A Complete Guide on Click Farms & How to Detect Them

Explore what click farms are, their detrimental effects on digital marketing, and methods to detect and prevent them.
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Did you know that as much as 32% of global internet traffic belongs to bad bots? A big part belongs to click farms, a form of click fraud causing huge issues for companies and advertisers. The so-called click farms contain groups of people paid low wages to click links and buttons to create fake conversions and reviews and generate money from ads. 

This type of click fraud lowers the effectiveness of digital marketing campaigns. The problem is so big that in 2022, as much as $68 billion of ad spending worldwide was eliminated because of ad frauds like click farms. 

With that in mind, we wanted to explain what a click farm is and how it operates. We’ll also explore their impact and how to detect and prevent them. 

What Is a Click Farm?

A click farm is any location where a group of people generates online traffic in bulk, regardless of the intention. However, this is still a form of click fraud, as the goal is to boost traffic artificially.

Click farms can be large, organized enterprises with hundreds or even thousands of people, but in most cases, they are smaller operations with multiple devices, such as tablets or phones. They tend to operate from smaller residential places or hotels, like the ones uncovered by a British photographer in Vietnam

The farms are typically businesses that anyone can hire through online resellers. The services they offer can include:

  • Generating social media likes and followers
  • Commenting on forums and social media
  • Sending traffic to fraudulent websites to generate revenue from paid ads or increase domain authority
  • Writing fake reviews to make products look better than they are
  • Creating backlinks

Some of these businesses also use click bots, simple programs, or software designed to generate clicks. They can also be larger bot farms, where massive bot infrastructures generate traffic instead of people doing it manually. 

This allows us to differentiate between two types of click farms: manual click farms and automated bot farms. The former employ large groups of low-paid workers, while the latter use bots with the same goal. Bear in mind that many of these operations can be a mix of both as they use both humans and bots. 

The Mechanics of Click Farms

Click Farmer - Photographed by Jack Latham

As stated, click farms usually operate from a centralized location, typically in low-income countries like India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, or the Philippines, where low-paid workers or click bots generate various forms of internet traffic. 

Here’s an example of an uncovered click farm from Central Asia to help you understand how they typically operate. This bot farm ran a largely automated business of creating tens of thousands of fake Instagram accounts, with each viewing posts, following and reacting to other profiles, and even publishing posts. Proxy servers and different IP addresses were used to simulate human behavior, along with thousands of local SIMs for verifying accounts. The operation was uncovered remotely and reported to Facebook, but the underlying goal wasn’t revealed.

Operations like this use software like bots to automate processes and make larger enterprises cheaper. Programs enable them to generate clicks, interactions or views much faster than people can. 

In most cases, the operations use botnets, networks containing many infected computers that simulate the engagement of an average human. This enables them to tailor their services to paying customers who can request specific activities, like clicks on websites and likes on social media, and even specific geographic locations from which this engagement comes.

Impact of Click Farms

Click farms can impact various aspects of a business, and these are the most prevalent and the ones every marketer or business leader should know about:

  • On digital marketing campaigns — From how some bot farms operate and the fact that as much as 14% of clicks on SME ads are non-genuine, you can probably already guess that they can adversely affect honest marketing campaigns. They can warp advertising metrics like ROI, CTR, and conversion rates, drain your budget, and even tarnish the integrity of advertising platforms. 
  • On business reputation — Many fake reviews, clicks, and interactions, no matter the industry, can have a severe negative effect on brand reputation. Customers will notice that spam, which can cause them to lose trust in a brand. This is seen from the fact that as many as 81% of US consumers are wary of fake reviews. More than that, fake comments and product reviews will make it harder for regular customers to engage with genuine content properly.
  • On analytics and decision-making — Skewed metrics lead to wrong insights and bad decision-making. Marketers can then create misguided marketing strategies and run ineffective campaigns.

Detecting Click Farms

Learning to detect click fraud is crucial in protecting your business from the adverse impact of click farms. 

If the farm’s activities are affecting your websites, you can spot some red flags in the analytics, like:

  • Unusual spikes in traffic or engagement coming from specific geographical regions or large amounts of traffic coming without an underlying cause
  • Low engagement time and high bounce rates

However, you might have to dig deeper to spot non-human behavior patterns. Unfortunately, as we’ve mentioned, many click farms use real workers who strive to behave like regular readers and customers, so it can be harder to spot them. 

That’s why using tools and software designed to detect and analyze fraudulent activities, such as those coming from click bots and farms, is important. Solutions like Spider AF can perform real-time monitoring and detect suspicious activities. Once they detect bad actors, they can automatically alert you to take action. 

Preventing Click Farm Activity

Besides detecting fraudulent activities from click farms, you’ll also want to prevent things like Google Ads click fraud and other problems stemming from bot farm operations. Here are a couple of essential actions you can take to avoid that activity:

  • Monitor and analyze.

An important part of click farm prevention is actively monitoring traffic and engagement metrics. 

This should primarily include geographical and behavioral analysis, searching for abnormal traffic patterns or spikes, and examining bounce rates and session duration. 

  • Implement robust verification systems. 

First and foremost, you should use CAPTCHAs, as they are an effective defense mechanism against click bots and bot farms. This is especially the case with more modern solutions like behavior-based and graphic-based CAPTCHAs.

Besides CAPTCHAs, other verification systems, like multi-factor authentication, can also be helpful. 

  • Alter and refine target criteria regularly.

One of the more practical steps digital marketers can take is regularly changing their campaign targets. This will ensure you’re actively seeking your target audience, which in turn also limits exposure to click fraud. 

The best example is narrowing down the targeting criteria like interests, behavior, and geographical locations. Another great example is keeping and regularly updating allow and block lists. 

  • Employ advanced anti-fraud measures.

When you consider that fraud consumes $1 of every $3 spent on ads, it becomes clear that investing in advanced fraud detection tools is crucial. That’s because they are designed to protect digital marketing campaigns from click fraud. 

Spider AF does precisely that. We offer protection from PPC, lead, and affiliate fraud and provide real-time monitoring and blocking.

Bottom Line

Click farms are clearly a big problem today, which is why we wanted to explain their significant impacts, as well as what they are precisely and how they operate. As you’ve seen, they are becoming more sophisticated, which makes the detection and prevention measures we’ve discussed crucial for advertisers and digital marketers. 

One of these methods should be exploring and investing in proper fraud prevention tools like Spider AF. With solutions like ours protecting you from click and bot farms, you can save money and target your ads to real potential customers. Learn more about PPC protection and other forms of fraud protection we offer to see how our solutions can help you today. 

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