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box-of-chocolates

Google AdWords is Like a Box of Chocolates

With apologies to Forrest Gump, and in honor of Valentine’s Day, sometimes Google AdWords is like a box of chocolates. “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Here are some examples:box-of-chocolates

How Much Should You Budget for Clicks?

How big a box of chocolates can you afford? Google provides a Keyword Planner tool inside of AdWords that can help you explore keyword ideas, and get informed on approximate search frequency and cost per click. However, as they say in the automobile business, “Your mileage will vary.” The tool provides search frequencies for Exact Match impressions only. Your Impression Share, Ad Position and Click-Through-Rate will determine how many of those Impressions can turn into Clicks, and your Quality Score and bid will have an enormous bearing on what each click will cost.

Trying to estimate a budget for clicks before turning your campaigns on is bound to be frustrating and somewhat futile. You really have to dive into the pool to see how you like the water.

Precise Targeting is a Cost Saver, Right?

Does your love prefer dark, bittersweet chocolates or something on the sweeter, lighter side? AdWords gives you an enormous array of choices when it comes to targeting your ads to the right audience. The simple, default solution is Broad Matching on keywords and allowing Google to run ads on both Search and Display Network, which is probably not a good idea. Here’s why.

Most people assume that choosing a popular, Broad Match search term consisting of one or two words will cost far more per click than an Exact Match search term that’s longer and offers more precision. You may also think that targeting your ads to the entire country will cost more per click than targeting a limited geography. Both assumptions are generally false. Therefore, you need to calculate the savings of tighter targeting (generally better quality clicks) against the additional cost per click to see which approach is most cost effective in your situation.

Testing Your Way to Success

Want to avoid those nasty, coconut-filled surprises? Apologies to our coconut fans out there, but you’re in the minority! AdWords provides a great platform for testing and trying out new ideas, such as search terms, matching options, ad copy and landing page copy & layout. Maybe your ads do better on mobile devices than desktops. Set a budget you can live with and take a few calculated shots. It shouldn’t take long to see what’s working and what isn’t, although figuring out why something isn’t working and what to do about it does take experience.

Here at Market Vantage, we don’t claim to be able to solve any problems in your romantic life. But we can help you get your online marketing to perform more effectively. Let us know how we can help.

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Do You Check Your Search Engine Rankings and Ad Positions?

For years, we’ve heard this refrain from business people. “We need to show up at the top of the search engines for [insert keyword].” Even though a lot more goes into online marketing success than simply being ranked at the top of the search results, it’s easy to get focused on this particular issue, Google-Ad-Preview-Toolsometimes to the exclusion of other matters that could, in fact, impact your business more.

In some cases, focusing too much on your search engine rankings can actually set you back. This is true whether you’re concerned with organic rank, or you just want to make sure your ads are showing up where and when they should. Let’s examine why this is so.

Google, Bing and the other search engines exist to connect people (users) with information. They monetize this valuable service by selling ad clicks next to the search results. Advertisers like the PPC model because they pay only when someone clicks their ad.

Unsurprisingly, search engines are very interested in making money and they make it through ad clicks. If you want proof, just look at what happens if a PPC ad you’re running has a low CTR (Click-Through-Rate, the ratio of Impressions to Clicks).   Your Quality Score plummets, CPC (Cost-Per-Click) shoots up, your ad position drops like a rock, and you soon find your ad on Page 2 or beyond no matter how much you increase your bid.

Whenever you check to see if your ad is running, you don’t click on your ad because, of course, that would cost money. But by triggering an ad impression without a click, you are lowering your CTR. Over time, this will drive up your CPC when someone really DOES click your ad.

It makes sense if you think about it because every time your ad shows up on the search results page without generating a click, it costs the search engine money. Your ad is taking up prime real estate, and perhaps preventing another, more successful ad from showing.

The search engines are keenly aware that a high volume of searches are conducted solely to check organic ranking and ad positions. Some estimates indicate that as many as 40% of searches are conducted to investigate ranking and ad positions. This places an enormous burden on the search engine’s infrastructure costs that go into delivering search results in a fraction of a second.

If enough searches are conducted from one IP address, search engines may require entering a Captcha to continue access. In cases such as the use of an automated bot, an IP address can be blocked from accessing a search engine entirely for some period of time.

