Rank Ranger Blog

Click-Fraud a Multi-Billion Industry

Don't Feed the Ad Robots

Today a large portion of Internet traffic consists of non-human bots. Click-fraud is a scam on the Internet that is a big problem for many companies that advertise online since they pay for fraudulent clicks.

According to an article in the Atlantic from 2013, 60% of all Internet traffic is the result of bots, some of them consist of software that provides false ad views. Adweek reported that 25% of all online ad impressions were frauds. For advertisers, this means a huge waste of money and ineffective spending of their marketing budget.

Some choose to advertise on the AdWords Display Network without restrictions - this is not fraud but simple stupidity by the advertiser. The result is that ads may appear on inappropriate sites like porn sites, illegal gambling sites which can destroy your brand or "below the fold" which means that ads in general never appear for potential clients. Furthermore approximately 15% of all ads are incorrect or accidental clicks by users who did not read the ad or clicked by mistake.

The statistics in AdWords / Google Analytics is often inaccurate and distorted because there is click-fraud on both the ads and the organic links and lately it is more common with ghostspam in Google Analytics - altogether this provides the webmaster with false statistics - but once again no traffic from real people.

Google has taken some steps to prevent advertisers from being charged for fraud and has implemented filters to detect click-fraud. However they give you money back only after you request and can prove the errors according to their advertisement contracts. Google confirmed officially in a blog post from 2007 that less than 10% of all clicks on Google's ad system are faulty. 

In AdWords you can find invalid clicks and invalid click-through rate if you add the columns to your campaign. If you suspect your data has more invalid traffic you may need to examine it in detail. When I tested a traditional small Swedish company that advertises for 100 Euros/day, they had just over 3.16% marked by Google as invalid clicks.

Click-fraud Originated by Competitors

How to find IP addresses and remove them from your ads

AdWords allows you to block IP addresses. There are competitors who click on ads and if Google suspects click fraud their official policy is not to charge for the ads. You can also have problems with Adsense publishers and affiliates that click since they want to get more revenue. If you want to find out the source IP address when someone used Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, Aurl John provides instructions.

Once you know the IP address, you can log into AdWords and in the campaign settings, click campaign under the advanced settings, you will find "the exclusion of IP addresses" where you can add IPs. Remember, lists only apply to ads in this campaign. There is no one method that works for a more advanced robot that uses proxies and changes the IP address after each request.

How Click-bots Function

There are robots that can simulate the behavior of the organic results but also to push up a YouTube channel, get more followers on social media or click on AdWords ads or any other type of ad.

A click robot is fairly simple to use and since the robots use proxies the impressions will come from different IP addresses, more advanced robots have built-in tools for managing robot filter (captchas) and you can use macros. The robot simulates a natural behavior by adding pauses and using different types and versions of browsers and screen sizes.

Different Types of Click Robots

Click fraud can be triggered from several channels, it can be a person, program or script that tries to imitate a real user by clicking like a human.

  • Manual clicks
  • Click Farms (employ people who click on ads)
  • Pyramid Schemes to click on ads
  • Clicks Robots that click on ads
  • Crawlers, simulating that they are users around the clock on Google and YouTube, which means you get more views.
  • Botnets (hijacked computers used by click bots), for example Chameleon infected 120,000 computers in the US according to research firm spider.io, but there are worse such as Zero Access that infected over nine million computers.
  • AdWords Robots
  • Mobile Device Hijacking is a problem in the mobile world, where they hide ads and try to emulate human search behavior online. To hide ads behind other ads means they get paid for ads that give higher click.

What can be done to reduce fraud?

You should start using KPIs and attribution models like measuring how many of the visitors move through the funnel and become customers.

Marketing KPIs

Checklist - Tips to prevent click-fraud

  • Do not use CPM
  • Use different AD KPIs and monitor your CPC
  • Check the IP addresses and if there is an abnormally high proportion coming from proxies or during specific times. You can see the IP addresses if you look in the log or use tools like Piwik or Clicky.
  • Check for unnatural behavior in your web analytics software
  • Target your ads geographically. You may even block countries with larger click-fraud statistics (for example, China, Venezuela, Ukraine and Singapore)
  • There are third party products and fraud filters that detect advertising fraud. Google has bought up one of the companies named Spider.io which is an indication that Google has major problems with fraud.
  • Control manually and do not rely 100% on programmatic purchase without following up your Statistics in detail.
  • If you have a large PPC-budget and want to determine if you have been a victim of click-fraud schemes you could contract a third-party company. There are several programs that will help you prevent click-fraud schemes.

If you’d like to read the original blog post, in Swedish, you’re very welcome to visit the Expandtalk site.

About The Author
Daniel Larsson is CEO of Expandtalk.se a Swedish company specialising in digital marketing, modern SEO (Search Experience Optimization) and Content Marketing. He has more than 15 years of experience as digital marketer for high-tech start-ups and large corporations.

Start your free trial

Get the ultimate SEO tools with Rank Ranger
Start Free Trial
No Credit Card Required