The same thought came across my mind when I signed up for a Google
Adwords account a few months ago, and posted my first advertisements.
After taking a look at some competitor advertisements, I realized that
they were probably being charged money for the clicks! I wondered if
Google Adwords counted clicks from people who had a Google Adwords
cookie in their browser.
I sent an email regarding this to Google Adwords along with the
suggestion that they should not count clicks from people who also have
a Google Adwords account. Here is the email reply I received from
Google Adwords, and it did set my concerns, as well as others related
more to your question largely to rest:
?The AdWords program is modeled after a cost-per-click approach. This
means that advertisers are charged only when their ads receive clicks.
By clicking on a competitor's ad you have indeed registered a click in
our system, charging them for that click. In turn, it is possible for
a competitor of yours to do the same. Anyone searching under your
chosen keywords without clicking will simply register an impression.
Repeated clicks on the same ad is known as 'click spamming'. We take
click spamming very seriously and work to ensure that our advertisers
are billed only for legitimate clicks. The AdWords engineering team
proactively identifies and filters fraudulent and excessive ad
impressions. Once we have identified a 'click-spammer' we take steps
to exclude future impressions from that individual on our system. We
also make sure that advertisers are not charged for clicks that result
from this type of spamming activity. Since the behavior of
clickspammers changes, we frequently update our click spam detection
to combat click spam.
It is possible that a user would legitimately click on your ad more
than one time. For example, the user may be comparison shopping or
returning to your site for more information. Additionally, some
Internet Service Providers assign a single IP address to more than one
user. For this reason, you may see a certain amount of 'multiple
clicks'. These clicks represent legitimate users accessing your
advertisement in expected ways.
Please know that all clicks that are considered click spam are
automatically filtered from reports. Therefore the clicks and
impressions that appear in your reports reflect clicks and impressions
that have already been deemed to be legitimate.
Please feel free to email us at email@example.com if you have
additional questions or concerns.?
SOURCE: Email from Google Adwords
Here are two threads that I thought you might be interested in reading:
EXCERPT: ?Outside of MSN and Yahoo, they have a lot of 2nd-5th tier
partners that provide really suspicious clicks. But you will never
know for sure till you buy/license your own keyword tracker and
conversion tool. There has been a lot of discussion here on this
website about this problem for the last two years, and some provable
data from those who have independent means of determining ROI or
license independent ROI conversion trackers.?
EXCERPT: ?It is becoming very tiresome doing this month after month
but I refuse to give Overture hundreds of dollars for fraudulent
clicks that are so easy to spot.?
Here is another URL with a discussion about Overture:
I think the most important thing is to monitor the ip addresses that
reach your website, and if you suspect that there is fraud involved,
to contact the advertiser in question. You should make sure that the
rate you are paying is sustainable and is making a profit for you.
I found an independent reviewer of pay-per-click websites at
http://www.payperclickanalyst.com/ but both Overture and Google
Adwords still appear at the top, and not much is mentioned about
How prevalent is it, and what can be done about it? Here is a post
from a Pay Per Click customer:
?So, I just lowered all my bids to stay within the top ten, but no
longer in the top 3-5 and lo, yes, as would be expected --- the clicks
reduced, but there were also no suspicious spikes anymore either. So I
went back to the top 3-5 and the spikes were there again. I have tried
this up and down experiment, over a one year period. There is no
doubt, bogus clicks are a problem. What a trip. It is said many places
that 30% of all PPC clicks are bogus. Pay for them and weep. It's the
cost of doing business on PPCs. Or drop your bids to below the top 5,
probably to 9-15 and you will get some clicks, much fewer, but none to
almost no bogus ones either.?
It does appear that if you lower yourself in the listing, people who
profit from the clicks will not pay as much attention to your link,
but then you also reduce your exposure to potential customers.
Overture has a section of their website devoted to Advertiser
There appears to be a process that you can go through to get a refund
for unwarranted clicks:
?Please contact Overture's Client Services department by visiting the
DirecTraffic Center® at https://secure.overture.com/s/dtc/center/ and
clicking on the Support Center. Enter your request and attach any
relevant documents before submitting your inquiry. A Client Service
specialist will investigate your account in detail and contact you
While researching this problem and reading through forum and newsgroup
posts, I found that there appears to be more fraud on the overture
system, simply because more people can profit from it. On the Google
Search engine, you can turn off advertisements on third party
websites, and then you do not have to worry as much about third
parties profiting at your expense.
Malicious clicking by competitors or publishers is most certainly
fraud and is illegal, but the problem is that neither Google Adwords
or Overture are liable for this, it is the people who are actually
doing the clicking. You should be able to sue them in civil court for
damages, but you may have great difficulty obtaining their identity
because of the anonymity offered by the internet, and the ease that
one can use multiple third party anonymous proxies.
