ClickRiver/Amazon Testing New Ad Targeting

Advertisers using A9/Amazon’s ClickRiver sponsored listings got an interesting letter today about increased relevance targeting which could result in lower impressions, but higher conversions for advertisers. Will be interesting to analyze the changes as they come in.

From ClickRiver:

Dear Clickriver Customer,

As part of our ongoing performance improvement efforts, we are refining all of our service category targeting to provide the most relevant traffic to your ads. We will provide the same visibility on the Amazon details page while directing placements to the most highly targeted products.

These changes will increase the efficiency of your ads, so while in some cases you may experience lower impression volume, you should also observe higher CTRs (Click Through Rates) and potentially better conversions for your campaigns. More refined targeting, combined with more relevant ads, contributes to a better shopping experience, and results in higher quality traffic for your ads.

How Will This Affect My Clickriver Campaign?

· Impression volume will fluctuate as we test the best inventory for your category ads.

· Clickriver categories that are of higher value to customers will be prioritized over less popular categories.

· Quality of Amazon traffic should result in higher CTRs overall.

· There may be some reduction in clicks as impressions are shown only on placements with the most potential traffic.

· You may see higher conversions as the traffic quality improves.

We are always interested in improving the Clickriver program for our customers. If you have questions or suggestions for please contact us at We thank you for your business and, as always, we appreciate your feedback.


The Clickriver Ads Team

Click Fraud

Click Fraud: A Brief History

Shortly after organic SEO became a recognized marketing channel, the pay per click SEM pricing model was launched. Soon thereafter, problems with click validity arose.

In the fall of 2001, while handling the online marketing efforts for the Chase Law Group, I tracked, analyzed, documented, and eventually negotiated a credit for a click fraud case with what was then called (later re-named Overture, which was then purchased by Yahoo!). I spoke with various industry colleagues including Danny Sullivan and Dana Todd about this new “click fraud” issue – and it came to light that this case might make a particularly interesting presentation at the industry’s popular Search Engine Strategies conferences. Danny was interested in the idea and invited me to speak on a panel to share these experiences with click fraud in order to give advertisers information about how to begin to analyze their PPC search traffic for click fraud and invalid click activity.

In August of 2002 at the San Jose Search Engine Strategies conference, Danny requested that I present the click fraud case in the perfecting paid listings panel, and the presentation received great feedback from advertisers who were interested in protecting themselves from click fraud (or invalid click activity). Included in the first presentation was a thorough description of the important data points necessary for an analysis of ppc campaign traffic, including log file data such visitor referral data, ip addresses, browser versions, click streams, traffic patterns, etc.

Since the first presentation on click fraud (also referred to as click spam – all falling within the realm of invalid click activity), I spoke at various other search engine industry conferences about the issue, educating advertisers and challenging Yahoo!, Google, and other search engines to step up to the plate and address this “underground” issue that few care to speak of.  In my opinion, when advertisers are paying prime PPC rates for fraudulent traffic that is ultimately resulting in higher revenues for search engines and their commissioned affiliates, there is more that needs to be done to address the issue. One of the most disturbing aspects of click fraud activity is that it is not uniform across advertisers – fraudulent clicks occur with varying frequency across verticals, keywords, and bid prices – with increasing evidence that the higher the bid price, the more rampant the click fraud.

Litigation: The Lane’s Gifts & Collectibles click fraud case.

In 2004 I was engaged by the Plaintiffs’ attorneys for this case as an expert witness to assist them with their class action litigation involving the major providers of search engine PPC traffic.

Click Fraud Overview

Some important (and often overlooked) facts regarding the click fraud issue:

1.) Both the search engines and advertisers agree that click fraud/invalid click activity exists

2.) Both the search engines and advertisers agree that advertisers should not be billed for this activity

3.) The search engines have for years told advertisers that their accounts are protected, that the search engines have “systems in place” to protect advertisers from click fraud

The questions, then, become:

– What constitutes a fraudulent click?

– What (and whose) data is used in scoring a click as “fraudulent” or “invalid”?

– When will the search engines admit they cannot address this problem alone?

