If you are a marketer or business owner utilizing pay-per-click (PPC) advertising then you understand a very real fact: PPC marketing has evolved over the past two decades supplanting the traditional methods of advertising to consumers. In the past the print media, TV media, billboards, and direct marketing advertising were the path to consumer purchases.
Today and moving into the future, online advertising will continue to evolve and provide businesses with the benefits:
- Reach: PPC ads can and do reach more consumers at a fraction of the costs of many traditional advertising paths
- Analytics: businesses can review real-time analytics and data and closely monitor their ad spend dependent upon what the data uncovers
- Adjust Strategies: marketers are able adjust, on the fly in real-time, their marketing strategies based on the results of what the analytics are telling them
Click Fraud – The Dark Side of Advertising
But there is a dark side. . . a very dark side that threatens every business that relies upon online advertising to generate new revenue.
For virtually any business the #1 threat to online marketing success today is the insidious and illegal practice of click fraud. What is the financial impact of click fraud on your business?
“Global advertising revenue wasted on fraudulent traffic or clicks could reach $16.4 billion in 2017.” –Business Insider (March 2017)
A solution to combat click fraud exists but before you can defend your business using this solution, you must first understand click fraud.
What is Click Fraud?
Click fraud has many facets. One facet is the act of illegally and intentionally clicking on pay-per-click ads to increase a particular website’s revenue. This form of click fraud, often performed by human click farms on foreign soil, is a method designed to steal money from Google and other advertising platforms.
Another facet of click fraud, and the most dangerous threat to businesses online advertising today, is a person or malicious bot clicking on your ad with the intent to drain your advertising budget. More precisely, this form of click fraud is designed to steal your ad dollars in an attempt to damage your businesses’ ability to generate new clients through your advertising campaigns. Note: Click fraud is different from invalid clicks in that it is intentional, malicious and has no potential for the ad to result in a sale.
What is a Bot?
The nickname “bot” is derived from the word robot. The simplest definition: An internet bot is software that performs an automated task over the Internet. It is an automated application used to perform simple and repetitive tasks that would be time-consuming, mundane or impossible for a human to perform.
One example of good bots are Google’s version called Googlebot which crawl the Internet and discover new and updated pages to be added to the Google index.
But the dark side of the bot world is that of the malicious bot.
What is a Malicious Bot?
A malicious fraud bot is programmed to attack your pay-per-click (PPC) ads by intentionally clicking on your ads without an intention of buying your products or services.
Although there are a plethora of malicious bots attacking users across the internet, including malicious chat bots, malicious file sharing bots, and malicious malware bots designed to create zombie bot nets, let’s focus on malicious bots that carry out click fraud.
What is the Purpose of Click Fraud by Malicious Bots?
The #1 purpose of click fraud by malicious bots aimed at your ads is to intentionally and systematically drain (steal) your advertising budget. Once your ad budget has been exhausted, your pay-per-click ads will either cease to show up in the PPC listings for the keywords you are targeting or your ads will lose top position(s) making it much more difficult for prospective customers to see your ads.
Click fraud is also performed directly by unscrupulous people in settings often referred to as click farms. According to multiple sources click farms are defined as:
“A click farm is a form of click fraud, where a large group of low-paid workers are hired to click on paid advertising links for the click fraudster (click farm master or click farmer).”
The reasons for malicious human click fraud can be to either drain a competitor’s PPC ad campaigns rendering them useless or to intentionally generate illegal revenues by clicking on ads that pay the click fraudster money for total number of clicks on a particular ad.
Click Fraud’s Harmful Impact on Businesses
The obvious negative effect of click fraud, depending on the size of the PPC advertising campaign, is the hundreds, thousands, or millions of dollars stolen every month which drives up the advertising costs for businesses. In addition to this lost buying power, another damaging side effect is the skewed and erroneous analytics a campaign will produce due to click fraud. Marketers, based on the erroneous analytics skewed by click fraud they receive during their monitoring of their ad campaigns, will make adjustments, spend ad dollars, cut spending, or pay for new content and design. The results often don’t fix the perceived “problems” and this process of adjustments can be an ongoing continual cost. Manpower and time wasted, resources misdirected, and poor performance lead to a frustrating cycle.