The PPC networks collect an enormous amount of data detailing the characteristics of each and every click-through. Unfortunately, they do not provide advertisers with enough information to fully analyze their online advertising spend. To make matters a bit more confusing and potentially costly, industry estimates of invalid click activity and outright click fraud range from the 0.02% rate of click fraud claimed by Google to the 15.7% most recently claimed by Click Forensics. Clearly there is a need for clarity.

Two years ago, Richard Zwicky, a well-known, long-term SEO stepped away from the search marketing company he had founded, (Metamend), to concentrate on search traffic analytics. Using a unique method of tracking organic click data, Richard started another firm, Enquisite Search Metrics. Richard's goal was to create a program that accurately measured the impact of expenses spent on Internet marketing, starting with organic listings. After receiving rave reviews for its initial product, Enquisite moved on to build what appears to be one of the most innovative and accurate gauges of PPC traffic vs. PPC ad-spend. Enquisite is releasing it this week under the name PPC Assurance as a white-label product other firms can offer to their clients.

PPC Assurance gathers data telling you when and how visitors arrive at a landing page or website from any given ad in a PPC campaign. Offering a granular examination of all paid-click referral traffic, PPC Assurance finds and reports irregularities in your click stream or any deviance from the parameters set at the start or during the paid advertising campaign.

Using a four-color coded chart, PPC Assurance shows Good, Suspect, Bad and Unknown traffic patterns. The last two, Bad and Unknown are indicators of invalid and at times, fraudulent click activity.

Good traffic is graphed in green. Good traffic is that which conforms to the pre-set parameters of the ad account. If, for example, one wanted their PPC ads shown in New York, Chicago, DC and Boston only, PPC Assurance would graph clicks from those cities in green. This tends to be the norm across all measured ad networks however, there are several days when spikes into Suspect, Bad, or Unknown traffic are caught and displayed by date and time.

Suspect traffic is graphed in yellow but tends to be the least noted click-type. Clicks measured as Suspect could come from just outside a set geographic area or come from IP addresses known to visit the site with “acceptable” frequency. A yellow line indicates there might be a problem and further investigation may be necessary but it is not as urgent as Bad or Unknown measurements.

Bad traffic, measured in red, is exactly what one would expect it to be. As the color suggests, when you see red, you have a problem. A surprising percentage of traffic is shown in red, indicating PPC traffic that falls outside of stated campaign parameters. While stopping short of calling this traffic fraudulent, PPC Assurance lets advertisers know they have a problem in this particular part of their ad campaigns.

There could be dozens of reasons for clicks coming from regions or even continents falling outside the areas chosen for any given ad campaign. For instance, the first to sets of numbers in IP addresses originating in the UK and in Albania are often the same. Similarly, the use of routing technology in SE Asia often mimics IP addresses originating in Japan and South Korea, causing false-identification of the actual place the click originated from. Another reason is that PPC Assurance has caught a click-scammer based on one or more of hundreds of heuristics and characteristics common to click-fraud.

The last type of click-traffic is called Unknown and measured in black. Unknown clicks can be caused by a number of factors but are most often seen as clicks that happened on the ad but could not be tracked as following through to the landing page or site. When the number goes above 7%, it is thought to be bot-traffic. 5 – 7% of all web users turn Java Scripts off when surfing the net. These users are difficult to track and often appear as unknown clicks which are discounted from any reports sent by PPC Assurance.

Knowing the veracity of your click stream is one thing. Doing something about it is quite another. One of the best features of PPC Assurance is the reporting function that prepares and submits invalid click activity reports, including a refund request, to the ad networks. Providing all data needed to successfully file for a refund. The reporting feature can be set by percentage of ad-spend, by date, or by number of invalid clicks measured.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In online advertising, prevention comes from knowledge and knowledge comes from measurable statistics. Because Enquisite is releasing PPC Assurance as a white-label product, any SEM firm, ad agency or service provider can brand it under their company name, offering clients a seamless set of account and data protection services.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

August 9, 2007

Jim Hedger is the Executive Editor of the new daily webmasters information site, He is also a consultant to Metamend Search Engine Marketing and Enquisite Search Metrics. He spends most of his time in Victoria BC, recovering from traveling to the Internet marketing events and conventions where he spends the rest of his time.

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