Click Fraud: What Is It and Why Should You Care?

Click Fraud

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It wasn’t too long ago I was doing some research for a client when I ran across a post discussing click fraud. I’d never heard of click fraud before. In fact, I wasn’t even sure that I believed the headline I was reading. I had to actually read the post to wrap my brain around the concept.

What is click fraud? If you don’t know, you are in the same boat I was some 18 months ago. Fortunately, this post will explain everything. Rest assured it is something you should care about if you advertise online through pay-per-click (PPC) platforms.

A Basic Definition of Click Fraud

Fraud Blocker is a California company that offers click fraud protection software for websites. They explain click fraud as using dishonest means to accumulate fraudulent clicks for a PPC ad. Clicks are considered fraudulent when there is no actual attempt to log on to the website in question and make a purchase.

One of the examples Fraud Blocker discusses on its website is the click bot. A click bot is a small software application programmed to autonomously click on PPC ads in the background. It can be planted on an unsuspecting user’s computer or phone as malware.

Every time a bot clicks an ad, the ad network charges its customer (the publisher) a set fee. The more clicks, the more the ad network charges. An ad network willing to make use of click bots doesn’t really care if anyone is buying the publisher’s goods or services. Being able to charge for clicks is all that matters.

Click Fraud Takes Many Forms

Click bots represent just one way click fraud can be perpetrated. Rest assured there are plenty of other ways fraudsters can rip off their customers. Here are just a few examples:

  • Click Farms

A click farm is an actual business that makes money by setting up an ad network and then paying employees to sit around and click ads all day. A productive click farm can generate a lot of revenue by defrauding unsuspecting publishers.
  • Accidental Clicks

Fraudsters running ad networks are notorious for placing mobile ads in locations where users are more likely to accidentally tap or click. Accidental clicks are no big deal to the user because they can just go back. But every accidental click equals a charge to the publisher.
  • Competitor Clicks

Believe it or not, it is not unusual for companies to have their people purposely go click the ads of their competitors for the purposes of draining competitor marketing budgets. A competitor without a healthy marketing budget cannot compete.
  • Malicious Publishing

Some fraudsters publish their own malicious websites loaded with paid ads that are too small to see with the naked eye. As users navigate around the site, they click on these ads without even knowing it. The ads continue running in the background as they register click after click.

Again, the whole point of click fraud is to charge publishers for every click their ads get. But fraudulent clicks are meaningless to publishers. They do not lead to any paying customers actually visiting publisher websites and buying things. And unfortunately, click fraud is an ongoing problem that makes many brands nervous about investing in PPC advertising.

Tools designed to stop click fraud are becoming more sophisticated by the day. But so are the practices employed by the fraudsters. For now, it is a cat-and-mouse game with no end in sight. That should not be surprising. Fraud has been part of the human condition from the very beginning.

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