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Click Fraud Statistics

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Click and ad fraud are something of an enigma but what is clear is  that their influence is all-encompassing and, it would seem, very much  here for the long-term. Whilst there has been significant improvements  in recent years – particularly from Google Ads – the threat and damage  which click and ad fraud can inflict upon the PPC market is still very  much increasing. Quite simply, this means a significant amount of  advertisers’ money is lost as a result. In 2016 it was estimated that around $7.2 Billion dollars (£5.4 Billion pounds) was lost to click  fraud. This increased to $16.7 Billion dollars (£12.7 Billion pounds) in  2017 and it is estimated that $27.2 Billion dollars (£20.7 Billion  pounds) will be lost by the end of 2018. Statistically this is  equivalent to a 227% increase over the course of two years! It’s not  just the monetary value which is shocking, it is also the fact that the  click fraud statistics are significant over this relatively short period too.

Look at it this way, every few years there are significant changes  within digital marketing, whether this be through a new platform or  device. Up to that point the threat of click and ad fraud is contained,  but when new developments emerge the threat once again arises and new  ways to undermine PPC and online advertising emerge. Due to the nature  of click fraud statistics, platform providers such as Google Ads and  BING Ads have struggled to stay fully abreast of the problem, partly due  to the need to stay as accessible as possible for users. Consequently,  third party providers such as Click Guardian have developed tools in  which online advertisers can ensure that click fraud are kept in check.  If you’ve identified a pesky IP address – then you need not worry, there  are ways to eliminate it but understanding the bigger picture is even  more important.

Click Fraud Statistics 2016 to 2018

With this in mind, it is perhaps a good idea to look at 2017 click  fraud statistics as a snapshot of the click and ad fraud phenomenon. Indeed, there were some surprising facts which emerged over the 12 month  period.

An interesting feature of 2017 was the apparent increase in  desktop-based Click Fraud. This would appear to be bucking the trend –  after all, the prevailing trend has been the rise of mobile-based  traffic. Anywhere from 1 in 5 (20%) to one quarter (25%) of clicks were fraudulent in nature. As to why there was an increase last year, it may  be due to the focus mobile as dominated in recent years. Many  advertisers would assume that mobile-based traffic would be where both  their audience and, by default, fraudulent clicks would be found. This  focus meant that desktop traffic was not afforded the same level of  attention when screening for fraudulent clicks. Despite the overriding  click fraud statistics trend, desktop is still a sizeable player in  digital marketing, it can never fully be discounted and ignoring the  potential for click and ad fraud from desktop traffic will surely blow a  sizeable hole in your budgets.

Rise of the Click Fraud Bots

Another very noticeable feature of both last year and in recent years in  general is the development and use of bots to produce fraudulent  clicks. With the rise of AI and machine learning, it comes as no  surprise that bots would be a persistent and growing problem last year  and beyond. If this wasn’t already problematic enough, it’s also  challenging to pinpoint the source of the bots. It was estimated that  around 20% of websites and ads were visited or clicked on by bots in  2017. This is an alarming figure and it can be argued that this may be  only really an approximation. What is certain is that this figure will  most likely increase in the next five years. Developments in AI are  increasing each year and despite the ability of developers to create  sufficient safeguards against bots, the ability for new programs to  develop ways around these safeguards increases too.

With this in mind, it leads nicely into another development which shares similarities with the use of bots to commit click fraud.  Within the last five years or so, the increased use of VPN. VPNs, or  Virtual Private Networks, are a way for users to connect via an  encrypted connection. To those who are less aware, this is a more  effective way for malicious users to cause disruption to people’s PPC  ads by excessive clicking, in essence this type of behaviour is more  difficult to detect than a traditional, standard ISP connection.  In  much the same way bots are increasingly difficult to pinpoint, VPNs make  it difficult for IP addresses to be detected and identified as  malicious. It must be said that in 2016 the estimated use of VPNs was small in the UK, roughly 5%, but worldwide use was estimated to be at  around 25%. However, with the advent of The UK Investigatory Powers Act –  or as it is more commonly known, the ‘Snoopers Charter’- the frequency  and use of VPNs has increased significantly. In effect, it has propelled  VPNs into the public arena and consequently caused their increased use  amongst users who wish to commit click fraud.

Friendly Fire

Whilst antagonistic behaviour has markedly increased over the last few  years, the occurrence of what can be termed ‘friendly fire’ can be  identified as another factor and it is entirely more innocent as the  name suggests. With the development of smart phones and tablets in the  last decade and the increased use of smart phones for online  transactions, the incidents of click fraud occurring through users mistakenly clicking on ads has increased. Perhaps the most noticeable  aspect of this is that it is difficult to identify when this has  happened – statistics are quite simply hard to estimate. It is therefore  important to consider this when analysing data and identifying  potentially fraudulent behaviour. That been said, you would expect the vast majority of users to avoid this occurrence. The nature of search  engines means that is now easier to find a search topic but mistakes will invariably happen.

The Future of Click Fraud

In general, the click fraud statistics point to an increasing trend. If  2017 is anything to go by, it would appear that the war against  fraudulent clicks is very much here for the long-term. As stated  earlier, whilst improvements have been made in this field, the nature of  search advertising and search engines means the click fraud problem is  never really solved – one door may close but another one will invariably open.

You may be wondering what the future holds? Well, unsurprisingly,  click and ad fraud will remain a threat to PPC marketing. As to what the  future will look like depends on a number of factors. Platform  providers such as Google and BING will certainly need to improve if the  threat is to be drastically reduced. Based on previous performance, this  cannot be relied upon – it simply hasn’t materialised. It is clear that  in the absence of this, third party providers can certainly plug the  gap. As pointed out, the adoption of government legislation hasn’t  helped the situation either. It could be that legislation is enacted in  the future but the government response to online fraud has been mixed in recent years – there is no reason to believe that this will change in  the near future.

Whatever way you look at the problem, click fraud will remain a feature  of PPC marketing and search advertising for years to come. It will  remain the prerogative of the advertiser to ensure that click fraud  behaviour is held firmly at bay.