Does search engine optimization (SEO) reduce click fraud?

January 25, 2023 ∙ 5 minute read

In this article we explain why search engine optimization (SEO) reduces advertisers' click fraud risk, and we justify shifting marketing budgets away from online advertising and towards SEO.

What is SEO?

To put it simply, SEO is a process website owners can follow to increase their websites' visibility in search engines. For example, if a website is mentioned on major news websites, and frequently discussed on social media, it's likely to have a significantly better search engine ranking compared to unpopular websites.

Typically, SEO requires websites have incoming links from high ranking websites, a regularly-updated blog, and a design and structure which makes it easy for search engines to locate the websites' most important content.

SEO contrasts with online advertising in a number of ways. First, it's possible to appear on the first page of Google simply by buying advertising space, whereas it takes many months of effort to get to page one using SEO. Second, SEO can be achieved at little to no cost, whereas online advertising can be extremely expensive. Third, SEO is immune to click fraud, as there's no financial incentive for criminals to click on links which aren't paid advertisements.

What is click fraud?

Click fraud is an online scam which steals money from advertisers. It works like this:

  1. A scammer creates a website.
  2. He contacts an advertising network and opens a publisher advertising account. The publisher advertising account allows him to monetize his website by placing other companies' adverts on his webpages.
  3. He hires a bot programmer to make a click fraud bot. The bot will be developed so it closely resembles a real internet user.
  4. The bot visits the scammer's website thousands of times per day, and randomly clicks on the ads. For each of these fraudulent clicks, the advertisers pay fees to the advertising network, and the money is then shared with the website owner.

If the scammer makes an effort, such as routing his bot's traffic through random residential proxies, using bot frameworks such as Puppeteer-Extra, and ensuring the bot generates fake conversions after clicking on the ads, most advertising networks will be fooled into believing the fraudulent clicks are real.

Online advertising's multi-billion dollar problem

There are many problems with online advertising, but one stands out as being completely unacceptable. Click fraud costs advertisers tens of billions of dollars every year, and most advertising networks are not doing enough to stop it.

For example, a major advertising network currently does little to no click fraud detection in real-time or retrospectively. That means if a scammer creates a website, monetizes it using ads, and programs a basic bot to click on the ads, the advertising network will consider the clicks valid, resulting in losses for the advertisers, and income for both the advertising network and scammer.

It's difficult to understand how this is happening. Polygraph, a relatively small cybersecurity company, can detect many different types of click fraud, ranging from simple bots to highly complex click fraud systems which have been developed by sophisticated cybercrime gangs.

If a small company like Polygraph can detect click fraud, why can't a multi-billion dollar advertising network?

Click fraud has been a problem since the early days of the internet, and not enough is being done to eradicate it. Our clients send click fraud refund requests to the advertising networks every month, with each report containing details of every fake click such as who's doing it and how they're doing it, yet the scam websites responsible for the click fraud remain unpunished.

Is SEO the solution?

Yes, but not in the short term.

Getting your website to the first page of Google (or any other search engine) takes time and effort. It's not abnormal for websites to require six to twelve months of SEO work before it can break into the top 10 search results. However, if you can get your website onto the first page of Google, you can greatly reduce your ad spend, which means lower marketing costs, and less exposure to click fraud.

Additionally, it doesn't matter if bots click on your search engine listing, as it doesn't cost you anything. There's no financial incentive for scammers to do this, as they don't earn money from clicking on search engine results.

It makes sense to shift some of your marketing budget to SEO, as it'll save you money in the long term, and it will reduce your exposure to click fraud, as you're no longer relying on the advertising networks for clicks.

Conclusion

Click fraud is a major problem, mainly because most advertising networks are not doing enough to stop it.

By shifting part of your marketing budget away from online advertising and towards SEO, you can improve your website's search engine ranking, resulting in more organic traffic, and less reliance on the advertising networks. This has the pleasant side effect of reducing your exposure to click fraud.

Try Polygraph today, free of charge, and protect your ad budget from click fraud