Fake Google Ads

Today brings an amusing online marketing twist to a New Jersey Congressional election.

In NJ’s Third Congressional District, a candidate has appeared to run under the Tea Party line — only he was recruited by the Democrats to siphon votes away from their Republican opponent. (Welcome to New Jersey politics!)

faketeapartyadThe Asbury Park Press, who broke the original story, now reports that an unknown party is running AdWords pay-per-click ads for the Google search terms “Destefano” and “Peter Destefano” (the name of the candidate). Moreover, clicking them leads to a Tea Party website. It seems a piece with fake-candidate effort, and the Tea Party group denies running the ads.

The Tea Party group did the right thing and immediately updated their website home page with a disclaimer. They may turn the episode to their benefit, if there is anyone not completely fatigued by the shrill tone of the NJ-3 race.

The Lesson for Your Business

What if someone runs ads of a competitive nature against your firm? The likelihood of a situation like this is slim, but brings up a handful of useful points.

  • Updating your home page with a response may not suit you; it could confuse customers and distract other site visitors. But is there a technical workaround, wherein you configure the website to distinguish traffic coming from one site and serve up a special page? Normally, yes you can. Clicks from a website carry along with them some “referrer” data, and a savvy webmaster can show an alternate page to visitors from Site X. Alas, you can’t do that with Adwords ads that someone else controls; the referrer data is unreliable. Of course, if you run your own AdWords ads, you can tag them to track conversions.
  • If a competitor is running ads against you, why not click them repeatedly so their advertising budget is burnt out? Advertisers pay Google per click, after all. This practice, however, is known as “click fraud“ and Google has automated measures in place to detect it. Your competitor won’t be charged for clicks determined to be insincere.
  • This is yet another small reason why your website should be built with a content management system (like Drupal) that permits you to make changes quickly.
  • In some circumstances, you can push back right on Google. Two hours after the story broke, the Republican candidate began placing counterattack ads of their own on searches for “peter destefano” and “destefano”. Good for them, although they should have bid more for the top spot.

Update 10:30am: I could not help joining the circus, and am now running ads for this blog post. Incidentally, the “New Jersey” phrase below my ad indicates that I’m targeting my ads only to people in New Jersey. Although I do my consulting work for companies outside the Garden State.


Droll as it is, this episode is getting rather meta so I’ll stop there. Thank you for reading, and enjoy your weekend.