Online Exclusive: For Better Click Fraud Analytics, Get Better Client Services

A business-to-business firm with an online retail site, numerous online engagement opportunities, thousands of site pages, a bricks-and-mortar store and store locator gets a sudden influx of search traffic. Most of that traffic doesn't seem to convert. Nearly all of that traffic browses around a bit before it leaves.

Which of the following is to blame for the lousy online performance:

A. Click fraud.

B. An influx of searchers who don't like the site's poor architecture.

C. An influx of searchers who are converting-not online, but in the bricks-and-mortar store.

D. It's impossible to tell, based on the information given.

The correct answer is D.

While one of the classic click-fraud red flags is a click spike without a spike in conversions, that combination doesn't necessarily mean you're facing click fraud. All it means is that people are clicking on your ad, but not converting. A lot of things could cause that — great ads and lousy landing pages, for example. Or a keyword list that's too broad — attracting people beyond your target audience. Or, as we've already suggested, the blame could go to issues deeper in your site architecture that are driving searchers away.

Any number of factors — including click fraud, but not just click fraud — can generate high click-through rates without a conversion follow-through. And that fact can make it harder to get a refund from the engines for bad clicks. This is because the engines, legitimately, want hard proof before agreeing to disregard your click charges. And if there's another reasonable explanation why your clicks may have spiked but your conversions haven't, then your hunch that it might be click fraud isn't hard proof.

While it's impossible to develop a truly unassailable argument that click fraud has happened, the gist of a near-unassailable argument goes like this: “My business is set up like this ___, my conversion architecture is set up like this ___, the people in my market search in this way. Based on all that information, I can't see any rational reason why the people who buy from me would have clicked on a given set of ads, at a given time, followed up by a certain behavior-other than the explanation of click fraud.”

In other words, the unassailable argument brings to bear such a deep level of the search behavior of the people you're selling to, that you're really able to argue that click fraud is the most likely explanation for an erratic click pattern.

Of course, achieving that expertise in your search audience requires an extremely intimate knowledge of the business you're in, the audience you're selling to, and your entire business. It requires that you understand how your online traffic does and does not flow into bricks-and-mortar sales. It also requires a deep understanding of what your site offers — and how that ties into both initial searches and final conversions. And, it requires that you know the times of day your core audience searches; and where, geographically, they search from.

Put simply, you need to understand your field, your conversion architecture, your market and your business. The better you know all of them, the better able you'll be to claim that you've truly left no stone unturned, and that the only explanation you're left with is click fraud.

Getting that kind of understanding takes some pretty savvy analytics on the part of your search management. But the basics from where those analytics begin are the things only you know — the basic facts about your business, your market and how they intersect.

But search management can only get that kind of information if they're good listeners, if they know how to ask the right questions and if they're able to keep you in the loop with strong reporting and regular contact. If they can do all that, they'll have the background they need to give you strong click fraud analytics.

On the other hand, if they don't understand your business — and don't seem willing or able to find out about it — then they won't be able to create good analytics. Which could leave you defenseless if you get slammed with fraudulent clicks.

A good client services relationship isn't just a customer perk. There's a direct correlation between communication with your search management and the quality of the click fraud analytics that they can deliver; getting proper client services can literally mean the difference between getting refunded well and not getting refunded at all.

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