Google’s ‘Confirmed Clicks’ Initiative Leads to Publisher Complaints

Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The takeaways

  • A Digiday report identifies rising publisher complaints over penalties applied by Google’s ‘Confirmed Clicks’ plan.
  • The initiative aims to limit publisher benefits from accidental ad clicks.
  • Penalties are seemingly applied without prior notification and ad units across desktop and mobile are suspended.

What happened?

Digiday recently reported a rise in complaints over the last six months of publishers using Google AdSense and Ad Exchange being penalized by Google’s Confirmed Clicks initiative. First introduced in 2012, Confirmed clicks are intended to improve web user experience while limiting publishers from benefiting from accidental ad clicks. 

The system was created to respond to high volumes of accidental clicks on a publisher’s ad unit. When too many are detected, it applies a “Visit site” message that users must click twice to visit the redirected web page. As Digiday notes from its sources, this can lead to a drop in both click-through rates and publisher ad rates, resulting in programmatic ad revenue losses between 40% and 60%. Google defended confirmed clicks as a method to maintain “a positive user experience” and declared that “When we see an improvement in click quality the feature is automatically removed.”

Digiday also quotes Szymon Pruszyński, head of growth at Yieldbird, who, after speaking with four publishers, has connected the rise in penalizations with increased Google search traffic as a result of the pandemic- based lockdowns. Another digital advertising expert, Mat Bennet, managing director at OKO, communicated with roughly 25 publishers, global premium news publishers, since last year, all of whom mentioned struggling with confirmed clicks activity. Bennet observed that the only reliable evidence was falling revenues despite stable impressions. 

Does the punishment fit the crime?

Publishers are able to maintain multiple Google ad units on desktop and mobile devices. When Google detects a problem with an ad unit via desktop, its demand-side platform no longer bids and buys across all ad units, therefore suspending a publisher’s ad-buying activity. Pruszyński cites a client earning $10,000 a day through programmatic open exchange revenue experiencing a fall to $3,000 because of accidental clicks. The restrictions weren’t lifted for three weeks. Bennet noted that some of his clients would be affected for 8-10 weeks.

Pruszyński also named a fall in click-through rates due to user concerns over site verifications potentially leaving them vulnerable to fraud and malware as a source of revenue loss. Confirmed clicks penalties were further named as a cause of falling page views. Other sources cited stated that Google did not inform publishers that they were in breach of the initiative and would thus lose access to an important source of revenue.

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