Click Fraud Advice

What is Click Fraud?

We define click fraud, or invalid clicks, as:

Any time a paid advertisement is clicked in an attempt to exhaust an advertiser's resources or for the ad viewer's monetary gain rather than for consumer purposes.

Click fraud has existed almost since the beginning of pay-per-click marketing -- Sometimes at the hands of your competitors (trying to bankrupt you or drive you off of their coveted keyword), sometimes at the hands of the pay-per-click ad provider (to drive up their revenue).

Once the pay-per-click services became the place to sign up not only as advertisers but as ad publishers, they cornered the market. The self-policing nature of search engines has led to rising concerns among advertisers of click fraud. Google AdSense and Yahoo! Publisher Network are examples of publisher networks. A large window of opportunity for fraudsters and shady types opened up and there is the possibility of a very large underbelly in the search marketing world right now crawling with fraud. No one can say with certainty how large the problem is.

Before you can fight this enemy, you sould know something about it.

Click fraud in the news:

How to Prevent PPC Click Fraud

Before you choose to use a pay-per-click company, we recommend that you do your research to discover the provider's strategy towards click fraud. If you can't find anything in the programs' own FAQ on the subject, find forums or discussion groups. Do your research. Check the date when reading reports of click fraud. More than a year old is not helpful. The better providers have been working to stop click fraud and should have made changes to their system for detecting and handling click fraud many times in that length of time. The only exception to this would be reports of the attitude that the provider has taken toward refunding advertiser money after the fact. That rarely changes with time.

Click Fraud is actually something you must yourself guard against BEFORE it happens to have the best chance of not losing your money. Start with a prevention or tracking tool.

If you already have a fully operational pay-per-click advertising strategy in place, there are ways to buffer yourself against click fraud. While most click fraud tools out there focus on spotting click fraud and clean-up after the fact, we have found that the following software tools have some aspect that is aimed at preventing click fraud:

Resources for investigating online fraud and scams:

Fraud Prevention Tools

See below for fraud detection and reporting tools.

How to lower your risk of click fraud:

Keep in mind your goal. Is it to get clicks? No. That is what the provider wants you to do. You are trying to make sales. The better you have figured out your customer base (who what where when and why) the better your chance of keeping your ad away from the wrong people. Try to make it so that your ads are carefully aimed at the locations in the world (or the people, the age groups, etc) where your services will be needed. If you choose to only display your ads within countries you serve and at times of day when your customers shop, you will lower click fraud. If you are not getting enough sales, don't lower your budget, instead point it in the right direction. Target your ads carefully.

If your advertising provider allows you to choose additional ways to carefully select your audience, then try them out. (don't rely too much on the assumption that if you chose to display to females in kentucky that the ad provider will actually do what you say. The fine print often says they don't have to be right about your audience to get your money.) If the changes that you make don't lower your sales rate, then keep the tighter ad-showing rules in place even if you get less clicks. The point of your campaign is not to make the provider some money, but to make you money. Your only gauge to success of your advertising campaign is real live sales, not click volume.

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Content Ads versus Search Ads

Content ads are ads that display on "partner sites" or "affiliated sites" or something along that line. Most of the PPC programs have a program like this. Some add you to it automatically and some have it as an option that you can turn on or off. Google's AdSense program is a content ad network from the advertiser point of view. It is a publisher network from the AdSense sign-up point of view. The ads are the same, and you are the one who pays for the clicks in the end.

At the advertiser end (in your AdWords account) the option to display your ads as AdSense ads is called "content network". Yahoo! has a similar option called "content match".

Because of how content-displayed ads work, the system is flawed.

Anyone (even you) can usually sign up to be a member of the content network. The PPC program pays out percentages on each click to the sites that sign up to display these ads alongside their content. Because they only pay out when they are clicked on, there is some serious monetary incentive for those partners to become crooked and find ways to click on the ads displayed there themselves, and there are some elaborate websites and schemes set up entirely to profit from these content ads being displayed, with no regard for your ROI as the advertiser.

These content ads are notoriously worse, in our estimation, at converting to sales. This fact seems to corroborate the common belief that the content ad networks are rife with fraud.

Search ads are the ads that display alongside the search results on the search engine's own site. Only the PPC programs (and you if they convert) profit from the clicks on your ads when you stick to purely using paid search ads. They routinely get clicked on less than content ads, so may appear to be a worse idea. However, if you look at just the conversion figures, they often wind up converting remarkably better into sales.

In short: if you are worried about click fraud, stick to SEARCH ads.

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Steps to Take to Correct Fraudulent Clicks

Depending on your advertising service to catch it all for you is a sure way to be defenseless if you are suddenly faced with thousands of dollars billed to your card that you weren't planning. If the clicks can't be shown to be fraudulent, then you are out of luck and the provider gets your money. The provider does not have a good reason to want those clicks to turn out to be fraud.

You need to know what to look for so that you can prove it if you think it is happening.

First, keep back-ups of all of your raw website logs. Not the fancy stat sheets, but the logs themselves. You should see lots of strings of numbers and dates if you're looking at your website traffic logs.

If you don't have those, you are not in a good position to get your money back or take the other guy to court.

We have found the following software tools to help you track or report click fraud:

Click Fraud Reporting Tools

These are best to have in place before click fraud occurs, but some can even prove helpful after the fact by reviewing logs or helping you report fraud.

