In this article we explain why click fraudsters are targeting high value ad keywords, how their click fraud scam works, and we provide a strategy for reducing your exposure to click fraud by removing high risk ad keywords from your campaigns.
What is click fraud?
Click fraud is an online scam which generates fake clicks on ads, resulting in huge losses for advertisers, and massive earnings for criminals. It typically works like this:
- A criminal sets up a website which can display search results. For example, if you search for "gucci shoes", results for shoes will be shown.
- The criminal contacts an ad network like Microsoft Ads, and requests a publisher advertising account. This publisher advertising account allows the scammer to place search adverts on his website. That means when you search for "gucci shoes", you'll see adverts for luxury shoes mixed in with the search results.
- The criminal hires a bot programmer to create a click fraud bot. The bot will be programmed so it closely resembles a real internet user, and its traffic will be routed through a residential proxy service, ensuring different IP addresses are used every time it clicks on an ad.
- The bot goes to the criminal's website, searches for a high value keyword, and then clicks on the advert. When the bot arrives at the advertiser's website, it may attempt to generate a fake conversion. You can read more about this in our article, What is conversion fraud?
Step 4 is repeated thousands of times each day. For every fake click, the advertiser pays money to the ad network, and the ad network shares this money with the criminal.
How are ad keywords used in click fraud?
As we saw in the example above, criminals target specific ad keywords due to their high value. The reason for this is the payout per click is relative to the value of the keyword. In other words, a keyword which costs $100 per click will earn the criminals significantly more money than a keyword which costs a dollar.
For every click, the ad network typically keeps around 50% of the cost per click, and gives the remaining half to the publisher. Therefore, to maximize earnings, click fraudsters' bots search for high value keywords before clicking on an advert.
Typically, criminals research which keywords have the highest cost per click, and hard-code their bots to only search for those keywords. That means if your ad keywords have been targeted for click fraud, you're going to get hit with fake clicks every day.
How does removing ad keywords protect your campaigns from click fraud?
If your ad keywords are being targeted by click fraudsters, removing the keywords from your campaigns prevents those keywords from triggering your ads. However, it doesn't always make sense to remove the keywords from your campaigns, but instead to price the fraud into your product.
For example, let's assume you have a keyword which is responsible for a large portion of your sales, but the Polygraph dashboard shows the keyword is causing a few dozen fake clicks each month. If you remove the keyword from your campaigns, it'll prevent future click fraud, but it'll also reduce your sales. Therefore, in this instance, it's better to keep using the keyword, and adjust your prices to cover the amount of money you're losing to click fraud each month.
On the other hand, if you have a keyword which isn't driving sales, and it's being targeted by click fraudsters, it may make sense to remove the keyword from your campaigns.
How can I see if my ad keywords are being targeted by scammers?
Polygraph monitors hundreds of thousands of ad keywords for click fraud, so we can see which keywords are being targeted by scammers. That means when you use Polygraph to monitor your ad clicks for fraud, we can see which of your keywords are at risk.
We display this information in the Keywords section of the Polygraph dashboard. You can see which of your keywords are actively being targeted by criminals, and which have been targeted within the past six months. Additionally, you can see how many times click fraud scammers have used each keyword to click on your ads.
Criminals are targeting high value ad keywords to maximize their earnings from click fraud. Polygraph is able to see which keywords are being targeted, so we can warn you if your ads are at risk of click fraud.
An excellent strategy for avoiding click fraud is to remove at risk ad keywords from your campaigns, however sometimes it's better to price the fraud into your product if the keywords are driving your sales.