Is CPC Dead?

There has been a lot of talk recently about how click fraud is killing Cost-Per-Click (CPC) . Reports of bot nets generating fraudulent clicks have been appearing for a few months in places like ClickZ and JenSense . In early June, Mark Cuban expressed his opinion in a piece called Why I think ClickFraud is far greater than imagined.

More recently Outsell, Inc. published a report that click fraud is costing advertisers $1.3 Billion and that fraudulent click account for 14.6% of all clicks. This led to many mainstream news source such as The Financial Times and BusinessWeek to report these problems with click fraud and question the long term health of the CPC market.

Something else that has been seen as a sign that CPC is in trouble is that Google has recently started to experiment with CPA ads. Because of this some people concluded that Google itself worried about CPC in the future.

Are CPC programs such as AdSense and YPN really dying? Is click fraud going to kill them? Many people are predicting that CPC market will collapse the way the CPM market did several years ago. But, I think there are some important difference between the collapse of the CPM market and the current CPC market.

  1. The CPM market reached its heights along with the Internet bubble. Web sites were willing to pay extraordinary amount just to get “eyeballs”. The more eyeballs they had the bigger there IPO would be. The CPC market is not in such a bubble.
  2. One of the major problems with CPM advertising was that it was difficult to measure the effectiveness of it. With CPC advertising and good analytics, it is much easier to measure the exact ROI (Return on Investment) advertisers are getting for their money. If CPC ads were not working for the advertisers they would stop using them. Click fraud does happen and will continue to, but as long as the overall ROI of a CPC advertising campaign is positive, advertisers will continue to use them.
  3. Google’s experiments with CPA does not automatically mean they are giving up on CPC. Google is constantly experimenting with new product and new ways of doing things. They are willing to try anything, see if it works, and when it does, they will introduce it as a full fledged product. Google generally does not introduce new products in a reaction to something, they are continually trying out new ideas.
  4. There will always be advertisers that will want to use CPC instead of CPA. For example, car manufactures want people to visit their web sites and learn about their cars. They are not expecting to actually sell a car when someone clicks through to their web site. It is difficult to tie a visitor to a major car manufacturer’s web site to a specific action to charge via a CPA program.

All that being said, I do thing CPC is coming under some pressure. For certain industries, CPA ads can provide a better model for advertisers. Smart advertisers will try CPM, CPC and CPA campaigns and see which has the best ROI. Sometimes CPA will beat out CPC programs. Click fraud is another danger. If Google and Yahoo cannot keep the click fraud under control advertisers will need to drop their bid per click to maintain the same ROI. CPA ads can be harder to game than CPC ads, so they may have an advantage in this area.

I do believe that CPC ads are in there heyday right now, and prices may fall. Smart publishers will experiment with all type of advertising, CPM, CPC, CPA, Fixed price, or any other arrangement they can think of. Each niche and each website will benefit from different combinations of these types of programs, the publishers who make the most money will be the ones who maximize their revenue, regardless of the type of program used.


  1. Randy Charles Morin Said,

    July 10, 2006 @ 3:18 am

    What people forget is that CPA will have the same fraud from advertisers that CPC has fraud from publishers. It’s the same game, from the other side of the circle.

  2. Toivo Lainevool Said,

    July 10, 2006 @ 8:50 pm

    You’re right, Randy. I have no idea what kind of control Google could have over this kind of advertiser-side fraud. Maybe they will make everyone use Google Checkout :)

    This side of things seems even more difficult to control than click fraud. The only thing publishers can do about is is select the advertisers that give the the best overall revenue. If an advertiser is cheating too much the payout for publishers will be too low and they will be dropped by the publisher. This is assuming, of course, Google would allow publishers to select the CPA ads like they do with the existing CPA beta program.

  3. Rick Said,

    July 12, 2006 @ 6:28 pm

    When the cost to run a campaign is too high to make a profit on the advertizing then the advertizers will lower their bids. Most of the advertizers care only about making a profit on the ad and so have indirectly already figured out how much click fraud there is.

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