Click fraud: A Definition

In my opinion, fraudulent clicks or “click spam” can be defined as any kind of click received from a cost per click (cpc) search engine – or from any other online traffic source that is using the cpc pricing model – that occurs with zero possibility for a conversion to occur, or for a web site visit from a legitimate user to occur. Fraudulent clicks happen on a regular basis and to a much greater extent than the cpc engines would have you believe, and while the cpc engines are “working on it” – the burden rests squarely on the advertisers’ shoulders to identify this kind of costly traffic.

One form of fraudulent clicks, and perhaps the most difficult to identify, comes in the form of manually generated clicks, induced either by direct cpc competitors, or by human-driven operations set up for the sole purpose of generating affiliate revenue off of the cpc pricing model. Another method of fraudulent clicking is initiated through automated click generation methods, using bots – software applications specifically designed to click on paid listings. this kind of activity is also initiated by both competitors and by search engine partners and/or affiliates, the latter often instituting extensive technology arrangements to enable their fraudulent click traffic to slip past the internal filtering methods used by the cpc engines. For cpc affiliates, there is a vested interest in generating as much traffic as possible to increase their portion of the shared revenue generated by paid listings. This is an often overlooked source of fraudulent click activity.

The search engines are working to combat such activities, as many of my conversations with them have proven. However, I believe that for publishers to do everything they possibly could do to combat “questionable traffic” is to some extent not in their best interest – as even one half of one percent of click revenue adds up to a very large number to these companies. In my opinion, one half of one percent of traffic is still advertising dollars spent unnecessarily.

It is no secret that click spam is something that few in the search engine marketing (or SEO) industry have cared to discuss, for various reasons – lack of knowledge or direct experience with this type of cpc traffic, an unwillingess to address flaws in the pricing/advertising model, or a general lack of awareness of the issue. In recent years, however, we have seen more attention placed on the analysis of ppc traffic validity – a sign that the industry is maturing and that advertisers are taking the initiative to get more granular with their marketing campaigns.

Do you think you are a victim of click fraud?

While some advertisers can receive quality traffic from paid search, the cost is high when “fake” clicks are generated to your site’s urls. If you think your ppc campaign funds might be depleting unnecessarily due to a competitor’s fraudulent click activity, to affiliate-generated fraudulent activity, or if you are simply suspicious of overly expensive traffic spikes that occur with zero page views or without any increases in sales – then perhaps you should start getting more granular in your analysis of your ppc marketing campaigns.

The first step in identifying fraudulent clicks is to implement a tracking system that allows you to track all of your ppc advertising sources independently, down to the keyword. in the most simple example, you can asssign unique session id’s to each of your urls within your ppc campaigns and then use a basic log analyzer program to begin to investigate the ndata on the clicks received on each url, including date, time, referrer, page views, etc. On a more comprehensive level you need to track conversions, either in-house using your own conversion tracking system, or by using a third-party conversion tracking tool.

Once you have a tracking system in place you are ready to take the next step to determine whether or not your campaign is receiving any questionable traffic. the following are some general guidelines to help you through the process:

1.) Be thorough

– make sure you have a legitimate case
– show data that legitimately points to questionable traffic
– double-check your data – crying wolf will get you nowhere!

2.) Document your traffic analysis

– your observations and analysis are the most important
– include handwritten notes, email exchanges, scribbles, and highlighted reports

3.) Record all click data

– from server logs to third party traffic reports

4.) Take screen shots

– document all relevant competitor positioning and web-based third party reports, when applicable

recommended click fraud action items

1.) Contact other competitors if you suspect competitor clicking

– your ppc campaign might not be the only one experiencing these clicks by a competitor
– two victims’ data can make a stronger case.

2.) Contact your paid search account representative

– explain your situation, provide your account rep with well outlined data, and give them the opportunity to investigate. their investigations can, and do, take time…

