A True 2nd Tier PPC Click Fraud Story

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It happened actually last month and I wanted to blog about it earlier, but I did unfortunately not get around to it until now.

I started some advertising for a project of mine at several 2nd tier PPC search engines like Looksmart (putting the SES coupon to good use), Kanoodle and Miva (formerly FindWhat). I put a different tracking in place on my end because it was somewhat separate from what I usually do. Only a few hours after the campaigns were launched did I noticed 500 Errors caused by the new tracking.

The code looked alright at the first glance, but the error message clearly indicated otherwise. The error occurred only occasionally and the problem was always the same. The referrer data could not be saved. I made the column in the database for storing the referrer data of a click only 512 characters long. That is plenty I believed, because which site would have my Ads running on a page with a URL that is longer than that?

Well, I increased the size, set an alert for referrer urls that are longer than 512 characters and kept watching what happened next. It wasn’t for long and the first emails showed up in my inbox.

The Click was for a Miva Ad and the Referrer URL looked like this: http://sponsor2.ucmore.com/click.asp? plus 600+ more characters of encrypted information. Who is ucmore?
UCMore is a known Spyware. See Details here

I contacted Miva support and provided some of the click logs as reference. I was contacted by Miva a day or so after I contacted them with the information that they will look into this. Only 2 days after that did I receive the following message:

Greetings Carsten Cumbrowski;

Thank you for being an important part of MIVA; we always appreciate your business.

During a recent review of traffic sent to your website from 10/12/06 through 10/15/06 on your account “xxxxxxx”, we found some traffic that did not meet our standards as traffic of high-quality. Although we cannot release the specifics of the traffic itself, or the sources of delivery, we can assure you that the source of this low converting traffic, with which you were concerned, no longer has access to your ads.

To remedy any effect this has had on your advertising campaign, we are pleased to issue a refund of $xx.xx. This amount is the total sum of any charges that were applied to your account as a result of traffic delivered through this particular source.

As a MIVA advertiser, you can rest assured that you are receiving high-quality traffic from the MIVA Network. This is what makes advertising with MIVA one of the most effective advertising vehicles available today. To reinforce this commitment, we have many systems and procedures in place to continually monitor the traffic delivered through the MIVA Network. This ensures that you are only charged for qualified traffic and allows us to replace any funds to your account for traffic that may have been deemed questionable.

Should you have any further questions or concerns please feel free to contact us.

Best Regards,

I thought “great” and responded:

Thanks for the information. I appreciate that you took an active stance against Spyware and Parasites, also the fact that you took actions swiftly and your communication and responses were prompt and transparent. You had to verify my claims of course and investigate the publishers general activity in your network before you could make the decision to deny the publisher further access to your network.

Also thank you for the refund. I know that $xx.xx is not worth the effort and the processing cost are higher than the refund, but it was the correct thing to do. I caught the publisher within hours after he started sending traffic to my Ads. There was no time to cause further damage. I’d like to blog about this case…

The 2nd tier search properties got lately quite a pounding and the 2007 Search Marketing Benchmark Guide from Marketing Sherpa was just brutal in its comments to the 2nd tier, specifically because of the lower conversion and the suspected bigger issue with click fraud and the missing trust in you guys to do something about it. Such a post would be good for you and reinforce articles like this one which make Miva stick out of the 2nd tier SE crowd in a positive way. …

You could help me with the content a little by telling me a bit more about the steps Miva took in the process. What is also interesting to know are the details about how you dealt with the publisher. Did you seize all outstanding revenue and refunded the money to each affected advertiser? if you did, Is it possible for you to give me a ball park figure about the total amount being refunded? Last but not least some insights in how Miva tries to minimize the risk of such publishers becoming active in the network and what measures you have in place to prevent that the same publisher simply creates a new account and starts again.

Whatever you can give me will do. If you want to give me more details under the condition that you can double check my post for accuracy, fine with me. This double check would of course only have the purpose to prevent possible misunderstandings or unintentionally implied statements that could be misinterpreted by the terminated publisher and may be trigger legal actions.

I did not hear back from Miva until this day and I must say that it worries me a little. It certainly did not help me nor them to improve on the image 2nd Tier PPC Search Engines have. Some might laugh now and think “old news, everybody knows that the 2nd tier ppc traffic is garbage; full of fraud and low converting.”. Well, I don’t give up on anybody that quickly and believe in second chances. I assume that I must give them a third one now, after this incident.

Carsten Cumbrowski, owner and operator of Cumbrowski.com – Internet Marketing and Web Development Resources, Search Engine Backgrounds, PPC Search Engines, Competitive Intelligence and other Resources.

Carsten Cumbrowski
Carsten Cumbrowski has years of experience in Affiliate Marketing and knows both sides of the business as the Affiliate and Affiliate Manager. Carsten has over... Read Full Bio
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  • Matt Cutts Shirt

    Good story, but now it’s time for a laugh . . . http://www.nonbot.com/blog/google-post/new-seo-shirt/78/

  • Ask Bjørn Hansen

    “we can assure you that the source of this low converting traffic, with which you were concerned, no longer has access to your ads.”

    That’s pretty weak. They clearly stated that they just turned the spyware “publisher” off from your ads (because you noticed) but they are still letting the spyware have access to other ads.

    – ask

  • CarstenCumbrowski

    Hi Bjoern (Ask isn’t your first name, isn’t it?).

    That was the part that worried me too and another reason why I posted this. Good that you spelled it out. Thanks.

    I also posted enough of the referrer url that other webmasters can check their logs for referrers from the same source and report it (and get refunds).

  • Ben

    I’ve had the same problem with Miva, crap traffic and they don’t seem to care.

  • CarstenCumbrowski

    Make it a monthly task to send them a record of crap traffic from bots and spyware and demand your refund. The more people do that the better. At one point are the cost of dealing with all those refunds higher than the gain by having those scumware publishers in the network.

  • Michael Temple

    In sales one of one of the key motivators that often gets taught is that “no pain” = no sale. I think that is the case here. You noticed so they are going to do something about it, but overall there isn’t enough pain to cause them to make true fundamental changes in the problems related to click fraud.

    When people start finding alternative ways to market on the Internet and stop advertising the revenue drop they experience *should* be enough of a motivator to cause them to make true substantial changes.

  • Blake

    Check out my true, top tier click fraud story. http://www.voodooventures.com/2006/11/17/google-tells-me-to-talk-to-the-hand/

  • CarstenCumbrowski

    Hi Blake,

    Google’s recent settlement and refunds that they paid out to Advertisers as compensation for 3+ years of fraud was also a “hit”, wasn’t it?

    If that numbers what mean anything (what they don’t), there wouldn’t be a problem. You could write them up under “accidental clicks” or “misclicks” hehe.

  • CarstenCumbrowski

    Miva’s response to my post can be found here:


  • Craig

    I’ve just found that sponsor2.ucmore.com/click.asp became my top referrer after signing up with MIVA. Its pretty awful that MIVA still haven’t banned this site.

  • CarstenCumbrowski

    Send them an email and complain. Let them know what you think. The more Advertisers do that, the more likely will they change their processes and how they handle this kind of stuff.

  • Cristian

    The easy solution is to find a click fraud detection and while you are at it get a great ad tracking tool. I would recommend starting your research at: http://www.adtrackerreviews.com