Increased Spam Leads on Google Paid Search

What “Bad Leads” Look Like Lately on Paid Search & How to Protect Your Ad Spend

For online marketers, garbage “spam” leads pose a significant threat to your bottom line. Left unchecked, spam leads can inflate the cost of your paid search campaigns and dramatically compromise your conversion rate ROI.

Since summer of this year, the Paid Search Team at Enrollment Resources has observed a marked escalation in a variety of types of fake leads through Google Ads paid search campaigns. A top level support Google Manager has confirmed to our team that increased spam is a known issue.

In this post, we will outline:

  1. What the increase in spam & other “bad leads” look like
  2. How it may potentially affect your paid search marketing efforts
  3. What you can look for to mitigate the potential cost

For existing Enrollment Resources clients, we will also demonstrate what’s being done on your behalf to guard against bad leads.

What Increased “Bad Leads” Through Google Looks Like

When we talk about “bad leads” we mean something different than leads that are difficult to contact or real individuals who do not enter truthful information when they complete your contact form. There are two issues are play:

  1. Spam
  2. Search Partner Click Fraud

The spam leads we tend to see right now can typically be identified by the following:

  • Emails from other countries (evident by country web domain codes, for example .id)
  • Foreign language submissions
  • Mismatched city/state/zip fields in form submissions
  • Known “bad actor” spam email domains

Search Partner Click Fraud is when scam advertisers create low cost ads on networks like Facebook or TikTok and funnel those ad clicks to a Google Search Partner page. These scammers make money by pocketing the difference between the first ad and the Google search partner payout. These leads may be actual interested students, but they have come from a “false touch” ad. These false ads often advertise something the school doesn’t offer like a free course or education in a language the school doesn’t provide.

Where the Spam Leads Are Showing Up

Google Ads is a network composed of multiple places marketers can buy ad placements. The cornerstone is Google Search. These are ads that display not only on Google.com but also on Google’s Search Partners or partner sites that have a Google search feed.
In addition to Google Search, there is also the Google Discovery Network, which consists of Google’s own web properties such as YouTube, Gmail and the Discovery Feed on Android. We have specifically observed spam leads coming through these search partners and web properties.

We’ve reverse engineered that the majority of spam issues are coming from the Discovery campaign type, through YouTube as a network and from the “optimized targeting” option.

What Google is Doing

As mentioned above, reps within Google’s Advertiser Management Team have acknowledged the issue of increased spam across their network. The Enrollment Resources Paid Search team successfully lobbied for one time, good-faith credits to hard-hit accounts that we were able to prove have been hit with increased spam. To date we have retrieved over $50,000 in credit across multiple accounts.

What the Enrollment Resources Paid Search Team is Doing

We have worked with multiple teams at Google who have all assured us that our forms are peak performance for anti-spam measurements and that we’ve taken all the steps an agency can take in order to combat spam, including:

  • Enabled RE-CAPCHA system on all contact forms
  • Created a global “Blacklist” option for “bad” emails with a robust Web Application Firewall (WAF) to stop those leads from getting through to the database
  • Server Side Validation – This is a secondary check of leads validated at the browser level to ensure all required fields are completed with accurate information

To further cut down on search spam, Enrollment Resources Paid Search Account Managers have temporarily opted out of ads being served on Google partner sites. To reduce spam from the Discovery Network we have opted out of optimized targeting.

The challenge with any spam filtering is calibration. It’s crucial to find the sweet spot where you tighten the tap on faulty leads without making the restrictions so tight you accidentally discard valid leads. It is our approach to air on the side of caution, potentially allowing a small amount of spam leads to slip through rather than risk a missed connection with a hopeful prospective student in need.

What This Means for You & Your School

For current Enrollment Resources clients, the actions outlined above have been implemented on your account and your Paid Search Account Manager is monitoring the situation carefully in conjunction with the Advertiser Management Teams at Google.

Whether or not you are a current Enrollment Resources client, if you’re concerned about the safety and performance of your Google Ads account, feel free to schedule a time to speak with a knowledgeable Paid Search Account Manager. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have and will even take a look at your account to provide a neutral third party review of the health of your account.

Get Support & Safeguard Your Paid Search Account

If you’re a current Enrollment Resources client with any questions about your Paid Search, please contact your Account Manager directly.

If you’re not an Enrollment Resources client but have concerns about potential bad leads and would like to have a Paid Search expert do a complimentary audit of your account, click here to schedule your Paid Search Audit or contact [email protected].