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  • Writer's pictureKristiana - Founder & PPC Manager

Story time - Click Fraud

This is a case study on how click fraud affected one of our biggest PPC accounts in an extremely competitive lead generation industry. There was clear evidence that someone is trying to remove advertisers for certain keywords with high CPC.

Here is what happened: Client conversion rates dropped from around 25% account average to 1% and cost per lead increased with over £900 per lead in just a few days. There were no variables or tests, all pages worked properly and loaded fast, it wasn't just a bad day. Conversion rates dropped in half, then by 75% and then went to almost 0%.

After analysing the account for many hours and submitting countless tests, we found nothing. The only difference in performance was a huge drop in conversion rates and an increase in bounce rate. As a PPC manager with over 5 years experience I've never seen severe click fraud, involving bots and causing such huge damages overnight. The client confirmed they subscribed to a click fraud protection tool as we previously asked them to, so we assumed the fault must be in the Google Ads account. Just to eliminate click fraud, the most absurd option, we asked to have a look at the PPC protection tool dashboard.

It was only detecting 10% of all clicks detected on the ads account! That's 90% trash traffic, over 20 potential results lost and more than £1,000 per day drained.

The click fraud protection tool had stopped working when the client updated their website and CRM, leaving out some tracking codes.This costed a lot of money and lost leads to the client, but also gave us a very valuable insight on the click fraud going on in their industry.

You can see the before and after, showing how much difference ClickCease, a click fraud protection tool, has made to the account. On the left you can see 22.04.2020, showing metrics for Google ads with no click fraud protection, while on the right you see results from 27.04.2020, when ClickCease was in use.

There are different types of click fraud, to name a few:

  • Competitors clicking your ads - this is a standard and basic form of click fraud. Competitors use one or multiple devices to click your search ads. Their only goal is to drain your budget and steal your traffic. You loose valuable traffic and potential clients, as well as the money you pay per click.

  • Returning users browsing your website for information - this isn't necessarily click fraud, but it can be a source of unwanted PPC spend. You may have excellent content and many users may come to your website to read your blogs. Others will just research for months before they submit a contact form, if they ever decide to do so. Once again, establish how many visits it takes for a visitor to convert and limit their number of clicks.

  • Click farms and bot traffic - this is the worst type of click fraud, the one our client was affected by. Without being overly dramatic, it's safe to say that type of budget draining is the worst and impossible to combat without PPC protection. There are many ways competitors could use click farms and bot to click your ads, without you being able to establish that your traffic isn't human.

  • Display network click fraud - this one is usually done by dodgy website owners, who use bots or click farms to click ads they host on their own websites and blogs. They host entire networks of low quality websites for the sole purpose of draining money from Google and advertisers. Occasionally genuine bloggers and website owners would be approached and blackmailed by scammers, threatening to flood their website with bot traffic, which would result in demonetisation for the site owners.

Click bots for example, could target your website and find any keyword you advertise for and click your ads unlimited numbers of times. Bots also switch their IP, rotating different IP addresses for every click. They change the device fingerprint and can be set up to simulate human traffic, change device types and move cursors or even perform specific tasks. Something like the gif below, where you see a Chinese mobile click farm and multiple devices performing tasks.

It is possible to tell if you are a victim of click fraud, especially if you notice an increase in traffic from a certain campaign, drop in conversions and increase of invalid clicks and bounce rate. It is however much harder to tell what type of click fraud you are experiencing, unless if you have some sort of monitoring service or click fraud protection tool.

Other signs that someone is clicking your ads to drain your budget include discrepancies in Google ads and Analytics data, an increase in returning visitors in GA and in this case, much higher number of clicks from 'unknown' age groups on Google ads. Anything suspicious like high referral traffic from spam websites may be another indicator that your PPC campaigns are being targeted.

While Google will do their best to assure you that they already protect you from click fraud, that's far from the truth. With every click Google gets paid, so there is no reason why they would take search ads click fraud as seriously as Ad Sense click fraud, where they're the ones paying out. It is extremely difficult to get a refund and only possible if Google establishes there is suspicious activity on your account. Let me tell you that they won't find anything. Here is what they said they would need in order to investigate suspicious activity

To stop click fraud ASAP and concentrate on generating high quality leads, we prioritised preventing damage, instead of chasing refunds from Google. Once we have the weblogs from our click fraud prevention tool, we will pass it on to Google and hope for a refund.

Even if you don't think your competitors would be clicking your ads or using click farms, having PPC protection software has it's other benefits. Most click fraud prevention comes with limiting the number of clicks a users can make, keeping a web log of all IPs clicking your ads and attributing them to your campaigns and keywords, as well as screen recordings, just like hotjar. A click fraud prevention subscription also comes with a free trial, so even if it makes no difference, there is nothing to lose.

Other click fraud prevention methods include manually tracking and blocking IPs or creating Google Analytics audiences and sharing them with your ads accounts, for exclusion audiences. This has its downsides, as returning visitors may be much more likely to convert, especially in industries like retail. Many users would research and come back to your website or product. After all, this is the whole point of remarketing campaigns.

Here is a screenshot of the data we have and proof that our client has been a victim of intentional and professional click fraud

This screenshot of the ClickCease dashboard shows PPC analysis and which campaigns and keywords are being targeted. To protect sensitive details about keywords and targeting, we have hidden the campaign names, but you can clearly see specific campaigns being targeted through VPNs, with multiple clicks and with devices marked as fraudulent.

Since Click Fraud prevention went back on, lead quality, conversion rates and cost per click returned to normal.

Moral of the story: you definitely need click fraud protection. Go ahead and try some for free if you haven't already.


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