Massive Chinese Click Fraud Ring Uncovered

Author: Quikclicks  //  Category: Online Marketing, Search Engine News, Web News

As long as advertisers pay for clicks, there will be click fraud. And the more people combat it, the more sophisticated the attacks become to get around the defenses that advertisers, search engines, and others put in place. But a recent click fraud ring discovered by click-fraud monitoring service Anchor Intelligence suggests that the practice is evolving to a scale never seen before.

Anchor Intelligence identified a click fraud ring being run out of China which involved 200,000 different IP addresses and racked up more than $3 million worth of fraudulent clicks across 2,000 advertisers in a two-week period. That money was never paid out and the ring has now dissipated (or moved onto another scam), but who knows how long the ring was in operation before Anchor noticed. The operation was called DormRing1 because it was centered in dorms at technical universities in China such as the Shanghai Technology Institute.

“We have seen 200 fraud rings,” says Anchor VP Richard Sim, “and this one by far trumps them all. I think it is indicative of how sophisticated the click fraud is getting. We are seeing the sheer scale and size of these rings growing.”

Click fraud occurs when someone sets up a website, signs up with an ad network, and then clicks on the ads to generate ad revenues with false clicks. DormRing1 operated the same way, except it easily involved more than 1,000 people who set up more than 10,000 Websites to spread out the fraud. The image above depicts a portion of the ring, with each red dot representing a source of fraudulent clicks with similar digital signatures. (Anchor monitors such activity on behalf of advertising clients).

Spreading the click fraud out across thousands of sites makes it harder to detect, but it also requires a lot more people to perpetrate it. DormRing1 recruited student click fraud workers on Chinese social networks where and forums participants would post images of checks they were getting for their activities. One drummed up interest by talking about his plans to buy a car with the proceeds. Just like with any criminal organization, people at the lower rungs had to do a lot of grunt work to move up the ladder of trust and money. A briefing paper provided by Anchor describes the operation:

These social networks involve a complex set of user access levels. The baseline entrance level is only available by invitation; access to sensitive information is restricted solely to those users who have attained the highest levels. Users with the uppermost levels of access are able to purchase root kits to engage in fraudulent activity and contract out phases of their fraud operations to a large network of willing participants. Users reach higher levels of access in one of two ways: either through a vouching system or by proving themselves as valuable contributors to the network through the provision of some ground level of services (e.g. contracting to create hundreds of accounts on various websites).

DormRing1 was able to use these exclusive social networks to create a division of labor in which all participants at the highest levels shared in a percentage of profits from an operation. The students involved in the ring each set up dozens of bare-bones websites, and successfully registered them with multiple ad networks. The students then hired the services of several botnet controllers to systematically click on ad links that were displayed on these sites. For each ad click, the publisher made a percentage of what the advertiser paid for that click. Through this network, the perpetrators were able to contract money mules (i.e. people with US addresses to which checks can be sent), traffic generators / botnet herders, website template developers, and a host of other service providers. After monetizing these fake websites via fraudulent ad clicks, the perpetrators then wired money to their various contractors.

Remember, we only know these details because DormRing1 was stopped. But nobody was arrested. The advertisers just stopped making payments to the fraudulent Websites. You can be pretty sure that DormRing2 is already up and running.


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YouTube Call-to-Actions for Promoters

Author: Quikclicks  //  Category: Online Marketing, Technology

YouTube is now allowing advertisers to incorporate a “Call-to-Action overlay” on their videos. With the overlay, advertisers can drive traffic to their sites where they can make purchases, sign up for email newsletters or whichever action an advertiser wishes.

The Call-to-Action overlays are available for Promoted Videos only. Promoted Videos, you may remember, are essentially the paid search of YouTube. They were once called Sponsored Videos, similar to paid search listings called Sponsored Listings.

