I read this article on ISEDB last month, and thought it might be of interest to some readers.
Fake clicks have been a major concern ever since I started advertising with the PPC search engines. I'm sure most marketers share the same concern. A huge part of the problem stems from the fact that most of these search engines have implemented affiliate programs that pay affiliates a percentage of the click fees for every click through. It's a great idea in theory, to increase their search traffic by getting everybody and their dog to link to your search results. The problem is that these affiliate systems tempt scammers to devise ways to beat the system, with automated software programs that "click" on their links so they get a fatter affiliate check. Some people are even "outsourcing" their click duties to actual people in other countries so it appears to be legitimate traffic in the log files.
The problem isn't limited to the smaller 2nd tier search engines. Even Google's adsense program is also subject to abuse by scammers. Google seems to be more aggressive in their fight against these types of scams, but I'm sure there are plenty of fraudulent clicks that have slipped under the radar. The guy was an idiot who got arrested after trying to extort money from Google to keep him from distributing his fraudulent click software. I don't even know if that guy's software actually worked, but the point is, there are people out there who have a huge incentive to exploit these affiliate programs. In fact, Google even stated in their recent IPO filing that they are aware that this type of activity is going on:
We are exposed to the risk of fraudulent clicks on our ads. We have regularly paid refunds related to fraudulent clicks and expect to do so in the future. If we are unable to stop this fraudulent activity, these refunds may increase. If we find new evidence of past fraudulent clicks we may have to issue refunds retroactively of amounts previously paid to our Google Network members.
I don't know if we'll ever be able to eliminate all click fraud, but the most obvious way to reduce it would be to keep a closer reign on who is allowed to be a search engine affiliate. Even better would be to completely shut off the affiliate programs. Search volume would go way down, but the quality of the remaining traffic would be a lot higher. I'm sure that won't ever happen, so we'll need to figure out another solution to at least cut down the amount of fraud taking place with the PPC search engines. The thing to remember is that it is up to the advertiser to be on the alert for fraudulent click activity. The search engines are not very motivated to catch fraud because it means refunding money they have already "earned". They want their customers to be happy, so if they think you are content with the traffic you are getting, they won't worry about "a few" fraudulent clicks. It's your money, so it's your job to keep an eye open for strange activity and bogus traffic from the search engines.