Click fraud is defined by Google as ‘clicks generated with malicious or fraudulent intent’.
In other words, click fraud is a type of fraud specific to pay per click (PPC) online advertisements (either ad banners or paid text links) to increase the payable number of click-throughs to the advertiser.
Originally, advertisers would pay a publisher (website owner) each time somebody clicks on their ad. But the introduction of advertisement networks has greatly increased the number of players involved – increasing the potential for fraudulent activity, and the number of people who stand to ‘gain’ from it.
As a result, click fraud can be detrimental to everyone involved – whether partaking in the illicit activity themselves, or not. And can severely endanger the overall effectiveness of search engine advertising.
Why Click Fraud is Performed
There are two primary incentives for committing click fraud:
- Publishers may use click fraud in order to increase their own personal advertisements revenues – imitating a legitimate user clicking on an ad, for the purpose of generating a charge per click without having actual interest in the target of the ad’s link.
- Companies may use click fraud as a way of derailing a competitor’s advertisement campaign – either raising their advertisement costs by performing cost-per-action clicks which the competitor is responsible for maintaining, or by depleting their advertisement budget altogether.
How Click Fraud is Performed
The fraudulent clicks could be performed by having an individual manually click the advertisement hyperlinks. These are collectively known as ‘Click Farms’, where groups of individuals are hired to manually click ads for whatever reason suggested above.
Other methods include using automated software or online bots that are programed to click these ad banners and PPC text ads.
Invalid traffic (traffic wrongfully directed to the publisher’s advertisement hyperlink) may also result in activity that could be considered fraudulent.
How You Can Help Prevent Click Fraud
Advertising networks are diligently working hard to fight click fraud in order to preserve the quality of their publishers and advertisers. They continuously monitor clicks and record the IP addresses, time, and date, and this information is then used to filter out fraudulent clicks. Click patterns and various activities are also monitored in order to identify invalid clicks.
Unfortunately, click fraud is something that can never be eliminated entirely, especially with the rising number of campaigns that advertising networks are having to monitor on a daily basis.
However, there are a number of measures you can take in order to help prevent it from harming your PPC campaign. Vigilance is key, so be smart and pay attention to reduce risk:
- Keep an eye on your competitors. Monitor who exactly is competing with your keywords in the search engines, as they could be a potential source of competitor click fraud. Consider looking up the domain IP range of these competitors and adding them to your exclusion lists. If a competitor cannot see your ads, they cannot click them.
There are two types of exclusion lists:
- Domain Exclusion Lists – These lists stop your ads being displayed on content network sites.
- IP Exclusion List – This list prevents activity from suspicious IP addresses. For example, if one particular IP address is repeatedly clicking on your ad links.
Image: Example of an exclusion list based on IP address (source. wordstream)
- Put a cap on your advertisement expenses. Reduce your financial risk by limiting the amount you spend on cost-per-action clicks. CPA bidding on networks, such as Facebook, means that you can cap your spend. This should be common practice anyway, but it also means you avoid running up massive advertisement costs at the hands of saboteurs performing fraudulent clicks.
- Avoid partnering with untrusted or low-quality parties. Invalid activity can often come as a result of partnering with low-quality ad networks, search engines or directory sites in efforts to increase traffic to their site. This includes running your ads on high-value sites ONLY. Make sure your ads are being run on the sites you have specified and avoid the types of websites where unethical revenue generating may occur.
- Countries with low labor rates employ people with the sole purpose of clicking advertisements. So don’t run ads in countries where you can be seen and then sabotaged. For a list of which countries are considered as high-risk for online fraud, check here.
- Don’t click on your own ads, even if you think it’s okay to do so. Even if you’re interested in an ad or looking for its destination URL, clicking on your own ads is still prohibited. Keep in mind that your ad network – AdSense, for example – will typically filter any clicks on your own ads, but won’t ignore them entirely. If it appears that a publisher has been fraudulently clicking his own ads to inflate his earnings, then they may choose to disable your account.
- Have a clear understanding of where your ad traffic is coming from. Break down your traffic reports into meaningful segments using URL channels, custom channels, or DFP ad units. This will help gauge how changes to traffic sources or implementation can affect your ad traffic, and give you a better idea of how your ad traffic would normally look. This means any abnormal behavior outside of your own intervention (invalid activity) will be easier to spot, and picked up much sooner.
Image: Traffic referral report based on domain (source. Clickthroo)
Remember, PPC can provide significant value as part of your marketing mix, so don’t abandon it altogether. Instead, understand what click fraud is and what you can do to protect yourself. Getting professional help will enable you to design an effect PPC campaign, monitor it and stay up to date with detailed reporting. You’ll better minimize any potential loss from click fraud, as well as getting the best results in return on your advertising investment.
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