Google provides a free Ad Preview Tool for checking ad positions. This tool is also useful for checking organic rankings. It provides a generic, non-personalized results page and can easily be adjusted to show search results in any geography. For example, someone in Boston can search for “pizza shops” but set the tool’s location to Boise Idaho and see results that would appear if they were actually in Boise. The search results and ads on the page are not clickable. There doesn’t seem to be a limit imposed on its use. Best of all, using the tool does not increase the ad Impression count, so you can check on things without affecting Quality Scores or CTR.

To access the tool, enter “ad preview tool” in the search box and click on the first link. You don’t need an AdWords account to use the tool. One limitation of Google’s Ad Preview Tool is that it does not display ad sitelinks, but the rest of the ad is there in the correct position.

Finally, keep in mind that search results are personalized these days. What you see when you perform a search is not necessarily what someone else will see. In an effort to make your search experience relevant and efficient, search engines have made huge strides in taking your location, your browsing history and your previous search activities into account in an effort to present you with results that are customized to your needs. Being logged in to your Google account can alter your search results on Google as well. Semantic search, where each query in a series of searches builds upon the previous queries, or where the search engine returns actual answers instead of a list of pages that might have the answers, is a new and fascinating example of this capability.

In summary, there are costs associated with checking your search rank and ad positions. Our recommendation is to play it safe and use the Ad Preview Tool when your curiosity gets the best of you.

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Professional AdWords Management – Should You Hire an Expert?

Adwords-ManagementWe get letters in the mail from Google from time to time. You probably do too.

Typically, it arrives in the form of an envelope that is sized like a greeting card or invitation. There’s a card inside that starts with the headline, “How to get your business to show up on Google.”

As you unfold the card, you discover the pitch in just a few steps:

  • Run an ad. An easy-to-create Google ad that we’ll only show to people who are actively searching your area for exactly what you have to offer.
  • How? Simply pick a business category, write your ad and set a budget.
  • The details. How it works. What it costs.
  • Why? Prospective customers search by topic, and you are missing out.

Each panel contains just one or two dozen words. The take-aways are:

  • AdWords is extremely simple. If you need help, call our toll-free support. We’ll even set the whole thing up for you if you like.
  • AdWords is risk-free. You only pay when someone clicks your ad. Plus, you can set a budget as high or as low as you wish. There’s even a discount coupon.

The message is clean and simple – lots of white space. Very compelling. Doesn’t every business want to show up at the top of Google searches?

Run-An-AdThose of you who have managed AdWords accounts or have been reading our blog know that AdWords is a fascinating, but complex online advertising platform. If you follow the defaults, your account will contain a large number of broad matched keywords which seems appropriate until you see what people actually typed. Your ads will appear on search results, where you expect them to, but they will also appear in that immense parallel dimension called the Display Network.

Somehow, like magic, your daily budget will be consumed, which means your site will be getting visitors. But most likely, very little of that traffic will turn into business.

The simple explanation is a mismatch of objectives.

Google’s objectives are to sell you clicks, as many as you’re willing to pay for. That’s why they send you notices from time to time with suggestions on how to get more clicks. Of course, more clicks will require increasing your budget.

Your objective is to attract focused, quality prospects — ideally decision makers with an appropriate budget — to your website.

One of these things is not like the other. If you go the easy route and let Google set up your account for you, whose objectives do you think will come first?

I recently attended a three-day seminar with over 100 of the sharpest minds in the AdWords universe. These were A-players with years of experience and thousands of campaigns under their belts. Someone asked, “What percentage of AdWords campaigns you come across are losing money?” In other words, the money that is spent on clicks in non-professionally managed accounts is more than the profit that’s generated. The consensus in the room pointed somewhere above 80%. Further discussion revealed that many AdWords users don’t even know whether their account is generating a profit or not. That’s really inexcusable.

Our own experience over ten years, looking at thousands of campaigns other people have set up, tracks pretty closely to those numbers. We’ve seen maybe two where we congratulated the person and told them they didn’t need to change a thing. The rest ranged from wasting some money to being completely egregious.

Look, we’re not saying that AdWords is bad. Quite the opposite. It’s the most flexible, configurable, trackable lead generation engine ever invented. But it certainly isn’t simple. Under its placid surface lies an almost endless array of choices and configuration settings, most of which are set by default to benefit Google, not you, the advertiser.

