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Unclear definitions for click fraud

John Battelle comments on a recent click fraud article in WaPo: WaPo Does the Click Fraud Piece, I Scratch My Head….

I’ve been following the click fraud discussion for a while now, and it’s a emotionally charged topic because advertisers feel like they’re being cheated. One problem that’s complicated the discussion is that people simply don’t agree on the definition of click fraud – in fact, there’s really a huge spectrum of different practices that would or would not be considered click fraud.

Here are a couple definitions of click fraud, from really clear to cloudy:

  • Building a bot to click on your own ads automatically
  • Clicking on your own ads to drive revenue
  • Encouraging users to click on your ads
  • Users double-clicking on ads
  • Having a confusing user interface to drive fake clicks
  • Accidental clicks from ads being too close to content
  • Placing high-value ads on unrelated content in hope of clicks

I think most advertisers would consider most, if not all, of these practices click fraud. The fact is, each one of these bring in users who may be uninterested in the content behind the ad. These "unqualified" leads result in lower conversion rates, where advertisers end up footing the bill.

Publishers and ad networks, on the other hand, probably view everything after double clicks as fair game. Their definition of click fraud is much more technical in nature – as long as it’s not someone consciously committing an act of fraud, from their perspective, nothing has happened.

The truth of all of this, however, is that advertisers don’t want low converting ad spend. So if that’s caused by a ad-clicking bot, or by clicks from confusing UI, it’s all considered bad. In the long run, the only way to solve this is to implement the sort of "smart pricing" that Google does, to drive a more consistent cost-per-action. This means that, over time, ad networks will start to gravitate towards this CPA model since it gives more consistency for advertisers.

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