A Guide to Click Fraud And How To Prevent It

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Worried about click fraud? These simple solutions should put your mind at rest.

The internet is a vital tool for almost every modern business. It can help with anything from growing your customer base through digital marketing, to powering IVR systems that will transform your call centers.

The internet can, however, be an unsafe place for businesses. This is something that many organizations have experienced first-hand. In fact, 66% of small to medium-sized businesses have experienced a cyber-attack in the past 12 months. Unfortunately, this number seems only set to increase.

But not all cybercrime revolves around spam emails. Today, we’ll be looking at one example: click fraud. But first things first, what is click fraud?

What is Click Fraud?

If you’re running a business online, there’s a good chance that you're using Google Ads. The pay-per-click service is currently being used by 96% of brands. It’s a simple system – your ads are placed on websites or YouTube videos. You are charged each time someone clicks on your ad, and the website owner or YouTuber receives a cut.

But like most systems online, criminals have found a way to exploit Google Ads. When a user attempts to fabricate clicks for profit, it is known as click fraud. By now, many businesses are alert to most forms of ecommerce fraud. But click fraud is trickier to identify, and many organizations fail to spot it.

It’s important that both you and your employees have the skills for dealing with click fraud. It’s useful that you outline employee responsibilities in a contract. Using free online document signing may help to improve legality.  

The practice is already illegal in multiple countries across the world. For instance, in the US, click fraud carries a maximum jail sentence of 10 years. Over time, Google has gotten better at spotting click fraud. If Google’s algorithm spots what it classifies as ‘invalid clicks’, they will be discounted from ad revenue.  

The Different Types of Invalid Clicks

Google categorizes invalid clicks into three different groups. Let’s look at each category.

Invalid Click Types

  • Manual Clicks These are clicks made by website owners so that they receive higher revenue from ads posted on their site.
  • Clicks made by bots As we’ll explain later in this article, fraudsters frequently deploy software to click on ads.
  • Irrelevant clicks This is a broad category and covers instances of ad clicks that bring no value to advertisers. For example, if a user double clicks on an ad, it is classified as an irrelevant click.

Learn more: 9 Common Ad Fraud Methods and How to Deal with Them

Why Do Invalid Clicks Occur?

There are multiple perpetrators of invalid clicks. These include:

  • Businesses looking to gain increased profits from ads
  • Competitors trying to sabotage a business’ ad profits
  • Dissatisfied customers attempting to cause financial damage

The second of the three perpetrators is by far the most common. But all three examples can occur, and it’s important that you are able to spot them. Before you can identify instances of click fraud, however, you need to understand how it is carried out.

Understanding Click Bots

One of the reasons that spotting fraud can be difficult, is that click fraud isn’t usually carried out by people clicking ads manually. Instead, they create software designed to click on ads for them, these are known as click bots. The use of bots by online criminals isn’t anything new, but it is difficult to identify.

Concerningly, bots can act as a part of a wider network by infecting devices. This means that once a device is infected, it can be used continuously to click on ads.

Am I At Risk of Click Fraud?

                 Image Sourced from Spider AF

All businesses that advertise online are at some risk of being targeted by click fraud. In 2021 repeated clicks were responsible for 33.3% of invalid traffic, the most prevalent form of ad fraud.

In the same year, between January and June, Spider AF identified approximately 10,000 clicks from one IP address affecting the ad campaigns of multiple clients. None of these clicks led to conversions and they may even have been gathering information on the advertiser. Click fraud can do real damage to your online advertising.

So, with all that said, how do you identify click fraud?

How to Identify Click Fraud

As we’ve established, click fraud can be very damaging. The biggest problem, however, is that many businesses aren’t sure what to look out for. You should keep an eye out for some of the red flags listed below.

1. Ads being shown to non-targeted geographic locations

If you’re advertising globally this shouldn’t be a concern. But if your ad campaigns are only targeting specific geolocations, you shouldn’t be getting visitors from outside those locations. If you notice a large number of clicks from locations outside of your ad campaign's target area, you might be targeted by click fraud.

2. Ads displayed on poor quality or untrustworthy websites

Obviously, you don’t get full control over where your ads are being shown. But if your ad is being shown on poor quality or untrustworthy sites, the chances of click fraud are higher.  Check your publisher's list on Google ads, for a list of sites that are displaying your ad and block fraud to minimize its impact.

3. Impact on Ad Budget and ROI

Click fraud can significantly diminish ROI and deplete ad budgets in digital advertising. This unethical practice involves fraudulent clicks on online ads, often generated by bots or competitors, leading to inflated click metrics with no genuine customer interest.

As a result, it drains your ad budget, reduces your chances of reaching real customers, and ultimately harms ROI by increasing costs without delivering valuable conversions. In short, click fraud erodes ad spend, jeopardizes ad budgets, and hampers marketing efforts in connecting with actual customers.

4. People are spending less time viewing your ads

Not all online ads are guaranteed to hold the attention of visitors. Low viewing time could simply indicate that your ad isn’t that interesting to consumers. If the viewing duration suddenly drops on a well-performing ad, however, it could be an indication of click fraud.

Invest in Learning  

Training doesn’t always have the best reputation among businesses. Many organizations see training as ineffective and a waste of time. But there’s no doubt that, if carried out in the right way, training can be an effective way of combating fraud.

It’s important to make learning as accessible as possible. It might be a good idea to invest in note-taking software so that employees can access materials after training. Otter ai is one example of software that transcribes speech into text (although there are many competitors available).

How To Prevent Click Fraud?

By now, you should have a pretty good idea of what click fraud looks like. But spotting the crime isn’t enough. You’ll want to have protections in place to prevent fraudsters, but where should you start? Let’s have a look at some potential protections against click fraud.