3.) Benchmark your data

4.) Consider investing in SEO to supplement your paid search efforts

Related Articles:

click fraud gets smarter -businessweek
february 27, 2006

click fraud: how real is the threat? -emarketer
march 6, 2006

google shares may fall another 50 percent -abc news
february 12, 2006

click fraud chaos -new york post
january 29, 2006

the truth about google and click fraud
january 27, 2006

kanoodle and click fraud
september 22, 2005

so many clicks, so few sales -inc. magazine
august 2005

internet advertising fraud places google, yahoo on defensive -los angeles business journal
august 29, 2005

click fraud threatens rising online ad revenue -informationweek
may 2, 2005

click fraud gets day in court, maybe
april 21, 2005

clicking to steal -the washington post
april 17, 2005

will click fraud suits hobble search? – eweek
april 8, 2005

click fraud: problem and paranoia -wired
march 10, 2005

with each technology advance, a scourge – ny times
october 18, 2004

new attacks & defenses in click fraud war – datamation
september 21, 2004

lost per click: search advertising & click fraud –
july 29, 2004

exposing click fraud – cnet/
july 18, 2004

– Jessie Stricchiola, founder
Alchemist Media, inc. / a San Francisco SEO company


The Art of SEO Voted Best SEO Book of 2009

I’d like to send a personal shout-out to Lee Odden for running the best SEO book survey on his Online Marketing Blog. We certainly don’t mind coming home first as the Best SEO Book in 2009 in the minds of his awesome readers, especially when compared against the rockstar list of books under consideration.

And while we’re here, I would also like to thank Chris Sherman for his great review of the book on SearchEngineLand’s Best SEO Books of 2009 list.

In both lists The Art of SEO is compared alongside a solid lineup of SEO books by very accomplished experts in the field, many of whom are friends. It’s an honor to have our The Art of SEO included alongside these other great SEO books.

The Art of SEO is written by Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting, Stephan Spencer of Netconcepts, Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz, and Jessie Stricchiola of San Francisco SEO company Alchemist Media.

What’s in a Game? For Marketers, Emotion Tracking.

Marketers, Game On

Call it the new ROE (return on emotion). If you’re a gamer (or an up-to-speed technophile) you may have already heard of Sony’s new hands-free, emotion tracking game controller called ICU, which stands for Interactive Communication Unit, released this November at the Vision 2009 trade fair in Germany. While the controller raises the bar in the ultra competitive hands-free gaming space, it does so with a twist: this controller tracks emotion.

According to NewScientist:

ICU ‘reads’ facial expressions using a pattern-matching algorithm that has been trained on pictures of people expressing different emotions. Using cues such as the position and shape of the lips, ICU spots five basic states: happiness, anger, surprise, sadness and neutral.

More than Meets the Eye

Way back in March of ’07, we wrote about a new type of eye tracking that allowed for greater understanding of emotions: Eye Tracking for Ads: Going from Heat to Emotion. It was clear then that using eye movement analysis for emotion identification was an early foray into the nascent world of emotion tracking. Sony’s technology not only uses eye movement analysis (through partnership with Atracsys, but it goes a step further by expanding the data source to include movements of the entire face, or simply – our facial expressions.

Google’s 2008 Eye Tracking Data – Limited, at Best

It will be interesting to see what the search industry does (ahem, is doing), with such forms of technology, which expand dynamically beyond pure eye scan path tracking. In the detailed 2008 research study undertaken by Google’s own Laura Grank: Eye Tracking and Online Search: Lessons Learned and Challenges Ahead”, three separate eye tracking studies are outlined, and analyzed.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the structure of these studies and subsequent modes of data analysis are geared towards “clicks.” In other words, who clicks, when do they click, where do they click, and what affects those behaviors? It would make sense for a search engine that generates 96% of its revenue from paid clicks to focus on this. For Google, a click is a conversion.

Some quick “click” takeaways from the Google paper:

– For 96% of the queries, participants looked only at the first SERP

– Participants clicked on results one and two 42% and 8% of the time, respectively, despite spending equal amounts of time reading those result listings, or “abstracts.”

– Males clicked on the second result only 7% of the time, and females selected it 14.5% of the time

However, it is more interesting for us to consider that for the vast majority of web sites a click is only an invitation to a conversion. There is much, much more that happens after an initial click – and the user information that one can glean from software such as Sony’s regarding a user’s emotional experience throughout an entire click stream presents much, much more insight into how to identify emotion, understand its implications and immediate associations with site content and usability, and maximize a site’s overall return on emotion.

As far as we can tell, there aren’t any eye tracking technology providers out there that are offering facial expression analysis. While some firms, such as UserVision/iMotions use emotion incorporation via emotional response questionnaires in addition to highly advanced eye tracking analysis, there isn’t any facial expression analysis.

