I recently read an awesome article on Business Week Online about click fraud in the pay-per-click online advertising industry. Having been online myself for over six years, it is something that I’ve known about for a long time, and have actually been snookered into once, a few years back.
The basic premise is this: you set up a site with nothing but advertisements from the likes of Google Adsense or Yahoo, AdBrite, etc. Then, you get a group of people to join you in setting up sites like yours. Next, you list your sites so they can all visit and click on your links, and you visit theirs and click on their links. Everyone seems to benefit, as each website owner gets paid anywhere from $.05 to $2.00 or more for each click-through on an advertisement. People have generated $10, $50, even thousands of dollars per month using this strategy. Only one problem … it’s against the ad publishers policies, it is unethical, and it is fraud.
Remember, some poor business person on the other end of that deal is paying the advertising publisher (Google, Yahoo, etc.) to push these ads out onto content-related sites. When done properly, this can be a great boon to both the website owner (getting paid) and the advertiser (getting new potential customers). It’s a win-win situation. However, once the click fraud scheme is in the picture, everything becomes a bit hazy. Suddenly the business owner who is advertising is paying for people who are, technically, trying to run their own paid-to-surf type program. Perhaps that is why most of these type programs end up dying out … the advertisers simply aren’t getting their monies worth in the long run.
And so the threat to the industry, while played down by Google and Yahoo, is real. Just do a search for almost anything. Check the top 10 results pages. Don’t be surprised if one of them is nothing but an advertising page full of ad links. Cha-ching! Gotcha!
As always, it pays to keep your ear to the ground and your eyes wide open. The Internet marketing landscape is far from established yet, and still more like the wild wild west than most people would like to believe. Believe half of what you hear, and even less of what you see. One final thought: always think for yourself. If something seems to good to be true, it usually is.