A growing number of AdSense and Ad Exchange publishers have been talking about a “two click penalty” being placed on their sites. This is also commonly being called a “double click penalty” or “visit site penalty.” This apparent penalty requires users to take a second action to click on an ad, having a devastating impact on the revenue generated from affected units. This isn’t a new issue. We first became aware of the issue back in 2014, but circumstantial evidence would suggest that it is becoming more common.
Whether or not the two-click issue is technically a penalty is debatable (more on that in a minute). However, any issue that impacts publisher earnings is serious and needs to be understood. If you think you might be affected, read on to learn more about how to diagnose and fix the two-click penalty.
What is the Two-Click / Double-Click penalty?
In some circumstances, Google will require that a user confirms that they intentionally clicked on an advert before registering and honoring this click. This is done by the first click on an advert causing an interstitial “Visit site” message and button to appear. The user is only redirected to the target URL (and the click only registered) when they click again on the button.
In the CPC environment of AdSense, it would appear that revenue is only generated for the publisher when the second click is made. As the revenue impact in the CPM environment of AdX seems to be similarly impacted, it would appear that CPMs are refunded/discounted inline with this.
The earnings impact of this behaviour can be very significant. The second click causes effective CPMs to plummet, bringing total revenue with it. Despite this, we don’t see this issue as a deliberate penalty by Google, but as a test or check that happens to have a big impact on revenue. As such we internally refer to this as the “Visit Site behaviour” rather than as a penalty. When Google issues penalties to publishers, these are announced by email. For AdSense publishers, any such actions will also appear in the Policy Center of their account. The Visit Site behaviour triggers neither of these. As such, we do not believe that Google sees this as a penalty. That might seem academic to publishers impacted by the issue, but it can be helpful to understand and resolve the issue.
How do I know if the Visit Site behaviour is affecting me?
The first noticeable sign that a site has been affected by the Visit Site behaviour is usually the sudden drop in earnings from Google Ads without their being a corresponding drop in traffic to the site. There are a few things that can cause this pattern, but the Visit Site behaviour has a particular footprint to look out for: Impressions will be at normal levels, but CTR rate will have dropped considerably.
Although this is a very strong indicator of a problem, it can be hard to be 100% certain unless you have access to a Google Account Manager or work with a Certified Partner like OKO. As there are no warning emails or messages in account, the only other way to be certain is to witness the behaviour for yourself which is not possible without clicking an ad (clicking own ads being something that is against policy). Some older guides suggest installing the Google Publisher Toolbar so that you can safely click the ads to diagnose the issue. Unfortunately, since the Google Publisher Toolbar was retired this is no longer an option and the Google Publisher Console doesn’t have quite the same functionality.
The visit site behaviour / two-click penalty would seem to be applied differently in different cases. Sometimes affecting all inventory and sometimes just particular combinations of device type and ad unit. This makes it even more difficult to be certain if you are affected.
Why does the Visit Site button appear?
The Visit Site button is related to invalid/accidental clicks. It would appear to be used when Google detects unnatural behaviour that looks like accidental clicks. It’s not clear whether the Visit Site behaviour is used as a way to block accidental clicks or to measure them, but it seems likely that it involves some element of both.
How do I fix the issue?
The Visit Site button appears because Google suspect that you are receiving accidental clicks on your ads. To remove the issue you need to give Google confidence that this is not the case. As the behaviour seems to be measuring the proportion of accidental and deliberate clicks, this will happen automatically if you reduce the number of accidental clicks.
Start by identifying units that could be causing a problem. Look for units that historically have a high CTR and for those where the CTR has dropped suddenly in line with your earnings drop. If users have reported the problem, ask them which units were affected.
One of the most common causes we see are ad units that are close to navigation or that overlap other elements. This can often happen on some devices that are not part of your common test set-up, so be sure to test on as many devices and device types as you can. Looking for units with high CTRs on certain device types can be helpful to identify these, as can just looking through the common devices in analytics for your website.
If you find units that cause such problems, you need to adjust the placement to eliminate accidental clicks. We advise being very conservative: Give more space than you normally would and maybe consider labelling ads until the issue is fixed. You can always run new tests to optimise later.
Another common cause we see is layout shifting / content jumping. This is when the content suddenly jumps whilst it is loading, often when an ad unit is rendered. Sudden layout shifts can mean that users end up clicking on an element other than the one they intended. If that is an ad then it is a text book accidental click. This issue is particularly common on mobile. This can be particularly problematic to diagnose as the shifting will often happen on some devices but not others.
How long until the penalty is removed?
Once the causes of accidental clicks are removed, the Visit Site behaviour will be automatically removed in time. How long this takes would appear to be dependent on the confidence Google has in how deliberate the remaining clicks are. This means that a busy site with few accidental clicks being measured would be expected to be corrected more quickly. This is one of the reasons that we suggest going extra conservative when fixing such issues. In our experience this can take anything from a few days to a month.
How does working with OKO affect such issues
OKO publishers are not immune to such issues, but thanks to our pro-active support are less likely to encounter them. If they are affected then the impacts would usually be less severe, as we source ads from a broad range of quality demand partners rather than just using Google. Our publisher support team are also experienced in identifying, diagnosing and resolving such issues to ensure that any issues are as brief as possible. Avoiding and resolving such issues is just one of the benefits of working with OKO. Find out more about OKO website monetization services here.
Dolly joined the OKO team in 2019 and certified to Google Certified Publishing Partner status. Dolly manages publisher communication and learning at OKO.