08 July 2009

Blogging Tips : How to Protect Against Invalid Clicks

This is a guest post by Nick Oba from uniQlicks.

Before I get started, here’s a little sobering notice for those who might be wondering what the fuss is all about.


While going through our records recently, we found that your AdSense
account has posed a significant risk to our AdWords advertisers. Since
keeping your account in our publisher network may financially damage our
advertisers in the future, we’ve decided to disable your account.

Please understand that we consider this a necessary step to protect the
interests of both our advertisers and our other AdSense publishers. We
realize the inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you in advance
for your understanding and cooperation.

If you have any questions about your account or the actions we’ve taken,
please do not reply to this email. You can find more information by

The link in the email from AdSense tells you all about invalid clicks, but by that time, of course, it’s too late start learning. So any blogger generating real earnings from AdSense needs to take proactive and preemptive measures to prevent termination by invalid clicks. In an ideal world, Google would sort out the invalid clicks from the valid clicks, but since they don’t always do it, you’ve got to take charge.

What are invalid clicks?

Many people think "invalid clicks = click fraud" but it’s not quite as simple as that. There are basically three types of invalid clicks.

ToS violations Clicks from the publisher himself are of course not valid. Whether the publisher is genuinely interested in the ad running on his site, or merely trying to find out what kind of advertisements are being syndicated on his site, is irrelevant. Any click from the owner of the site is invalid, and just a small number of these can lead to the termination of your AdSense account. Also, onsite Terms of Service violations will mean that the click is invalid. For example, if you write “Please click on the ads” on your site, the clicks generated will be invalid, since the AdSense ToS forbids exhorting visitors to click on ads.

Non-human clicks Clicks from bots, crawlers, spiders, and the like are not valid. There are not many of these as AdSense ads are served via Javascript, and most bots can’t read Javascript.

That leaves invalid clicks from human visitors. Generally these are clicks that are not unique. In other words, if you get more than one click from the same person, that’s an invalid click. A more stricter definition would be that an invalid clicks is any click that’s not an intentional click from someone seriously interested in the product/service offered, but in practical terms that is pretty hard to determine. So even if someone accidentally taps the mouse button and generates a click, it’s mostly OK to consider it as valid as long as it happens only once.

Clicks from children Young adolescents and preteens may not fully understand the concept of advertising, and release a rapid series of clicks as they explore a page.

Clicks from newbies Middle-aged and elderly users coming online after a lifetime without computers often do not understand the difference between an application and an operating system, let alone ads and organic links. Once they figure out how to use a mouse they may systematically click on each and every link, or use an ad on any given website as a means of navigating to a favored site instead of bookmarking it.

Clicks from non-native speakers People who are not fluent in the language may randomly click on a large number of links and adverts when trying to find something.

Clicks from nuts Not everyone on the Internet is sober. Given the statistics for drug consumption, some people are bound to be on meth, ecstacy, or some other drug which affects rational behavior. Heaven knows what these people click on.

Malicious clicks Now this is real click fraud. Unethical operators will try to drain a competing advertiser’s budget by repeatedly clicking on their ads, often using sneaky tactics to fool Google. If you happen to own the site that carries the advertisements, you will be inadvertently aiding and abetting the invalid click activity. In addition, some of your own competitors might seek to destroy you by clicking on your AdSense ads, with the explicit aim of killing your monetization plan. After all, if you destroy its income, you effectively sink a blog.

How does Google detect invalid clicks?

They look at how long the user spends on the page before clicking on the ad, where the user came from, how many ads the user clicked on, where the user went next, and a variety of other metrics.

In addition, it seems Google rely heavily on complaints from advertisers, which are investigated by Google AdWords technicians. It is unlikely that the best brains at Google are put to work analyzing refund requests, so it’s probably easiest in many cases to refund the advertiser and shut down the publisher. That way, Google doesn’t lose any money even if the advertiser is refunded. This explains why many publishers are shut down even though they themselves did nothing wrong.

Google’s own obtuse answer is here.

Who is at risk?

Technically, everyone is at risk, but looking at the anecdotal evidence, it seems that small and medium-sized publishers are at higher risk than larger publishers. Though there have been exceptions, high-profile blogs seem to be protected, perhaps because Google values them more highly as suppliers, or because of the negative publicity a decativation might entail. For example, ProBlogger is safe because of its size and standing in the community. But if you’re not a VIP and your Alexa rank is > 10,000, you’re probably at higher risk.

Certain categories of sites seem to be at higher risk than others. Forums, social networking sites, and sites which generate a large number of impressions per user seem to be at higher risk than, say, recipe collections (which have less repeat traffic). One would think that scraper sites and MFA blogs are at higher risk, but their continued proliferation seems to indicate that these sites are not necessarily at higher risk, perhaps because repeat traffic and pageviews/user are low.

What can you do to shut out invalid clicks?

Essentially, you have three options. First, you can monitor your blog manually using tools such as StatCounter, and let Google know if you notice any anomalies. This is extremely time-consuming and you’ll never be able to go on holiday, because you need to keep an eye on your account 24/7.

Second, you can install a script. This is great if you are technically savvy and have the time to code and debug and maintain a solution. If you are not that good at coding Javascript, you could have it done for you by AdSenseClickLock. The drawbacks are that you need an environment that fits the specifications, and you still need to figure out how to install it and keep it up-to-date.

Third, you could go for a web app. There is only one, namely uniQlicks. It’s an ad manager which also has a feature called SureShield, which specifically shuts out risky impressions. The drawback is that you need to pay (about US$7/month) to upgrade to a Premium account to avail of SureShield, so it’s not worth it if your AdSense earnings are, say, twenty bucks a month.

Will invalid clicks ever cease to be a problem?

Only Google have the answer to this. Some ad networks (such as FairAdsNetwork) already tell you that you don’t need to worry about invalid clicks because they take care of it. Anything is possible, but given Google’s culture of secrecy and extreme aversion to transparency, it’s unlikely. Google have been repeated sued by advertisers, and Google will continue to take care of their advertisers in any way they see fit. For Google, that means shutting down publishers and refunding advertisers.

It is important to understand that as a business, Google isn’t a search engine. Google makes exactly zero dollars from search. Google is an advertising agency which runs a search engine to help its advertising business. And as an advertising agency, Google have never wavered from the doctrine that shutting down publishers is a good way to keep advertisers happy and the bottom line fat. It is unlikely that this policy will ever change, especially given the fact that the Google behemoth isn’t under any serious threat from the competition.


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