Hiring experienced, professional PPC management costs money on top of what you’re already paying for clicks. But depending on your skill level and the competition in your niche, it may save you money.

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Google Ad Preview Tool

 

If you advertise using Google AdWords, you want to know where your ad will be positioned and how itPreview looks on the search results page.  Typing your keyword into Google Search will allow you to do this. However there is a “cost” associated with this action, even when you don’t click on your ad.  If you look at the page showing your ad, you generate an impression for your ad. When impressions go up but the number of clicks doesn’t, it reduces your Click-Through-Rate (CTR). A reduced CTR negatively impacts your Quality Score, which can cause Google to raise your Cost Per Click. But if you click on your ad, in order to improve your CTR, then you will have to pay for that click.

As an advertiser, you also may want to see how your ads appear in different locations, such as other parts of the country, or even in a different country.

In either situation, the best way to see your ad is to use a free tool that Google provides; an online tool aptly named the Google Ad Preview Tool. This tool allows you to “search for your ad just like you would on a regular Google search results page, without accruing any impressions.”

The Ad Preview tool is very simple to use. For instance, if your keyword is ski poles and you sell them in the Denver, CO, area, then you type the keyword and the location. Below are screenshots of the search page and the results displayed.

Click here to access the tool.

Search Page

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Results Page

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Important New Google AdWords Privacy Requirements

Google-Adwords-Secure100X100Google has announced a new set of requirements for AdWords advertisers that go into effect on May 17, 2011. If you use AdWords to drive clicks to your website and you collect any kind of personal or financial information on your website, then these rules will apply to you.

Google will require AdWords advertisers to disclose the following before a person is asked to enter information on the site:

  1. How personal or financial information will be used.
  2. How users can opt-out later.
  3. That you use SSL security for collecting certain personal or financial data.

Google provides examples of what they mean by personal and financial information here.

You can read Google’s announcement, dated May 4, 2011, regarding the new policy here.

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Google Display Network – Recent Changes=Bad News

Display-Network-copy1Many Google Adwords advertisers have improved their Adwords ROI using Google’s Display Network because it allows them to extend their advertising reach and target prospects on contextually relevant websites that display Google ads. However, the contextual targeting has always been far from perfect and advertisers are often shocked to discover their ads appearing on non-contextually related web pages, parked domains and low quality sites. By “low quality sites” we mean MFA or Made-For-AdSense sites where the sole purpose is for the website owner to get a portion of the cost per click the Google advertiser pays. The more clicks, the more money they make. As you can imagine, the quality of traffic from sites like this is poor.

On the other hand, if a Display Network campaign is setup properly and with on-going optimization and vigilant blocking of poor quality sites, it can be quite profitable for the advertiser. Some of our clients have received more leads, at a lower cost per lead, from the Display Network than from Search.

In order for Display Network to be effective, you have to make sure your ads only appear on contextually relevant sites and exclude parked domains using Google’s Site and Category exclusion tool. The most straightforward way is by targeting individual sites under Managed Placements, which involves hand-picking each site you want your ads to appear on. It’s very precise, though you do pay more per click. However, many sites do not opt in to Placement Targeting, so you miss exposure on a lot of potentially good sites.

Until recently, Google allowed advertisers to pre-select Categories like Home & Garden or Automotive under Managed Placements. We used this Category targeting approach in Managed Placements extensively for our clients because it was a good way to benefit from lower Cost-Per-Click and wider reach, while still restricting ads to relevant websites. We usually avoided Automatic Placements, where Google chooses sites to display your ads based on one or more keywords that you provide, because that always resulted in paid clicks from low quality sites as well as sites that were contextually unrelated to our ad.

In February, Google disabled Category targeting and replaced it with Topics. At first blush, Topics seemed similar to Categories, although it is accessed through Automatic Placements rather than Managed Placements. Automatic Placements uses keywords to help Google select sites that are relevant to your ads — at least in theory. In practice, with Topics we’ve seen contextual relevance ranging from poor to abysmal and ads appearing on MFA (Made For Adsense) sites of the lowest quality.

