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Google States Undetected Click Fraud Rate Less Than 0.02%

By: Jeff Howes -

Last week, Google finally it's own internal estimates of the scope of the problem to it's advertisers. Much focus has been directed on the 0.02% number Google defines as "reactively detected as invalid". This number is overshadowing the larger "less than 10%" overall number that Google claims includes the clicks they proactively detect and filter out before billing the advertiser.

Let's look at the 0.02% figure first.

Closer examination of exactly what said brings us to the conclusion that the statement is cleverly worded in such a way that it means absolutely nothing without other variables that they are not disclosing.

I think that many people (including some in the press) interpreted the statement as "0.02% of total clicks are both fraudulent and not being detected and discounted..". What was actually stated is that the number of billed clicks reported to Google by advertisers and then found (by Google) to be invalid, is 0.02%.

This number represents the clicks that made it through all phases of filtering by Google, were billed to the advertiser, reported by the advertiser, and then finally found to be invalid by Google examiners upon investigation after the advertiser has complained. That is not hard to believe at all, because if Google did not detect a click as invalid the first time, the chances are that they will not consider it invalid upon a complaint either.
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So to get to a number as low as 0.02% should be relatively easy. First, we all know that the vast majority of advertisers are not taking the time to file complaints, for a number of reasons:
  • The advertiser is unaware of the problem.
  • The advertiser assumes Google's fraud prevention has filtered all bad clicks.
  • The advertiser is unaware of the claim procedure.
  • The advertiser assumes that their request will be denied, as is often true.
  • The advertiser lacks the evidence to prove their claim.
  • The volume/reward ratio is too low to be worth the time.
Next, out of the small number of clicks that ARE submitted by advertisers for further review, the vast majority of clicks claimed are rejected by Google. This is a number that they do not seem to be disclosing and without it, you cannot complete a calculation of their 0.02% claim.

Where is the rest of the data Google collects on our clicks?

Google likes to reject claims with the canned reply "we unable to find any conclusive evidence of invalid clicks..." (that is, if you make it past the lower level reps who's sole purpose seems to be to stall and delay you with form responses that include FAQs completely unrelated to your report.

One of the most significant deficiencies in Google's Click Quality reporting system is that they will not provide advertisers with the full click log they collect, with each individual click marked "billed" or "filtered". Why not? They do have it. It's the same data they use to make their determination. Refusal to disclose this data makes line-item reconciliation impossible because we don't know which clicks they billed us for.

Where else would you buy multiple items over a one month period, and receive an invoice with only an aggregate total? What if you got your cell phone bill and it seemed about 30% too high but only included a total, and no breakdown of the calls made? Then, you call your phone company and they say "..Oh, we know we billed you for the right number of calls... Trust us.". Of course, in reality, the phone company shows you the list of all your calls and responds "Which ones did you not make?". If Google is so sure of their assessment, there should be no reason to hide the data from us. We give them all of our data, and then we must blindly accept their answer without any evidence to back it up, and generally without even any direct response to the evidence we have provided.

Come on now, Google. If you are going to intentionally make it impossible for me to prove that I didn't get what I paid for, than you need to prove to me that I did get what I paid for.

At this point, we have already eliminated most of the clicks from the total; those that are not reported, those that have already been filtered out, and those which are reported but rejected (whether correctly or not).

Finally, and perhaps the largest unknown variable, are all of the clicks that are both unreported AND undetected by Google.

This is the obvious flaw in Google's statement that everyone seems be overlooking. They are not stating anything with regards to the total overall click fraud rate, including both detected and undetected. Of course they can't report fraudulent clicks they don't know about, and I don't think anyone thinks their filters are perfect. All of the stated numbers represent invalid clicks that they eventually detected.  Any invalid clicks that slip through completely (and oh yes there are many) would come out of the 90% that they claim are "valid", and that however large the number of such clicks, it would not affect the 0.02% figure, based on the way that it was worded.

Perhaps this number of unaccounted for clicks makes up the mysterious and significant gap between Google's estimates of the scope of the invalid click problem, and the 17-30% estimates consistently reported by third-party click tracking services.


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