Overture - Massive Click Fraud?

Let me give you some background. My partner and I have been advertising with Overture UK for a long while now. As a programmer and math guy, I love looking at our site stats. I am the type of person that is always looking to refine and improve our return on investment, so I always like to see where our clicks are coming from, and see which particular keywords are making us the most money.

Initially when we started advertising with Overture, I noticed an alarming amount of what looked like "garbage" clicks to me. Since the site we were advertising was completely non-existent in free search engines, there was only one place that this traffic could have been coming from, and that was from Overture. I thought to myself, no problem, I'll let it run for a bit and see what happens. Maybe this is just a bad run of traffic.

Well, months passed, and the garbage clicks continued to pile up. I track our traffic very closely; if a click turns into a lead, I know about it, and I know which web site and keyword provided the lead. Well wouldn't you know it, the garbage clicks weren't coverting. Not one lead out of hundreds and hundreds of clicks (compare that to an average conversion rate of one lead for every 15 clicks from legit traffic sources, like yahoo.co.uk).

So I finally figured, ok, I am just going to turn off partner site traffic at Overture, so that my only clicks are coming from Yahoo.co.uk. Well guess what. After emailing a rep at Overture, I was told that "partner site traffic couldn't be turned off." WTF? Google offers the ability to turn off both partner site and content partner site traffic, so why can't Overture? It couldn't take THAT long for Yahoo to change their software to allow people to opt out of partner site traffic, could it? Surely we can have a bit of say over where our ads are being shown, and not just be told "our partner site traffic is legit, if there are any bogus clicks, please report them to us." How about almost all of your clicks are bogus?

So after asking around, and being told that "the bogus clicks are just the cost of doing business with Overture", I decided to closely track for a period of a month, just where the clicks were coming from with Overture, and what kind of bang I was getting for my buck. Why didn't I just give up on Overture right away? Because the legit traffic that they were sending me converted extremely well; it's just that all of the bogus traffic they sent turned my campaigns from profitable to break-even at best. Anyways, I told a really close look at my traffic in December, and this is what I found:

1) First off, I purchased a total number of 1272 clicks from Overture in December. Remember that number.

2) According to my logs, I had 978 page accesses from US-based IP addresses, followed by 492 page accesses from the UK, and then a handful from other countries. Like I said, this site doesn't appear anywhere other than being advertised on Overture. Let's say that we subtract 200 page accesses from the US (being generous) for miscellaneous page accesses, associates checking out the site, etc. This is brutal. I still have the US as by far my number one referrer of users to my site, when I JUST want to target UK users.

3) Of the 1272 clicks that I bought from Overture, I had a whopping 100 clicks sent by Yahoo.co.uk! Something like 8% of the total clicks that I bought came from the search engine that I wanted to target. In my mind, this is completely unacceptable.

4) I would get the same fishy keyword requests on an almost nightly basis. My bad for not deleting these keywords right away, as I mass submitted them and didn't take them out fast enough, but come on. How many searches can you get for "California home equity loan" in a UK search engine before you start getting suspicious?

5) The quality of "partner site" traffic. I am posting the top 10 referrers of traffic to my web site. Keep in mind that I had over 175 total referrers, most of which were completely garbage looking sites with no Alexa ratings and seemingly no way of legitimately sending out traffic through their outbound links. Keep in mind that apparently these sites can send out as much traffic as Yahoo.co.uk can, according to my stats.
a) abcsearch.com - now it looks like this site is a partner of Overture UK, and they furthermore sign up sites under them that will act as affiliates. So you have abcsearch.com as a partner of Overture, and then countless other sites as partners of abcsearch.com, that will be taking dollars out of my pockets. How do I know if the traffic is legit? I can't block sites from showing my ads, like I can with Google. Why not Overture? Do you not have the technology to let high-paying users block shady sites from showing their ads, or is something more sinister going on here?

b) home-loan-guide.co.uk - Ok, this site is my second high referrer of "partner site" traffic. Surprise, surprise, no leads from this site. Are you surprised? Apparently these guys send me half the traffic that yahoo.co.uk does. Come on!

c) searchnet.win4win.com - um, ok

d) - wtf

e) gasta.com/money/index.aspx - I'm sure there is plenty of high quality traffic ripping through this site, plenty of homeowners looking to get loans. ok, sure

f) uk.mongenie.com - see above

g) moneysupermarket.com/uk - ok, now this is just getting silly.

h) speedinfos.com/uk/ - this site was actually one of my biggest referrers of traffic in previous months. Assume for a second that this site is actually sending legit traffic. Where are they getting it from? How are they acquiring their traffic? Why are all of these people supposedly searching for secured loans coming through this site?

i) unitedsearchnetwork.com

j) myshoppingpage.com/v14es3/index.php - again, these sites are extremely suspicious to me. These sites are sending my clicks that I pay good money for (these aren't 5 cent clicks, they are x.xx pound clicks.)

I tried to give Overture the benefit of the doubt for the longest time, but based on my data, something smells at Overture. They could eliminate all doubt by allowing me to turn off partner traffic or block individual sites, but they do neither. I wonder why?

Filed under: Making Money Online | General Knowledge

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