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Fight PPC Click Fraud and Return to Profitability – SEO vs. PPC

The subject of PPC fraud may sound antithetical to you. After all, Google operates the largest PPC advertising network in the world via AdWords, and you are probably thinking, “Surely you aren’t suggesting that Google is ripping me off… Are you?”

After reading this article I’ll let you draw your own conclusion on whether Google is culpable to this widely perpetrated theft. But one thing is sure, click fraud is a major issue that PPC advertisers must be aware of and track.

Online platforms and search engines pay lip service to the issue, yet in a recent study of search marketers, 50% currently track or plan to track click fraud for their clients. If you are investing in PPC as a major part of your online customer development process, and if your marketing agency is not auditing your traffic, you should request them to do so. But then again, how much incentive does your agency have to reduce billings in the lucrative category of PPC digital marketing?

There are many sources of information on click fraud available with a simple Google search for the phrase ‘PPC fraud’ – check out this video with Adam Sculthorpe and Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank discussing Google’s click fraud problem.

PPC (pay per click) fraud is committed by online bandits for the purpose of inflating the marketing spend of online advertisers using PPC. This hits the wallets of competitors by driving up the cost of popular keywords causing them to overpay for a reduced result (conversion). To say nothing of the poor advertiser who paid for the fraudulent click traffic.

Top 4 sources of potential PPC fraud:

#1 – PPC Ad placement is one possible entry point for fraud. When you create a Google AdSense account, Google places ads on your website or blog that are relevant to your content. And when visitors click an ad, you receive a fee, regardless of whether they purchase anything. A common trick that some online criminals will use is to operate a series of websites where they then produce fraudulent clicks to inflate their views and earnings.

Remember, with AdSense, you have no control over the site’s that your ads run on. Meaning fraudsters can obtain your inventory by tricking Google into thinking they are a relevant and credible place to run your advertising, and though you will see traffic reports that show engagement, these “clicks” will be either bots or unqualified traffic. e.g. If you are a dentist in Mesa AZ, do you care that someone from Florida has clicked your ad? Of course not, in fact, you do not want this traffic, since you are paying for it!

#2 – Artificial clicks (or unqualified clicks) are those produced by humans for the sole purpose of driving up the advertising cost of competitors sites. Make no mistake; this is real, and it is happening! Have you ever looked at a region report in Google Analytics or other website monitoring tool? You will be surprised at how much traffic you are receiving from China, Ukraine, Russia and countries where the odds are good the person on the other end of the click doesn’t even understand English.

To fight this problem, there are ways to filter your campaign traffic and specify regions where your ads will be shown. In fact, Google tracks clicks through IP addresses to help police fraudulent practices as they have an obvious interest in advertisers receiving value and reinvesting in additional campaigns. But even still, the reality is, many human clicks are coming from outside the region you serve. The question is, do you know how many clicks on your ads are unqualified?
One case study that we found showed a PPC campaign for a Chiropractor in Cincinnati Ohio. This Doctors Google Adwords campaign cost $120, or $0.20 per click based on 600 ad clicks.

Not too bad. Until you learn that after backing out more than 50% of the bot clicks, and another 45% of clicks that were outside his region, the final qualified leads totaled just four (4). You read that correctly. His actual cost per qualified click was $30 for this campaign, not $0.20!

Not every case will be so extreme, but I have seen where the best cases for click fraud increases bid costs by 6 to 10 times, though generally, the increase in cost is closer to 50 times! Note, our example above carried a differential between the “campaign” cost and actual, of 150 times!

#3 – Splogging is a reference to siphoning and blogging and occurs when the fraudster operates blogs containing duplicate content from other popular legitimate blogs. By linking the “splog” to a high traffic legitimate blog, this provides the splog with a higher search engine ranking, and more traffic, which leads to clicks on the PPC ads resident on the splog site.

As you can see, it’s a clever but clearly fraudulent way to siphon traffic from legit sites and create hits on PPC ads artificially. The trouble is, not only is the splogger stealing content they are stealing your marketing dollars since none of the clicks your ad will receive are from qualified customers.

#4 – A hitbot is software designed for automated clicking of pay per click ads. This software allows clicks to bypass the monitors used by PPC social networks, platforms, and search engines. The intent of hitbot software is to deplete the advertising budget of competitors and force them to withdraw from their PPC campaigns.

Integral Ad Science speaking in 2015 on the subject of click fraud and how to prevent (or minimize the problem).

A few ways to detect if you have a PPC fraud problem.

The best place to start is to monitor your CTR (Click Through Rate). Keep an eye on abrupt changes and seek to understand why they happened. Just because you have an abrupt change in your CTR, you are looking for sudden increases, doesn’t automatically mean you have an issue. But you may.

You should also watch for unusual modifications in your conversion rates. If your ad campaign usually converts at 2 percent, and it suddenly drops, it may be a sign of click fraud. Accordingly, observe how rapidly you expend your daily budget. If you use to go thru your budget in 10 hours, and now it takes 4 hours, you should dig in and determine why the sudden change.

Many website owners are too busy focusing on things like on-page optimization, conversion, graphics, video, etc. to check their logs. You need to examine your incoming traffic logs keeping a careful eye out for suspicious IP addresses. Monitoring IP addresses should be done in conjunction with analyzing traffic from unusual geographical locations. Turn on geo-targeting if you haven’t done it already.

Remember, if you are a local business, there is no value in traffic that comes from anywhere but your main service area. Quality over quantity. Don’t fall into the trap of measuring your site’s success by traffic volume alone.

Keep an eye out for future articles on how to reduce and avoid click fraud. In the meantime, check out this short video which shows the benefits of free Google traffic powered by SEO, compared to PPC.