Click Fraud: What is It and How Can You Detect and Prevent It?

You’ve probably come across the phrase “click fraud”, but don’t know exactly what it is and how it could affect your online business. Learn about click fraud and ways you can detect it prevent falling victim to it.

Do you advertise your website or online store using Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads? If so, you should acquaint yourself with click fraud, defined as “the type of fraud that occurs on the Internet in Pay-Per-Click online advertising when a person, automated script or computer program imitates a legitimate user of a web browser clicking on an ad, for the purpose of generating a charge per click without having actual interest in the target of the ad’s link.” (Source: Wikipedia)

If you fall prey to click fraud, not only will it eat up your advertising budget, it also artificially drives the price of search terms up, as well as display ad impressions. Advertisers are led to believe that they are getting higher Click-Through-Rates (CTR) than they’re actually getting.

Who Would Commit Click Fraud?

You might be thinking, “But who would want to do this to me? And why?”. Here are the types of click fraud:

  • Competitor click fraud – Believe it or not, it has happened. A competitor is someone who stands to gain from clicking your ads in order to sabotage your online advertising efforts, drive up your costs and meet your marketing budget caps early on in the day, allowing them to overtake or replace you in the sponsored listing.
  • Click farms – This is usually referred to as the online advertising sweat shop, where thousands of low-paid workers are tasked with continually clicking on advertisements online. This is mostly used on social media sites in order for pages to gain more ‘likes’ or ‘followers’.
  • Customers – Sometimes, customers can accidentally contribute to click fraud by regularly typing keywords associated with a brand or website on a web browser, and clicking on paid search ads in order to access their frequented websites, instead of navigating to the website URL itself.
  • Website owners or operators – There are instances when the website owners or administrators themselves click on their own ads to generate revenue for their website.

How Can I Detect Click Fraud?

There are quite a few warning signs that can point to potential click fraud:

  • Unusual increase in impressions
  • Number of clicks has seen an unusual increase
  • Despite the increase in clicks and impressions there has been no increase in conversion
  • Increased bounce rate

Click fraud can be done manually, such as when it’s done by actual people, or automatically, when a software is used to click on your ads repeatedly.

Once you see these signs and suspect that you are a victim of click fraud, the next thing you should do is launch an investigation. However, while automatic click fraud is easier to trace as it usually comes from the same IP address, manual click fraud is more difficult to track, since there is no way of knowing if it was accidental or not.

Report any suspicious patterns to the search engine that runs your PPC ads, whether it is Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, or another company altogether. These companies typically have monitors in place and have most likely also detected the irregularities and credited your account for the fraudulent clicks. If not, then reporting your findings can help them when they analyze their data for any fraudulent clicks on your ads.

How to Prevent Click Fraud

  • Monitor your campaigns – The first step to protect yourself from click fraud is to monitor your online advertising campaigns. You should familiarize yourself with patterns when it comes to your ad’s performance so you will immediately determine any irregularities.
  • Utilize Facebook/Twitter Ads – Social media networks typically utilize advanced targeting options that make it hard for competitors to find your ads since ad placement is based on a keyword search.
  • Block specific IP addresses – In case you determine that you a specific IP address is responsible for fraudulent clicks, the best thing to do is to block that IP address from seeing your ad.
  • Consider purchasing software programs that generate special reports – There are services that can help you identify websites that are sending suspicious amounts of traffic to your site.
  • Choose the sites to place ads on carefully – Stay away from low-quality sites that can potentially be a hub for click fraud, wherein people or bots could click on your ad in order to boost the website owner’s PPC earnings.