Advertisers sometimes debate whether to use paid search, one of their biggest sources of hesitation is click fraud, this is becoming a valid concern for many Pay Per Click (PPC) marketers. Click fraud is a relevantly new buzzword that is getting more known amongst PPC advertisers, which relates to a competitor and fraudster clicking constantly on your ads. There are 5.6 billion searches on Google every day and that’s why PPC is becoming more popular.
The problem with click fraud is when it goes undetected for a long time then it results in rising costs and poor performance of the ads. In 2018 it was estimated $27 Billion dollars were lost on click fraud of PPC campaigns. However, there is no reason to be fearful and avoid PPC altogether, as long as you are reliant and keep an eye on your google ads account and employ proactive measures, your ads will be in good shape.
What is click fraud?
Click fraud is a black-hat technique to falsely increase the number of clicks on a pay per click ad. This could be advertisers trying to sabotage their competition by driving their costs up and displaying a false amount of clicks or if using an ad publisher, they click on their own ads to generate more sales for themselves. Click fraud is becoming an increasingly worrying problem for marketers on popular pay per click platforms such as Google Ads, Microsoft Ads and Bing Ads. Search engines like google are constantly looking into this issue, they are taking this seriously and investing heavily trying to overcome click fraud. However Google doesn’t refer to it as ‘click fraud’, they use the term invalid clicks.
Considering the price of some keywords on Google Ads, which can be above £50 per click, you can see how false clicks can really add up and become a huge problem for any business. Back in 2017, there was evidence to suggest that 1 in every 5 clicks on a pay-per-click ad were fraudulent in some capacity, since then the techniques have advanced and the volume of fraudulent activity online has increased year on year.
There are two different methods to click fraud – automated and manual. Automated click fraud uses certain software to repeatedly click on the pay-per-click ads. Manual click fraud, however, is done by an actual person, this could be a rival company. Automated click fraud occurs on a larger scale, as it’s multiple clicks at the same time. To automate this process, fraudsters use internet bots to “click” on the ads over and over. Studies have shown that as much as 20% of websites that have per pay click Google Ads are visited by fraudulent click bots.
What is a click bot?
A click bot is a digital robot that is programmed to carry out click fraud on advertisers. Some click bots are even designed to make their actions similar to a real user, for example, random pauses for reading, mouse movements and mixing their timings up for clicking ads. Having thousands of clicks from one device would immediately look suspicious, fraudsters will install bots on many devices – this is known as a botnet.
Several large botnets have been used for click fraud for example “Clickbot.A” was a click fraud botnet that affected over 100K machines. Click bots are easier to identify as they are coming from one device compared to a botnet.
Click fraud can be carried out by click bots but it can also be done by a group of people. This is known as “click farms” as it is a group of people hired to click on certain webpages and links to inflate the click-through rate for those pages. This type of click fraud can be easily identified as it will come from the same geographical location and at the same time.
How to identify Click Fraud in your Ads Account
So how do you tell if malicious clicks are happening on your ad account? There are ways to identify this, depending on the time and resources you have to commit to monitoring your ad clicks, you can either do a manual analysis or an automated solution.
If you decide to go down the manual route, it’s good to start with the internal reporting, this can show any errors or invalid clicks on your ads. To track click fraud on your internal report, there is some information that needs to be gathered: IP address, action timestamp, click timestamp and user agent. An IP address is needed to track the device that is doing the clicks. The click timestamp is the time where someone has arrived on the site after clicking the ad. Action timestamp is the time someone completed the click. Finally, user agent refers to whether someone on the particular IP address is the same person. If you think an IP address is fraudulent, you can perform a check on the IP, some good resources for this is What is my IP address and what is my IP.
Another thing to keep an eye on is proxy servers, as some traffic might seem like it’s all coming from the same place but this could be due to the same place being a coffee shop or an airport. Performing some research on the IP address can show if the traffic is coming from a public place or if it’s fraudulent. If the searches are very different then it’s likely a proxy server, however, if the searches are all the same within the same time period then it is probably ‘click fraud’. If you have identified click fraud on your Google Ads account you can report it via Google Ads Support.
There are automated solutions that can help identify click fraud. Click Guardian is the UK’s number 1 click fraud solution which offers a simple use system that tracks and monitors your pay per click ads and scans the data to check the visitors are genuine. Their system has industry-leading algorithms to detect real potential customers from fraudsters and bots. This system can also block fraudsters, as once a fraudulent click is detected the ad will be hidden from the fraudster, therefore can’t keep clicking on the ad.
There is also automated detection programs to identify fraudulent bots. Google uses machine learning to filter out ad related activity from bots. Also, Cloudflare has a bot management system to detect and mitigate click fraud. These programs will monitor and track when a user activity differs greatly from typical user activity. For example, if all the user does is click on pay per click ads on Google then that user is marked as a bot and blocked from future ads.
4 tips to protect your ads from click-happy criminals
As Google tries to find a way to stop click fraud, there are a couple of things you can do to protect your ads. Firstly you can set up IP exclusions on Google Ads. This can be used if you have done your research and have identified IP addresses with fraudulent clicks, as you can block your ad from being seen by the user of the IP address. To set up exclusions on Google Ads, go to settings then IP exclusions settings then upload any IP addresses you want to be blocked from future ads.
You can also alter your ad targeting, doing this can weed out any invalid clicks. You can track the geographic location of where your clicks come from and if all the invalid clicks come from one region you could exclude these locations from seeing your pay per click ads. To minimise invalid clicks you should only pick to run your Google Ads in certain countries per campaign, for example, most marketers avoid advertising in countries where they have low labour rates as these are the countries at the top of the list when it comes to fraud click sources.
However, if you think you are becoming a victim of click fraud from a competitor you can figure out the city and postcode they work at and exclude these areas from seeing your ad. Only set these exclusions if you are sure this is the area or region that the fraudulent clicks are happening as you don’t want to eliminate any good ad traffic. You could also run GDN remarketing campaigns, by doing this you could avoid click fraud on your pay per click campaigns as remarketing ads are only displayed to those who have visited and showed interest in your companies website. Another benefit of implementing retargeting ads is that research shows that retargeted visitors are 70% more likely to convert.
If your Google Ads are being a victim of click fraud over and over again, you could turn to Facebook Ads instead. By using Facebook Ads there are no third-party publishers involved in the process, cutting out the source of invalid clicks quite significantly. Competitors who maliciously click on ads is less common on paid social because you can set your ads up with advanced targeting options that are very specific to the target audience.
PPC can and should be a profitable marketing element for your business that brings a range of benefits that don’t exist on other channels of advertising. Click Fraud is a deceptive technique that is costing companies thousands around the world. There is no way to eliminate the risk of click fraud yet however companies like Google are working hard to overcome this and protect their advertisers.
Pay per click advertising is a crucial element of many businesses marketing mix and if you understand your market and follow the tips we have talked about in this blog you will be able to identify and overcome click fraud if it happens to your ad account. It is important to monitor your ad account on a frequent basis as you want to ensure your ad budget is being spent well and not utilised by fraudsters. If you are interested in increasing your presence on Google and implementing a PPC strategy contact us today.
If you need support or advice with your digital marketing strategy, Jam Digital can help. Outsourcing to Jam can offer your business the opportunity to optimise your time and budget through partnering with our team of experts, ultimately we will generate the best results for your business.
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