When we spoke with a Google Display Network specialist about this problem, they recommended we use the Contextual Targeting Tool to help target sites. Below is an example of what this tool provides. In this example, we are targeting a very specific type of need, trying to place ads for an attached storage solution for broadcast video content, something a TV station, news or sports channel might use to store and retrieve video clips. This worked very well with Category Targeting. We entered the keyword “broadcast content storage,” clicked on the recommended AdGroup, and it came back with a list of sites:

Google-Contextual-Targeting-Tool

iartu.blogspot.com – a blog site containing photos of indoor and outdoor scenes in Seattle along with some AdWords ads.

liverc.com – a site apparently for enthusiasts of radio controlled toy cars

Bhg.com – the online version of the magazine Better Homes and Gardens

www.iartublog.com – redirects to iartu.blogspot.com (mentioned above)

www.instructables.com – a website full of every imaginable how-to guide

www.mentalfloss.com – online version of magazine Mental Floss. Tagline: Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix

www.shoestoragesolutions.com – just what you’d expect on a site with that URL

www.youtube.com – needs no explanation

Observations and Conclusions:

  • Google eliminated Category Targeting, replacing it with Topics Targeting, forcing advertisers to move their ads into a separate campaign and choose the “Relevant pages across the entire network” option under “Networks and Devices” in the campaign settings. This enables more content sites across all categories (not just the ones the advertiser picked) to display ads.
  • The percentage of MFA sites in the ad rotation for automatic placement seems to have increased. Whether that’s because there are simply more of this type of site or because Google makes it harder to pre-filter them, more clicks from MFA sites means more money wasted.
  • Google makes it hard even to block bad sites individually. The Placement Performance Report does not list sites that are showing your ads, only those where you have already paid for clicks, so there’s no way to proactively weed out bad sites. What’s worse, some of those sites you’ve paid for show up in the Placement Performance Report as “RandomNumber.anonymous.google.” Don’t advertisers have the right to know where their paid clicks are coming from?
  • Advertisers who want managed placements only, and thus avoid paying for junk clicks, pay substantially more per click.

The result for advertisers: higher costs, less quality and decreased precision of targeting.

 

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Are You Paying for Ads on Parked Domains?

ParkingPeople who place ads through AdWords or Microsoft adCenter typically do so primarily because they want the chance to bring someone who has typed a relevant search query into Google, Yahoo or Bing to their website. What is not so well known is that roughly half of the money that is spent on AdWords or adCenter goes for clicks on ads that do not appear on search results pages, but instead appear on other websites.

AdWords and adCenter show ads on these non-search websites by default unless this feature is manually disabled. This approach, known as Contextual PPC, provides many more opportunities for ads to be seen and clicked than if they just appeared on search results pages, so it drives substantial revenue for Google and Microsoft, gives advertisers greater exposure, and helps website publishers monetize their content.

Savvy advertisers have known for years that managing profitable PPC campaigns takes experience, attention to detail and a lot of work. This is true whether your ads appear on search results or contextual sites or both. Note that contextual PPC is not necessarily bad. Indeed, it provides an avenue for industry and demographic targeting that search PPC cannot match, so it can be more profitable than search in some situations. However, it opens the door to many ways for click budgets to be wasted.

Parked Domains are one of those ways and are perhaps the most obvious. This list of Frequently Asked Questions is designed to help you understand the problem of Parked Domains and what to do about them.

Parked Domain FAQ

What is a Parked Domain?

A Parked Domain is a registered domain name that does not have an actual website associated with it.

What do you see when you visit a Parked Domain?

Years ago, you’d typically see a notice that the site was “under construction” or that the domain name was already reserved. You might see a notice that the domain name was for sale. Today, most Parked Domains show PPC ads and little else.

Who places PPC ads on Parked Domains?

Some companies buy thousands of domain names in the hope of someday selling them for a profit. While they are waiting for sales, they try to monetize those properties by enabling the placement of PPC ads on them. Individuals often buy domains with the intent to put up a site, but while the domain is in “limbo” the domain name registrar will typically plaster the site with ads.

Why are Parked Domains a problem for PPC advertisers?

In general, people land on Parked Domains by accident, for example, by misspelling a legitimate domain name. Sometimes, they will click on an ad just to try to get off the site quickly. As a result, most clicks from Parked Domains are a waste of money. We have found that advertisers whose ads appear on Parked Domains are almost always making other mistakes as well – mistakes that cost them money.

