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How to Prevent Click Fraud – A Growing Problem for PPC Advertisers

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To understand what click fraud is and how to prevent click fraud, plus how it can affect you we’ll assume that you already use Google Ads or are thinking of opening an account.  If you currently advertise using Google Ads pay per click then by now you’ve already asked the question what happens if someone clicks on my ads repeatedly or maliciously?  This activity in the most basic form is known as click fraud and is becoming an increasingly worrying problem for advertisers on popular pay per click platforms such as Google Ads and BING Ads.

Click fraud is a relatively new buzzword that is becoming more commonly known amongst PPC advertisers that relates to competitor ad clicking, clicks originating from bots and click farms across the world.  So, what types of click fraud exist and what can be done in the battle against this increasingly worrying problem.

Search engines are taking the problem seriously and there are now whole sections about click fraud and how it can affect advertisers in the Google Ads guidelines and support section.  It’s a problem that Google are taking seriously and invest heavily trying to overcome.  Click fraud isn’t a term that Google would normally use, this is very much more a term that has become popular with advertisers.  In fact the term click fraud in Google language is invalid clicks.  Invalid clicks comes across much less sinister than click fraud but ultimately they’re one of the same thing.

Recent Click Fraud Statistics

With more and more information becoming available about click fraud, advertisers are becoming savvier and enabling the invalid click columns to statistically uncover how many invalid clicks and at what rate these are being detected by the Google Ads system.  In fact enabling the invalid clicks column to gauge your exposure to click fraud is very simple.  That said, the information you are presented with is limited and these additional columns can only be enabled at campaign level. This lack of information can lead to disappointment and sometimes an instinctive distrust.

Data hungry PPC managers always crave more information which sadly cannot be presented by Google when it comes to click fraud as this part of the system has always been kept under lock and key.  Over the past few years analytical systems have launched as third party services to prevent click fraud, offering a variety of mechanisms and monitoring tools to deal with the growing issue of click fraud.  The rising of these companies has led to investment and the tools available today to monitor every paid click are fully featured and affordable for even the smallest advertiser.

The problem with click fraud when undetected is how quickly it can rise costs to the point where an advertiser concludes that pay per click doesn’t work.  There are of course many other reasons why a PPC campaign can fail other than click fraud, namely mis-configuration, if click fraud goes undetected then the result is rising costs and poor performance.

Is click fraud illegal?

In a word, Yes.  But very few have been caught and sentenced.

Aside from click fraud being unethical, the practice is clearly against Google’s guidelines and policies to fraudulently click on another advertisers ads, but with it being so difficult to detect without using a specialist anti click fraud solution, it’s hardly surprising that competitors click on each other’s ads to try and get a foot up in their market.  The problem runs deeper than the occasional click though and it’s widely publicised how publishers of ads who are paid a small percentage for every cost per click will go to all lengths to ensure they are earning illegally from the ads they host on their web sites.  This form of publisher click fraud causes damage to advertisers who opt in to Google’s display network and furthermore damages the effectiveness of the network, not to mention the reputation of Google in terms of subsequent ad performance.

In 2006 the FBI were on the trail of Vladimir Tsastin, an Estonian hacker who ran a click fraud scheme earned $14m with in excess of 4m victims over 100 countries.  Tsastin who pleaded guilty in July 2015 is one of very few cases that has been brought to trial and since been sentenced 7 years in prison.

A click fraud case concluded in a US court, again in 2006, resulting in a $90m pay-out by Google.  The case started with Lane’s Gifts and Collectibles taking action against Google in 2005 followed by 70 other companies joining the case.  A class action suit was filed against Google on the basis that they had not done enough to prevent the click fraud from affecting their AdWords accounts.  Google on this occasion decided to settle which is not unusual as in the same year Yahoo also settled in a similar click fraud case in California.

As far back as 2004 saw Michael Anthony Bradley arrested by the secret service for allegedly developing a system that was able to automatically click on Google AdSense ads.  The downfall of Bradley was when instead of selling his software within illegal circles, he took his chances and tried to sell his work back to Google for a reported $100k.  If Google did not take him up on this offer, Bradley threatened to release his program to spammers which would have cost Google millions of dollars in lost revenue though click fraud clicks.

Whilst these three cases are high profile, there is no denying that click fraud is illegal at any level where there is malicious intent, whether it’s someone manually clicking away a few times a day as to rise the costs of their closest competitor, or a highly organised criminal act profiting from this illegal activity.

How to protect yourself against Click Fraud

When you create your first ad with Google it’s done in good faith and an enthusiasm to grow your business.  It’s not uncommon for advertisers to have high expectations and sometimes even unrealistic expectations of how pay per click can perform.  However, one thing that advertisers do not expect and certainly do not deserve is to fall victim to click fraud.  It can destroy businesses who rely heavily on the revenues generated through online advertising.  Depending on closed systems to filter out invalid clicks is not the most proactive way to insure yourself against click fraud. Another limiting factor of relying solely on the invalid clicks system alone is how Google conceal the IP addresses of visitors.  You may have noticed that you’ll never see an IP address being revealed in any reports or through Google Analytics.

With click fraud showing no signs of subsiding many advertisers are turning to 3rd party services to ensure they do not suffer which offer a granular level of control.

Click Guardian, the UK’s Number 1 click fraud solution offer a simple to use system that monitors every paid click and analyse that against a series of data points to ensure the visitor is genuine.  With a small snippet of tracking code similar to Google Analytics code we are able to differentiate between an organic click and a paid click, all of the time tracking the IP address and the behaviour of the visitor.  Once these clicks are separated we offer a series of settings and rules to allow an advertiser complete control along with different levels of sensitivity.  When a visitor is deemed to be clicking excessively, the USP of the software is the way it integrates with your Google Ads account with the ability to make real-time IPv4 and IPv6 blocks. Using Click Guardian in the fight against click fraud means you’ll be in control of how visitors interact with your ads, blocking those who abuse your ads whilst freeing up would-be wasted advertising budget.