When publishers sign up for either Google or Overture, they agree to
Terms and Conditions designed to protect Advertisers, the problem is
that it is not easy to authentically monitor the terms of service:
Overture Publisher Terms
Google Publisher Terms
Companies that may be able to help you identify fraud:
http://www.whosclickingwho.com/ (review of this company here:
Here is an article which discuses Overture click fraud and lists the
various people who can profit from a click on Overture:
Is it fraud? Yes, publishers are breaking their agreements with Google
Adwords and Overture when participating in malicious clicking. Even
the Google Terms of Service for using their search engine disallows
any commercial use of the Google Search engine, unless the publisher
or advertiser enters into a new agreement with Google:
How prevalent is it? Impossible to know, but it is prevalent and there
are many people who post evidence on the internet, as well as document
their battles with Overture. Links cited above estimate 30% of Pay per
clicks are fraudulent.
Is it illegal? Breaking a contract is illegal and is subject to legal action.
What strategies can be used to prevent malicious or fraudulent
clicking? When setting up your bid for certain keywords, calculate how
much you are willing to pay for legitimate clicks, and then reduce
this to compensate for 5 to 20% fraudulent clicks. If possible, only
advertise with PPC agencies such as Google Adwords and avoid
publishing on third party websites. Examine your logs, and if you
believe that there is fraud involved, immediately contact Google or
Overture and ask them to investigate. Specifically with Google
Adwords, target your clicks to the United States only plus any
countries where you do business. This prevents a third party from
using out of country proxies to register links. Finally, avoid being
one of the top websites listed. You may reduce your exposure, but this
also prevents people who can profit by clicking from selecting your
link when committing fraud.
I hope this was the type of research that you were expecting. Please
let me know if you require any clarifications to this response, and I
will do my best to further assist you
All the best,
Search Strategy (on Google):
fraud pay per click
fraudulent clicks case pay-per-click
google adwords fraud
google adsense fraud
overture ppc fraud
Clarification of Answer by
17 Nov 2003 21:42 PST
I have some additional information for you regarding Overture and what
they do to prevent fraudulent clicking (directly from them). They also
include some strategies that you can use to evaluate which clicks make
it through, and which ones they did not count because they suspected
they were fraudulent.
If interested, please have a look at the following information (I
received this via email):
Please note, Overture has a dedicated team of Loss Prevention
specialists and a Click Protection System that vigilantly monitor
click activity. Comprised of very sophisticated click review
software, the Click Protection System prevents unqualified clicks from
being charged to our advertisers by using a variety of proprietary
techniques to review clicks on a near real-time basis. Protecting our
advertisers against unqualified clicks and preserving the integrity of
our marketplace are among the most important issues we face at
Overture, and we continuously monitor click activity across our entire
network as a result.
Additional information about Overture's Click Protection System is
included in the attached Word document.
Overture?s Click Protection System is sophisticated software that runs
in near real-time to evaluate each of our advertiser?s clicks, no
matter where they originate. This software makes decisions as to the
validity of any click. At its core, the software is similar to the
ones that credit card issuers use to identify invalid credit card
transactions; there's an element of pattern recognition that is
involved in our Click Protection System.
Our Click Protection System uses search and click data to make both
rules-based inferences and pattern recognition-based inferences about
which clicks are qualified clicks. We have two patents pending related
to this technology, so we cannot currently disclose too many details
about the methods we use. While the details cannot be disclosed, the
core mechanics involve many data points. Each click is evaluated along
20 to 50 data points. Some of the data points evaluated are:
* IP address
* User session information
* User cookie information
* The network to which an IP belongs
* The user's browser information
* The search term requested by the user
* The time of the click
* The rank of the advertiser's listing
* The bid of the advertiser's listing
* The time of the search
* The time of the click
If the data points indicate that the click is unqualified, our Click
Protection System marks the click in our billing system, and the
advertiser is not charged for it. However, we are unable to remove
the click from the advertiser's logs. Please be assured that you are
never charged for any clicks from Overture checking your listings. You
may see hits on your logs, but you will never be charged.
We provide our advertisers with traffic from many sources: Yahoo!,
Lycos and AltaVista to name a few. This means that your Web logs often
show a click or a pageview as coming from our partners rather than
from Overture. This can be confusing if you are scanning your Web logs
for the phrase "Overture" in the http referrer field.
To verify the effectiveness of the Click Protection System, you must
have a tracking URL in place on all of your listings. With the
tracking URL you will be looking for the "?source=overture" in the
referrer field. This will show all hits to your site from your
Overture listings. You then can compare the number of hits to your
site with the number of clicks you were charged for. In most cases you
will see more hits than paid clicks.
For instructions on how to add a tracking URL to your search listings,
please access the following URL:
All the best,