Is PPC Impression Fraud A Concern?

The idea for this post comes from Shaun of VirtuoSEO,  Follow Shaun on Twitter @VirtuoSEO.

Click fraud is the practice of clicking a pay-per-click (PPC) ad solely to waste an advertiser’s budget. As the name implies, it is both wrong and unethical.  Google has responded to click fraud by instituting advanced monitoring techniques.  For the most part, Google does a good job of detecting invalid clicks and saving advertisers’ budget, but there’s a new category of malicious activity that must be addressed: impression fraud.

The idea behind impression fraud is that a user will continually search for a term to which your ad will be served.  The user has no intent of clicking on your ad, but will keep searching for the term. In effect, this artificially drives your impressions up and decreases your click-thru-rate (CTR).  CTR is a huge factor in determining Quality Score and as Google says, “Higher CTR and Quality Scores can lead to lower costs and higher ad position.”  In other words, the higher your CTR the more relevant the user’s search query is to your ad, thus the better Quality Scores your keywords are going to receive.  Since your CTR and Quality Scores are higher, Google is rewarding this relevance by lowering the average cost-per-clicks (CPCs) of your keywords*.  Thus, it is highly advantageous to improve your campaign CTR.

So why would someone commit impression fraud?  Chalk that up to sleazy competitive marketing tactics; competitors are hoping to sour your metrics, thus hurting the performance of your campaign. Very little is being done to combat the issue.  When Google believes a computer to be sending automated traffic, the engine will trigger a “We’re Sorry” page, temporarily banning the computer from conducting searches.  However, the AdWords system does not seem to take falsely generated impressions into account.  Consider this email exchange I had with my Google rep:


“I have a question and query regarding impression fraud.  By impression fraud I mean users who continue to search for a query that your ad will consistently show up for, artificially driving your impressions up and thus decreasing your CTR.  So for example, if I keep reloading the page on a search for “nike shoes” Nike’s ad will continue to show up, but not be clicked.  Has Google implemented anything to prevent impression fraud?”

Google Rep:

“Hi Matthew,

I don’t believe that anything has been implemented for this, but I will take your feedback and share it with our team. I think that is a great point. Thank you for sharing this with me!”

Whereas click fraud is a matter that Google actively fights against, impression fraud seems to be a relatively new entity that hasn’t yet received much discussion.  Granted, the negative effects of impression fraud take longer to see than those of click fraud, but fraud is still fraud.

In making this argument I do realize the difficulty of monitoring impression fraud and do not have data to prove that it is a serious issue.  I do believe impression fraud is real and will eventually require a more in-depth investigation.

What are your thoughts about impression fraud?  Is this a real phenomenon or am I making too big a deal of the issue?  Leave a comment below.

*Over time you should expect to see your average CPCs lower

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2 Responses to Is PPC Impression Fraud A Concern?

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Groller, Matt Umbro. Matt Umbro said: Is PPC Impression Fraud A Concern? Read the new entry,, and let me know #PPC […]

  2. SEMantiks says:

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for putting this question to Google on our behalf.

    Impression fraud though hard to spot does have its signifiers. Significant above average increases in impressions and falling click throughs can be a tell tail sign for those of us that monitor our accounts with a fine tooth comb.

    Impression fraud only works with the instigators ads paused so as not to effect themselves. So keep close tabs on your competitors.

    As a practice I think it’s only a problem for highly competitive, high profit markets currently, but as knowledge filters through the rank and file over time it’s likely to become more widespread.

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