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We all knew they existed, but now we have the code to prove it. Recently, code was discovered that showed a website utilizing a botnet to create fraudulent mouse clicks on Google AdSense ads to generate revenue for the webmaster and in turn the botnet master. With the increase of organized crime's Internet presence, we're now seeing that malicious motives have turned from defacements and destruction to fraudulent capitalization. Wondering how it works?
First, a hacker/cracker will backdoor several hundreds to thousands of computers by exploiting a vulnerabilty, using a scanner to detect all vulnerable targets and then infecting those victim machines with a trojan horse and/or virus. The malicious application usually contains code that creates a connection to a centralized server (IRC is the connection of choice for crackers/hackers) that allows the botmaster to control all zombie computers through a command line statement. Once this botnet is assembled, these botmasters will seek "clients" to purchase their services. In this scenario, webmasters running advertisements on their websites are purchasing the services of these botnets to randomly and covertly click on their advertisements in order to generate revenue. The ad revenue then pays the botmaster for his services and the cycle continues ...
Obviously, the implications here are the potential for fraud with a PPC based advertising system and the difficulty in detecting fraudulent clicks when they occur. With a seemingly random selection of computers from networks all over the world, I can't imagine that Google could be overly successful in protecting the investments of their advertisers. Throw in a couple of page views before the ad click and I can't see how Google would be able to distinguish this click from a legitimate one. As bots become even more sophisticated, one can only speculate as to the true amount of click fraud occurring in AdSense and YPN! programs.
The Google AdSense blog recently posted some suggestions concerning ad placement and exactly what location provides the best performance for your ads. Google stress that a balance between left and right (although more towards the left) and balancing between top and bottom (although more towards the top) are generally good rules to follow. The one clear exception would be placing your ads at the end of your articles where readers are very likely to scroll down to and see. Personally, once I got rip of the huge banner up top and put smaller ads at the bottom of my articles, my revenue greatly increased even though my traffic has stayed relatively the same.
The AdSense Blog talks about publishers potentially making the switch to link units espeically with the new year. What are link units you ask? Well, the Google AdSense FAQ states that link units are:
Link units are a new form of text advertising that we're offering to our AdSense publishers. Using the same contextual targeting algorithm that targets Google ads to your content pages, link units display a list of topics that are relevant to your page. Each topic, when clicked, brings the user to a page of related advertisements.
The Google AdSense team has released a statement concerning the CPM lowering and site-targeting questions. This is a must read for anyone using AdSense to monetize their websites.
The move directly helps AdWords clients select their desired ad placement to a much larger site base now and the AdSense changes are really just the byproduct. Personally, I think that this is a fine move and AdSense users really need to not complain about advertisers choosing their site as the site they wa