Back in the beginning of my web life, before OO and web frameworks and CMS systems and even blogs there were banner exchange programs. Being an honest kind of girl I never cheated the system but those who did used auto surfing programs to boost their hit counts.
The owners caught on and started tracking IP addresses and looking for trends so that they would weed out the cheats and reward the honest webmasters.
Then came paid online advertising, mostly for the big guys until Google came along with their ad program, followed closely by Chitika and other players. On the whole it’s served the web community very well. Small sites can get rewarded without having to go to the expense and effort of obtaining more lucrative advertising contracts. A win-win for small sites and the part time webmaster.
But with AdSense (the Google program) came click fraud as people encouraged every man and his dog to click on their ads. Whether it was naivety or not, the outcome was the serious crime of FRAUD. After all the advertisers have to pay for those clicks and chances are they’re just small site owners doing their best too.
I don’t know the ban rate, but it’s common enough for one of these guys to get banned and then plead their innocence. The problem is that they show that they have no comprehension for the business realities and therefore could not have understood the contract that they entered into.
The next phase is going to be lead generation. This is effectively one step back from affiliate selling, no direct commission but a fee paid once a sale is made. On the surface it sounds fantastic and much more secure. Infact it’s not that long since I was espousing a similar campaign for the “carcasherdotcom seocontest for Charity”. I’ve taken some time to think it through though and I’ve realised that it just accelerates the crime to a whole new level.
This is a giant step backwards for both the advertiser and the publisher for the following reasons
- You have to actually be selling something
that sounds mad, I know but what if you are trying to build awareness, get a viral marketing effect going, have people buzzing on your product, and the sales pitch will come later?
- You have to have a site which is sophisticated enough to tell each of your advertising streams when a sales is made and therefore to pay out (does that mean the advertiser can cheat?)
- There are any number of nasty little phishers, handbag pinchers etc who have credit card numbers and are able to buy online right now. We’ve just told them that not only will they get the stolen goods (and the other things they’ve conned the store owner to buy and ship with it) but they’ll get commission for doing so!
- Rather than Google shouldering the responsibility for detecting and addressing click fraud it’s now the online store who must do it. Sure Google may review things periodically, but the store owner must do so before deciding to ship X, Y and Z.
I don’t know what percentage of transactions right now are fraudulent but I fear that this perfect solution to click fraud will become a nightmare with the rate rocketing up. Lets hope the watchdogs are ready!