Click Fraud Rising – Should You Be Concerned?

Since the dawn of PPC in the early 2000s, click fraud has been an issue for advertisers. Click fraud, also known as invalid clicks, can cost advertisers thousands of dollars in wasted PPC spend.

Is click fraud even an issue any more? I just returned from SES Chicago, and didn’t hear a single mention of click fraud throughout the three-day conference. Five or six years ago, there were multiple sessions at search conferences like SES on click fraud; today, it doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar.

Some would say this is a mistake. According to Click Forensics, a click fraud detection firm, click fraud increased to a record 22.3 percent in Q3 of 2010.

Think about that for a second: nearly one in four is considered invalid. Pretty scary stuff.

The increase is attributed to fraudulent activity on mobile proxies and video ads — in other words, fake video and cell phone clicks.

Mobile and video ads are the newest ad formats in the PPC world, so it makes sense that these would be prime targets for fraudsters. Advertisers are just starting to test these ad formats — meaning they aren’t spending the big bucks that they’re investing in tried-and-true traditional search PPC.

Because mobile and video are new formats, there isn’t the history of normal click activity against which to compare performance. Without a baseline, it’s hard to ferret out the unusual traffic spikes that could indicate click fraud.

Finally, especially in the mobile realm, a lot of conversions take place offline, so traffic without online conversions isn’t unusual — making invalid clicks that much harder to detect. All of these factors make mobile a logical place for fraudulent activity to occur.

As an advertiser, what can you do to avoid being a target for click fraud?

Cut PPC Spend

No, I don’t mean stop using PPC altogether. However, you should be evaluating your PPC spend based on results.

Underperforming campaigns and ad groups, whether or not its due to click fraud, should be scaled back in favor of better-performing campaigns. And if you’re running mobile campaigns, pay close attention to results. Track offline conversions as well as online conversions to make sure you’re really getting the ROI you should be.

Report Suspicious Clicks to the Search Engines

The search engines take click fraud seriously. Both Google and Microsoft have extensive monitoring systems to detect and filter out click fraud. Microsoft recently took things a step further, filing a lawsuit against one of the bigger click fraudsters out there.

As an advertiser, you can help fight click fraud by reporting suspicious click activity to the search engines.

Use Google AdWords Conversion Optimizer

Google AdWords has a great tool called Conversion Optimizer, which allows advertisers to maximize conversions at a target cost. Focusing on conversions, rather than clicks, essentially takes click fraud out of the equation.

Just Don’t Worry About Click Fraud

Despite the doom and gloom of the latest click fraud stats, we haven’t seen any measurable fraud in any of our clients’ PPC accounts. Again, it’s not the big issue it used to be because Google and Microsoft filter out all but a tiny percentage of invalid clicks anyway.

Furthermore, it’s important to understand how the click fraud stats are derived. Click Forensics’ data comes from traffic data from their client websites.

While the accuracy of the data isn’t in question, what’s missing is the fact that Click Forensics counts clicks that are filtered by the search engines and therefore not charged to advertisers. So while their data is accurate, it doesn’t represent actual PPC spend on invalid clicks, because the search engines don’t charge for most of this traffic.


Is click fraud still out there? Absolutely.

Does click fraud spell the end of good ROI in PPC? Absolutely not.

If you’re tracking your results and focusing on ROI (as you should be), lost revenue from click fraud can be minimized.

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