Search engine marketing is a billion dollar industry - but click fraud poses a threat to search engine advertising companies and online marketers alike. Pay-per-click ad campaigns are a fairly simple concept: advertisers bid on popular search keywords and pay the search engine ad companies every time someone clicks on their ad. This is a mutually beneficial relationship for advertisers and search engines alike. The problem comes when the advertisers' numbers - and their bills - are falsely inflated through click fraud. What is Click Fraud? Click fraud is any click made on an ad with no intention of actually buying or looking for information, but rather with the intention of depleting the advertiser's budget. Who is Behind It? Who would benefit from deliberately running up your bill? To start with, your competition would. The ads in the top spots are always in the crosshairs of the ads a little further down the page. And if your competitor clicks on your ad a few times a day or a few times a week, the search engines won't notice such small numbers. Doesn't sound like much but it can really add up, especially when you have multiple competitors doing it. So they just chip away at your budget until you can no longer afford to advertise on that search engine. Another common source of click fraud is search engine affiliates. When webmasters get a cut of the revenue from the ads on their sites, they sometimes play the same game as your competitors. They quietly click away at your ad and raise your bill - and their profits - one click at a time. "It Could Happen To You" - Fighting Back When you think you have found a case of click fraud, you need to gather your information:

    1. the questionable clicks 2. the keywords that were clicked on 3. when they were clicked on, and 4. the country from which the clicks originated
You can do this yourself by monitoring your server logs and watching for unusual increases in activity or repeated clicks from the same ISP address. Or you can get a third party to research it for you. AdWatcher.com and WhosClickingWho.com are examples of services that will analyze which of your clicks are valid, and present you with all the relevant information in an organized report. You can email this information to your search engine and request an investigation for the purpose of obtaining a refund. You should expect some resistance. It's important to elevate the issue to a supervisor. If the search engines know you are serious, they will look into your claims. The key to not becoming a click fraud victim is to be aware: Watch the sources of your clicks. Check your server logs. Watch for spikes. Consider a third party watchdog if necessary. Click fraud is both real and prevalent. So use a little caution and you can save yourself a great deal of money down the road.
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