Did you know that according to the World Federation of Advertisers, click fraud is the second-most profitable fraud in the world, behind only drug trafficking? The Federation also believes click fraud will beat drug trafficking by 2050 at the expense of $50 billion from advertisers every year; not exactly a small loss. So, whether you’re a newbie to the digital marketing game or an experienced guru with access to Facebook’s algorithms, you’d be wise to watch out for click fraud.
What is click fraud?
Click fraud or pay-per-click (PPC) fraud is when someone purchases organic clicks for their website or ads in a pay-per-click model with the expectation that some of those clicks lead to conversion, but instead, it turns out all or most clicks were fake. Fake clicks obviously don’t lead to conversion, they’re a waste.
Suppose you have a website that sells designer shoes. You want as many people to visit your site as possible so that more people buy from you. You approach a marketer and ask for 10,000 clicks to your website in a week, with the expectation that at least a few dozen of those 10,000 clicks lead to sales.
After you receive your 10,000 clicks, you might think that it was a job well-done, but then you notice that not a single one of those clicks results in a purchase from your site. At first, you might think maybe your marketing’s bad, or people just don’t like your product, but in reality, you were a victim of fraud and received only fake clicks.
How do people commit click fraud?
In the early days of the internet, people used to actually gather large numbers of people and just pay them to click on your website for an entire day, and maybe some less sophisticated people still do that today. Modern PPC fraud, in 2022, is more complex.
The vast majority of modern PPC fraud involves using bots, the kind that captchas ask you to confirm you’re not when you visit a website. People who commit PPC fraud will run bots that automatically generate fake clicks; they don’t need to have dozens of people sitting in a room doing the clicking anymore.
Bots are super cheap, so people committing click fraud just have to spend less money building bots to generate fake clicks than what you pay them. The worst part is that many people will genuinely think that their marketing campaign or products were just bad before they realize they were the victims of fraud.
Why is click fraud a marketer’s worst nightmare?
Pay-per-click fraud is a marketer’s worst nightmare for three reasons:
PPC fraud is infamously difficult to detect. The biggest busts against people committing PPC fraud only happened after hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars worth of fraud had already been committed. The largest PPC fraud scheme in the world, Methbot, was busted in 2016 after the people behind it had already made up to $6 million a day for over a year.
It’s not easy to prove a click fraud allegation against someone in court, especially if the person that committed it against you lives in a different country. After all, how do you prove that someone built a bot to create fake clicks for your website instead of your website or product not being good enough to generate sales? Proving someone in a foreign country committed PPC fraud against you is the most difficult.
The more organized the people committing a crime are, the harder it is to detect and prosecute them. PPC fraud is increasingly becoming an organized crime, not unlike drug trafficking or other criminal activities. Like these other criminal activities, PPC fraud is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and experienced scammers have learned how to find gullible victims and evade detection. We might even see entire mafia groups or organizations devoted to PPC fraud rise up in the next few decades.
How can I avoid click fraud?
To combat PPC fraud, you need to do the following:
Understand click fraud
First, you need to educate yourself about PPC fraud and become more aware of it. If you’ve ever run a marketing campaign that severely underperformed in terms of conversions, despite meeting target click counts, it could be because of PPC fraud.
PPC fraud is relatively new, and many marketers don’t know much about it. There also isn’t a whole lot of information on it online because the people who commit click fraud are constantly changing how they operate, but you should find as much information as you can.
Detect fake traffic
Secondly, you can take certain steps to prevent yourself from being a victim of click fraud. Use captchas on your site if you detect unusual traffic, and use UTMs (Urchin Tracking Modules) to find the source of the traffic to your website.
These tools will help you detect strange traffic early on in your marketing campaign. Ideally, you should closely track traffic to your website to detect bots as early as possible. When you find unusual traffic that indicates PPC fraud, suspend operations with the person you’re buying clicks from immediately.
Beef up security
Consider investing in network security services or a click fraud detection specialist if you feel your business is vulnerable to PPC fraud. These services will guard your website and ads against fake traffic and help you catch the people committing fraud against you.
It’s especially advisable to be up-to-date on digital security because scammers are constantly developing new ways to bypass your security. The only way to beat them is to constantly update your digital security.
Putting everything together, click fraud is a digital marketer’s worst nightmare. You could lose your entire marketing investment to click fraud if you’re not careful. Even if you catch the people that defrauded you, it’s notoriously difficult to prove and prosecute click fraud, especially if the people who committed it are living in a different country.