Much of the advertising on the Internet is paid per clicks. Advertisers only pay when a potential customer clicks on their advertisement, for example their banner advertisement or their advertisement on a search engine (SEA paid search).
In any case, this is the way in which the large web advertising agencies such as Google AdWords or Bing Ads present their model. However, it is clear for advertisers that they do not always obtain the expected results despite a high click-through rate. This phenomenon is partly explained by click fraud.
Click fraud: Reasons
Under the term click fraud, we must understand the targeted manipulation of advertising payment systems through false clicks generated on ads, banner ads or affiliate links. Scammers aim to profit from the pay-per-click system (or Cost Per Click CPC) , that is, the revenue generation system only when an active user clicks on an advertising medium.
A simulated click or one without real interest in the proposed offer is not without consequences for the advertiser, or even, depending on the objectives of the fraudster, for the operator who disseminates the advertisement on his site.
While the advertiser is literally losing money through unnecessary clicks, you might think that the publisher of the site, on the other hand, takes advantage of it, increasing its commissions. In truth, the latter risks being excluded from advertising cooperation. So what pushes to simulate clicks:
Obtaining a Competitive Advantage
When site publishers initiate fraud, their goal is to generate more revenue . It is then a question of increasing the number of clicks on their own sitemanually or by using dedicated software. This is how a practice appeared in particular of making more clicks on ads responding to specific keywords, in order to generate higher prices in certain sectors of activity.
In all cases, this is detrimental to advertising clients. These practices have naturally fueled the ire of market leaders in search engine advertising such as Google Ad Words and Bing Ads, as they lead to growing distrust from their customers. The penalties that site operators can expect are all the more dire.
However, click fraud is rarely practiced by the sites hosting the ads. It is much more the competitors who use it to gain a competitive advantage . These may be other advertisers, who want to add to their competitors’ advertising budget unnecessarily or even completely exhaust it.
Their objective is thus to see their competitors leave the game and that their advertisements disappear from search engines or relevant partner sites. More insidious, a method that still comes back to site operators, who sometimes try to simulate clicks on a competing site in order to see the latter rejected by the advertising network.
Another form of click fraud does not relate to paid advertisements but to the number of views of video portals such as YouTube, Vimeo or Dailymotion. The goal is then to increase the views of the clips to be more visible and generate more income. Likewise, we can talk about click fraud on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter with the buying practices of Likes .
Click Fraud Techniques
Click fraud is carried out manually or automatically (by software). Here are some common methods:
Manual clicks: this method is not the most efficient. It consists in generating clicks manually. Either the fraudster clicks on the ads themselves, or they enlist the help of their friends, relatives or colleagues.
Click farms: these are mass clicks on banner ads, ads, videos or social media posts by employees who are often poorly paid and outsourced. The consequences of these abusive clicks can be significant.
Robots: Software is programmed to generate automatic clicks, making manual clicks by real people unnecessary.
Botnet: it is about generating clicks thanks to several robots hosted on hacked servers. This method generates a large number of clicks under different IP addresses.
In addition, certain campaigns on social networks or forums encourage clicking on advertisements or posts. Internet users thus themselves contribute to fraud by generating unnecessary costs for advertisers.
What to do Against Click Fraud?
Any advertising agency worthy of the name has developed means to fight against click fraud. This allows platforms like Google and Microsoft not only to preserve the trust of their customers but also to protect themselves from complaints from advertisers furious at having to pay huge bills.
Advertisers, who do not believe in the extreme effectiveness of the filters put in place by advertising agencies, can verify suspicious clicks themselves and then report them.
Click Fraud Filters
In principle, there are manual and automatic methods to detect click fraud. Google, for example, has implemented an online filter that checks all clicks on the Display network and automatically analyzes suspicious behavior by correlating time and date data with IP addresses.
Upon observation of potentially malicious clicks, Google employees perform manual checks. In addition, AdWords users have the option of reporting clicks that they think are fraudulent. If the fraud is finally proven, the advertiser is compensated.
Some Easy to Spot Frauds
To detect abusive clicks, advertisers typically use the same tracking tools as those used to find out if a campaign is working. Google Analytics, for example, allows you to observe variations in the number of clicks on the server side.
Behaviors can be singled out, such as the increase in visits despite a stagnant conversion rate. It is therefore advisable to compare the apparently fraudulent clicks with the web server’s log file . For that, some useful information:
The time stamp of the click
The timestamp of an action on the site
The user agent
Comparing the timestamps helps track which clicks go to the ad’s website, but more importantly do not result in a conversion.
If, for the same IP address, there are clearly many click timestamps but not a single action timestamp, then there is strong reason to believe in click fraud. By then identifying the user agent, advertisers can see whether the clicks for a given IP address are coming from multiple users or, on the contrary, from the same device.
If many clicks are clearly recorded for a single IP address, advertisers should check if it is a proxy server . These communication interfaces are common in public Internet accesses, such as cafes, universities or even airports.
Proxy servers can then sometimes be used to conceal click fraud. An analysis of user behavior on the site displaying the advertisement can then be useful. Repeated operating modes and not natural and fluctuating navigation can strongly suggest the appearance of malicious clicks.
The IP addresses from which the fraud originates can be blocked by the operators of the advertising networks. Ads are no longer served to users at that address, eliminating bogus clicks. A sure way to bypass click fraud is also to carry out re marketing campaigns : in fact, these allow advertisements to be served only to users who have already visited the site and who may have taken a specific action there.
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