Reporting Fraud: Any reputable pay-per-click company provides a means to repair your click fraud, either by giving you credit towards future clicks or by refunding your account for the fraudulent clicks.

When reporting click fraud, include as much data as possible. To increase your likelihood of success in getting the fraud handled, we recommend that you at least:

  1. Make a clear statement at the very beginning that you are reporting click fraud.

  2. Following that, provide full details in your explanation that support your assertion.

    • Include your account details but not your password or payment information.

    • Define the exact keyword, ad and campaign affected by click fraud.

    • Give the exact date and time of each instance of suspected click fraud.

    • Specify the IP address of anyone you caught clicking fraudulently.

  3. Finally, say what you're asking for; a refund, a credit to your account and/or an investigation.

  4. Additionally, you can attach logs or reports (zipped up) as evidence. Be warned, very large files will make your claim wind up in a firewall filter instead of getting to the intended recipient. You may want to wait until they are requested.

If you were using software tools at your end to help you track click fraud, or to help you report click fraud, include information about that in your report.

What not to do in your initial request: Don't accuse the provider of anything right off the bat if you can help it, don't use abusive language, and be as polite as you can during the process of getting it resolved. Be persistent, and if you don't hear back within five business days, try again.

If a consultant helped you create your PPC campaigns, we recommend that you inform them of this and provide full details of your complaint to the marketing consultant as well. Our clients have had nothing but headaches trying to work with the providers directly in sticky situations. If you do have a consultant helping you, ask them to work with the PPC provider to correct the issue. If they have experience in pay-per-clickthrough marketing, they will undoubtedly know what to do.

How to report click fraud to the major PPC providers:

Google AdWords calls click fraud "invalid clicks", and has a section in their support center on the topic of invalid clicks that is available only to AdWords account holders. Basically, Google claims to work to weed out invalid clicks wherever possible. They also provide a clear way to report invalid clicks (after logging into your account) using this Google AdWords Contact Center Request Form. When you contact them, be sure to include or attach all of the information we mention above. As the largest pay-per-click program, they probably have the greatest volume of reported click fraud, yet we have not yet had a client complain of an inability to receive a refund or a credit from Google on fraudulent clicks when they specifically requested it.

Yahoo! Search Marketing has a secure support center from which you can submit a support request. You can look up the Click Protection System in their help/policies area as well, which is what Yahoo calls their click fraud prevention program. They say that you will be contacted directly by a service representative, after sending a report of click fraud to them. Be sure to include all the necessary information in your initial report.

Marchex offers this entry in their FAQ regarding click fraud. We have found them to be less than forthcoming with refunds in the past (when they were Ah-ha and then Enhance Interactive -- why did they change their name so often?), and less than careful about tracking fraud to prevent it. More data on that is located here. You can also call their customer service at 206.331.3300, or email them through your account interface. Note: If you had an account at Enhance Interactive, you can log in using the same credentials at Marchex.

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What is Impression Fraud?

We define impression fraud as:

Any time a paid advertisement is viewed without clicking in an attempt to reduce the perceived worth of an advertiser in the eyes of the advertising provider.

It is immediately possible to see how ads paid for on a cost-per-impression basis would be open to this kind of fraud.

In pay-per-click, the worth of your advertisement is usually judged by the pay-per-click marketing provider based on a percentage or other comparison between the number of impressions (or views) and the number of clicks. This leaves your click ads open to impression fraud. Too many impressions to each click and your ad will be penalized -- meaning it can lose placement, or be dropped entirely. Because the advertising provider has nothing to gain from impression fraud, this one is only perpetrated by competition, hoping to make those advertisers that rank higher for given keywords lose some of their placement.

Impression fraud is a bit trickier to correct than click fraud, as there is no exchange of money, simply a lessening of the apparent effectiveness of your ad. At the advertiser end, proving impression fraud is also more difficult; you have no visitors to your site as a result of the fraud.

We don't know of any attempts being made by the marketing providers to curb impression fraud or by software providers to create tools to dissuade it. Thankfully, it is not as large of a problem right now as click fraud. Before it becomes a bigger problem, the PPC advertising providers will hopefully find a way to reduce the occurrence of impression fraud. The best solution we see is for a limit to be placed by the pay-per-click provider on the number of times that a single IP address can view your ad.

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Click Fraud Ethics

Hopefully, the provider will quickly and willingly act upon your notification of fraud. If not, there are certain steps you should take to make certain that the provider will be more ethical in future dealings

You can complain to one of the internet's business bureaus such as the BBB Online.

You can register a complaint against the company at

If you don't have any success with your attempts and feel like the PPC marketing company handled you unprofessionally, go ahead and let the world know; that's what forums and blogs are for.

If the PPC provider puts up roadblocks, ignores or refuses you, we recommend that you turn it over to a lawyer who specializes in internet marketing law. We also recommend this course when attempting to get action against any particular competitor who has been found responsible for the fraud. You may be tempted to return the favor against the competitor who cost you so much money, but we highly recommend that you do not do so. You will lose any upper hand you might have had in your litigation against them.

The purpose of any action taken should be to either warn away future click fraud victims or to complain loudly enough for the provider to care. Hopefully, it results in an improvement for you or for other advertisers. The providers have a long way yet to go in curbing click fraud, but the majority of them really are interested in the quality of their results, both for the searcher and the advertiser. Any PPC provider who wants to stick around needs have a vested interest in wiping out click fraud.

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