A Publishers Guide to Google’s Confirm Click Penalty

Thought Leadership

Alon Germansky
5 min read

You’ve most likely heard a thing or two about Google’s confirm click penalty. First spotted several years ago, this shadowban has been on the rise – impacting a growing number of publishers using AdSense and AdExchange (AdX).

Let’s jump into exactly what the penalty is, how to know if your ads have been impacted, and the solutions discovered by the PubPlus Lab. The penalty is exactly what it sounds like, when a user is on-site and clicks an ad, they are required to take a second action and re-click before being redirected to the target page. The interstitial “visit site” button will overlay the ad to confirm the user’s intention to click. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s what an ad affected by the confirm click penalty looks like:

Why is the penalty placed on your ads? 

The confirm click penalty, aka double-click AdSense penalty, aka two-click penalty are all ways to reference the same situation. Users are only redirected to the advertiser’s site once they click on an ad for the second time (on the ‘visit site’ button). This penalty doesn’t go without notice from the publishers end; when the two-click verification is implemented, CPMs and revenue quickly plunge.  

Many publishers have experienced the wrath of the click penalty at one point or another, as can be attested by publishers comments on Google’s AdSense Help Center. But what triggers it? Invalid traffic, click spam, ad reflow, accidental clicks – or even merely the potential for such. It’s Google; changes happen quickly and can be tricky to track but they’re clear on what invalid traffic is: ‘Invalid traffic includes any clicks or impressions that may artificially inflate an advertiser’s costs or a publisher’s earnings. Invalid traffic covers intentionally fraudulent traffic as well as accidental clicks.‘

As discussed on Reddit’s Ad/Ops board, the “visit site” button is placed on publishers site without notification, when AdSense or AdX detects invalid activity on a publishers site. Publishers that struggle with invalid / accidental clicks on their site have a higher likelihood of experiencing the confirm click penalty.

Here’s a list of reasons why publishers encounter the click penalty: 

  1. Invalid / Fraudulent traffic detected (ie. click farm)
  2. Ads are too close to one another 
  3. Site links and buttons are too close to ads 
  4. Ads aren’t labeled clearly (ie: ‘sponsored’ or ‘advertisement’)  
  5. Ad reflow, also referred to as layout jumping

Notice the dramatic drop in revenue when the confirmation click penalty was issued on the below campaigns: 

Our two-cents on the two-click penalty

PubPlus Lab dug right into the situation to get some much-needed insights. We spotted these issues, monitored them, tested solutions and generated learnings from our experience. Please note that this isn’t an official guide on the confirm click penalty; while we can’t guarantee that these methods will work across the board, they’re here to help you, and we’re confident you’ll find it easier to establish your own solutions and insights.

How can you spot the confirm click penalty? At PubPlus, our campaign managers constantly monitor RPM fluctuations in our proprietary platform for an abrupt AdX drop, which can signal the click penalty. Another promising method is to pull AdX reports filtered by AdWords buyers, which can identify sudden drops in CTR. To help narrow down your search, PubPlus Lab uncovered another hidden gem: the confirm click penalty only affects AdWords demand on mobile devices, leaving desktop traffic out of the equation. 

The confirm click penalty comes in one shape, but three different sizes – ranging from least to most severe is the ad unit level penalty affecting specific ad units on a page; next in severity is the site penalty, affecting all ad units on a publishers mobile site. The harshest sentence is the AdX and AdSense account level penalty, impacting all ad units, on all sites, connected to the same AdX or AdSense account. We suspect that penalties are initially given on the ad unit level and then spread to the 2nd and 3rd level, and the penalties are similarly removed one level at a time. 

Now that we’ve identified how to check if your ads have been struck with the penalty, it’s time to set actions in motion to get those ‘visit site’ interstitials removed. 

  • Publishers who are using AdX or AdSense receive AdWords demand; analyze your AdWords account to identify low performing ad units and test if creating a block in Google AdManger affects ad unit performance.
  • Review and alter your site ad layout to ensure ad placements are optimized for the users experience and that accidental click potential is low. Start by reviewing Google’s Ad implementation policies
  • Check ad loading on multiple devices to ensure there is no ad reflow. Abrupt content shifts can occur when ad units are rendered, causing content to suddenly move around the page, increasing your site’s accidental click potential. 

Nothing is set in stone regarding penalty removal, and remember that getting the ‘visit site’ button off your ads can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

Damage control 

Getting hit with the confirm click penalty can turn a profitable quarter into one with low CTRs and consequently low RPMs and revenue. Be proactive about your penalty removal by catching it quickly and adopting strategies to lower your risk. We’ve helped a lot of publishers detect and take action to remove the ‘visit site’ interstitial, effectively and efficiently improving publishers’ results. Our expert team knows how to leverage PubPlus’ real-time capabilities to overcome these changes and alert our clients in real-time. Find out more about PubPlus’ solutions here

Alon Germansky
Head of Business Intelligence @PubPlus. Alon is an expert in leveraging data into actionable insights for publishers and is a keen follower of ad-tech in all forms. As much as he likes ad-tech, his real passions in life are cooking and traveling.