The Eyes Still Have It – For Now

So yes, as far as emotion tracking technology goes, it seems to be true. But we think that Sony’s technology, in fact, makes a damned good argument for getting in your face.

RTS and SEO: A Marriage Made in… Vegas?

Well, maybe not quite. I’ve been thinking lately about the sexy, wily, real time search and the old-fashioned, chivalrous land of SEO, and how the two will eventually find a healthy, functional, and enduring relationship.

Real Time Search Still Hasn’t Found Herself

RTS is all a flutter with all of the attention she is getting – from everyone. And everyone else.

We are already seeing the incredibly powerful applications – and implications – of RTS in every aspect of our lives – private and public, social and commercial (but the line has even blurred here, hasn’t it?). If RTS is querying real time publishing and you agree with Danny that real time publishing is microblogging (the world the Twitter currently rules) – then real time search has barely scratched the surface of declaring herself as an accessible, reliable, and (gasp) indexable web resource. In other words, as a hot twenty-something. Right now she’s just legal.

SEO is The Man

Yep, I said it. SEO is The Man. And I do mean this in the weight lifting, football watching, beer drinking, beef eating, keep your hands off my daughter kind of way. After all, where do people turn when they are being bullied by the big bad PPC spend? Who does everyone run to, even in a terrible economy, for protection? I think that somewhere down the road, we will begin to see an integration, a real relationship emerge – one in which real time search is much more strongly (narrowly?) defined, having figured out what she wants in life (potentially with another big real time publishing player in the mix to challenge Twitter) – and where SEO the stud in fact loosens up, and his identity becomes a bit more broadly defined to include an entirely new “search” engine optimization set of tasks, tools, outlets, and capabilities. SEO as we know him will find some new parts of himself he previously was afraid to acknowledge. He gets a bit new-agey, if he wants her hand. Maybe a new subset of SEO, called RTSO, could evolve – but given the overwhelm of acronyms in our industry we may just resist that temptation despite our proclivity for things shorter, faster, cooler. Despite our proclivity for niches within a niche.

As Bruce Clay’s blog suggests, RTS right now is, for the most part, figuring out who she is, strutting all over the world yet seemingly limited to social media aggregators. SEO, with his many years on miss RTS, is admittedly a bit gun-shy, still pumping his iron (and did I mention the beer?). He’s got to get to a yoga class before he’s going to have a chance of finding a meaningful connection with her. First he’s got to know where to find her, even.

Vegas and Beyond

So, for now these lovers are flirting, heavily. They just might get married in Vegas, but their true relationship will take time to reveal itself.

But when they eventually do come together, they will likely make each other much, much, much better individuals, and together, well – they might be a power couple in the making.


The Art of SEO Book is Now Available!

At long last our The Art of SEO book is available on Amazon. It has been quite a fun, illuminating, and rewarding experience to create this elaborate work. It truly has been an honor to have been given the opportunity, by O’Reilly, to produce such an extensive volume.

I speak for my co-authors when I say that we all, truly, hope you find the book as information and resource-filled as we do.

Once you have your copy in your hands, we would love to hear your feedback – please visit the Art of SEO Book website to submit your comments.


SEO Book Updates…

Hi folks,

There hasn’t been much blog activity in recent months because most of the focus has been on writing The Art of SEO book with Rand, Stephan, and Eric, for O’Reilly Media. It has been quite an adventure, and actually a really brilliant professional exercise.

The process of writing The Art of SEO began back in August of 2007, after my first Foo Camp, when I signed with O’Reilly to author the book and we announced the project during my session at O’Reilly’s October 2007 Web 2.0 Expo.

As the months passed and the book organically (pun very intentional) grew into a bigger and bigger undertaking, we realized we would get the book to print sooner if we brought in additional authors to share the heavy lifting – and so we asked, and landed some of my brightest and most talented SEO colleagues in the industry – Rand Fishkin, Stephan Spencer, and Eric Enge. Rand and Stephan had already been in the process of writing a separate SEO book and Eric was fortunately able to clear space in his busy dance card for the project, and so the book had birthed its quartet.

After a little over a year working together, we have nearly completed this fun, challenging, and exciting project – so you will begin to see more posts coming back up to the blog in the weeks and months to come.

Welcome back!