Click Fraud, Invalid Clicks, and Stopping It from Happening

Click fraud is an important issue to address, especially as it is becoming more prevalent. What is equally important, however, is knowing what click fraud is, as well as the difference between it and invalid links. There are so many ways in which click fraud can take place and affect businesses, which is why it is essential to educate yourself on the topic. In this article, we look at what click fraud and invalid links are, as well as the effect it has on businesses.

What is Click Fraud?

Click fraud is directly associated with pay per click (PPC) advertising. This is where an advertiser and website operator has an agreement whereby the website operator acts as a publisher. This means that they display clickable links on behalf of the advertiser, and each time someone clicks on them the advertiser is charged a fee – hence the pay per click concept. It is a very popular way to advertise, and there are even some companies that act as middlemen between the publishers and advertisers. It is a great way for advertisers to get their company out there, and for publishers to make a little extra revenue. However, this does leave it open to fraud and abuse.

This leads us to look at what click fraud actually is, and how it ties in with PPC advertising. For click fraud to occur, it requires a person, automated script, or computer program that will imitate a legitimate web user that is visiting the website in question, when in actuality they have no interest in the content behind the link. When they are on the website, they will click the advertisements with no real interest in the content behind it. This will be done repeatedly (something called click farming), resulting in a larger than anticipated bill for the advertiser – something which can easily cause businesses to collapse.

Often, this form of fraud is performed by competitors of both the advertisers and publishers, and it can have detrimental effects on both types of business. As it is very hard to police, this form of fraud rarely results in legal action being taken – especially as it is almost impossible to prove who is behind a computer screen.

There is also another type of fraud that works around IP pattern detection. Instead, it utilises existing traffic, working to transform this into click or impressions. This is hidden from users by using frames that are 0-size to display adverts that are then retrieved by a program using JavaScript. It can also be hidden from advertisers and portals by presenting what are known as “reverse spiders” with legitimate pages, while the human visitors are given a page that commits click fraud.

The use of these techniques can also be combined with incentivised traffic. This is where members of Paid to Read (PTR) websites are paid a very low wage, often less than a US cent, to visit a website and click on the keywords and search results hundreds or thousands of times each day. Some of the owners of PTR websites are also members of PPC engines and often send out email ads to the users who take part in the search, and send ads to those who do not. This is known as forced searching.

What are Invalid Clicks?

It is easy to think that invalid clicks and click fraud are the same thing – many people do, and they are similar concepts. However, there is a slight difference between them. While click fraud is a term that directly relates to a malicious act, invalid clicks are those that have been detected by Google AdWords as not being genuine, irregular, or inflated.

It is a program that claims to be able to accurately detect this kind of activity and give the option to block it. However, the way it works is not fully understood by even those who are experts in the field, and many are suspicious of it as an inbuilt program. Companies like Click Guardian have a more user-friendly form of this software, and you are given full control over it.

Why Does It Matter?

So, why is click fraud such an important issue? The main issue is the way in which it affects businesses and their ability to advertise their products. You see, the majority of companies will have an advertising budget, and once it has been used up, search engines like Google will drop the ads. This is fine if they have had legitimate clicks, but click fraud can have a detrimental effect on the advertisers (and publishers) if this budget is wasted on false clicks.

It leaves the advertisers with hefty bills, which can damage their business as well as their relationship with the publisher that they are working with. Plus, the fact that the advertiser’s competition is some of the most likely to be using click fraud maliciously makes matters even more sensitive. It leads to advertisers losing their space on the web once their budget is done, which means that legitimate customers will not see them while they are surfing.

Automated bot traffic is one of the biggest problems that PPC faces, and it has been found that 36% of views are automated by these – a surprisingly high number. As a result, estimates showed that advertisers could find themselves losing $7.2 billion globally by the end of 2016 – all on wasted marketing. It doesn’t help that adverts are becoming more valuable either, as the more each click is worth, the more automated bots increase in number.

Click Fraud and the Law

While there is no easy way to prove click fraud or who is committing it, that does not mean that it is an impossible task. There have been a few cases where click fraud has been presented in court – namely for big companies.

Google won a lawsuit (while acting as both publisher and advertiser) against a Texas company called Auction Experts, who were acting as a publisher. Google accused them of paying people to click the ads that appeared on Auction Expert’s website – costing advertisers a total of $50,000.

Going back to 2005, Yahoo found themselves settling a class-action lawsuit against it. The plaintiffs alleged that the company did not do enough to prevent click fraud, and they ended up paying $4.5 million to the plaintiffs for legal bills and a settlement for the claims. Interestingly, Google found themselves settling a similar suit for $90 million in 2006.

2004 saw the emergence of Google Clique, a program created by Michael Anthony Bradley to defraud Google out of millions of dollars in fraudulent clicks. Ultimately, it led to his arrest, but what the technology he created showed was that it was very difficult (if not impossible) to Google to detect at the time.

Protecting Yourself from Click Fraud

The question you are probably asking yourself now is how you can protect yourself from click fraud. There is no guarantee that you will always get the better of those who take part in this malicious action, but there are ways to maximise the possibility of blocking these people from repeatedly clicking on your ads.

Click Guardian is the leading company when it comes to protecting yourself against click fraud. The software used leaves you in full control of your settings and operation. It’s easy to setup, works in real time and has full IP address support, as well as compatibility with mobile devices. Working to stop click fraud and invalid clicks, you will find yourself with greatly reduced (if not eliminated) levels of illegitimate clicks.

One of our client specialist UK contractor accountant saved over 8000£ on PPC campaign using Click Guardian says digital consultant from Chilli Fruit Web Consulting – boutique digital agency based in London

To Conclude

Hopefully, this has helped you to understand more about how click fraud and invalid links can affect businesses – both in terms of the publisher and advertiser. Not only this but the legal ramifications if you or others are caught taking part in such activities. While protection is not always easy, it is possible, so take the time to look into available software to try and tackle this rising form of fraud. Stopping click fraud starts with you.

Oldie but Goldie further references:

Microsoft Targets Click Fraud With Lawsuit

Feds Arrest Alleged Google Extortionist

Make Money Pay Per Click Ad

The Big Yahoo! Click Fraud Settlement

This article has been written by Milosz Krasinski

Growth Marketing Consultant, Speaker, Contributor to Business Zone. Managing Director for Chilli Fruit Web Consulting Boutique agency based in London