In this article we explain the difference between click fraud from organized criminals, and click fraud from competitors, and we provide some strategies to prevent your competitors from clicking on your ads and wasting your marketing budget.
What is click fraud?
Click fraud is an online crime which steals billions of dollars from advertisers every year. Most click fraud is done by organized criminals, and usually works as follows:
- A criminal creates a website and monetizes the content using adverts. Typically, he'll choose an ad network like Google Ads or Microsoft Ads, as they have massive ad inventories, and both companies have less than ideal click fraud detection capabilities.
- The criminal programs a bot to repeatedly visit his website and click on the ads. The bot will also be programmed to generate fake conversions, such as submitting spam leads, as this tricks the ad network into believing the clicks are from real people. The bot will be routed through residential proxies to ensure unique IP addresses are used for every fake click.
- For each fake click, the advertisers pay fees to the advertising networks, and the money is shared with the criminal.
By comparison, click fraud from competitors is simplistic. It usually works as follows:
- A competitor searches for your company or service on Google or Bing. This causes your ads to be displayed.
- The competitor repeatedly clicks on your ads, causing your ad budget to be wasted. Commonly, he'll use a VPN to randomise his IP address, hoping this will hide his identity.
Fake clicks from competitors account for less than 1% of all click fraud, however its effects can be devastating, as it can quickly waste your ad budget.
Am I charged for competitor click fraud?
A common misconception amongst advertisers is the ad networks don't charge you for competitor clicks, or at least, only charge you for the first one or two clicks. This is only true if the clicks happen within seconds of each other. Unfortunately, if your competitor spaces out his fake clicks by one or two minutes, the ad networks will consider them valid, and you'll be charged. It doesn't matter if he uses the same IP address; as long as the clicks are a few minutes apart, they're considered valid.
How to recognise competitor click fraud?
As stated above, click fraud from competitors is simplistic, so there's a few things you can do to see if your competitors are clicking on your ads.
- The first thing to do is to make a list of the IP addresses clicking on your ads. Upload the list of IPs to IPinfo, and check to see if the clicks are coming from IP addresses belonging to the same VPN company. You should also check for any repeating IPs.
- The next thing to do is to make a list of the device fingerprints clicking on your ads. Check to see if the same devices are repeatedly clicking on your ads, regardless of what IP addresses they're using. This is a powerful click fraud detection technique, as most competitors will use the same few devices to click on your ads. If you're dealing with a technically savvy competitor who's using technology to randomise his devices' fingerprints, Polygraph can detect this, and can even determine his devices' original fingerprints.
Try Polygraph today, free of charge, to see if your competitors are clicking on your ads
How to prevent competitor click fraud?
Preventing click fraud from organized criminals involves adding their scam display websites to your ad network's placement exclusions list, and removing the keywords they're targeting from your campaigns. By contrast, eliminating competitor click fraud requires a different strategy.
- If the same IP address is being used to click on your ads, you can add it to your ad network's IP exclusions list, which will prevent anyone using that IP address from seeing your ads. However, most click fraud uses unique IPs, so typically this isn't a good strategy. You can read more about this in our article Why blocking IP addresses won't protect your ads from click fraud.
- It's likely your competitor is clicking on your ads during specific times, such as in the afternoon or evening. You can adjust your campaign's ad schedule to exclude those hours, so your competitor will no longer see your ads when he's online. It's important you continue to monitor your ads for competitor clicks, as you may need to adjust the ad schedule if the competitor changes his routine.
- Using IPinfo, you may be able to find the city, or cities, where your competitor's IPs are based. Using your ad network's location settings, you can exclude IPs in those cities from being allowed see your ads.
- If your competitor is targeting the same ad keyword every time, you can remove the keyword from your campaigns (add it as a negative keyword) so your ads will no longer appear in his searches.
Competitor click fraud accounts for a small fraction of the total amount of click fraud being committed on a daily basis, however its effects can be devastating to your business, as it wastes your ad budget and reduces your sales.
Using a bit of detective work, it's possible to determine if your ads are being clicked on by your competitors. You can then minimise, and eliminate, future competitor click fraud by blocking their IP addresses, switching off your ads when your competitor is online, banning his city from seeing your ads, and removing the keywords he's targeting.
Try Polygraph today, free of charge, to start protecting your ads from click fraud