Click Fraud: 4 Tips to Prevent Ad Fraud for Free (and Boost Performance)

Start-ups should be aware of “click fraud” and how it may be impacting their everyday campaigns.

Advertisers lost $42 billion in 2019 due to ad fraud, suggesting that nearly 20% of all online ad dollars spent are wasted. And reports show that click fraud, or invalid clicks, is still a major problem for digital marketers in 2022.

Taking the proper steps to combat click fraud can help improve campaign performance and sales while reducing wasted ad spend.

What Is Click Fraud?

Malicious actors produce “click fraud.” They click on ads without any intent to purchase a product. They often do this at a large scale using sophisticated techniques that make tracking their behavior very difficult.

Each time an ad is clicked, they then receive a small portion of the fee that was charged to the advertiser for running the pay-per-click (PPC) ad.

PPC ads are one of the top options by advertisers due to their perceived accountability. If an ad receives a click, then it’s assumed it was by a real human with actual buyer intent.

However, ads can run with millions of impressions across thousands of websites with relative ease, so tracking their placements to ensure they’re not clicked on by malicious actors is near impossible.

Some of the techniques the fraudsters use include click bots, malware, hidden ads that are “stacked” or buried in small pixels, click farms, fake URL attribution, and more.

How Click Fraud Hurts Your Campaigns

Since PPC ads charge on a per-click basis, every invalid click from click fraud represents wasted money. In theory, an ambitious bot attack could consume an entire marketing budget by simply clicking obsessively on an online advertisement.

Popular ad networks, such as Google Ads and Facebook Ads, do provide built-in fraud protection services. However, it’s important to be aware that it provides a conflict of interest for their business. The more fraud they detect, then the less revenue they’ll generate as they’ll have less ad inventory to sell.

This may be especially true with smaller, lesser-known ad networks where available ad inventory is tighter and lower quality sites can make up a larger portion of their offering.

How to Combat Fraudulent Clicks

There are several fraud prevention services available that charge a nominal monthly fee, but there are also a few free steps that advertisers can take to help protect their campaigns from click fraud and invalid clicks:

1. Monitor invalid click activity.

First and foremost, make use of the information that may already be available with invalid clicks.

Google Ads, for example, provides an invalid click report in its dashboard. The campaign below (Figure 1) shows 15%-20% invalid clicks on some large campaigns. Google does reimburse the advertiser for these clicks, but reviewing them can help give a sense of the amount of fraud that may be happening across other networks for similar campaigns.

To access the “invalid clicks” report in Google Ads, select a campaign and then select “columns” in the navigation area. From there, add the appropriate columns related to invalid clicks.

Figure 1

Chart: Invalid Click Rate


Image: Courtesy of Fraud Blocker

2. Add a honeypot to lead forms to ID click fraud.

Click bots, or spambots, are some of the most popular forms of click fraud, due to the high volume of activity they produce.

But there’s a surprisingly easy way to trick them with what essentially amounts to a hidden captcha.

A normal user will complete each of the lead form fields that are visible on the page. However, a honeypot creates an additional invisible field. Bots complete this field because they are reading the HTML on the page. Marketers can quickly review the source of the leads, including their IP addresses, and block them from future ad campaigns.

Figure 2

The Honeypot Technique


3. Identify and avoid low-quality sites.

Most ad platforms provide detailed analytics about where online ads are running and how many clicks or conversions they’re receiving. It can also include data on each click such as the IP address and geographic location it came from.

Remove or block sites with unusually low performance or ones that came from suspicious websites or locations. Exclude them from future campaigns (see Figure 3 below). IP addresses can also be blocked in Google Ads and other leading networks.

To view the websites Google Ads automatically serves display ads for a specific campaign, select “Content,” and then “Where ads showed.”

Figure 3

Identify Low-Quality Sites

Image: Courtesy of Fraud Blocker

4. Block your competitors.

Businesses in highly competitive industries often pay a premium for each ad click. The legal industry, for example, has some of the most expensive keywords in 2022 with the cost-per-click exceeding $500 for very targeted search terms.

Businesses can easily drain their competitor’s budgets by repeatedly clicking on their ads. This may seem like a smaller crime. However, it can still have a meaningful impact on their competitor’s ability to generate sales. This is especially true in industries that pay a lot for each click.

To help mitigate this issue, advertisers should consider preventing their ads from displaying on their competitor’s PCs and mobile devices. This should include their locations, such as their headquarters, field offices, and any home locations of their key employees.

In Google Ads’ reports, under “campaign settings,” marketers can exclude zip codes, distance from a specific address, and IP addresses.

This may reduce your exposure to some potentially legitimate customers, but it may be worth the constant exposure of your ads to the wrong people.

By taking these four steps and maintaining an awareness of ad fraud, advertisers can help clean up their ad campaigns and improve their overall return-on-investment (ROI).