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Invalid Clicks: How They Can Wreak Havoc on Your PPC Campaigns

Whether you’re a pay per click campaign veteran or a rookie to the PPC game, you’ve undoubtedly come across what’s known in the industry as “invalid clicks.” This term refers specifically to Google Ads campaigns, however, the underlying meaning is the same across all PPC platforms.

What exactly are invalid clicks anyways? Why are they important? How can they affect your business’s PPC campaigns? Don’t worry we get to the bottom of all these questions (and more) in the following sections.

Rather than waste your time traversing through Google’s documentation regarding invalid clicks (which can be confusing to people unfamiliar with the platform), we’ve compiled everything you need to know regarding click fraud, invalid clicks, and PPC campaign optimization below.

Invalid Clicks 101

There’s nothing worse than seeing numerous “multiple click” warnings/notifications in your Google Ads admin console. Well, that’s not quite true. Seeing hundreds (or even thousands) of such notifications can be anxiety-inducing for even the most experienced PPC managers.

To put it as simply as possible; invalid clicks are basically how Google notifies you that your campaign is receiving fake and/or fraudulent clicks. If you’re brand new to the PPC world, the term “click fraud” might sound alarming (and honestly – it should alarm you).

Click fraud costs the ad industry every single year, and no business/campaign is truly safe from it (unless the necessary precautions are taken – which we cover further below).

Every single year it costs the ad industry tens of millions of wasted dollars as a direct result of click fraud. Companies need to take proper precaution along with spending money on their PPC campaigns to protect themselves from this problem.

While Google avoids using the term “click fraud” in their Ads admin console, having a large number of invalid clicks is one of the tell-tale signs that something very suspicious is going on with your campaign(s).

 

Types of Click Fraud

ppc-click-fraudBelow is a list of the most common types of invalid clicks that a campaign can experience:

Originating from actual users

Performed by software (i.e. automated clicks or the AdWords bot clicks )

Similar IP range (Indication of VPN-use)

The problem with invalid clicks is that they can cost you thousands of dollars. Click fraud is big business, and while the reasons behind someone (or some company) committing click fraud can vary, the end result is always the same (i.e. the advertiser footing the bill and draining their entire PPC ad budget).

Now, with all that being said, you should know that most PPC platforms are well aware of click fraud (and the problems that invalid clicks can cause). That’s why nearly all of them provide refunds for clicks that are proven to be invalid.

However, in regards to Google Ads, advertisers won’t actually receive a full refund, but they will receive a credit posted to their account (for the amount equal to whatever they lost due to invalid clicks). We know what you’re thinking. How does Google determine which clicks are valid and which aren’t? Below we cover exactly how Google goes about identifying clicks that are invalid.

Invalid Clicks 102: Platform Identification

Obviously, not all clicks are invalid (even those that might seem a little suspicious). If you’ve ever experienced strange traffic spikes or CTRs on your PPC campaigns, you probably understand what I’m talking about. Sometimes there’s just plain old odd behavior when it comes to metrics (with no fraud involved).

In the case of invalid clicks, though, Google has predefined standards which they screen clicks for (in order to determine if they’re invalid or valid). If we’re talking about specifics, there’s not that much publicly available information regarding the processes in which Google grades ads for click fraud.

We do know, however, that some basic details are collected from each click – below are some examples of the data that Google collects when your ad is clicked:

  • IP addresses of the people clicking the ads
  • Date and time of ad clicks
  • Identification of the devices

Google collects much more data than what’s listed above, but they keep most of that information under wraps. If they released that type of information to the general public, fraudsters would have a field day defrauding advertisers out of billions of dollars.

What is obvious, though, is that Google cross-analyzes click data from your campaign against the millions of other campaigns currently running (as well as those that have run in the past). Google is notorious for collecting data, and PPC click data is obviously included in the massive amount of data they have stored in their data facilities.

While personal data storage is a hot topic in the world of data privacy, there’s no question that all of this data provides Google with the proper level of insight in determining whether or not a click or fake (or real).

Blocking Invalid Clicks and Protecting Your Campaigns From Fraud

Based on what we just covered (i.e. the fact that Google stores data from all PPC campaigns past and present), you might think that it would be easy for Google to simply block (or even prevent) most types of invalid clicks. That’s where you’d be wrong, though.

The fact is, Google simply cannot block and/or track (and prevent) every single entity performing click fraud. There are so many people committing click fraud (via invalid clicks) that it’s not even possible for Google to consider blocking all of them.

The system that Google currently uses to identify fake click activity isn’t exactly the fastest on the web. It’s not unusual for advertisers to have to wait a certain period of time before they can receive a credit for the invalid clicks on their campaigns.

Google always determines what the final decision will be in regards to fake clicks. That is, whether or not your account will be credited. However, they have made things easier for advertisers by creating a custom form/questionnaire that you can submit. If you think you’ve been experiencing click fraud and/or invalid clicks you can fill up that form. After you submit the form Google will look into your complaints. They might even contact you directly for more information.