Invest in Click Fraud Protection Software

Businesses are constantly investing in software that will take them to the next level. For instance, you’ve probably already introduced business text messaging software, as a method of unifying communications.

Why not apply the same logic, and invest in the latest click fraud prevention software? There are many high-quality tools to choose from. When selecting yours, make sure that it comes with the following features:

  • Constant updates so that software can adapt to new threats posed by fraudsters.
  • The ability to block the IP addresses of suspected fraudsters.
  • The correct data to apply for a refund for invalid traffic visiting your ads.
  • Automatic scanning of web traffic to locate and block bot traffic.

It’s not hard to see how the features listed above can be invaluable. It might cost a little extra, but it’s best not to cut corners when protecting against fraud.

Protect Against Fraud Manually

It’s best to invest in software to protect yourself against click fraud. But if you do decide that you’d rather save money, there are steps you can take to manually protect yourself:

  • Manually block IP addresses – If you suspect an IP address of sabotaging your PPC campaign you can add it to a block list. Google has compiled a handy guide for excluding specific IP addresses.
  • Carry out remarketing campaigns – Remarketing is a useful way of staying in the mind of visitors to your website. A bonus of this form of marketing is that your ads are only shown to people that have visited your website before. This cuts out the risk of click fraud.
  • Think about who you are targeting – Click fraud isn’t always random. You might notice that certain demographics or nationalities are bigger perpetrators. If so, restructure your ad campaigns so you are no longer targeting these groups. Keep adjusting your advertising until you find a formula that produces the least amount of fraud.  

Always Be Alert

There are certain areas of business where cutting corners is a recipe for disaster. You wouldn’t, for instance, develop a mobile app and neglect investing in tools for mobile app testing. Click fraud vigilance is another that you simply cannot cut corners.  

‍Advertising is a crucial part of growing your brand online. But advertising is only useful if it is reaching the right people. If you’re being targeted by click fraud, you’ll be spending valuable advertising budget and resources and not get the results you want. That’s why spotting fraudulent activities is important.

Start by educating yourself and your staff about the tell-tale signs of click fraud. As we’ve explored here, there are lots of red flags to watch out for. Equally important is making sure that you have the right click fraud prevention tool in place to defend against fraud.

By taking the right steps, you can confine your click fraud worries to the past. Just remember; always be alert. By being one step ahead of fraudsters, you can avoid being caught out.

Frequently Asked Questions About Click Fraud

Can I get a refund from Google Ads for invalid traffic?

Getting a refund from Google Ads for invalid traffic is generally considered difficult, as Google tends to be cautious in admitting to issues with invalid clicks. The success of such claims is not guaranteed and often requires substantial evidence to prove the traffic was indeed invalid. Google's stance is likely influenced by the complexity of accurately identifying fraudulent clicks and the potential financial implications of issuing widespread refunds. As a result, many advertisers find it challenging to receive refunds for invalid traffic, leading to a common perception that Google is reluctant to acknowledge and address the issue comprehensively. Contact us to get help in submitting your claim.

What are Google Ads campaigns and how do they relate to click fraud?

Google Ads campaigns are a popular tool for digital marketing, allowing businesses to display their own ads on the Google search engine and its affiliated ad networks. Click fraud occurs in Google Ads campaigns when someone artificially inflates the number of clicks on an ad, leading to increased advertising costs without real user behavior benefitting the advertiser.

How can Microsoft Ads and other ad networks help in preventing click fraud?

Like Google Ads campaigns, Microsoft Ads and other advertising networks have mechanisms to detect and prevent click fraud. Microsoft Ads and similar platforms continually update their algorithms to observe visitor behavior, thereby preventing fraud and ensuring advertisers' spending targets genuine interest.

What role does user behavior play in detecting click fraud in PPC campaigns?

In PPC campaigns, monitoring user behavior can be crucial in detecting click fraud. Unusual patterns, such as an abnormally high click rate without corresponding engagement or conversions, can indicate fraudulent activities. By understanding typical user behavior in PPC campaigns, businesses can better identify anomalies and safeguard their marketing campaigns.

Can manual analysis complement fully automated systems in ad networks to prevent fraud?

While fully automated systems in ad networks are essential for scaling and efficiency, they can sometimes miss nuanced fraud types. Incorporating manual analysis into your strategy helps in further scrutinizing suspicious data points and block bots or other fraud sources that might slip past automated filters.

How does click fraud impact advertising costs in marketing campaigns?

Click fraud directly inflates advertising costs in marketing campaigns. When fraudsters generate false clicks, the advertiser pays for these interactions, draining their budget with no real return on investment. Identifying and countering click fraud is vital to control advertising costs and ensure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.

What data points are essential to monitor in PPC campaigns for fraud prevention?

In PPC campaigns, crucial data points include click-through rates, conversion rates, and user engagement metrics. By monitoring these data points, advertisers can spot inconsistencies that might indicate click fraud. This helps in not only preventing fraud but also optimizing overall campaign performance.

How do affiliate networks and advertising networks differ in addressing click fraud?

Affiliate networks and advertising networks manage click fraud in different ways. Advertising networks like Google Ads or Microsoft Ads use sophisticated algorithms and fully automated systems to detect and prevent click fraud. In contrast, affiliate networks might have more direct relationships with their affiliates, enabling closer scrutiny and potentially different strategies for preventing fraud.

How can single ads in a PPC campaign be protected against various fraud types?

Protecting a single ad in a PPC campaign from various fraud types involves closely monitoring the ad's performance for irregular patterns in click rates and user interactions. Utilizing tools to block bots and setting up alert systems for unusual activity can help in safeguarding each single ad against click fraud.

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