With PPC advertising on the rise, many companies have come face to face with a sinister form of scam known as click fraud.
Simply put, click fraud is the act of “Falsely inflating the number of clicks on a paid advertisement through manual or automatic means.” It’s most commonly used by unethical business owners who attempt to drive up the cost of their competitor’s ads by falsely increasing the number of clicks their ads receive, thus draining their budget and eliminating any possible ROI. Despite the best efforts of Google and other leading web platforms, click fraud is on the rise, and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime in the near future. Therefore, if you decide to venture into the world of PPC advertising, it’s important that you do so with a clear understanding of how you can combat click fraud and maintain the integrity of your advertising campaigns.
Here are the five best methods for ending click fraud once and for all.
Understand the Signs of Click Fraud
First and foremost, it’s important that you understand the difference between click fraud and, shall we say, improvable marketing campaigns. Often, I will see businesses and individuals who have failed to take the time to build an effective PPC campaign blaming click fraud for their lack of results. And nine times out of ten, they are wrong.
While there are some automated software you can use to detect click fraud without your intervention, you can also conduct a “Do It Yourself” click fraud investigation if you genuinely believe you’ve been a victim of this scam.
To do so, you will need set up some form of internal reporting that will collect:
– IP address
– click timestamp
– action timestamp
– user agent
Once you have this information in hand, here are a few key signs that you’ve been a victim of click fraud. If you notice that a specific IP address has logged several click timestamps (meaning they clicked on your ad) but no action timestamps (meaning they converted or took a similar action) it’s likely a sign of fraud. The user agent will allow you to determine whether clicks from a certain IP address were initiated by a group of people (such as those using a proxy or university server) or a single individual.
If you notice that a single IP address has logged multiple click timestamps with no action timestamps as the same user agent… You’ve found your target.
Setup IP Exclusions in Ad Words
Once you’ve identified the offending IP address, the next step to resolve the issue is relatively straightforward.
First and foremost, you must be certain that the IP address in question is genuinely click fraud. Excluding a proxy, university, or coffee shop IP address that you mistakenly believe to be click fraud could result in a dramatic dip in your traffic and conversions (especially if you don’t implement step #3). Make sure you conduct your due diligence on the offending IP address using tools like whatismyipaddress.com.
Once you have quadruple checked the IP address, you can exclude it from your advertising campaigns by going to the Settings tab and scrolling down to the IP Exclusion Settings. From here, simply copy and paste the IP address in question and you’ll be good to go.
Tweak Your Targeting Settings
Although the previous step is often more than enough to end a click fraud campaign dead in its tracks, if you are up against a persevering competitor, this step may be insufficient.
Most popular virtual private networks (VPNs) allow you to change your IP address with relative ease, thus bypassing your exclusion. If you find that you are repeatedly plagued by click fraud from (who you assume to be) the same individual or company, a simple solution is to tweak the targeting of your ads. Often, by changing the location, age range, and other ad modifiers you can prevent your ad from being presented to the offending individual and end their click fraud campaign dead in its tracks.
Use an Automated Solution
While there is an abundance of purported click fraud “Solutions” on the market, many of them are bigger scams than click fraud itself! If you decide to use an automated solution, then be sure that whichever company you select offers all of the following features.
- 24/7 Real Time Monitoring
- Detailed Reporting
- Systems for Recovering AdWords Credits
- Notifications of Potential Click Fraud Activity
- Automatic IP Address Blocking
- Live Customer Support
- Individualized Analysis of User Behavior
Also be wary of companies who lack transparency and attempt to overwhelm you with “data” and reports but show no concrete evidence of fraud protection.
Switch Advertising Platforms
If all else fails, you can always abandon ship and switch to an advertising platform like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Quora that has very nominal click fraud rates due to the hyper-detailed targeting options and lack of third-party publishers.
While this should be considered your last resort (after all, learning an entirely new advertising platform is expensive and time-consuming), it is an option if you are too plagued by click fraud to execute a successful Google PPC campaign.
This is a guest blog written for Webgains by Samuel Bocetta.
Sam is a freelance journalist specializing in U.S. national cyber-defence, with emphases on emerging technology trends in information security, cryptography, and cyber-warfare. He currently consults part-time for Apoxea, Inc. to develop underwater ballistics testing systems.