In order to set up the overlay:

1. Set up your Promoted Video campaign like you normally would in YouTube
2. Under My Videos, go to the Video Details page
3. Fill out the fields for the Call-to-Action overlay section

You’re all set. Once the campaign is in full swing, you can check YouTube Insight to see how many people are clicking on the Call-to-Action overlay.


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Google AdWords Editor 7.5.1

Author: Quikclicks  //  Category: Online Marketing, SEO, Search Engine News, Web News

Google has released a new version of its AdWords Editor and there are some new features to look forward to.

CSV import has been added. Google says this was requested by many advetisers. Making changes on a spreadsheet or custom app can now be imported.

Next is the ability to download selected campaigns. You no longer have to endure long waits while your entire account downloads. Just select the campaigns you wish to download and go about your business.

The Keyword Opportunities feature has been updated. You can now sort by topical category. Also, when you export or copy keywords, the Keywords Opportunity column is now included.

Sort data by up to 3 columns.

A new Keyword Count column allows you to sort by number of keywords.

Resume account download prevents download progress from being lost is a download is interrupted for some reason.

A progress bar will let you know where you are at in the process of a given task in AdWords Editor.

You can select duplicates in order of appearance.

Usage tracking gives you the opportunity to share anonymous data in order to improve AdWords Editor.

New languages in this version include:

  • Thai
  • Arabic
  • Romanian
  • Hungarian
  • Indonesian
  • Greek
  • Vietnamese
  • Bulgarian
  • Croatian
  • Lithuanian
  • Estonian
  • Slovak
  • Filipino
  • Slovenian
  • Serbian
  • Catalan
  • Latvian
  • Ukranian
  • Hindi


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Google AdWords to Allow Trademarks in Ad Text

Author: Quikclicks  //  Category: Online Marketing, SEO, Search Engine News

Google is issuing a significant update to its policy on Trademarks in AdWords ad text. Trademarks will now be allowed in ad text, in the U.S. only, under the following circumstances:

  • Ads which use the term in a descriptive or generic way, and not in reference to the trademark owner or the goods or services corresponding to the trademark term.
  • Ads which use the trademark in a nominative manner to refer to the trademark or its owner, specifically:
    • Resale of the trademarked goods or services: The advertiser’s site must sell (or clearly facilitate the sale of) the goods or services corresponding to a trademark term. The landing page of the ad must clearly demonstrate that a user is able to purchase the goods or services corresponding to a trademark from the advertiser.
    • Sale of components, replacement parts or compatible products corresponding to a trademark: The advertiser’s site must sell (or clearly facilitate the sale of) the components, replacement parts or compatible products relating to the goods or services of the trademark. The advertiser’s landing page must clearly demonstrate that a user is able to purchase the components, parts or compatible products corresponding to the trademark term from the advertiser.
    • Informational sites: The primary purpose of the advertiser’s site must be to provide non-competitive and informative details about the goods or services corresponding to the trademark term. Additionally, the advertiser may not sell or facilitate the sale of the goods or services of a competitor of the trademark owner.


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Google New Like-Image Search and News Timeline

Author: Quikclicks  //  Category: Search Engine News, Web News

Google employees get 20% of their time to work on non-assigned projects. Sometimes when they do, the result is some pretty cool stuff that Google adds to its products.

This time, Google has announced that two 20% projects have made their way into Google Labs (aka Google’s experimental playground). The two projects are “Similar Images” and “Google News Timeline.”

Last week, we brought you word that Google News had introduced a “Timeline of Articles.” This new timeline that’s launching in Labs is different.

The Labs timeline looks like a calendar with a bunch of news stories. An on-site scrollbar helps users find more stories for a given day:

googlenewstimelinelabs0421109.png

Meanwhile, Similar Images does pretty much what the name implies. Start off by searching for an image. In this case, I typed in the name of one of my favorite shows on TV, Chuck (starring Zachary Levi, don’t cancel it, NBC, don’t!):

googlesimilarimagessearch042109.png

In the results, I look for an image I’m interested in and click the blue link underneath that says “Similar Images”

googlesimilarimageresultsselect042109.png

As you can see, the results are really good!

googlesimilarimagesfinalresults42109.png

You may remember that recently the official Google Image search recently added a color filter. It works quite good as well. It’s nice to see these advances in image search from the Google team.


