Google Click-Fraud in Loudoun County
As Search Engine Optimization (SEO) professionals (as well as Technical Security Consultants), we're happy to see more and more Loudoun County businesses, small and large, represented on the Web. Business profiles show up in both the "organic" search results of all the major search engines, plus the "pay-per-click" (PPC) ads around the results. As more and more business flock to local online advertising, there's bound to be a bit of competitive spirit, and in some cases it may not be legal.
Businesses have traditionally snooped on each other and met one's advertising gimmick or scheme with their own (the same holds true with political campaigns). Gas Stations are notorious for modifying prices based on their neighbor's changes. The same goes for online advertising. If one business advertises "Fresh Fish", there's nothing to stop another for advertising "Fresh Fish" in exactly the same manner (though avoiding actual copyright or trademark infringement), and paying more for better placement and profile. "Pay to play" is the going method.
"Click Fraud" is the practice where a business pays for advertisements to show up on websites (for example through Google's content network), and actually pays Google when someone clicks on the ad (therefore going to the business site). If an unscrupulous competitor wants to quickly run up charges for the advertiser, they may continue clicking on the ad (therefore running up charges for their competitor). This generates a lot of false traffic, false charges, and headaches for the advertiser, and is called "Click Fraud".
Luckily, it's actually quite difficult to engage in simple click fraud for local businesses, as both website monitoring technology and Google/MSN/Yahoo monitoring technology can quickly determine "real" from "false" clicking activity (presuming, also, that businesses are looking after their own interests with reasonable effort). While the target business may therefore not be affected, the Search Engines are affected, and typically don't like it. Many cases of click-fraud have been prosecuted, and continue to be.
We ourselves have been the victim of click-fraud, with a competitor (and their accomplice) executing multiple clicks on our advertisements simply for the purpose of running out our daily budget and having our ad then disappear. Thankfully, Google's technology disallowed this, and between our security/traffic logs and Google's, we've got ample evidence of specifically the actual IP addresses and Person who engaged in this activity (to be used as necessary). Sometimes it's difficult to track web activity to an actual person, but in this case, the person was extremely naive in their online escapades. We are also able to block these IP addresses from further damaging activity.
So the message is, don't do it. Keep Loudoun a business environment of professional values, corporate responsibility and friendly cooperation. Don't just click on your competitor's advertisement to cause them material or traffic loss - not only will you be caught (and exposed in a very public manner), but there's really very little actual harm that can be accomplished. Just do the best you can in your own "white hat" advertising and business, and fortune will show up at your door.