Is click fraud costing you precious AdWords dollars? Are fake clicks losing you customers?
Google Ads (formerly known as Adwords) is packed with money-making opportunities.
And wherever there's money to be made, fraudsters are never far away.
The fact is, click fraud is worse than ever.
No matter the size of your business, or your Adwords budget, nobody is entirely safe.
But just because they're out there ready to strike doesn't mean you have to let them win. The digital world is already competitive enough!
That's why, in 2019, it's never been more important to stand up and battle click fraud to make sure you get the ROI and customers you deserve.
This is so crucial for running profitable pay per click advertising campaigns (PPC) and getting the results you’ll really love.
Here's a rundown of what click fraud is and how you can prevent it.
What is Adwords click fraud?
Click fraud is a black-hat technique of clicking on pay per click ads to generate fraudulent charges for advertisers.
This illegal technique occurs across multiple advertising networks.
However, today we’re focusing on one of the most popular: Google Adwords.
Who is behind click fraud?
Most click fraud on Adwords comes from competitors.
Advertisers are trying to hijack their competitors by driving up their costs and forcing them to meet their budget caps early in the day.
Say you are running a Google Ads campaign with a daily budget in place. Once your budget has been reached, the ad turns itself off to stop further clicks.
By clicking your ads, your competitors can waste your PPC advertising budget and turn the ad off for the day.
Now for the really sneaky bit.
If your competitor is currently in position 2 and can’t afford to outbid you for position 1, they can waste your budget by repeatedly clicking your ad.
Eventually, position number 2 will steal the top spot, gaining all the extra clicks and extra traffic for free!
Competitors aren’t the only offenders.
There are also professional fraud rings who target expensive keywords backed by big companies.
These offenders use automated computer programs and clickbots to generate millions of fraudulent clicks and views per day.
Finally, there’s the worst of the worst…
Site owners are manually clicking their own ads to generate revenue from their own clients.
Regardless of who commits click fraud, the result is the same:
Piles of wasted online advertising spend.
According to Juniper Research, ad fraud causes businesses to lose $51 million a day.
Every. Single. Day.
In 2017 alone, around 1 in 5 clicks on adverts were fraudulent, with that number growing every month.
But it’s not just about the wasted ad spend – click fraud also distorts the analytical data you rely on for online marketing decisions.
Say you have a Google Ads campaign with a high converting and profitable keyword. If that keyword suffers from click fraud and you don’t detect it, you might decide to get rid of the keyword.
After all your data shows the click-through rate is extremely high, but the conversion rate is extremely low. Because you get charged for every click, the cost of the ad will eventually outweigh the profit.
Click fraud has distorted the reality causing you to make a decision that could impact your whole marketing ROI.
What can be done?
How to stop Adwords click fraud
Before we take you through what you need to do, you’re probably wondering what Google is doing about click fraud.
Rest assured Google has created the most robust anti-click fraud program of all the search engines.
Automated detection systems using machine learning and complex algorithms to detect and filter out invalid clicks in real time, before advertisers are charged.
Google’s Ad Traffic Quality Team constantly monitors and analyses traffic to detect and remove any clicks they deem invalid before advertisers are charged.
Investigations based on advertiser reports of suspicious activity.
But you cannot rely on Google alone.
There are steps YOU need to take to identify click fraud and protect your Adwords ROI.
Identify click fraud on your Adwords account.
How do you know whether malicious clicks are happening in YOUR account?
The good news is there are lots of ways to identify whether you are a victim of click fraud.
One way is using your internal reporting.
Make sure you collect the following information:
IP address – Every user has an IP address, like a home address for your internet activity. When you visit a site, you leave an IP address trail that can be tracked by webmasters.
Click timestamp – the time when someone arrives on your site after clicking an ad.
Action timestamp – the time when that person completed an action on your site.
User agent – features of the device on which they are browsing.
Got the information?
Now, use the click timestamp and action timestamp together. You are looking for the IP addresses that are arriving at your site repeatedly by clicking on your Google Ad, but not taking any action.
Do you see an IP address with a heap of click timestamps but no action timestamps?
This is probably click fraud.
