Anyone running a business online will eventually come to rely on pay per click marketing on one of the ad platforms. PPC is one of the most popular ways to promote any business online and can be very cost effective, if done right. Anyone who has worked with Google Ads or Adsense in any way has most likely heard of invalid clicks.
Google refers to any non-genuine or accidental click on a paid link as an ‘invalid click’. But, what exactly is an invalid click? And, when you look into it, is it something you should be paying more attention to?
What exactly are invalid clicks?
An invalid click can cover a very wide range of activities on a paid link. They can affect paid search engine results, display ads, video impressions and even app downloads. So what constitutes an invalid click?
Perhaps the most obvious is someone clicking on your link by accident. This is normally when someone clicks your link on a website and realises they didn’t mean to, so clicks off. The bounce rate is, of course, very high and you get no leads or sales from these kinds of clicks.
Clicks on your paid ads cost you money every time someone clicks on it, and some people will use this in a vindictive manner. It might be an ex-employee, a business competitor or even someone who just doesn’t like your brand for some reason.
Around half of all internet traffic is actually automated, with web crawlers and bots working 24/7 for a variety of reasons. Now, not all bots are vindictive. But it’s thought that around 25% of all bot activity is designed for fraudulent purposes, and this includes stealing advertising funds.
The term ad fraud, or click fraud, has become well known in the world of PPC marketing. High profile ad fraud rings such as Methbot and 3ve have boosted the profile in recent years, and more people are aware that organised criminals are targeting paid ads.
How do these types of invalid clicks affect businesses?
It’s been proven that anything up to 30% of all clicks on pay per click ads are from fraudulent sources. What this means is that if you’re spending any money on PPC, on Google Ads, Facebook, Bing or content platforms like Taboola, you’re paying up to a third of your budget for what is effectively nothing.
In fact, click fraud is thought to cost the advertising industry anything up to $25 billion in 2019. This is forecast to rise to around $35 billion by 2025, although some forecasts put this at over $40 billion.
Ilan Missulawin, co-founder of anti-click fraud software ClickCease says, “Despite many high profile cases of click fraud being shut down by the advertising networks in recent years, this kind of activity continues to proliferate. The reason for this is that setting up an ad fraud network is both relatively simple and has great potential for profits.”
And despite Google and the other ad networks doing their best to close loopholes for fraudsters, there is always another way in. So how does this work in the real world?
“The typical model is that a fraudster will set up a series of spoofed (copied) websites that look like well known publishers”, says Ilan. “They then sign up for Google Adsense or other paid advertising content to host ads on these sites. It’s then relatively simple to channel fake traffic like bots or click farms though these ads to collect the payout.”
And does this affect every business?
“Typically ad fraud and click fraud affects high value clicks, but the truth is, it can affect any paid click campaign”, explains Ilan. “In fact, some of the typical ads that can be hugely impacted are those for on demand services like plumbing, or for specialist business services”.
In short; whatever your business, if you’re paying for clicks, you’re likely being impacted by invalid clicks on your ad campaigns.
Who protects me from invalid clicks?
The ad platforms do work to protect their customers from invalid clicks, or organised click fraud. Google, for example, will identify accidental clicks and make sure customers never pay for these by analysing high bounce rates on paid ads.
Facebook, Google and Microsoft have all been involved in dismantling organised click fraud rings in recent years. And Google particularly have worked to make their platform a little more secure.
But the truth is, these efforts are still falling flat. For example, the new generation of click fraud comes from apps with malware which is side loaded, which is hard for the networks to defend against. And advanced botnet algorithms are constantly testing the effectiveness of these processes.
“Anti-click fraud software has become an essential tool for marketers looking to maximise their return on investment”, explains Ilan from ClickCease. “The reason for this is that we are focused on combating click fraud, and our processes work differently to the big ad platforms. Although they do their bit, they’re more concerned with the integrity of their own platforms rather than actually stopping this fraudulent activity”, he says.
“The truth is, if everyone knew how much their paid ads were affected by these invalid clicks, or click fraud, everyone would run a diagnostic”.
Click fraud and ad fraud are still growing, but you can find out more in this free guide from ClickCease.