Watch For This Fraud Tactic on Google’s Content Network: Ad Substitution

Watch For This Fraud Tactic on Google’s Content Network: Ad Substitution

There’s much more motive for click fraud with contextual advertising than with search advertising, because revenue is shared between the site displaying advertising and the ad platform.  Recently we’ve encountered a novel approach to Content Network click fraud worthy of your attention.

As a preface, know that Google uses many tools and data points to check for and eliminate click fraud.  While we’re highlighting an unusual fraud tactic we’ve seen recently, we do not mean to suggest that fraud is the norm.  It undeniably exists, but ROI on the Content Network undeniably exists as well in our experience.

How This Fraud Tactic Works: Ad Substitution

The “ad substitution” click fraud approach is a novel approach to click fraud because fraudulent sites are harnessing unsuspecting everyday people without a fraud motive to click on ads charged to you, as opposed to the normal primary methods for carrying out click fraud attacks – using clickbot programs or hijacked botnet computers, farms of individuals paid to click on ads, or pyramid scheme incentives.

Here’s how it works:  You post an ad on the Content Network to get attention for your product, service, or information. The fraud site uses a hack to change the ad that’s displayed to something that’s much more clickable (and perhaps R-rated as well) but unrelated to your business.   Unsuspecting traffic clicks on the irresistible ad, charging your account on a CPC basis.  Increased AdSense traffic still goes to your site, but the the odds of that traffic being interested in your product is greatly diminished because your ad is no longer filtering for interested parties.

How To Check Your AdWords Display Ad or Content Campaign For Ad Substitution Click Fraud

Run your placement report in the AdWords report center and review the top sites receiving your Content ad spend. Highlight where your CPA is unusually high or where there’s significant spend and zero conversions.  (This much you should be doing on a regular basis already to keep your Content campaign optimized.)

Now, go the extra step to call up the sites that are performing poorly, and find your advertisement.  If you don’t see your ad, but you do see something suspicious, do some click fraud detective work and see where suspicious images and ads lead to.  You may be surprised to find that they do go to your landing page.  If that’s the case, contact your AdWords rep and report the situation.  Not only will you likely get a refund, that fraudulent advertiser will at minimum have to change sites and AdSense accounts.

By Rob Sieracki

Director of Paid Search

Sources: and

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Joe Kennedy

    Thanks a lot. This is valuable, usefull, practicle information.



  2. Jered Klima

    Ahh, the power of the Placement Performance Report! This goes to show that Google gives you the needed resources to make the content network profitable. At the same time, they allow you to control where your ads show, how much you pay for a given click, and the ROI related to a give placement!

  3. David Rothwell

    Hi Glenn, hadn’t heard of this one before, thanks for sharing.

  4. Martina Roters

    Sorry, I do not get it yet (neither from the blog article nor from the MP3). Please help me to understand.

    My ad is supposed to be shown on a foreign site. The owner of this site makes the fraud by substituting or overlaying my ad by something else, nevertheless I have to pay for the clicks on that place where my ad should have shown. So far correct?

    “Unsuspecting traffic clicks on the irresistible ad” – and then? they go where? To my site? Why should they if they do no longer see my link? Obviously you tell they are going to my landing page?
    What is the interest of the fraudulent site owner, when they do not send the traffic somewhere else (e. g. to his own landing page?)

    Thanks in advance to explain, I do not seem to be good in getting into “criminal minds”.

  5. Bill Gustafson

    Thanks for the information. I will keep a closer eye on my Content Ads.

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