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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - October 2006

Welcome to the latest edition of our monthly newsletter on web search and marketing issues.

This month we provide an update on the issue of click fraud in pay per click advertising, share our top 5 list of keyword tools and bring you up to date on the latest 'trojan horse' spamming tricks to avoid.

To find out more, please read on below, plus if you want to refer to any items included in previous editions, you can find them here.

On to this month's news...

Click fraud update for 2006 - paid to read, practical tips and the future

Business Week recently published an article detailing the experiences of some pay per click advertisers affected by ‘pay to read’ or ‘pay to click’ websites which pay users to click on adverts from search engines’ content networks such as Google AdSense.

This is one example of methods used to make money at the expense of legitimate advertisers who use PPC tools such as Google AdWords or Yahoo Search Marketing, although there are some others:

As an advertiser you do need to accept that your competitors may click on your adverts (which the search engine will filter if done repeatedly), but in most cases large scale click fraud tends to only affect highly competitive markets where there is a high ‘bounty’ per click - it is by no means a constant problem in all markets.

However it is still prudent to take some steps to reduce the risk of this affecting you:

Monitor your log files: Using a website analytics program you can monitor a range of information that might indicate changes in the quality of visits to your site provided by pay per click advertising. These can include sudden increases in single page visits, a large number of visits form unusual geographic locations such as Asia, or a large drop in your click to sale/lead rate.

Monitor any ‘content’ advertising you may be doing: If you use pay per click advertising to advertise on the search engine’s network of content websites such as Google AdSense or Yahoo Publishers network, there could be an increased risk of you receiving poor quality clicks from ‘pay to read’ schemes, meaning this activity should be monitored closely.

Be aware of your contractual agreements with the search engines: Both Google, and Yahoo require you to notify them of any disputed clicks within a set time period, so you should monitor your stats at intervals more frequently than this to make sure you are able to start a dispute. The search engines will also will not reveal the data or methods they are using to police the problem.

Although the onus is currently on the advertiser rather than the search engine to highlight any problems, efforts are being made to lobby the search engines here. The click fraud network has been formed to represent advertisers, plus there has been discussion of setting up a independent third party to monitor the quality of search engine clicks.

Top 5 Free Keyword Research Tools

As search engine marketing becomes more competitive, it can be increasingly difficult to achieve good results for the most obvious keywords and phrases, however there are some useful tools available to help you research further and build a good list of more specific and relevant terms. Here we review our top 5 ‘free’ tools available to anyone.

Overture KeyWord Tool - This tool shows the number of searches made in the last month in the UK on the Yahoo (and previously MSN) search engines. The data provided here gives a good indication of the relative number of searches made on terms, although singular, plural and alternative spellings are grouped together, and anomalies sometimes appear in the search volume due to automated tools.

Wordtracker Free trial - This full-featured keyword tool relies on data from the FAST search engine. Although the search volumes may not be very accurate or relevant to the UK, it’s free trail can be useful for looking at the differences in the volume of searches made on singular or plural terms, plus variations, which overture cannot provide.

Google Keyword tool - The keyword research tool from Google does not let you access the most interesting information (exactly how many searches are made for a phrase on Google!), but it does grade keywords on a scale of 1 – 10 for search volume and advertiser competition. It also provides some broad ranging suggestions for keyword variations, and possible negative keywords to avoid.

Microsoft AdLabs – Keyword mutation tool - This tool will provide a range of the most common alternative or misspellings for a term, which can often be easy to target effectively.

List phrase generator - This is particularly useful for creating keyword combinations. Combine one set of terms – (‘houses’, ‘flats’, ‘property’), with another (uk, London, Surrey) to quickly create a list with all combinations.

Latest spamming tricks take on a new form

Spammers and hackers can create emails or programmes that take many forms and create one of the main threats to conducting business on the Internet. One of the latest tactics is to infect PCs with a new type of Trojan horse program, which can be one of the most potent threats to a computer or network system, either at home or in the office.

A Trojan horse is a malicious software program concealed within seemingly harmless software, but when activated by the innocent user it can be extremely destructive. They can be used to establish a user as a “zombie” computer host from which other programs or actions may be generated, without the knowledge of the innocent user.

The latest scam has been nick-named by threat management solutions firm, Sophos a “joe job”. The spam campaign looks as if it has come from a reputable source but in effect contains malicious code and is extremely damaging if it infects recipients.

One example is an email that was distributed looking as if it had been sent by BBC News and another in June tried to target those using Gmail. The email stated that a prize of $500 was on offer which could be redeemed at what looked to be a Gmail link. The link actually took people to a Tripod-hosted site whereby users had to spend $8.60 as a membership fee before they could gain access to their “winnings” (which of course were never there!). Not only that but the email offered to pay the reward via PayPal or other electronic accounts. Those falling for the initial spam then handed over more personal data.

Security firms are now reporting that spamming is taking on more sophisticated methods of defrauding unsuspecting net users. Spammers now use email, Web and other techniques to make the email look more authentic. With the incorporation of interconnectivity, emails that look harmless become potentially more dangerous.

Everyone in business and at home needs to be vigilant about hacking. It’s something that is never going to be eradicated and the number of these threats is forever growing. Security firm, McAfee recently reported that it took 18 years to build a database to provide protection for 100,000 threats (this target was reached in September 2004). It only took a further 22 months to double the number of threats to 200,000!

Spammers may be individuals working from their bedrooms to see what they can do to create trouble or for some warped publicity kick, or they can be organised groups who aim to generate significant sums of money from unsuspecting recipients. Many spammers these days try to get past spam filters by using an image. Such image spam can cause “bandwidth bloat” according to Commtouch, another online security firm. This type of spamming accounts, on average, for 30% of spam sent around the world and can sometimes be as high as 70% when it reaches the height of its distribution.

In a statement by Dan Yachin, Commtech’s research director of EMEA Emerging Technologies, the dangers of image spam become obvious, “while textual spam messages cause loss of productivity, image spam messages that are three times their size are a whole different ball game, causing a real bandwidth and storage crisis.”

Book review - Search Engine Visibility

This month’s book review is Search engine visibility by Shari Thurow. This is one of the most concise books on search engine optimisation, and focuses in particular on building ‘search engine friendly’ websites from the outset – a must read for anyone involved in a website’s design.

Read the full review of search engine visibility here.

We hope you've found this month's newsletter informative. Please contact us if you need any more details on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions.