Friday, December 02, 2005

Forget Click Fraud, Fix Technical Money Loss

Must be a slow news day as we're back to beating the dead horse of Click Fraud yet again. What's interesting is that many of the very same publishers that continue to make their living using AdSense, YPN and other CPC advertising programs would continue to bang the gong of hysteria about Click Fraud and poison their own well!

Instead of dwelling on what probably can't be completely fixed, how about addressing simple real world technical issues that cause advertisers serious money loss and are 100% addressable by the CPC media companies. Not a popular theme I'll admit, as it's not trendy like scaring people into not spending their advertising money online like Click Fraud topics. However, this is probably more serious as it happens all the time, possibly more costly in the long run and perhaps even results in technical money loss mistakenly claimed as Click Fraud further fueling the current Click Fraud hysteria environment.

Let's identify how advertising money can be technically lost:

1. Advertiser's Site Offline
When a large advertiser has a service issue with their web server hundreds or thousands of dollars can be lost in as little as an hour. One medium sized customer of mine used to spend about $1500/day and had to rely on a 3rd party server monitoring system to alert him when his server was down so he could manually shut down all of his advertising accounts which were costing about $100/hour during his site's busy hours. Most likely this advertiser had lost more than $50 in dead clicks just from the time the server monitoring system had detected the problem, sent the pager alert, the advertiser actually received the pager alert and then, if not near a computer, called someone else to go disable all his CPC campaigns until the server was back online. Let's not even mention the fact that he lost sales [more money] on the flip side when the server was back online and the reverse process started getting the alarm notifying that the site was back online, getting all the CPC campaigns active again, so it's lost revenue all the way around.

2. Dead Clicks
When the connection between the visitor and the advertiser's web site isn't working due to some sort of routing problems or other technical issues we get 'Dead Clicks' which are recorded by the ad server when the ad is clicked but the visitor never actually connects to the advertiser's web site. This situation probably happens much more frequently than most imagine and once was responsible for approximately a 5% click failure on an ad campaign I was tracking during an internet stability rough patch over a single weekend.

3. Accidental Clicks
Inevitably someone always accidentally clicks on a link and hits BACK often before the advertiser's web page is ever fully displayed. Unfortunately that click was already recorded by the ad server so whether or not the visitor ever actually sees the advertiser's web page he gets charged regardless and the visitor can't click 'UNDO AD VIEW' to correct the mistake even if they were so inclined.

What's the solution to technical money loss?

The simplest solution to the 3 problems mentioned above are the conversion tracking bugs that can be installed on the landing pages of the advertiser's web site. If the conversion tracking bug doesn't report than the visitor made it to the landing page within a certain amount of time the ad server can assume the possibility of a Dead Click and not deduct that click from the advertisers campaign. However, this does open the possibility for a shady advertiser to dynamically rotate the conversion tracking bug and only insert it on 50% of the pages but that too can be easily spotted and ban the advertiser.

When multiple conversion tracking failures occur a server monitor with multiple geographical locations and a diversity of backbones could be engaged that would ping the advertiser's server. If the server monitor detects the server is completely offline from all pings then the ads could be automatically suspended and then automatically re-enabled when the server is detected as being back up. If a specific backbone is detected as not being able to connect to a server then only customers on that backbone could be filtered from seeing the ads until the issue is resolved and thus solve the localized dead clicks problem.

Last but not least, the conversion tracking bug could have an OnUnload event component that reports back the total time spent viewing a page so that accidental clicks resulting in less than perhaps a 3 second threshold of visitor time spent on a page could be detected and deducted as well.

Before someone flies off the handle, this is not to suggest that any CPC media company provide server alarm monitors that track all advertiser's servers all the time, but only those advertiser's servers that are failing to report conversion tracking in a timely manner and once the server is detected back online remove it from the server monitoring system. This should be somewhat limited in scope to address what should only affect a small percentage of all the active ad campaigns and only those with failures detected. However, maybe Google will pony up and build a nice multi-backbone alarm monitoring system and offer it freely to their advertisers ala the latest freebie Google Analytics.

Not sexy topics, but definitely serious issues swept under the rug that all have easy solutions. The problem is I'm not sure the all the local corporate giants [you know who you are] rolling up and down El Camino and highway 101 in their gold plated Ferraris really want to address these problems as it's currently free money they'd be giving back.


Let's hear 'em!

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