Lyris executive discusses click fraud and search optimization

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The subject of search engine marketing click fraud made headlines last year. Advertisers and publishers alike criticized the search engines for not doing enough to combat the problem. But the topic has not been in the spotlight recently. Does that mean click fraud is no longer an issue?

BtoB recently spoke with Dan Robbins, director of marketing at Lyris, a marketing software company, about click fraud and what marketers can do to avoid playing the victim.

BtoB: Is click fraud still a problem?

Robbins: It depends on your vertical. In mortgage and finance categories, you’re paying a lot more for a click. For the lower end, general market is less of an issue. But marketers need to pay attention to it.

BtoB: Are marketers not paying attention?

Robbins: Many people know of click fraud as a concept, but not in practice. It’s a foreign concept to so many that people don’t know what questions to ask. Everyone can understand fraud and they don’t want to be a victim of fraud, but in practice they don’t truly understand what [click fraud] is. They don’t realize that if they took time to create campaigns with a solid foundation, they’d have better performance.

BtoB: How can they do that?

Robbins: It should not be an automated solution. This is something that requires human intervention to determine whether it’s a poorly performing ad or it is actual click fraud. It’s similar to an airport metal detector. If you walk through and the buzzer goes off, it doesn’t mean you’re a terrorist with a knife. It may just be you forgot to take your belt off.

BtoB: In your experience, which is more likely? A bad ad or fraud?

Robbins: The problem is probably more in optimization than it is actual click fraud. If you have an ad out there, you need to nurture it and treat it like any other campaign you are running.

More and more we see people who think they can put up an ad, drive traffic to the site and [generate] quality traffic. But you have to work.

In b-to-b, it’s still the same problem. You are spending money to drive traffic, but if you’re not optimizing those ads and delivering on that message when [these visitors] come through the site, they’re going to go away. It’s really about optimizing your marketing message and carrying that through.

You want to create a compelling ad, carry that message through to your landing page and make sure that your content is of great quality and relevant. You will also want to track it.

BtoB: How can you judge whether the campaign is working or not?

Robbins: One way to judge whether a campaign is working well for you in lieu of a conversion is “time on the site.” Unless you are a super niche product or service, if you don’t have a compelling story, people will go away. You want them to immerse themselves in your product or service. They are going to comparison shop. If your tracking is set up correctly, if they do come back and buy, you’ll be able to tie the latent conversion to your campaign. You also need to use your Web analytics tools. You need to stay on top of your ads beyond finding the search engine and setting a bid price.

It gets back to the airport metal detector analogy. We look at things like the number of sessions, was there a conversion, unique IPs and countries generating traffic. Sometimes what looks like click fraud really isn’t.

BtoB: What are signs of blatant click fraud?

Robbins: If you notice in your server logs no images are being loaded, that’s a sign. It may mean it’s not a true Web browser. Another tip off is, when you click through on a link, the referring information will tell the site you are visiting where you came from. It’ll show you came from Google and the exact keywords you typed in.

When there’s no refer, it’s a sign of click fraud.

BtoB: What can marketers do proactively?

Robbins: You need to stay on top of your campaigns and build them correctly and nurture and monitor them rather than taking the "set it and forget it" approach.

I do believe that the main problem people are facing when running their pay-per-click campaigns is the time it takes to properly optimize and run PPC. A marketer is generally saddled with many different tasks. It’s easy to turn on PPC and move on to the next thing. You can only focus your attention on the thing that’s in front of you. As those things pop up, pay per click just runs. You can set your budget daily, but are you really optimizing or bringing in the right traffic? It’s a matter of focus and the time to focus.

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