Transparency. That can be a scary word for businesses. At Unleashed Online Media we actually consider transparency to be one of our core values and something we pride ourselves on. Recently, I wrote a blog post about basic customer care guidelines and boasted of our customer service focus at Unleashed. Well, now it’s time to follow through and remain true to that commitment. So, let’s get to it!

The situation.

January seemed to be a fantastic month in terms of campaign performance for our clients. In just about all of the campaigns we managed, we saw fantastic CTR and CPC numbers. Needless to say, we were excited, and so were our clients! Now as we write up reports to send to our clients for campaign performance in February, we are noticing a significant drop in performance in those same metrics. While the stats are certainly not bad, they are disappointing when compared to January’s. January appears to have been an anomaly. So we wanted to know, what in the world caused such a huge spike in January, and why did it drop back down to “more normal” levels in February?

Click FraudWhat could possibly cause such an anomaly?

Well, it would seem that many of our campaigns fell victim to what is known as click fraud during the month of January. Click fraud can be defined as Internet users or automated systems (bots and mal-ware) that click on digital ads with no intention of converting. Automated traffic is usually set up to commit click fraud to purposefully gouge advertisers, while most human click fraud is by mistake (i.e. accidentally clicking on an ad).  For more detail on what click fraud is and how it works, check this out.  It’s a nasty practice, but that’s the world we live in today. Click fraud has been an issue in the industry for years now, but has been growing significantly more prominent lately. The problem is, no one is immune to click fraud; it is an industry-wide issue, and we believe many of our ads may have been added to the list of click fraud victims in January.

Yikes! So how can click fraud be prevented?

The bad news is there isn’t really anything that can be done to completely avoid click fraud. The good news is that publishers are doing something about the problem and trying to diminish it. Google has their Ad Traffic Quality Team that works to filter out what they suspect to be invalid clicks. They do a really good job and their work provides advertisers like us with more accurate metrics while protecting budgets from being wasted. But they can’t catch everything. That is why Google recently purchased Spider.io, a startup company that creates software that weeds out fraudulent clicks. Google is planning to integrate the technology into their video and display advertising products immediately to further crack down on click fraud and provide marketers with even more accurate metrics. They hope to soon integrate such software into their search ad products as well. Thank you, Google! spiderio

While it certainly is nice that publishers like Google are actively combating the click fraud epidemic, it’s doubtful those pesky little bots will ever be completely blocked. So what is a marketer to do?

Pay attention to more meaningful metrics.

Well, at least for conversion campaigns that is. Metrics like Clicks, CPC and CTR can certainly be valuable and it definitely feels good to see strong performance in these areas, but especially with the issue of click fraud, they can sometimes be a little inaccurate. Instead, as marketers we should focus on meaningful traffic to get a better picture of how effectively our budgets are being spent.

This is why we often recommend our clients to utilize conversion tracking. With conversion tracking, we can measure how many users take a specified action after clicking on the ad. The beauty of this is we can set up conversion tracking for just about any action. Want to know how many people fill out a membership form after clicking an ad? We can track it. Want to know how many people make a purchase? We can track it. Want to know how many people click on your “Learn More” button? We can track that too. We can also set up call tracking so you know exactly which of your marketing tools are generating calls (for more on call tracking, check out our blog post).  Adding conversion tracking opens up a whole new level of data for evaluating the performance of your campaign and how well your marketing dollars are being spent. Metrics like Total Conversions, CPA, and Conversion Rate are much more meaningful and telling of true performance than metrics like CTR.

You can also monitor your site traffic and sources of it to check for IP addresses in your hosting provider’s server logs. If you are seeing a lot of traffic from one IP address and no conversions or meaningful activity from it, chances are that it’s a bot.

So are all other metrics worthless? Not at all!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all other metrics outside of conversions are worthless; far from it! Many of the campaigns we set up for clients have goals like increasing brand awareness and recall. In such campaigns, metrics like impressions and clicks are extremely important! These metrics can be vital even for conversion campaigns too, particularly for businesses who rely on offline conversions (i.e. consumer goods at a store). I recently read an article talking about how some of the top consumer goods companies are rapidly expanding their digital advertising budget because of how efficient it is in terms of ROI. The article cites a study that found that digital impressions drive offline sales of consumer packaged goods. Google also published an article with quite compelling research demonstrating how online search ads can significantly boost offline store sales. It’s a good read, and it’s pretty awesome to see how effective online advertising can be even without clicks or online conversions! The bottom line is that even factoring in potential click fraud, metrics like impressions and clicks are still extremely valuable!

So what about you, have you ever felt that maybe clicks were not giving you the full picture? Or maybe you’ve seen some awesome offline results since starting an online campaign? Tell us about it below! We’d love to hear from you.

 

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