Surprise, Surprise: Not All Click Fraud Is Malicious

Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in the digital advertising space is aware of click fraud. It is a big problem known by many different names: click fraud, ad fraud, PPC fraud, Google click fraud, and so on. But here is something you might not know: not all instances of click fraud are malicious. We just assume they are because the word ‘fraud’ is involved.

There are some instances in which click fraud is perpetrated by well-meaning people who are not purposely trying to inflict harm. Although such cases are rare, they are costly, nonetheless. Every incidence of click fraud, regardless of intent, cost advertisers money and skews their analytics.

Click Fraud in a Nutshell

Click fraud can take many forms. It can affect websites, mobile apps, and even streaming platforms. At its core, click fraud is about clicking or displaying ads without any intent to actually buy something. The click on an ad display still costs the advertiser money. But in return, the advertiser gets nothing.

Easy Examples of Click Fraud

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‘Click fraud’ is a pretty broad term by necessity. If we tried to define every form it takes more accurately, there would be a lot of terms to remember. A better way to approach the topic is to look at several examples of click fraud, just to get a feel for how it works.

1. Clicking Ads with Bots

The easiest form of click fraud to understand is setting up bots to automatically click online ads. Imagine an ad publisher who signs up with Google to be part of its ad network. Google matches user searches with ads, sending the most appropriate ads to every publisher on its network.

Imagine that our fictional publisher is a scammer. He sets up several websites for the sole purpose of displaying ads sent by Google. He then programs automated pieces of software known as click bots to continuously click on those ads. Every click represents a charge to the advertiser. Google gets a certain percentage while the rogue publisher gets the rest.

2. Accidental Taps on Mobile

The second example could have this same publisher working out a deal to display ads in mobile apps. The ads are very small and conveniently placed in on-screen locations likely to be tapped by mobile users. If a user’s aim is off by just a bit, they can unknowingly tap the ad in question. Once again, the advertiser is charged and the publisher makes money.

3. Ads Displayed on a Streaming Platform

When it comes to platforms that stream music and video, advertisers are not necessarily looking for clicks or taps. They are more interested in displays. Rogue publishers will infuse code that artificially inflates display numbers so as to charge advertisers more.

All three examples involve malicious intent by rogue ad publishers. But again, not all instances of click fraud are malicious in their intent. People with very good intentions can perpetrate click fraud without even realizing what they are doing.

Clicking to Promote a Company

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Non-malicious click fraud can be perpetrated by consumers trying to promote a favorite company. They think they are doing a good thing by encouraging all their friends and family members to Google the company and then click on its ads. After all, ad clicks increase traffic and boost sales, right? Not if people aren’t actually buying anything.

Imagine a small business owner jumping into PPC advertising for the first time. A family member with good intentions wants to help her promote her business. She tells everyone she knows to click on her sibling’s ads. But because none of those people buy anything, the business owner is spending money and getting nothing in return.

Clicking Instead of Bookmarking

Another non-malicious example involves consumers using ads instead of mobile bookmarks. You might have a consumer who doesn’t know how bookmarks work. But he does know that he has a number of favorite websites whose addresses he can’t remember. He sees their ads on his cell phone all the time.

Whenever he wants to visit one of their sites, he looks for an ad and taps on it. He goes right to the site with no harm done, right? Wrong. Once again, the advertiser is spending money and getting nothing for it. Even though the consumer’s intent is not malicious, the damaging effects of his behavior remain the same.

Click Fraud Creates False Impressions

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Click fraud’s biggest concern is wasted money. A company’s entire digital advertising budget could be devastated if its ads are constantly being hit by fraudsters. But click fraud creates other problems as well. According to¬†Fraud Blocker, a company that makes a click fraud detection software package by the same name, creating false impressions is one of them.

Any good PPC advertiser pays attention to analytics data. Advertisers want to know where their ad clicks are coming from. They want to know when people are clicking on ads, what they are doing on their websites, and so on. They are especially interested in knowing how certain keywords perform in the advertising space.

Collecting and analyzing all this data isn’t done in a vacuum. It is also not done just to keep the marketing team busy. The data drives future ad campaigns. It helps the marketing team understand what works and what doesn’t. But the data is useless if it is not accurate.

Click Fraud Skews the Data

Click fraud causes a problem inasmuch as it skews the data marketing teams rely on for direction. A company might be willing to bid competitively on keywords it believes are driving positive results. But if an ad campaign is being hit by extensive click fraud, the data pertaining to those highly competitive keywords could be completely false.

Click fraud is a genuine problem that costs billions of dollars each year. Most of it is done maliciously; some of it is not malicious at all. But it is all harmful at the end of the day.