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Flash Websites get more SEO-friendly

Author: Quikclicks  //  Category: Online Marketing, SEO, Search Engine News, Web Design

In the not-so-distant past, sites built using Adobe’s Flash technology were invisible to search engines. Both search engines and SEOs have continued to work on ways to make those pages show up better in search results. Last summer, Adobe lent a hand, by providing its Flash technology to Google and Yahoo to help them figure out how to better index sites and pages created with Flash.

This week, Adobe went a step further, launching a new SEO Technology Center for Flash to help developers and other content creators build Flash applications in more search-friendly ways. The site, part of the Adobe Developer Connection, explains current SEO challenges and provides practical steps, examples, and best practices to overcome them.

Although the search engines are currently working on improving their indexing of Flash content, Adobe advises that at this point, it’s still best to offer them an HTML representation of the content. They explain that this could be done via hidden DIV tags, which they admit is considered to be hidden text by some, and may get you banned by Google if you’re not showing the same content there as you are in the Flash file. They suggest using the NOSCRIPT tag, since Flash files are called via JavaScript, and the search engines don’t use JavaScript in their crawlers.

Adobe advises setting up separate HTML pages for each important topic area of your site, and deep-linking to the proper area of the SWF file from each of those pages. That’s a best practice for non-Flash SEO as well, since a page that focuses more on a given topic is likely to rank better for keywords around that topic, while a page with six or seven topics is not likely to rank well for any of them.

There’s lots more great content on the new SEO Technology Center for Flash, so if you’ve got a site that uses Flash, or are considering building one, you should definitely take the time to read as much as you can about it before moving forward.


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Twitter Search to take on Google

Author: Quikclicks  //  Category: Online Marketing, SEO, Search Engine News, Technology

Last year, Twitter acquired Summize, which was a Twitter search developed on the API. Twitter search is increasingly popular, especially for finding real-time chatter on a given topic. Recently, a Greasemonkey script was created to incorporate Twitter search into Google results (for those who install the add-on in Firefox).

But Twitter has bigger plans. They want to add a Q&A feature that harnesses the collective – and immediate – knowledge of the Twitterverse. Think Yahoo! Answers meets Twitter Search. Answers sites have been growing in popularity at a rapid pace. This could be a very smart move for Twitter.

Anecdotally, I’ve been seeing people using Twitter before checking with Google. It makes sense. Ask people from your trusted network instead of searching through tens or hundreds of results on your own – and then deciphering how trustworthy the information is.

If Twitter focuses on search, it’s easy to see how they could then monetize their network (finally): search ads.

It’s no wonder that Google has its eye on Twitter. From the CEO calling it a “poor man’s email” (postering??) to rumors that it may seek to acquire Twitter, this is an exciting space to watch.


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YouTube Surpasses 100M U.S. Viewers

Author: Quikclicks  //  Category: Online Marketing, Search Engine News, Technology

According to an email from comScore about their press release distributed on PR Newswire and posted on their website, YouTube has just surpassed 100 million U.S. viewers for the first time. Ironically, there was no online video with the announcement.

Nevertheless, this is big news. According to the January 2009 data release today by the comScore Video Metrix service, more than 147 million U.S. Internet users watched an average of 101 videos per viewer in January. This means 76.8% of the total U.S. Internet audience viewed 14.8 billion online videos during the month.

That’s more people than watched Super Bowl XLIII on NBC!

According to comScore, the duration of the average online video was 3.5 minutes. This means that the average online video viewer watched 356 minutes of video in January — approximately 6 hours a month.

