30 Mar What is Click Fraud and How to Avoid it
Put simply, click fraud relates to any click on your pay-per-click ad campaign that is not from the audience you intended.
Click fraud can be devastating to your marketing budget, as your meticulously-planned and visually stunning campaign can be decimated without achieving any actual results.
The cost-per-click of valuable or highly-competitive industries can be worth up to £100, if a brand’s clicks are being hijacked, this can quickly prove costly.
The source of these fraudulent clicks vary in severity and ominousness (yes, that is a word).
I’ll discuss where these clicks come from, and what you can do to minimise them.
Where are these clicks coming from?
Click Fraud can occur from several sources. Let’s go through some of the key culprits from low to high volume:
We’ve all done it, whether you’re not paying attention, you slip, or you misread the link. Sometimes you click on something that you didn’t mean to. Some of your clicks will be wasted by people mistakenly clicking onto your links.
Some of these human clicks are not so innocent. Click fraud can also be the result of humans that have no intention of engaging with your website, clicking on your links.
It could be an ex-employee or a competitor that is trying to get you to burn through your ad budget faster without having the results to show for it. They do this to get their own ads to show up higher on the search engine results page. Typically, this is a fairly low volume because:
- It’s really boring to do
- Competitors usually have their own business to run
Where it can start to add up is if there is a group of humans (like a whole office) clicking on your ads. If the cost-per-click is high. 20 people clicking on a £10 link can quickly add up and put a dent in your budget.
Bots and Crawlers
Like human clickers, these bots can be both innocent and vindictive. You are going to have to accept that some of your revenue will be lost to crawlers due to the sheer number of them on the internet. Most are innocently indexing the web.
However, some have been created to specifically target ads. It’s possible to purchase clicks and engagements for a specific social media profile or website. So unscrupulous competitors or other nefarious people can harness the power of technology to waste your budget.
We’re going up a level in potential volume and severity. Click farms are either automated or human-powered engagement centres. Typically the human farms are based in developing nations where wages are cheap.
Click farms are used by businesses in a spectacularly broad spectrum of industries. Have you heard of celebrities and brands buying followers on social media? — that’s a click farm.
By hooking up phones and tablets to a computer, these farms can automate the activity of hundreds of people, making them a powerful tool for creating fake digital engagement.
A click fraud tactic that is employed by criminal gangs is to create websites (or a few hundred thousand ones) that then hosts ads from an Audience Network, e.g. your beautiful ad.
They then use bots to simulate clicks on your ads from their website, this makes it seem like this fake site is incredibly popular. These clicks generate revenue for their website from the Audience Network and blow your ad budget.
One of the most infamous set-ups was known as Methbot. It was a highly sophisticated scam bot network, designed to fraudulently collecting cash from video views using a network of computers. Thought to have been created in Russia, Methbot is estimated to make around $5–6 million each day in fraudulent clicks.
The size of click farms and fraudulent website systems means that if your ad inadvertently appears on a website, or is targeted by a click farm, you could see your budget exhausted without any results to show from it.
What can I do about it?
How can you protect yourself from this threat?
The brutal answer is, you can’t It is estimated that 20% of PPC ad spend is used up by bots.
The good news is that there are steps that you can take to minimise the impact that this has on your campaign.
All the social media ads platforms currently offer marketers the option to extend their campaign beyond the confines of their social media platform to third-party websites (Facebook is scrapping this on 11th April 2020).
If you want to protect your campaign against click fraud, restricting it to just the social media networks themselves means that you are protected from the worst of the bots. Although there are millions of fakes social media accounts out there, the fact that you need to register an account gives you the best chance of guaranteeing that your campaign is seen by actual people.
Avoid danger countries
As I mentioned earlier, the majority of click farms are located in countries where wages are lower. If you want to totally minimise the risk of exposure to click fraud, it’s good practice to really think about which countries you want to target. Infamous locations include the Philippines and Bangladesh.
On a recent campaign that we launched, we noticed that Poland also appeared to have a lot of bots in operation. Limiting your audience countries is a good start, but you will still need to remain watchful.
If you see that traffic from a particular country looks suspicious, a straightforward solution is to remove that specific location from your targeting.
Stay vigilant with your analytics
Monitoring your website visitor analytics is a critical way to detect bots in your campaign. Although they are becoming more sophisticated, there are a couple of things to look out for:
Make sure that you check the IP address of your website traffic. If you see that a particular IP address is repeatedly accessing your site, this is likely to be suspicious. Although it is laborious, you can block specific IP addresses from your website to stop them impacting upon your PPC budget.
A good rule of thumb is that crawlers and bots will bounce quickly from your page. When you think about a human visitor, typically they will click on a couple of pages to find out more about your business. Robots don’t care. A high bounce rate can be a good indicator that you have some click-fraud-y visitors.
In addition to bounce rate, session duration is also a good indicator of bot activity. Bots tend to linger on a site for around 2-seconds. If your average session duration is hovering around this mark, then we’d recommend doing a deeper dive into your visitor demographics and campaign targeting.
Depending on the objective of your campaign, the organic traffic and conversion rate of your website, you may want to consider putting more of a focus on retargeting.
Retargeting targets people that have already visited your website. Their initial visit adds a tracking tag to their browser. This typically lasts for 30 days.
The next time that they visit a website or social media platform that is showing ads from your campaign or Audience Network, they will be eligible to see your ad campaign.
This is effective for 2 key reasons:
- They have shown previous interest in your brand.
- They have had to undertake an action to qualify to see your campaign. Not just any Tom, Dick or Bot can click on your ad.
Use a click fraud tool
While it may seem ridiculous to spend money to protect your ad spend, it can definitely be worthwhile. If each click is potentially worth a lot of money to you, e.g. legal firms or estate agents, it is definitely worth researching click fraud protection tools. They can swiftly identify, take action and seem reimbursement from click fraud. Something to think about.
If you are concerned that you aren’t getting the number of conversions that your clicks are suggesting, check to make sure that you’re not the victim of click fraud.