The Truth Behind Ad Revenue Deductions And What Publishers Can Do About It

The Truth Behind Ad Revenue Deductions And What Publishers Can Do About It

There are a couple of main reasons Google could deduct money from your account: (1) If advertisers fail to pay for the ads displayed on your site or app; or (2) If invalid activities have been detected in your account.

When notifying publishers about the clawbacks with any invalid activity, notice that Google would normally provide, if at all, vague or generalized reasons. They don’t want publishers to play the system and find their way to circumvent it. Now that’s something publishers don’t have control over. It is, therefore, important to focus on the things you can control.

Is it legal? Is it a standard practice?

When you sign up with AdSense, Ad Manager, and/or Ad Exchange, you are presented with their verbose program policies and guidelines, which I’m sure almost nobody even pays attention to. Here is a screenshot of part of the “Invalid Activity” section with details on what they expect from you as a publisher partner.

invalid activity

You are signing into a contractual agreement with Google when you opt to accept the terms of service. In terms of how they are detecting invalid activity, we’ll count on Google with their high-end tech and sophisticated strategies around it. For as long as you abide by the rules, you get to keep your earnings, and it’s a win-win situation for both parties.

Getting clawbacks due to advertisers declaring bankruptcy or disappeared and ran away with all the money that should have been yours is another elephant in the room. Although Google works hard to filter out these advertisers and protect the advertising ecosystem, it’s inevitable. The good thing is, this type of clawback is extremely rare nowadays. Thanks to Google for blacklisting them from the platform.

Imagine celebrating a huge increase in revenues only to end up getting a clawback notification on your account. That’s one hard pill to swallow. I guess everybody should postpone the celebration until the money actually hits the bank account.

GAM billing

Clawbacks due to invalid activity – ok, I get it. But clawbacks due to advertiser non-payment – no. We hear you. It remains a mystery why publishers are the ones penalized when it’s not their fault. However, other Ad Networks pay their publishers the reported earnings regardless of whether the advertisers go bankrupt or not. They are one of the special few.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with Google. Other Ad Networks also follow the same set of rules. At the end of the day, it is your choice whether to continue working with Google or not. Read and understand the fine print when entering into any agreement. If you feel it’s worth taking the risk, go for it.

No, you’re not singled out. It can happen to any publisher, big or small.

earnings data

What can I do about it?

Let’s break down a few important things that publishers CAN control:

#1 – Partner only with genuine traffic sources

We heard a few publishers complaining that their traffic comes mostly from Facebook, and therefore, it should be 100% genuine. But how come they are still getting “ad serving limited” issue, specifically in AdSense? Only Google can tell.

There is possibly some user behavior detected by Google that seems to be unusual or abnormal. It could be a user that was just mindlessly clicking or refreshing your site pages or someone who loves playing around moving the mouse pointer in a repetitive pattern. Who knows?

Monitor when this happens, if there’s a trend or pattern. If working with multiple traffic sources, you might want to consider testing one at a time to isolate the issue in case something comes up easily.

#2 – Avoid aggressive ad refreshes

If you must, Google recommends no less than 240 seconds interval in between refreshes. Publishers are testing 60, 90, 120 seconds, and most are doing fine. Never go lower than 30 seconds for sure. This strategy, for some reason, is sending an IVT signal to Google and other bot detection tools, which could eventually get your account blacklisted.

Watch out for ad networks injecting aggressive refreshes as well. Audit your site regularly to catch any bad actors as they can sneak in without warning.

#3 – Pay attention to your ads’ viewability

The IAB recommends at least 70% viewability as that’s when ads usually perform best. Breakdown your report by Ad Unit > Active View Viewable.

activeview viewable

The Ad Units with the lowest viewability are the ones that usually need your attention. Check if they can be repositioned to a better spot on the page. If not, try to disable or pause it and observe how it impacts your overall performance. Keep experimenting.

#4 – Audit your ad CTR

Advertisers don’t like paying for ads that don’t convert. If your layout is prone to accidental clicks and registers low engagement rates, that could eventually hurt your relationship with advertisers.

Imagine a click that was not of genuine interest. The user accidentally clicked your ad, lands on the advertiser’s landing page but exits and returns to your site within a second or two. It’s ok if that happens on very few users only. What if this behavior happens from a statistically significant amount of users? Boom, you’re done.

Check here on how to prevent a 2-click penalty from Google. PubGuru Ad Inspector is also able to detect if your site has 2-click penalty enforcement.

#5 – Sudden spikes or drops could mean something isn’t right

Any unexpected changes in your data should merit an investigation. Dig into every corner of Google Analytics. Pay attention to sudden changes particularly on the following:

  • Bounce rate
  • Pages per session
  • Average session duration
  • Acquisition (traffic sources)
  • Audience > Behavior
  • Behavior > Site Speed

On your Google Ad Manager report, check any abnormal changes on the following metrics:

  • Unfilled impressions
  • Average eCPM
  • Active View % viewable impressions
  • CTR
  • Fill Rate
  • Ad server tracked ads
  • Ad server unfiltered tracked ads

#6 – Any recent changes deployed

Document every little change deployed on your site. When something goes wrong, you have a reference to go back to, and you know where to point your fingers to.

#7 – IVT/ASPV detection & suppression tool

Bots are getting smarter and harder to catch these days. One of the best ways to combat invalid traffic is to run a robust and reliable bot detection & suppression tool. Don’t wait until your account gets banned before you act. Even with the appeals process, it shows Google that you are taking issues seriously when taking steps to curtail IVT. Traffic Cop from MonetizeMore detects and suppresses invalid traffic and invalid activities such as abnormal mouse movements, browsing behaviors, and drastically decreases your chances of getting revenue clawbacks.

Sign up to Traffic Cop today!

Kean Graham

CEO and Founder at MonetizeMore

Kean is the resident expert in Ad Optimization covering areas like AdSense Optimization, DFP Management, and third-party ad network partnerships. Kean believes in the supremacy of direct publisher deals and holistic optimization as keys to effective and consistent ad revenue increases.

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