Say what you will about its importance for business, communications and international relations; the Internets great power continues to be the ability to get peoples knickers in a twist over issues that were solved in other media decades ago.
The size of the knickers and the importance of the twist continue to grow, however, which indicates the medium is maturing. A little.
Rather than sweating over the risk that 14-year-olds will bring down the music industry, knickers are twisting about advertising fraud and a lawsuit by a Texarkana, Ark.-based gift shop lodged against the biggest companies in the Internet business.
Lanes Gifts & Collectibles—which carries more than 30 lines of dolls, masses of figurines, gift-candles and other knick-knackery but appears otherwise to be a respectable business—charges that Google, AskJeeves, Yahoo and others are purposely defrauding it by allowing its pay-per-click ad count to be inflated.
Which is nonsense. They dont exactly have a vested interest in keeping shady-looking click patterns completely out of the network, but theres no evidence that any of them deliberately allow PPC counts to be inflated to jack up their revenues.
On the other hand, they dont offer a lot of evidence to the contrary, either.
About all the advertisers get is access to log files that they have to run through KeywordMax or other fraud control programs to spot discrepancies—like a 1,000 percent spike in clicks on the day your main competitor started bidding against you for the choicest key words on Google.
Thats not a good situation for a business wanting to spend its time actually looking for business rather than preventing fraud.
Loss-prevention is a part of any business, but to do it effectively online takes too long and is too difficult for most companies who want to advertise online.
It would be a lot easier if advertisers were able to block clicks from specific addresses, or filter out suspicious activity as its happening. But they dont have that.
And search engines dont pull back the curtain to show advertisers what they are doing to identify potentially fraudulent click-patterns.
They dont want to help the scam artists by showing too much of the process they use to catch scam artists.
They dont want to show other search engines how clever (or lame) they are at identifying fraud before it happens.
But in the process of refusing to do all these things, they just erode their own credibility.
Some advertisers complaining on SearchEngineWatch and other online-marketing sites want the search engines to behave more like the credit-card companies, which aggressively resist fraud and protect their customers from it.
If a search engine cant prove to an advertiser that a click is legitimate, the reasoning goes, the advertiser shouldnt have to pay.
Thats a great idea, but not a realistic one.
It would take a ton of time and effort for both advertiser and search engine, for one thing. And it would require that every search engine, publication, nonprofit organization and Web ring that takes advertising establish a separate but equally rigorous audit process.