Now, look at the user agent.
This takes note of all the features of the device being used to access your site, such as the type of device, internet browser, software, etc.
In short, it shows you whether someone on a particular IP is the same person.
If you discover a potentially fraudulent IP address, what now?
Find out who it belongs to by performing a quick check of the IP. Go to a website like What is my IP address.
If you identify Adwords click fraud, report it straight to Google so they can investigate.
How to prevent Adwords click fraud
Feel like you can’t rely on Google to weed out all the invalid clicks? We get it.
There are ways to take matters into your own hands to prevent click fraud on your Adwords account.
Try these four proven tactics:
1. Set up IP exclusions in Google Ads
If you’ve done your checks and know there are IP addresses responsible for click fraud, you can block your Google Ad from being served to that IP address in the future.
You simply need to set up an exclusion in your Google Ads account.
- Go to the Settings tab.
- Click on the campaign you want to exclude IP addresses from.
- Go to Advanced settings and select the IP exclusions link
- Click Edit
- Type in the offending addresses (up to 500 per campaign)
- Click Save.
From now on, Google will not display your ads to these addresses.
This is a highly effective way of protecting your account from click fraudsters.
The bad news is it can be incredibly time-consuming if you have lots of IP addresses to block.
WARNING: Be careful not to exclude potential customers.
Users often have multiple IP addresses because they browse the internet at home, work, and in cafes. This doesn’t mean they are click fraud culprits!
Make sure you have done the right checks before excluding them.
2. Adjust Your Ad Targeting
A small tweak to your targeting could be all that’s needed to weed out fraudulent clicks.
Is your click fraud coming from a specific geographic region or country?
Sometimes click fraudsters hire real people to click on ads. These are called ‘click farms’.
They are not always located in the same place, but typically they will be in countries with notoriously cheap labour.
Exclude these locations and their language from your Google Adwords campaigns.
If you suspect that your main competitor is the fraudster, exclude their postcode.
WARNING: Be careful not to block the HIGH CONVERTING traffic when excluding locations.
3.Run remarketing campaigns
Remarketing is where you provide ads to people who have visited your website in the past. This means your ad is only shown to people who have demonstrated a real interest.
Maybe they visited certain web pages, downloaded an ebook, put a product in their shopping cart, etc.
There’s zero risk of click fraudsters jumping on the ads because they can’t see them in the first place!
4. Set the conversion pixel on something you can clearly map
Conversion tracking is the most effective way to measure and evaluate the success of your Google AdWords campaigns.
You install their conversion tracking pixel onto the pages of your site.
The pixel will fire whenever users click on your Google Ads campaign and visit the pages that trigger the conversion tracker.
So, how can you use conversion pixels to stop click fraud?
Spam sites use bots to register heaps of “easy” conversions, such as on lead forms.
Because they’re getting heaps of conversions, Google’s algorithms reward them by serving your ads on those sites even more.
You wind up wasting heaps of PPC budget on fake conversions. The trick is NOT to use conversion tracking on something that doesn’t take much time and effort, like filling in a form.
Instead, place your conversion pixel on more involved actions, like free trials or when you know they have actually bought from you.
Making this small change will reduce fake conversions and give you much more accurate ad campaign data.
Over to you
The simplicity of click fraud means it can happen to anyone. But you should be able to stay on top of it by following this article’s tips.
Here’s a quick recap on how to get started:
Identify click fraud by gathering the right information
Exclude dodgy IP addresses
Tweak your ad targeting
Run remarketing campaigns
Be smart with your conversion pixels
No time to do all this?
The truth is running Google Ads campaigns can be time-consuming, especially if it’s not your expertise.
By working with a PPC agency, you can sleep easy knowing your campaigns are raking in the conversions and all the right tactics are in place to prevent click fraudsters from wasting your budget.
If you are already working with a Google Ads agency, they should be on top of it. Just ask them what they are doing to prevent click fraud.
OMG keeps ahead of the latest black hat tactics, so we can protect your Adwords campaigns and squeeze the maximum return on investment.
Find out how we can help you get more out of Google Ads, without more effort. Get your free digital growth audit (worth $2000!).