Protecting Your Campaigns From Invalid Clicks

If your campaigns have been receiving invalid clicks, you shouldn’t only be relying on Google to protect your account. It’s true that Google has an entire department devoted to combating click fraud and invalid clicks. However, one of the best ways to protect your campaign(s) from click fraud is by taking the matter into your own hands.

There are numerous methods/tactics that can be used to successfully protect a campaign from fraud and/or invalid click activity. Below are three of the most common tactics that both advertisers and PPC managers employ to fight invalid clicks.

IP Address Identification

One important thing to keep in mind about Google’s internal anti-invalid click system is that it isn’t fool-proof. Not only is it not perfect, but a lot of the time it fails to properly protect campaigns from click fraud (leaving the advertisers with a hefty bill and not much ROI).

The best way to avoid being forced to pay for Google’s screw up is by having your own anti-invalid click system in place. Even if you’re not the most technically-able person in the world, you can set up simple IP filtering options that will allow you to identify suspicious IP addresses (and block them).

Some specific things that you should look out for (and also set your IP tracking system up to identify) include the following list of items.

● Getting a lot of ad clicks from a single IP address that leads to no conversion.

These are all tell-tale signs of suspicious activity that could very well be click fraud/invalid clicks. If you notice any specific IP addresses that behave in the manner described above, you need to do your due diligence and take a closer look at their activities. After you’ve determined which IP addresses are sketchy you need to compile a list.

Security Resource: https://sunlightmedia.org/keep-security-in-mind-when-choosing-a-web-hosting-service/ 

IP Ownership

After you’ve compiled a list of suspicious IP addresses, the next step would be to take a look behind the curtain and find out who their owners are. There are many ways in which traffic that looks suspicious might be 100% valid. The internet is a complicated place, and things like network proxies and IP forwarding can easily be misunderstood by even the savviest of advertisers.

Guessing whether or not an IP is fraudulent isn’t exactly an optimal protection strategy. The best way to determine whether or not an IP address is truly suspicious (and therefore blockable) is as follows:

Determine who owns the IP address (i.e. where it originates). Does the IP belong to a proxy server? Is the traffic organically distributed across your site/the IP addresses? Are all the IP addresses performing different types of behavior once they’re on your site?

If the answer to all of the above questions is yes, then there’s a 90% chance that the traffic is organic (i.e. valid), and it should not be blocked. However, if the answer is no, you most likely need to add that IP address to your blocked list (because it’s most likely fraudulent).

Blocking Suspicious IP Addresses

Blocking Suspicious IP AddressesYou need to make a list of IP addresses that you think are committing fraud on your ads/website. Following that the next step would be to actually block them within Google Ads.

Blocking fraudulent IP addresses is a relatively simple process. All you need to do is go to your Google Ads admin console. Go to the “Campaign” page, and then hit the “Settings” link. On the settings page, you can navigate to the IP exclusions link. From there you can block your list of fraudulent IP addresses.

Additional Tactics to Avoid (and Prevent) Click Fraud

It’s true that most PPC platforms & other marketing tools have integral anti-fraud systems built into their ad platforms. These systems usually only do the absolute bare minimum in regards to detecting (and preventing) click fraud.

Compared to where it started, PPC fraud is now a lot more advanced. Google Ads used to be released by Google. Ever since those early days of PPC, click fraud has been advancing right along with the internet. It’s now at a point where click fraud is its own industry (worth a few billion dollars).

Being proactive in your PPC campaign management strategies is the best way to detect and prevent click fraud. However, this takes a large portion of time and analysis. That’s why most PPC managers opt for an automated fraud detection service. There are numerous click fraud detection firms out there. All of which offer great products/services designed to minimize the impact of fraudulent PPC activities.

Most of these software companies offer products/services that expand on Google’s internal anti-fraud system. These anti-fraud software companies offer numerous features, abilities, and upgrades in their applications. That all translate to increased protection for your PPC campaigns.

Click fraud protection applications work via complex algorithms and machine learning. They also use historical data points as cross-reference material. Most PPC advertisers simply don’t have the time to manually do everything that this type of software can do automatically. This is why they’re so popular in the PPC industry.

Click Fraud Conclusions

Ultimately, protecting your campaign from fraud comes down to staying vigilant. You need to know both what to look for to detect fraud clicks. Create a plan of action to prevent click fraud and to report the invalid clicks.

Don’t make the mistake of relying on Google (or other platforms) to handle click fraud for you. Protect your campaign(s) to the best of your abilities. You need to be proactively monitoring them (either manually or via automated software).

Author Bio

Angelo has been involved in the creative IT world for over 20 years. He built his first website back in 1998 using Dreamweaver, Flash and Photoshop. He expanded his knowledge and expertise by learning a wider range of programming skills, such as HTML/CSS, Flash ActionScript and XML.

Angelo completed formal training with the CIW (Certified Internet Webmasters) program in Sydney Australia, learning the core fundamentals of computer networking and how it relates to the infrastructure of the world wide web.

Apart from running Sunlight Media, Angelo enjoys writing informative content related to web & app development, digital marketing and other tech related topics.

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