Some businesses have been turned-off the idea of having an Internet Pay-per-Click campaign for their products or services because of the risk of Click-Fraud.
What is ‘Click-Fraud’?
For those who are unaware, Click Fraud is the term used to describe the process of clicking (sometimes repeatedly) on an advert with the sole intention of increasing the click cost for the advertiser or making it look like paid adverts on a website are more popular than they really are.
It is said to be increasing at an alarming rate, and is generally employed either by competitor companies seeking to increase the costs and discourage companies from competing with their own ads, or by affiliate networks (those that show ads on their websites and who then receive a payment for each visitor that clicks through to the advertised website).
Click Fraud can also be automated through so called Botnets (hijacked computers) and Clickbots (software to automate clicks).
How would I know if this was happening to my campaign?
An unusual upward spike in your click-throughs would be a good indication, although this is by no means conclusive – you may well see an unusual increase one of your adverts or advert groups because the adverts suddenly become more relevant to their audience or because the adverts are being shown on new affiliate sites that may be more relevant to your audience.
Some Website owners think that they are being defrauded because they are getting lots of clicks to their sites, but are not converting those visitors into customers.
My response to this concern would be to get advertisers to first check that their advert text is relevant to the page of the website that the visitor will land on when they click the advert, and secondly to be sure that the website itself is appealing enough to engage the visitor and to persuade them to do what you would like them to do!
What can I do if I think PPC click fraud is happening to me?
- Talk to your Pay-per-Click provider (Google, Bing etc.) and let them know that you suspect fraud. As part of their day-to-day operation they watch for large scale abuses of the system – after all, their business success depends on people being able to trust their advertising systems. They are able to spot unusually high activity coming from certain IP Addresses, Geographical Regions, Affiliate sites etc.
- It is also worth checking to see whether the high click counts have come from affiliate sites. If they have, then you can stop your pay-per-click campaigns from being made available to affiliates. For those who do not know about the contextual / affiliate network, pay-per-click providers can allow your adverts to be displayed by other websites that are related to your product or service. You will have seen, for example, the ‘Ads By Google’ text and adverts displayed on sites that you visit. Well, Google will place your adverts on these sites if you ask them to. The website owner will then get paid by Google whenever a visitor clicks on the advert to go through to your site.
- Check your Web Server Log files (or get your P-P-C Manager to do it for you). There is a lot of information that can be gleened from these logs, including how often the same IP addressee visits your site, what they do while they are there, where they came from etc. This is not conclusive, and can be time consuming, but there are many interesting things you can find out from your server logs anyway!
- Some providers have tools that can be installed to detect fraud.
Without a doubt, some click-fraud happens. It may or may not happen to your campaign (most likely it does not!), but the bottom line for you must be whether or not your pay-per-click campaign is delivering a sufficient return on the investment you are making.
If it is delivering a good return, but you suspect that fraud is taking place, you should probably still leave the campaign running but report it to your p-p-c provider and get it sorted out.
If it is not delivering a good enough return, then regardless of whether there is click fraud involved or not, you should be reviewing the campaign!
An update : I originally wrote this blog post in 2005, and updated it in 2015 to reflect current thoughts.