The growth of click fraud has not gone unnoticed by many, with more advertisers aware of the budget sapping threat of this shady practice. But what exactly is click fraud? And why has it grown to such a big problem, even in 2021?
In layman’s terms, click fraud is the act of clicking on PPC ads from non-genuine sources. This can be done using bots to carry out extensive fake clicks, or it can also be done by individuals or organised teams to defraud ads in bulk.
Although diverting or stealing funds is often the main aim, it’s not the only motive click fraudsters have. From taking down a competitor’s ad by exhausting their daily ad budget, to simply causing annoyance to advertisers (perhaps ex-employees or unhappy customers) the reasons for click fraud are not always financial.
How to spot click fraud on your PPC ads.
There are four key things that you should be aware of to know whether your ads are a victim of click fraud:
- Exceptionally high bounce rates
- Unexpectedly high impressions on your ads
- No increase in conversions even when the impressions are high
- A decrease in the number of pages visited by the visitor via your ad
Although these activities can be a sign of click fraud, they can also be indicative of other issues such as poorly managed ad campaigns or ad copy. But if you experience a mixture of these signals, it may be an indicator of click fraud on your ads.
Who is responsible for click fraud?
Click fraud can occur in numerous ways, from an accidental click on your ad by any customer to a large fraudulent company making bots do the clicking, everything is possible. These are the most common sources of click fraud on paid search and display ads.
In some competitive industries, your business competitors may be the most common source of click fraud. They will do this to outrank you on the search engines.
For any PPC campaign, you will have to set a daily budget. Once the budget is exhausted, AdWords will automatically end your campaign for the day and you’re not going to get any more clicks.
What happens here is if your ad is in first position on Google and your competitor’s ad is second, they can click your ads, exhaust your daily budget, and outrank you for the rest of the day.
Click farms targeting PPC ads
Paid fraud rings, also known as click farms, are locations designed to carry out industrial scale clicks. Often used to inflate social media engagement or boost website traffic, they can also be hired to click on whatever link they are asked to. This can of course include paid ads.
Website owners looking to increase their payout from clicks or impressions on ads often hire click farms to boost traffic.
Click farms are capable of generating millions of clicks per day, across multiple links, often using a mixture of human and bot generated traffic.
Dissatisfied customers and vindictive actors
Although the occurrence of click fraud due to customer dissatisfaction is a rare scenario, it does happen. A brand hater or dissatisfied customer can easily click your ad each time it shows up, knowing that it will cost you money.
There are some well known cases of click fraud happening by organised campaigns against specific business for reasons ranging from jealousy to unfair business advantages.
Clicks can also happen unintentionally. If a customer clicks on the same ad twice, it doesn’t always mean he is practicing click fraud. Poorly placed ads on mobile websites, pop ups and simple user error can be a big source of invalid clicks.
Though they might not convert into a lead, it will still cost you for the ad click. Although Google and some of the other platforms do refund as many of these accidental clicks as possible, there are many incidences where they haven’t until they have been asked. If you think you’re seeing fake clicks or accidental clicks on your ads, be sure to contact customer support.
Industries affected by click fraud in 2020/2021
Click fraud doesn’t affect all industries equally. Industries with high priced keywords and competitive industries tend to see higher volumes of click fraud.
Industries most affected by click fraud and invalid traffic tend to include:
- On demand services such as locksmiths
- Financial services
- Legal support and services
- Professional services including photography and video editing
Coincidentally all of these industries have quite high CPC, with keywords often above $20-30 per click.
Is there anything being done to prevent click fraud?
Most PPC ad networks including Google have their own methods to track and monitor fraud, often referred to as invalid traffic (IVT). The theory is that fraud is blocked, or that which gets through gets refunded to the advertisers.
However, often these processes aren’t as sound or effective as you might think they are. By many estimates, the actual volumes of click fraud that are blocked by the platforms like Google, Bing and Facebook are negligible compared to that which gets through.
Today, you’ll find a proliferation of click fraud prevention companies picking up the slack. Industry leaders like ClickCease have quickly established themselves as the go to method for fraud prevention on paid search ads.
How to prevent click fraud
It’s always tough to run a PPC campaign and see your ad funds vanishing due to click fraud. So, here are some points you would like to keep in mind while running an ad campaign:
- Keep an eye on your ad campaigns on a daily basis – make sure to watch for those peaks in traffic or unusual behavior
- Avoid targeting a generic audience and instead be specific in your demographic targeting
- Check the ads.txt of any sites you advertise on to ensure they are genuine.
- Invest in click fraud prevention software such as ClickCease
Running a PPC ad campaign is a multi-layered job that requires ongoing attention to get the best out of it. It takes real money and effort to run ads and build a brand for yourself. Watching that money flow away like water and seeing little to no returns is tough.
With more online traffic in 2020, and many of us working from home, you can expect both the volume of digital marketing opportunities to increase in 2021 as well as the volumes of fraud.