If you’re like one of the many business owners across the world currently running a Google Ads campaign, then you could be a victim of click fraud – without even realising.
As you’re probably aware, advertising on Google is one of the best ways to get your products or services seen and clicked on by the masses, but that doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and butterflies.
With millions of dollars poured into Google Ads everyday, it’s no doubt there are money-making opportunities to be had, however it’s this lure of opportunity that has inadvertently given birth to the rise of click fraud.
In this guide we’ll take a closer look at Google’s advertising underbelly by exploring what click fraud is all about, what’s being done to prevent it and how you can make sure you don’t fall prey to fraudsters or scammers.
So grab a notepad, pen and put on your best detective hat on because we’re about to delve into the dark side of advertising on Google.
As you read the word 'fraud' you probably associate it with things like credit cards getting hacked or identities being stolen.
Maybe even those dodgy tradies that scammed an older relative of yours that time.
Whatever it is, fraud can be defined as deceitful activity that exploits an individual, to the gain of the fraudster.
When it comes to Google Ads click fraud, that deceitful activity comes in the shape of… you guessed it, fraudulent clicks on your ads! Fraudulent clicks that aim to waste your advertising budget and benefit the fraudster.
Aside from the financial implications of click fraud, illicit clicks can also skew your data and affect the decision making process of future campaigns, which again can further benefit the scammer.
You may be thinking to yourself, ‘But how does this even benefit them? This is just down right nasty!'
Who would want to do such things huh? They must really be out to get you…
Well, as the majority of click fraud offences are committed by competitors, then yes, they really are just out to get you.
Scheming behind your back and plotting your demise…
Now we know a bit more about what click fraud is, it’s time to look at the different types of click fraud and who’s likely behind those questionable clicks on your campaigns.
On the lower end of the click fraud scale you’ll find fraudulent advertisers looking to sabotage their competitor’s campaigns by manually clicking on their Google Ads.
If this happens to you, you’ll notice your daily ad budget being reached earlier than usual with few (if any) authentic clicks to show for it.
And it gets even worse…
Once your daily budget is blown, your ad will be done for the day, destroying any hope of genuine traffic landing on your site and paving the way for your rival to take up that precious ad space.
Another way that tricksters may look to gain an unfair advantage over you is by fraudulently leapfrogging your Google Search ads.
The thing is, if your ad is sitting pretty at the top of page one for the keyword you’re ranking for, then you kinda have a target on your back, and we’ve already established who might be out to get you!
Rather than doing the right thing and outbidding you to take top spot, your competitors may click on your ad until your daily budget is met.
Then, they’ll be free to claim position numero uno and enjoy all those juicy clicks you were receiving before you fell victim to click fraud.
It’s worth stressing that although competitors do make up a fair chunk of click fraud offences, they’re not always solely to blame.
You may be shocked to learn that larger companies and corporations finance professional click fraud rings to do their dirty work for them.
By using automated software and click bots to wreak havoc on campaigns, online crime syndicates generate millions of false clicks every single day in order to drain advertising budgets across the world.
If you thought that’s bad, wait until you hear this….
On the very upper end of the click fraud scale, there are click farms. Click farms are made up of hundreds of low-paid workers and are often located in developing countries across the world.
By taking advantage of cheap labour, click farms are able to distort campaigns and eat up even the biggest of advertising budgets – much to the frustration of those running the campaigns.
So, who else could possibly be involved in click fraud?
It’s rare, but believe it or not some shifty site owners click on their own ads to make money off of clients advertising on their websites…
In fairness, we did warn you that we’ll be exploring the dark side of advertising on Google!
For all the sceptics out there thinking that click fraud isn’t anything to worry about, we’d argue that it is.
But how bad is the issue of click fraud?
Let’s quickly go through some numbers and figures to provide a bit of perspective.
Data from Statista shows that $35 billion (no that isn’t a typo) was lost to ad fraud globally in 2020 and anti click fraud experts ClickGUARD revealed that businesses are expected to lose a further $44 billion to click fraud in 2022!
When you consider that almost 1 in 5 clicks on Google Ads are deemed fraudulent, it’s easy to see why click fraud is considered as one of the main concerns for marketers across the globe.
Zooming in a little closer, Search Engine Journal found that Google Display Ads were targeted more often by fraudsters during 2020, with 36% of clicks identified as fraudulent or invalid compared to 11% for Google Search Ads.
But when you dive a little deeper into the data, it’s clear to see why the numbers stack up. Almost half of the entire internet traffic is being generated by bots and over half of all online ads are never even seen by a single human.
Which leads us nicely onto the next question…
Some would argue not enough…
However, before you start drafting up complaint letters to Google, it’s worth understanding that preventing click fraud is pretty difficult because of how tricky it is to identify.
When actual humans are being paid to click on ads and interact on websites, guess what, they do so like a genuine user would. This makes it very hard to distinguish between who are the fraudsters and who are not.
But that doesn’t mean Google isn’t trying.
After all, it’s in their best interest to keep marketers happy as the Google Ads platform netted them a cool $147 billion in 2020, with that figure expected to be higher over 2021 once final figures are released.
So, what is Google doing?
In fairness, Google has developed the most advanced anti-click fraud program of all the search engines out there.
The first line of defence comes in the shape of automated detection filters that feature advanced algorithms to help identify invalid clicks in real time before advertisers are even charged.
