You may have seen this, or ‘Invalid activity’ notices on your Google Adsense payment history from September/October 2012. Google has adjusted daily earnings in real-time for a while, so that invalid clicks and exposures are disregarded before the end of the day. They do still do some post-processing on activity which may see your monthly balances reduced further, and they have begun noting these adjustments on your payment report.

Google has a support article about invalid activity here and what you can do to prevent it. Even legitimate publishers (such as I) have seen small adjustments to earnings, even after a payment has been issued for the month in question. This can lead to a small negative Current Balance (denoted by brackets around the number). It is very hard to work out what constitutes this invalid activity, but may be things such as invalid clicks, or traffic received from unsavoury or illicit sources. If you are a spammer or someone trying to grind pagerank, or have paid for your site to be advertised on a site with artificially inflated rank, then don’t be surprised if your earnings are seeing lots of adjustments. Honest publishers have nothing to fear. With the wide variety of traffic flow around the internet, a small amount will reach legitimate sites from bad sources. Small, occasional adjustments are nothing to worry about (although I’ll agree it’s disappointing to see earnings revised down!).

Keeping traffic and click activity honest is definitely in the best interests of everybody concerned, advertisers and publishers alike. The trouble comes with having to somewhat blindly trust that Google implements its policy fairly and that your site won’t suddenly become subject to huge adjustments that you can’t work out. I recommend the ‘How to help prevent invalid activity’ section of the support article linked above, and if you do ever notice unusual activity – such as 10 times as many clicks as a normal day, despite no meaningful increase in traffic, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is alert Google proactively. This will help prevent you from being deemed an illegitimate publisher, ultimately having your account disabled.

Like many budding internet-types looking to monetize from content, I have a Google Adsense account; the adverts for which can be seen on this very page. I am a fairly typical user who exists in the mid-range of popularity where I break the minimum payment threshold every month, but I’m not a mega-bucks earner who lives off it.

I have noticed however that Google’s earnings revisions have been getting very harsh in recent months. Fairly significant sums of money are being knocked off my earnings total when Google does its final revenue ‘checking’ about a week after the end of the month.

In May 2011 Google apparently changed the way it calculates and adjusts for invalid clicks such that if you were seeing a discrepancy in the way earnings were calculated, you were assured it was just because of the delay between the initial clicks and the method used to calculate invalid ones. Ultimately you were being told you hadn’t ‘lost’ money, it was actually money you’d never earned to start with.

More recently Adsense has been making adjustments much faster – in real time. I often notice that my account will say I’ve earned, say, £3 so far on a certain day, but when I check back later it’s gone down to £2. Some adjustment is being made constantly, and yet my final earnings still get revised at the end of the month on top of this real-time mechanism.

Lately this ‘correction’ has been getting worse, so I went back and checked how much my finalized earnings were verses my estimated earnings for that month. Here is a table of the last year to show the percentage by which my finalized payments were revised down from my estimates:

Date % of Earnings Revised Down
Mar-11 0.594546
Apr-11 0.365394
May-11 0.161717
Jun-11 0.819108
Jul-11 0.303293
Aug-11 0.641399
Sep-11* 0
Oct-11 5.905436
Nov-11 0.303737
Dec-11 2.540203
Jan-12 16.66274
Feb-12 5.454124
Mar-12 8.017846

* Google had a payment error in September 2011 for many users, resulting in their payment being deferred to October. The figure for October is the August/September earnings combined.

Here is a graph of the same:

In the last few months there has been very evident spike in the size of the earnings revisions being made. My usage of adverts is strictly legitimate, so I’m at a loss to explain how Google are deciding why so many more clicks are invalid.

The major problem with Adsense is its lack of accountability and reporting on this issue. You’ve given a revised figure, but absolutely no indication how it was calculated. There is no breakdown of total clicks against valid and invalid clicks, or the methodology used to determine invalidity. Google is the least accessible vendor for advert publishers, because there is no direct support line, email address, or contact form. All online enquiries are very tightly funneled against an FAQ of common problems, and give you no opportunity to raise a free-text question.

In other words, there is no appeals process against revised earnings. It’s calculated without explanation, and applied with no way to complain.

Google long ago abandoned all references to ‘Don’t be evil’, and while this isn’t evil necessarily, it’s certainly unhelpful, confusing, and limited, but more worryingly, deliberately so.