What is PPC Marketing Click Fraud and How Do You Fight It?

Internet search engine Pay per Click (PPC) marketing is a very powerful and flexible advertising tool for website owners and marketers.

PPC marketing networks place your adverts as sponsored sites on search engines or sites with related content. When a searcher clicks on your advert to visit your site, the PPC network debits you the agreed click fee and pays part of this to the owner of the site where the advert appeared.

Sometimes a malicious or criminally minded party will click on your adverts – not to visit your site, but just to create these payments. This is PPC marketing click fraud.

Click fraud is presently believed to represent 5 to 15 percent of all PPC clicks (some sectors are worse than others) and the cost to the advertisers in wasted money and lost potential advertising presence can be considerable.

There are two basic forms of click fraud:

1.    "Competitor Clicks".

A competitor tries to waste your pay per click budget by repeatedly clicking on your adverts through simple repetition manually or complex computer driven campaigns.  This means you go offline and his ads get more profile.

This form of PPC marketing fraud is now ‘relatively’ easy to detect and deal with.

2.     “Affiliate Fraud”

This type of click fraud is more difficult to detect and manage.

Many websites are hosting paid advertising somewhere on their pages. These ads usually relate to the topic of the page and are delivered by the PPC marketing network based on keywords found on the page. Every time one of these ads is clicked, the network bills the advertiser and gives as much as 50% to the owner of the site the click came from.

The potential to scam this sort of system are obvious.  By exploiting fake IP addresses, using algorithms to determine click behaviours and finding ways to destroy identifying references, a fraudster can operate for months or even years without getting detected. If done properly, it can be next to impossible for even the major PPC marketing networks to detect.

Role of the PPC Networks

The PPC networks should ideally bear the main responsibility for dealing with legitimate refund requests and working to limit click fraud. They are indeed improving their ability to track fraudulent clicks but the volumes of clicks they work with make guarding any one advertiser’s campaigns a lower priority. They can and do make refunds without prompting when they come across fraud but the advertiser should look out for themselves too.

How to Guard Against Click Fraud

Given the evolving nature of this area, no approach can be guaranteed to be 100% effective against pay per click marketing fraud but, as advertiser, you should:

  • Use realistic daily budgets to spread your spend over the month to avoid it being blown in one click fraud session
  • Be cautious in your use of affiliate sites
  • Capture IP numbers of visitors to your sites:
    Every visitor has an IP address and your server records it. If you record the IP of all visits to your site, you can eventually see how often a specific IP visits the site and how the user got there.
    If you find the same IP address appearing repeatedly many times over hours and days and it comes from one of your paid ads, you are almost certainly the victim of click fraud
  • Track competitor IP addresses if you can to see if they show up in your web logs
  • Visits from an affiliate partner site generate a unique reference number. Record those numbers whenever possible and compare with your logs
  • Check where visits originate to see if any strange or unexplainable patterns appear. For example, the Far East, India in particular, is home to companies who market their services to fraudsters

If you think you have suffered from click fraud, send a detailed report to the PPC network concerned - preferably within 2 months of the fraud.

NCS Pay per Click Marketing Services

NCS offers pay per click marketing consultancy and advertising management programmes tailored for your business requirements and budget. We also offer Advanced PPC Monitoring to counter PPC marketing click fraud:

NCS Advanced PPC Monitoring offers:

  • Tracking URLs without having to set them up on your site. These can cover individual or groups of PPC terms
  • NCS Analyst checks on your tracking activity to highlight suspicious clicks detected
  • Direct online access to reports on activity on your PPC terms with visitor IP addresses
  • Optional sales conversion from your PPC terms  (some code needs to be placed on your website sales acknowledgement page)

See our Pay per Click advertising management service and contact us for more details.

Net Commerce Solutions
Internet search engine Pay per Click (PPC) marketing for cost-effective results


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