For many years I have worked in dozens of Google Adwords campaigns and given presentations about how business can benefit from PPC.
The way I always explain it is by doing a Google search and showing my audience how Google charges advertisers every time I click on their ads.
Invariably, at some point of this demonstration somebody from the audience will ask me “so can I exhaust my competitor’s budget by clicking repeatedly on the ad?”
“yes you can” I answer, but as any fraudster, you would need to organise and prepare yourself to do it properly. Now, are you comfortable being a fraudster? Then “thank you very much for your time, this is the wrong room for you”.
As I get this question a lot, I wanted to write a post as an answer. So what is click fraud and what can you do against it?
After reading this article, you will hopefully decide to spend your time and creativity in legitimate tactics rather than in fraudulent ones.
What is click fraud?
Click fraud is the act of generating fake clicks into a PPC campaign such as Google Adwords in order to either deplete their competitors’ budget as early as possible or strategically bring up the cost-per-click of the keyword.
This fraudulent technique can be done by site owners doing it to their own ads in order to generate revenue from their own clients (the roguest of the rogues) or by companies trying to hijack their competitors. The latter case is more common in Google Adwords PPC campaigns, and here is where you find all those machiavellian thoughts materialised into click fraud projects.
There is a third type of ‘invalid clicks’ which is still considered click fraud although the intentions are not bad. This is when users repeatedly click on your ad in a navigational way. Here we are dealing with an ethical problem for Google, as it would not be reasonable to charge you for this. And they try not to.
Can my competitors do it to me?
They could use automatic methods such as click-bots or botnets, which are unleashed into the web searching for your keywords and clicking on the links they shouldn’t. It is fairly easy to program cheeky robots like these ones.
Thay can also do this manually, hiring flesh and bone humans to click on ads. These are called ‘click farms’ although they are not necessarily located in the same place, otherwise, their IPs would be easily trackable.
“What a boring job to lay around clicking on random ads” you may say, but unfortunately, the internet has sparked a myriad of ways to make money in developing countries that are unbelievably appealing.
Should I do this to my competitors?
If you go down the manual fraud route, you wouldn’t necessarily get caught. But as I said earlier, you can do better than that. If you can use your time and creativity to destroy your competitor in a nasty way you most certainly can use your time to become better than them…
I mean do you believe in karma? I didn’t until I saw my high-school friend getting a months’ salary mugged on the street right after a summer of finding other people’s wallets on the floor, ‘cleaning’ them and throwing them to construction pits.
How much money can I lose if I am a victim of click fraud?
Imagine you pay the average cost per click of $2.32.If we fall prey of a click fraud scheme using 10 people in 10 different places and they click on our ad for 10 days in a row, we would lose $232 in ten days and $696 a month.
And you would still be worrying about your low conversion rate!
Ok enough, what can I do to prevent click fraud?
Not much. In the case of Adwords, Google cares about their reputation and hence they have designed an automated filter which is an algorithm to not only prevent click robots but also any invalid click. These include unintentional navigational clicks mentioned earlier, so Google decides whether these are real or not before they charge you. How considerate, aren’t they?
If you are curious about what Google traps into their automatic filters, you can find it by following these instructions.
If you still cannot sleep at night thinking ‘what if’ Google does not catch all the fraudulent clicks, you can do a little bit of research yourself.
1. Check weird click locations
Go to your Adwords campaigns >Dimensions tab > View: Geographic
You can see something like this:
If you saw suspicious or irrelevant locations for your clicks, then you should take action.
2. Check IPs in your server
You want to compare the number of IPs that hit your website and filter out the logs that come from the same IPs and have a click timestamp without an action timestamp. This means that they visited the website repeatedly but took no action.
For this, you need to talk to your server manager and request the logs.Once you have the suspicious IPs you can then take action.
How can I respond to click fraud?
1. Block IPs on your campaigns
If you identified the suspicious IPs on your server you can then block IPs in Google Adwords. You do this by going to Adwords>campaigns > advanced settings > manage IP exclusions
You will then see a box where you will enter the IPs you want to exclude.
2. Report to Google
You could also request Google a click investigation. They allegedly do not only the automatic filtering but also proactive manual work, so you should not need to do that. But if you do, make sure that you have some grounds. For more information follow these instructions.
What is the state of click fraud?
This is a difficult one to answer as we are talking about unethical behaviour. In 2011 it was estimated that 17% of clicks were fraudulent.
Google appears to do all they can to prevent this from happening. Ultimately Google makes $121 million a day from Adwords so they want to make sure people are happy with the service.
Do I need to hire someone?
You should be able to prevent this by following this article’s tips, but if you are already working with a PPC consultant, he or she should be on top of this already. So go ahead and ask them.
Peru Buesa is a content marketing consultant and digital marketing expert.