PPC

Beware of a New Click Fraud Scam on Yahoo’s Search Partners

Recently in one of the accounts I manage on Yahoo, I saw a huge spike in volume.

Unlike most fraudulent clicks that will often cause a spike in your CPA as they do not result in conversions, what made this spike unique is that conversions also spiked over this same period.

Below is the graph of Clicks vs. Conversions:

Click Fraud Yahoo Graph

Not much had changed in the account and there was no noteworthy press to speak of to explain this spike. My gut told me that the over 200% spike in clicks and the nearly 400% spike in conversions was unfortunately too good to be true.

I turned to Google Analytics to investigate my suspicion and evaluated the following:

  • Were they from the same IP address?
  • Were they from the same network?
  • Were they from the same location?

The answer to all these questions was no.

Still not satisfied that these leads were legitimate, I reached out to my client to see if the leads looked real in their database. On the surface they actually did. The email addresses were different and the forms were filled out. It is important to note that the conversion in this case is a completed form. For this client the lead to sale turnaround time is about 2 weeks, so I told my client to let me know what the final lead to sale conversion rate was and how it compared to the website’s rate on average.

Despite the leads looking legitimate on the surface, I still felt this spike was unrealistic and I did not want to wait two weeks before we found out that all these leads were not legitimate sales prospects. I turned to Yahoo new placement tool (no longer active), which was released in September 2009, to see if it was a particular search partner that was responsible for the spike.

I found my culprit, the domain, http://www.trafficz.com/. This one placement month over month increased over 2000% (that final 0 is not a typo), not two hundred, but two thousand percent!

Moreover, all the conversions were attributed to one keyword on standard match. I immediately excluded this placement from my account, as this one word in that one placement caused the entire spike.

Two weeks have gone by and it turns out my suspicions about the leads driven by Traffickz were confirmed. Not one of the leads actually resulted in a final sale. The typical conversion rate for this site in a 2 week period is MUCH GREATER than 0%. (I am not providing the actual conversion rate here to protect the confidentiality of my client)

I believe the forms were filled out were by a computer program with fake people’s information. What makes this type of fraud so hard to detect is that program made the leads look like they were coming from different IP addresses and geographic locations. This was not your ever day click spammer. These guys were sophisticated and I can see why Yahoo’s click fraud protection system did not catch these spammers automatically.

I have reported this click fraud to Yahoo and am still waiting for an answer. I am going to push hard for a credit on this one, as we are talking thousands of dollars of SPAMMY traffic. I am confident that the people at Yahoo will see this traffic for what it is, aka fraud, and provide the account with a credit.

This experience will not force me to abandon Yahoo all together, and I am not suggesting you do either. Yahoo comprises about 17% of all traffic and is a very important supplement to Google Traffic. Yet, for clients with limited budgets I may look to Bing before Yahoo when expanding. I would tell the people at Yahoo that they should choose their search partners more wisely for their long term success.

Though you should not completely write off Yahoo, I suggest the following to protect your accounts against this new form of click fraud keep the following in mind:

  • Make sure you or your agency monitors weekly if not daily for any unusual spikes in traffic for each engine
  • Click spammers are getting smarter making click fraud harder to detect using the usual measures such as IP address, location, bounce rate or conversion rate.
  • Click Fraud does not only hurt your numbers at times by causing spikes in your CPA, but can also deceivingly help your numbers by increasing conversions.
  • If something seems way too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Fight for credits back to your account for fraudulent traffic.
  • Make Yahoo’s Ad Delivery Report part of your optimization process and look for suspicious search partners to exclude