The internet is a vital tool for almost every modern business. It can help with anything from growing your customer base through digital marketing, to powering IVR systems that will transform your call centers.
The internet can, however, be an unsafe place for businesses. This is something that many organizations have experienced first-hand. In fact, 66% of small to medium-sized businesses have experienced a cyber-attack in the past 12 months. Unfortunately, this number seems only set to increase.
But not all cybercrime revolves around spam emails. Today, we’ll be looking at one example: click fraud. But first things first, what is click fraud?
What is Click Fraud?
If you’re running a business online, there’s a good chance that you're using Google Ads. The pay-per-click service is currently being used by 96% of brands. It’s a simple system – your ads are placed on websites or YouTube videos. You are charged each time someone clicks on your ad, and the website owner or YouTuber receives a cut.
But like most systems online, criminals have found a way to exploit Google Ads. When a user attempts to fabricate clicks for profit, it is known as click fraud. By now, many businesses are alert to most forms of ecommerce fraud. But click fraud is trickier to identify, and many organizations fail to spot it.
It’s important that both you and your employees have the skills for dealing with click fraud. It’s useful that you outline employee responsibilities in a contract. Using free online document signing may help to improve legality.
The practice is already illegal in multiple countries across the world. For instance, in the US, the crime carries a maximum jail sentence of 10 years. Over time, Google has gotten better at spotting click fraud. If Google’s algorithm spots what it classifies as ‘invalid clicks’, they will be discounted from ad revenue.
The Different Types of Invalid Clicks
Google categorizes invalid clicks into three different groups. Let’s look at each category.
Invalid Click TypesManual ClicksThese are clicks made by website owners so that they receive higher revenue from ads posted on their site.Clicks made by botsAs we’ll explain later in this article, fraudsters frequently deploy software to click on ads.Irrelevant clicksThis is a broad category and covers instances of ad clicks that bring no value to advertisers. For example, if a user double clicks on an ad, it is classified as an irrelevant click.
Why Do Invalid Clicks Occur?
There are multiple perpetrators of invalid clicks. These include:
- Businesses looking to gain increased profits from ads
- Competitors trying to sabotage a business’ ad profits
- Dissatisfied customers attempting to cause financial damage
The second of the three perpetrators is by far the most common. But all three examples can occur, and it’s important that you are able to spot them. Before you can identify instances of click fraud, however, you need to understand how it is carried out.
Understanding Click Bots
One of the reasons that spotting fraud can be difficult, is that click fraud isn’t usually carried out by people clicking ads manually. Instead, they create software designed to click on ads for them, these are known as click bots. The use of bots by online criminals isn’t anything new, but it is difficult to identify.
Concerningly, bots can act as a part of a wider network by infecting devices. This means that once a device is infected, it can be used continuously to click on ads.
Am I At Risk of Click Fraud?
Image Sourced from Spider AF
All businesses that advertise online are at some risk of being targeted by click fraud. In 2021 repeated clicks were responsible for 33.3% of invalid traffic, the most prevalent form of ad fraud.
In the same year, between January and June, Spider AF identified approximately 10,000 clicks from one IP address affecting the ad campaigns of multiple clients. None of these clicks led to conversions and they may even have been gathering information on the advertiser. Click fraud can do real damage to your online advertising.
So, with all that said, how do you go about spotting click fraud?
Spotting Click Fraud
As we’ve established, click fraud can be very damaging. The biggest problem, however, is that many businesses aren’t sure what to look out for. You should keep an eye out for some of the red flags listed below.
Your Ad is being shown to non-targeted geographies
If you’re advertising globally this shouldn’t be a concern. But if you’re targeting specific geolocations, you shouldn’t be getting visitors from outside those locations. If you notice a large number of clicks from locations outside of your target area, you might be targeted by fraudsters.
Your Ad is being shown on untrustworthy sites
Obviously, you don’t get full control over where your adverts are being shown. But if your ad is being shown on poor quality or untrustworthy sites, the chances of click fraud are higher. Check your publisher's list on Google ads, for a list of sites that are displaying your ad. Unwanted sites can be blocked.
Your ROI from advertising drops
Advertising online can be unpredictable. During certain campaigns, you might find that your ROI is poorer. But if you notice a sudden and unexpected drop in your ROI from ads, click fraud could be the culprit.
People are spending less time viewing your ads
Not all online ads are guaranteed to hold the attention of visitors. Low viewing time could simply indicate that your ad isn’t that interesting to consumers. If the viewing duration suddenly drops on a well-performing ad, however, it could be an indication of fraud.
Invest in Learning
Training doesn’t always have the best reputation among businesses. Many organizations see training as ineffective and a waste of time. But there’s no doubt that, if carried out in the right way, training can be an effective way of combating fraud.
It’s important to make learning as accessible as possible. It might be a good idea to invest in note-taking software so that employees can access materials after training. Otter ai is one example of software that transcribes speech into text (although there are many otter.ai competitors available).
Preventing Click Fraud
By now, you should have a pretty good idea of what click fraud looks like. But spotting the crime isn’t enough. You’ll want to have protections in place to prevent fraudsters, but where should you start? Let’s have a look at some potential protections against click fraud.
Invest in Fraud Protection Software
Businesses are constantly investing in software that will take them to the next level. For instance, you’ve probably already introduced business text messaging software, as a method of unifying communications.
Why not apply the same logic, and invest in the latest click fraud prevention software? There are many high-quality tools to choose from. When selecting yours, make sure that it comes with the following features:
- Constant updates so that software can adapt to new threats posed by fraudsters.
- The ability to block the IP addresses of suspected fraudsters.
- The correct data to apply for a refund for invalid traffic visiting your ads.
- Automatic scanning of web traffic to locate and block bots.
It’s not hard to see how the features listed above can be invaluable. It might cost a little extra, but it’s best not to cut corners when protecting against fraud.
Protecting Against Fraud Manually
It’s best to invest in software to protect yourself against click fraud. But if you do decide that you’d rather save money, there are steps you can take to manually protect yourself.
- Manually block IP addresses – If you suspect an IP address of sabotaging your PPC campaign you can add it to a block list. Google has compiled a handy guide for excluding specific IP addresses.
- Carry out remarketing campaigns – Remarketing is a useful way of staying in the mind of visitors to your website. A bonus of this form of marketing is that your ads are only shown to people that have visited your website before. This cuts out the risk of click fraud.
- Think about who you are targeting – Click fraud isn’t always random. You might notice that certain demographics or nationalities are bigger perpetrators. If so, restructure your ads so you are no longer targeting these groups. Keep adjusting your advertising until you find a formula that produces the least amount of fraud.
Always Be Alert
There are certain areas of business where cutting corners is a recipe for disaster. You wouldn’t, for instance, develop a mobile app and neglect investing in tools for mobile app testing. Click fraud vigilance is another that you simply cannot cut corners.
Advertising is a crucial part of growing your brand online. But advertising is only useful if it is reaching the right people. If you’re being targeted by click fraud, you’ll be spending money and resources and not getting the results you want. That’s why spotting fraud is so important.
Start by educating yourself and your staff about the tell-tale signs of click fraud. As we’ve explored here, there are lots of red flags to watch out for. Equally important is making sure that you have the right systems in place to protect against fraud.
By taking the right steps, you can confine your click fraud worries to the past. Just remember; always be alert. By being one step ahead of fraudsters, you can avoid being caught out.