Why do Google and Microsoft allow PPC ads to appear on Parked Domains?

They get paid for every click.

How many Parked Domains are there?

Millions.

Can I prevent my ads from appearing on Parked Domains by disabling the Display Network (AdWords) or Content Network (adCenter)?

Not entirely. While that used to work, many savvy domain parkers have implemented a search box on the pages of their parked domains. Typing a keyword into the search box displays additional ads triggered by that search query. Typically, if a parked domain has a search box, it is classified as a Search Network partner, not a Display Network or Content Network site. So disabling Parked Domains does not block your ads from appearing on Parked Domains that have a Search box.

Does disabling both Content/Display and Search Network prevent my ads from showing on Parked Domains?

If you do it properly, then yes, but you’re also giving up all of the exposure of free ad impressions and the opportunity to purchase high-value clicks outside of Search.

How do I disable my ads from showing on networks that include Parked Domains?

Obviously, you need to be able to log in to your AdWords or adCenter account. Disabling Parked Domains is done in Campaign Settings in AdWords and in Ad Group Settings in adCenter. However, be careful, the language is confusing, especially on adCenter. You should read our blog post called How To Avoid the Microsoft AdCenter Parked Domain Landmine to see examples of parked domain sites and to get step-by-step instructions.

What if I need help?

Contact us to discuss your situation. We manage hundreds of thousands of dollars in Pay-per-Click advertising per month on behalf of our clients. We’ve been eliminating fraud and abuse in PPC campaigns for years, and we can help you significantly improve the efficiency of your PPC campaigns too. We’re typically available Monday – Friday from 9am – 5pm Eastern Time at the number / email below. Or simply submit the form located here (no cost or obligation) and we’ll get in touch with you.

Phone: 978-482-0131 (Direct)

Email: info@market-vantage.com

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Conversion Optimization Best Practices

Improve Conversion Rates Through “Reverse Engineering”

target-80X80Whenever we have been asked to troubleshoot an online campaign that isn’t working, the #1 problem we see is that most of the effort has been placed on driving traffic rather than the overall goal. In other words, instead of focusing on keywords or ads, you should begin by defining the desired result of your marketing activity or campaign. Is it a highly qualified lead? A sale?

Start at the end and work your way backwards. That’s what we mean by “reverse engineering.”

Let’s break down the process into a sequence of logical steps you can follow.

  • Determine the characteristics of a buyer or qualified lead. Start by building a profile of all your current customers. Who are they and why did they buy from you? Hopefully, you will come up with a number of descriptions, each with their own reasons to buy, proof-points and places to be found. This will enable you to tailor each marketing activity to a particular buyer. What are their desires, or what kinds of problems do they want to solve? What goals do they want to achieve? What causes them “pain” that you can relieve? If this is a B2B campaign, what are the functional roles or titles you want to attract?
  • Design or develop the best offer or call-to-action you can provide. Put yourself in the shoes of your prospect. Consider what they might need, to help them in their buying process. Perhaps it’s a guide or a subscription to an informative  data archive. Sometimes it’s pricing they’re after. Many B2B organizations are reluctant to provide pricing early in the sales process for fear of scaring off prospects or tipping off competitors, but a number of recent studies have shown that budgetary pricing can move qualified prospects forward and move non-qualified buyers toward your competition.
  • How will you present the offer? This falls under the heading of “landing page optimization” because typically, you’ll want to expose the prospect to the offer as soon as they hit your site. While entire books have been written about landing page optimization, the most important thing to consider is minimizing the required thought and effort on the part of the prospect. Don’t clutter your landing page with multiple distractions. Keep the number of items on a registration form as small as possible. Keep the amount of “unsupervised thinking” to a minimum. If possible, include the form on the landing page to reduce the additional step of clicking through to a different form page.
  • How will you put people in front of the offer? You’re not dropping clicks on your website’s home page and making them hunt for your offer, right? Hopefully, you’ve crafted a dedicated page and you can specify that page’s URL for click-throughs, whether those clicks come from emails, banner ads, sponsored search or whatever.
  • How will you measure success? Before you start the machinery, you should know what you’re hoping to achieve and how it will be measured. Is it a certain number of leads or sales, of a particular quality, within a specified time frame? Is it a target Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA)?

