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Website Visitors, Google & Click Junk

by | Nov 7, 2016 | Blog | 0 comments

Website Visitors, Google and Click Junk

VisitorTrack and the Identification of Nefarious Display Ad Respondents

Never before have there been so many digital messaging opportunities available to marketers for b2b lead generation. At netFactor, we really like Internet advertising. Especially those digital channels which let us determine outcomes, as well as the cost of getting there. So we began experimenting with Display Advertising through Google AdWords. By using VisitorTrack, we can track the anonymous web visitors responding to our campaigns. As a result, we improve the ROI through visibility into a whole additional set of prospect targets. Then we discovered we’d fallen victim to “Click Junk”.

For those unfamiliar with this real estate in the digital advertising land-grab, the advertiser prepares a series of images in a variety of sizes (in formats like .gif, .jpg, .png) and puts a link to a landing page behind them. These display ads are placed outside of Google’s search listings onto other participating websites. The advertiser pays a fee based on impressions delivered or upon clicks. That website owner gets a piece of the action. And Google, who provides the platform and marketplace, presumably gets some share of the proceeds.

After initial testing, we liked the affordability of the clicks originating from these placements. This averaged – for netFactor – about 8% – 12% of the cost for a PPC-driven ad response. We found conversion rates were much lower but, due to the lower cost-per-click, these display ads as a b2b lead generator vs. branding medium offered some promise. Our next step was the design of new ad creatives, A/B testing, and then increasing our budget and reach across the Google network.

“…these display ads as a b2b lead generator vs. branding medium offered some promise.”

Once our new ads were completed and determined acceptable by Google’s approval people (more officially known as the Ads Review Team), they began their run. This time round with an even bigger daily spend and reach across the display ad network. The results were impressive. According to the AdWords metrics anyways. Impressions soared, the click rates went up correspondingly, and it was all right there in our web console. Then the visibility of otherwise anonymous website visitors coming from these clicks came sharply into focus.


VisitorTrack is like Caller ID for your Website

Now we drink coffee from our own beans. Our VisitorTrack reporting uncovered a surge in universities and colleges showing up. Lots of them. This is odd because we target B2B companies. More specifically, we do not sell to consumers. And while most of us attended (and even graduated from) a higher-ed institution, they’re just not our market. So how did all these halls of ivy find their way to our website?

VisitorTrack provides a number of visibility features which let us take a deep dive into our own anonymous website visitors. We could quickly trace these visits were occurring from the Google display ads. There is a specific landing page earmarked for this campaign which only display ad respondents would go to.

So while the AdWords console told a story from an aggregate campaign level about the volume of clicks, VisitorTrack quickly uncovered their character. These respondents were almost totally from an educational institution access. Few of these clicks ever viewed more than a single web page! Our paid-for website visitors were Click Junk! You can click to enlarge the screenshot on the left that shows the detail behind who these visitors really are.


If you think about colleges, it is likely most of the visits occur from students. After all, how many students are using the campus Internet access at any time vs. teachers or staff? In many ways colleges should be considered to be not unlike an ISP.

But then suspicion crept in – could these website visits actually be evidence of Click Fraud? Are college students looking for some easy money being put up to clicking by some evil enterprise? This use to be the work conducted in the back-rooms of third-world countries. Or, and entirely worse, have our campus networks been compromised by hijackers performing fraudulent clicks? Our Googling of Google Click Fraud uncovered a number of results which supported an interpretation these website visitors could indeed be nefarious.

“It’s not unusual for a client to panic because a significant portion of their traffic is coming from the same place, only to finally discover that the suspect IP address belonged to proxy server at a public place like a coffee shop, airport, or university.”



The next chapter in our story involved outreach to Google’s customer service. We’ve found them to be very helpful recently and they were intrigued by our circumstance. The call went something like this….



“How do you really know these were Universities?”


“We use VisitorTrack to identify anonymous web visitors. We can see them coming from this Adwords display campaign”


“What is VisitorTrack?”


“Well, VisitorTrack performs anonymous visitor identification to our website, and from where they came. They came from our Google display ad campaign.”



“Never heard of that. How do you know they came from Google?”


“We can see the landing page – it is not accessible by any other method other than from the display ad campaign. Also, we can see the gcld (a Google Click ID). And we can see detail on each of these visitors. They are colleges and schools.”


“Oh. Can you send me this report?”
And so the report was sent.  Now we await the review and reply from Google. As the case unwinds we will post the progress.