That’s more time than the Super Bowl pre-game, game and post-game coverage combined — including the half-time show!

Leading the way was YouTube. You remember them. The video sharing site that Google acquired for $1.65 billion back in the fall of 2006.

100.9 million viewers watched 6.3 billion videos on YouTube.com in January — 62.6 videos per viewer that month. That’s makes YouTube the top U.S. video property. YouTube.com also accounted for more than 99% of the 6.4 billion videos viewed at Google Sites. This means the number of videos viewed at Google Video is now round off error.

And Yahoo! Video, which began as a video search engine, was launched in February 2008 with a new focus on Yahoo-hosted video only. In other words, it became a video sharing site — like YouTube.

So, I think it’s time to declare that video search engines are dead. They were killed by their siblings, video sharing sites. Even MySpace, which ranks second with 473 million videos viewed in January, is a video sharing site.

Since neither YouTube nor MySpace crawl the video on your website or blog, I think it is also time to declare that video search engine optimization is dead. You might still want to optimize your videos for YouTube, but if you don’t upload them to YouTube, they will never be found in a YouTube search.

And YouTube search is just one of many ways that people discover videos on YouTube. I talked about this at SES London 2009 — Li Evans of Key Relevance interviewed me about this surprising outcome afterwords. Check out the video interview below.

Greg Jarboe of SEO-PR discusses YouTube and Video Marketing


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Google News Gets AdWords

Author: Quikclicks  //  Category: Online Marketing, SEO, Search Engine News

Search advertising has come to Google News. Type in a query and you’ll see sponsored links running along the right side just like you do in “regular” Google.

Here’s a search for coffee on Google News:

googlenewsads0209.jpg

Google began testing ads on a variety of its web properties last November
. The testing of ads then in Google News was for “search refinements.” In other words, if you searched for a term on the main Google site and then clicked “News,” that’s a search refinement.

Google also rolled out sponsored videos to YouTube last November.


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SearchMe Visual Search Engine Beta

Author: Quikclicks  //  Category: Online Marketing, SEO, Search Engine News, Technology, Web News

What happens when you make paid search ads both relevant and visual? Searchme, the search engine startup which presents results as a stack of full-page previews that you can flip through, is hoping to find out with the beta launch of AdView. Its first foray into advertising, AdView is SearchMe’s version of AdWords, except that instead of selling of paid text links it will be interspersing into its results clickable previews of entire Webpages, videos, or other visual advertising.

If you are an advertiser and want to try it out, SearchMe is giving a free trial to the first 500 companies or individuals that sign up here. That’s right, you get to run a free ad campaign on SearchMe for 30 days.

To see how this works, search for “Ralph Lauren” and if you flip through to the third result, it will be an ad that shows a landing page for its fall collection. In other words, the Website becomes the ad itself. This approach is similar to what StumbleUpon does, with ads placed in every 20 or so Stumbles. But the ad unit can also be a YouTube video which can be played without leaving SearchMe. For instance, check out the third result when you search for “Mac” (SearchMe inserted one of the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads for demonstration purposes).

This could potentially be a very effective form of advertising. It is almost like a magazine ad where the ad is a Website. Advertisers who create visually appealing landing pages I suspect will do better. And it is also a potentially powerful way to target video ads, combining keyword targeting with a TV-like viewing experience. (Check out SearchMe’s own video commercial embedded below, which it plans to run as a TV spot)

SearchMe is not huge by any means, but it provides a nice sandbox to experiment with new types of advertising. Quantcast shows some decent growth over the past six months to about 3 million visitors in the U.S. That is certainly large enough to test the ROI for visual paid search. And its organic growth suggests that the idea could catch on. Certainly, it doesn’t hurt that Apple is training consumers to become comfortbale with the page-flipping metaphor. One of the key features of its just-released version of the Safari browser is a similar Coverflow-like treatment of bookmarked pages and browsing history.


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