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What is Click Fraud and how to identify it?

The internet is a dangerous place for those who look to advertise their websites. As easy as it is to create online ads and track their performance, it is also easy to lose important parts of your budget to clicks that are actually irrelevant to your business, whether those clicks are intentional or not.

Even though with PPC you only pay when your ads are clicked, what if most of your clicks come from people (or robots) that have zero chances of being your customers? We discuss the ways in which you can lose money advertising online, because of click fraud.

As online advertisers and website owners, you will always have situations when what you are paying for clicks in PPC systems, such as Facebook and Google Ads, does not really match with the actual benefits you are getting in terms of traffic.

Quite recently, a customer that has been paying for a considerable number of clicks from Google Ads, had these clicks showing up in Analytics as coming from very few users. In this case, we have seen as much as 24 paid clicks per user visiting the website, on average. So this should mean that one user would do at least 24 searches and would keep on clicking our ads in Google, visit our website, then go back to the search again and again. This is very suspicious behavior, even for the most tenacious shopper comparing offers.

That is because, most likely, this is not an actual shopper and we may be the victims of click fraud. There are several reports of lawsuits on the internet concerning this issue. Some research claims that 25% of all PPC clicks are fraudulent. Many have sued Google, who they believe to be responsible for capitalizing on invalid clicks, not reimbursing the customers and doing too little to stop click fraud.

Whoever is responsible, click fraud is a fact, and it happens for two reasons.

Inflationary click fraud

One reason is for third parties (publishers) and/or PPC companies to make more money from advertisers such as yourself. This is called inflationary click fraud. It’s simple to understand. Every time there is a click on your ads, you spend money and someone else is making a profit.

Say you are advertising through the Display network and your ad is displayed on a random website that is relevant for your ad. That website owner has an active interest to click that ad in order to get more revenue from Google. He might not do it himself. Maybe he has friends, collaborators or employees who are instructed to do so. Google claims to check and reimburse what they track as invalid clicks, but, speaking from past experience, that rarely happens.

This inflationary click fraud was a practice so common at one point, that it led to the appearance of so-called click farms, offices in third world countries with employees whose only purpose was to click on various ads. As coherently explained by this now-famous Veritasium video, click farms tend to click (or like) both ads that bring them revenue, as well as ads that do not. They do this in an attempt to disguise their fraudulent activity, to make it more difficult to track who they are clicking for.

Of course, software, malware, and viruses have been developed to automate the activity of click farms, so many times it is not actual humans doing the clicking.

Although I would not go as far as to claim that PPC companies themselves are actively involved in inflationary click fraud, it is obvious that they benefit from it. As a customer, you have very little leverage against them. You can file in a formal complaint and/or call support. Google, for one, have done very well on improving their customer care lately. They have teams in most countries and most languages and will be happy to investigate your issue. Do not hesitate to ask for their help. 

Competitive click fraud

The second type of fraud is competitive click fraud, which is done by your competition, to spend your money without reaching real customers.

Although it does involve a bit of effort from them, your competitors may well spend the time to actively click your ads, in order to exhaust your advertising budget and make you less competitive.

If your main competitor clicks your ads 50 times during the morning, you will most likely run out of budget by the afternoon and your ads will stop running.

What can I do against click fraud?

The first thing is to carefully track user activity on your website, using the Visitor Analytics tool. Look especially for users coming to your website through paid advertising and try to see if there are unusual patterns of behavior.

Secondly, if you suspect something, you may want to hire a company specializing in click fraud. A simple search will get you dozens of offers. They will track suspicious activity for you and block clicks from suspicious IPs accordingly. You will probably save more than what this company will charge you.


Want to know more about your website traffic and performance? Check all our Advertising articles, learn what is referral traffic and why is it important and check these 3,14 tips to boost your traffic!

This page was updated on: 03. October 2018 - 11:04