I love website statistics. That’s partly because I’m a bit odd, but also because, when they’re accurate, they provide incredibly useful insights into your audience, the health of your industry and opportunities you’re missing to increase sales and grow your business. That goes for everything, from social media to PPC.
There’s just one problem, which I’ve skimmed blissfully past in the above paragraph – accuracy.
Anyone who has spent some time using Google Analytics to dig into the performance of a website will know that, despite it’s incredible depths of reporting and insight, it only takes a few rogue website visits or illegitimate clicks to completely spoil the party.
For instance, do you really know if your goal completion rate of 43% is accurate – or the result of pesky search engine crawler bots? What about the 3,928 visitors you received from social last month; were they real people? And, if they were, do they sit within your target audience?
However, all of the above pales into insignificance against a much bigger problem for website owners who also rely on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns.
It sounds horrible. And it is. But in this blog post, I’m going to demystify this murky side of PPC and provide a few actionable tips on how to prevent it.
What is click fraud…
So, PPC works like this: you place an ad on Google (or some other platform that offers that kind of advertising) and pay a set fee every time someone clicks on it.
You can set the fee yourself, usually, and a daily or weekly spend limit to keep things under control.
The idea is that you receive lots of juicy clicks through to your website from people who are most likely to become customers. Thus, if they go ahead with the purchase, you can assign that cost-per-click to the cost of sale and work out how much of a return on investment (ROI) you get from PPC advertising.
That is, until some pesky competitor who has nothing better to do decides to spend all afternoon clicking your PPC ads on Google just to rinse your budget and ensure their company appears above yours in search results.
That’s click fraud.
…and why is click fraud so bad?
A 2014 study found that the price of fake ad clicks can run into billions every year. And this really shouldn’t come as a surprise at all when you consider just how blindingly easy it is to undertake click fraud. All you have to do is find an ad and continually click on it; anyone can do this without the need for specialist tools, access to the dark web or knowledge of complex hacking techniques.
Click fraud increases advertising costs for businesses but, and as noted at the start of this blog, also completely screws up analytical data about PPC campaigns, making it near impossible to work out your ROI or have any faith that the audience you’re attracting is legitimately interested in buying from you.
With that in mind it is important for PPC specialists to prevent click fraud in advance instead of waiting for their stats to be skewed.
How do I know if I’m the target of click fraud?
There’s no scientific method for detecting click fraud, unfortunately.
You can, however, use some educated guesses to work out whether or not the clicks on your PPC ads perhaps aren’t quite what they should to be.
You may be victim of click fraud if:
- you’re experiencing lots of clicks to your website from PPC ads but receiving no enquiries in return;
- your PPC budget dries up very quickly;
- you appear to be receive lots of traffic from similar locations, referral channels or IP addresses; or
- the keywords from which you’re receiving traffic are suspiciously precise or don’t fit within your SEO strategy.
The last one is particularly important. And, while I must reiterate that this isn’t an exact science, if you suddenly find yourself paying for a shed load of clicks attributed to keywords that are your company name, there’s a chance someone is doing their level best to ruin your PPC campaign as quickly as possible.
But to prevent click fraud, you don’t just need to be aware of the signs. You need to understand who could do it.
Who commits click fraud?
From mistaken clicks to specific attacks on your PPC campaign, click fraud unfortunately arrives in many forms.
Here’s five of the most common suspects.
1. The competition
Lots of us have laughed while conducting industry research on Google and clicking on the odd competitor Google Ad.
“Let’s spend a bit of their budget, eh?”
What a hoot!
Once is probably fair game (come on, I bet you’ve done it), but some take it too far.
Click fraud from the competition is one of the most common forms of this irritating, expensive waste of your marketing budget. The nefarious competitors within your industry will know that most PPC campaigns are set to cease when the daily budget is reached and use it to their advantage.
By rinsing your daily budget quickly, they can take your place within search results for hotly-contest search terms.
2. Disgruntled ex-employees
If you’ve had to let someone go under tricky circumstances or under a cloud of HR-related disasters, there’s nothing stopping them gaining some retribution with a dose of click fraud.
The chances of this happening are certainly lower than that of the competition having a go, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
3. Owners of other websites
Pretty much anyone can create an AdSense account and start displaying Google Ads on their website.
This is a great way to gain some extra revenue, but it can be taken advantage of, too.
If you have AdSense on your website, you’ll get a cut of the click fees. Therefore, if you want to ‘game’ it, all you have to do is spend some time continually clicking the ads that appear on your own website, without any intention of buying from the advertiser in question.
4. Disgruntled customers
If you’ve upset a customer for some reason and they understand how PPC advertising works, they could be the culprit behind any click fraud you experience.
This is, thankfully, pretty rare, and it’s unlikely you’ll cheese off a customer so much that they make click fraud against your business a long-term strategy.
The good news? You’ll never please every customer, and any who decide to commit click fraud should get bored after a short period. Their own lack of patience will prevent click fraud.
5. Fraud rings
This is a pretty serious offender, but unless you’re a big brand, fraud rings probably aren’t going to target your PPC campaigns.
However, it’s worth keeping them in mind, because fraud rings who target ad networks in order to extract as much money as possible have been known to make millions per day from fraudulent website clicks and views.
How to prevent click fraud
A quick disclaimer: you’ll never prevent click fraud completely; there’ll always be a rogue competitor, customer or cheeky hacker that occasionally screws up your click stats.
However, there are a few things you can do to limit instances of click fraud:
- Keep a close eye on your campaigns and analytics. Google provides reporting tools for its Ads platform and your website for a reason. Use those reports to keep an eye on sudden spikes in PPC referrals and daily budget disappearances.
- Be aware of your competition. It’s good practice anyway to keep track of your competitors’ approach to PPC, but by looking at the keywords for which they appear most commonly, you can use tools like PPC Protect, ClickCease, ClickGuardian or Clixtell to see if and when those competitors click your ads fraudulently.
- Run your ads only in the most relevant countries. To ensure you’re not hit by foreign fraud rings, make sure your PPC ads are only set to run in the most relevant countries (or regions) in which you trade.
There’s lots more to click fraud, but that’s for another day. In the meantime, keep the tips above close by your side and follow this last one to the letter – please.
Whatever you do, make sure you only target your ads on high-quality sites. Low-quality websites are far more likely to be associated with bots and other annoying tools that target your ads and result in high levels of click fraud.
If there is anything you would like to add, or any feedback on the content of this article, please feel free to leave a comment below.