Click fraud dominates the traffic quality debate

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Mike Bernier
Mike Bernier

Click fraud has long been trumpeted as a major issue for marketers working with paid search. However, the click fraud debate has taken away from the bigger picture: Overall Traffic Quality. “Click Fraud”, clicking on advertiser's ads to drive revenue to a paid search partner or simply increase advertisers' costs, is just one of four major components of poor traffic quality that plagues most paid search channels.

  • Normalization. Normalization is the mapping of a keyword search to another term. Yahoo uses normalization to map the plural instance of a term to its singular form. This use of normalization is widely accepted; however, some search engines and their partners use normalization very liberally. Let's say a search partner sees that “car prices” bids are very high. That partner then normalizes all searches within its network containing “car” or “auto” to “car prices” before the search results are pulled from the search engine. This use of normalization will result in lower quality traffic for your site.
  • Classification. Generally speaking “paid search” is made up of many types of traffic. Let's focus on search and content. How is the traffic classified and why does it matter? It's widely accepted that on a whole, search traffic is more valuable then content traffic. With that said, it only makes sense that search traffic demands a premium click price versus content. So, if you are a publisher, you of course want to display search ads versus content ads. The lines are pretty clear what traffic comes from an actual search and what doesn't. But that is not always how search engines classify a partner. With search engines fighting tooth and nail for publisher traffic, sometimes a content site finds itself negotiating a nice deal to display search results.
  • Partner Quality. How a search engine selects and polices its partners goes a long way in determining traffic quality. Partner sites using liberal normalization, who may be misclassified or just do not have quality traffic are abundant. By simply checking referrer data on a specific search campaign, poor partners can be isolated and steps can be taken to have those partners blocked.

Click fraud soaked up quite a bit of press over the last couple years; but with this focus, search engines have identified a significant amount of this traffic. Now, the focus should be expanded to other aspects of paid search that contribute to poor click quality.

(This article first appeared in the June 2007 edition of the Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing.)

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