Thursday, March 01, 2007
For some odd reason, I expected the Washington Post to improve its coverage of the search engine industry. Nope. It seems to have gotten worse.
Sara Goo picks up the click fraud topic with this helpful effort:
Maybe I should back up here. What is click fraud and why should you care? Google makes money every time people click on the "sponsored links" places next to search results, which are really text ads paid for by advertisers.
Wow, oh wow. It appears we'll have to get ready for every article for the next five years being mostly taken over by the boilerplate "here is what a search engine is" preface, so readers never actually get to learn anything. Hard to blame the author here. Her editors made her do it.
These ads appear not only next to search results but also as text ads that Google places on blogs or other Web sites, labeled "Ads by Google." (I never click on these ads but apparently, a lot of people do because it provides Google with a significant chuck of its revenue.)
Indeed, a significant chuck. Like 97% of $11 billion per year. Sara Goo, are you trying to rile me up with that old "I never click on the ads" thing? Hey guess what Sara: I never buy anything from the advertisers who put their ads in the Washington Post! Tit for tat! The "I never click on the ads" gambit is fine and expected from the average person in cocktail party conversation, but you're a tech journalist so it seems disingenuous to my ears.
Each time someone clicks on the ads, the advertiser pays Google and the Web site displaying the ad. But fraud occurs when people repeatedly click on ads with no intention of really viewing the ad; rather, they want to drive up the cost for the advertiser and increase revenue for the Web site owner. It's more sophisticated than it seems. People create sophisticated "click robots" to make it look like authetic clicking when it's really not. People have also created networks of clickers, or people paid to click on ads to evade Google's click fraud filters.
It's an industry-wide problem--not just for Google--and one that has been compared to the days before newspapers and television had any accountability to advertisers to reveal true numbres of how many readers or viewers they were delivering to advertisers. Similarly for the online advertisers, there is no independent organization now monitoring how many clicks are fraudulent and many advertisers don't have the technology to know the difference.
Still clinging to "wild West" mythology vis-a-vis the Internet? Claiming that newspapers and television are bastions of accountability? It's getting hard to take this. Well, at least you're making it plain why we won't be seeing fair and balanced coverage from you anytime soon.Also, you made a second major spelling error.
And finally, I'm resentful because you just have the word "Goo" under your photo. I'm Goo. It's been my nickname since university.
Anyway, the rest of your piece is pretty OK, but I see we're always in jeopardy of sliding back into old-media-vs.-new-media rhetoric. It will be good to see some independent auditing of clicks, and wait a minute, did I hear you say it's Google's competitors (other than perhaps Microsoft) who would be in more trouble if that happened? Google stands to lose a lot less from independent auditing of clicks precisely because a much lower proportion of fraudulent clicks are being charged to advertisers. In any case, all of the top four firms can afford to "step up" to allow more scrutiny of clicks by third parties, and I look forward to the day. Financially, it will hurt Yahoo and Ask the most.
FOLLOWUP: Google has now posted an extensive report on the Inside AdWords blog.
Labels: click fraud
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