If a fraudulent click makes its way through Google’s initial filtering process, it is then passed onto their Ad Traffic Quality Team who will proceed by conducting manual, offline analysis to remove any clicks they deem invalid, again before advertisers are charged.
Finally, if advertisers report suspicious activity, Google may get its magnifying glass out and launch an investigation to make sure there is no funny business at play.
While this is all welcome news, the widespread nature of click fraud means Google’s efforts are a drop in the ocean in the grand scheme of things, which is why it’s important that you can identify fraudulent clicks yourself.
The fact you’re reading this blog post means you probably want to find out whether you’re a victim of click fraud or not.
Luckily there are a few different ways to catch the fraudsters out, but we’re going to jump into what we believe is the most effective method – the use of internal reporting.
You’ll need the following bits of information to get started:
By cross referencing click timestamps and action timestamps you’ll be able to identify IP addresses that are landing on your website by clicking on your ad, but not taking any action once they do so.
If a specific IP address has tons of click timestamps but no action timestamps whatsoever, then you can assume that this is evidence of click fraud.
To check if your suspicions are indeed correct, take a look at the user agent.
The user agent basically shows all the features of the device that’s being used to commit the click fraud, so things like type of device (desktop, mobile), software info and internet browser. This will help confirm whether you’re a victim of click fraud by narrowing activity down from an IP address to a single user.
If you think you’ve identified a potentially fraudulent IP address it’s best to run a quick search to be 100% sure before you flag anything to Google.
You can do this easily by heading to an IP address search site like WhatIsMyIPAddress.com.
Oh, and nice detective work by the way…
Another thing to bear in mind before notifying Google of any suspect behaviour is proxy servers. Quite often lots of traffic coming from the same place can be legit, from an airport, library or shopping centre for example.
So do some digging around the IP address in question and if you’re still unsure, take a look at the search queries. If the searches are all different, then it’s likely a proxy server, but if they’re all identical to each other and took place over a short period of time, then you have your answer, FRAUD!
Report your findings with Google and they'll take care of things by setting up an investigation.
If relying on Google to tackle click fraud doesn’t sit well with you, we understand. As we established earlier, the sheer volume of fraudulent activity makes dealing with click fraud a seriously steep uphill battle.
So when it comes to your Google Ads, it’s best to focus on preventing click fraud rather than trying to eliminate it entirely.
We consider the following points to be the top five tactics to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of click fraud:
Let’s look at these in more detail.
This is probably the most reliable way to completely eliminate click fraud.
Because remarketing campaigns only show your ads to people who have already visited your site or purchased from you before, you can be sure that they’re genuine.
There’s no way of fraudsters committing click fraud on remarketing campaigns because they won’t be able to even see your ads.
If you’ve followed the steps mentioned earlier and have come to the conclusion that a certain IP address is behind any fraudulent activity, you can set up an IP exclusion in your Google Ads account.
Setting up IP exclusions is pretty straightforward but super effective as it means you don’t have to wait around for Google to set up an investigation and confirm your suspicions.
Log in to your Google Ads account and head to Settings > IP Exclusions and then enter the IP addresses that are causing you headaches and you’re good to go!
Similar to setting up IP exclusions, adjusting your ad targeting to exclude areas of suspect clicks will narrow down the likelihood of falling foul to ad fraud.
Let’s say you’re receiving a huge number of clicks from a country on the other side of the world but you sell no products there.
This could be evidence of a click farm draining your ad budget, so it may be a good idea to exclude that country from your campaign and monitor.
If you think it's a competitor who’s behind all those dodgy clicks on your ads, then you can always exclude a specific postcode.
But one thing to remember when setting up IP or location exclusions is that you don’t want to eliminate any ‘good’ traffic. Make sure you’re positive that the majority of clicks coming from a certain area are fraudulent before you start shutting off access.
You’re probably already doing this one way or another. Whether it’s comparing content or following their social media activity, it’s always a good idea to keep one eye on what your competitors are up to.
Using Google to find out who else is targeting similar keywords to you can indicate which businesses you ought to look out for, in case you don't know already…
Another useful tip to stay on top of things is to use some sort of click tracking software. This will help you discover whether your rivals are in fact the ones clicking on your ads, and you know what to do from there!
Talking of software, if you’re worried about being stung by click fraudsters, it makes sense to invest in some sort of fraud detection software, especially if you’re in an industry with high CPC.
Spending a few dollars a month on click fraud software will be worth it in the long run and will also provide peace of mind that you’re not being exploited.
(At Local Digital we use ClickCease which is super easy to use and works really well for us and our clients!)
Now you know the basics of what click fraud is, how to identify it, how to prevent it and what to do if you become a victim of fraudulent clicks, what’s next?
The bottom line is that there’s money to be made in Google Ads, and wherever there’s money to be made, you can bet there are fraudsters lurking right around the corner.
So be vigilant, be alert, follow the tips in this blog post and pay attention to where the clicks on your Google Ads are coming from and you’ll be fine.
By working with a digital marketing agency (like us :D) you can take comfort from the fact that all your campaigns are being kept click fraud-free and your ad budget isn’t going to waste.
Which is exactly what we do for our clients on a daily basis!
So if you'd like to put your click fraud worries to bed and make sure you're getting the most bang for your buck with your Google Ads, why not claim a free proposal with us today?
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