Look to the end before you start, to improve immediate results and help avoid costly mistakes. This is an important component in Market Vantage’s Internet marketing methodology that we use in helping our clients develop successful, optimized marketing strategies and programs.

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How to Stop Competitors from Clicking Your PPC Ads

mouse-clickThere are various types of click fraud in online advertising. One form involves competitors clicking on your Pay Per Click ads. They do this to waste your budget on worthless clicks, discouraging you from continuing to advertise online. With typical per-click charges ranging from a few dollars to tens of dollars, it doesn’t take long to burn someone’s daily budget and take their ads off the air.

While both Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter claim to refund charges for “suspicious” clicks, we have seen instances where consistent clicking by competitors has required manual requests for refunds. Both platforms allow IP address blocking of ads. Let’s review how this works to understand what can (and can’t) be accomplished with IP address blocking.

Every device browsing the web presents an IP address (for example 102.205.23.7) detectable by the site they are visiting. If you’re at home or work for a small company, your IP address is probably assigned dynamically (changes from time to time) by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). If you work for a medium to large company, your IP address might be a static (unchanging) IP that’s assigned to your company. If you’re on a network, your router assigns IP addresses to all internally connected devices. These “local” IPs typically begin with 192.168 and are generally not visible to the outside world. But all of these devices will present the same IP address to external sites.

A free and easy way to see what IP address you are presenting to the outside world is to visit the website www.whatismyip.com.

Not only does every user connected to the Internet have an IP address, but every website has an IP address as well. Some websites have a unique, dedicated IP address, but it’s also common to find multiple websites sharing one IP address because website hosting is typically cheaper with a shared IP address.

Larger companies are more likely to have one static IP address or an IP address range and host their own website. In this case, you can perform a reverse-lookup of the website to determine its IP address and then block this IP address in your AdWords or adCenter account. Once that’s done, if the people in that company present the same IP address as the website, then they will not see your ads. Of course, if they can’t see them, they can’t click on them.

Many companies do not host their own websites. For example, here at Market Vantage, we host our site with a large web hosting company called Hostgator. Our site does have a dedicated IP address, 69.93.241.219. If you type this IP address into your browser, you will see our website come up. But if you block this IP address in your AdWords or adCenter account, we will still see your ads because our company uses a local ISP and we present a completely different IP address when we’re surfing the web or sending email. You would need to block our ISP-assigned IP address in AdWords and adCenter to block us from seeing your ads.

Unfortunately, while there are reverse lookup tools that can give you the IP address of a website, for example, http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp, determining the network IP address of a company is not so easy. If you receive an email from a person within the company, you can find their IP address in the expanded header of their email. Their IP address is also readable by your webserver when they visit your site, including when they visit your site via an ad click. But anyone who takes their laptop to Starbucks or the public library will temporarily be assigned a completely different IP address.

While it would be nice to preemptively block all possible fraudulent clicks, we have found that the most effective way to use IP address blocking against unwanted clicks requires that you first detect repeated unwanted clicks. Most of your competitors probably won’t be engaging in this form of sabotage anyway, so blocking your ads from all of them is a waste of time. You need to block the repeat offenders. If you have the right tool, this is fairly easy to do.

You can subscribe to a service like Adometry. You can also use a general-purpose web analytics tool that reports on individual visitors. Note that Google Analytics does not do this and therefore is of no use in detecting fraudulent clicks from competitors. IVA, on the other hand, does provide click fraud detection. It will send you an email detailing the suspicious activity after a user-definable threshold (for example, 3 or more clicks) has been exceeded. You can simply forward this email to a Google or Microsoft account rep to request a refund.

IVA-Click-Fraud-150X209To view a demo of IVA’s click fraud detection, visit our Web Analytics page and click the link for the “demo of IVA Web Analytics.” Then in the left menu, under Campaigns, choose Click Fraud > Repeat Clicks. This tool offers a rich assortment of ways to be alerted for various suspicious activity via email or on-screen reports.

Both will show you the IP address of the offender. Copy that IP address and paste it into the exclusion list on AdWords or adCenter and you can sleep better knowing that your money will henceforth be going toward bringing prospects, not competitors, to your website.