fraud problem. Although many were skeptical at the time, we thought these promises were important steps in the right direction. After all, just a few months earlier search engines, like Google, labeled click fraud “immaterial.”

Looking back, however, it’s clear not much has been done by search engines to turn these two important promises to advertisers into action. The standards development process, which we also joined to help ensure the voice of advertisers was heard, has lumbered along. We’re still waiting for the IAB to deliver its recommendations for click fraud measurement standards and open them up for public comment. We’re also waiting for Google and the other search engines to work with third-parties. While they have launched traffic quality resource centers and done lots of talking, there has been little meaningful action.  

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, traffic in the publisher networks (including Google AdSense) is abysmal.  Over 70% of the sites that make up these networks are made-for-ad sites or parked domains. Well over 60% of the traffic from these types of sites is traffic advertisers should not be paying for.  Instead, advertisers should be actively excluding poor performing sites and avoiding low quality ad networks.  But it’s is daunting without the help of search engines.  Knowing which ones to exclude is a dynamic process that is tough to do when your information is limited.

So the question is, why the delay by search engines on all these fronts? There are many possible reasons but I believe the main one is economic incentive. When a company doesn’t have an immediate or near-term financial incentive to change, then it won’t.  One only needs to look at the stock prices of certain search engines to see the economic incentive just isn’t there.

I do believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Advertisers are starting to pull back on their online spending because of quality issues. It’s only a matter of time before search engines feel the pinch. The spark may just well have been lit by Google’s recent success.

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Stealing Clicks

Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg - 09.24.07, 6:00 AM ET