The Scourge of Click Fraud – Part II

With all the recent attention, and since I promised earlier, I thought it was a good time to get into some of the different types of click fraud that appear on PPC campaigns.

Spikes

One of the most primitive and obvious methods show up as huge spikes in traffic. As long as a campaign is managed in a consistent manner, it will likely develop some predictable patterns. You’ll get an idea of how much traffic you’ve got coming and the trick then is to improve conversions. With a spike, you’ll see a huge surge in traffic, generally on a single term and from one provider at a time (e.g.; Google AdWords OR Overture, but not both).

A quick look at some basic traffic logs will show groups of clicks hitting the site, from a single ad, within seconds of each other.

These spikes are easy to point out and with just a little bit of effort, you can compile a report that will usually stand up as sufficient evidence for the engines to thoroughly investigate the account for click fraud.

Topic Spikes

These work much the same way as a normal spike, huge traffic jumps on limited terms. In the case of a Topic Spike though, there is often a news story, Internet rumor, or some other discussion going on that involves your term. Active and aggressive fraudsters will pick up on this and use the timing as an opportunity to assault your campaign. It will be much more difficult to prove the activity wasn’t related to the widespread coverage. That’s what the villians are counting on.

There are still steps to take in order to protect yourself. Don’t run ads on content networks (especially during a news cycle), analyze IPs for patterns. Compare the number of clicks you are recieving to the unique visitors you count on your site.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to stop running ads until the storm blows over. Be very honest about your goals and your ability to convert. If all the new traffic is coming from casual searchers, are you sure you can turn them into shoppers? If not, don’t waste resources on them.

The Slow Bleed

This is the most difficult to stop, and can be infuriating, but it doesn’t have to be. A slow bleed occurs over several weeks or even months. Fraudsters, and sometimes competitors, especially on very expensive terms, will slowly click your ad, perhaps only a few times a day, with significant intervals between the clicks, to slowly take money from your account.

You have to realize going in to a campaign that this is a very real possibility. This is just another reason why tracking is so important. You’ve got to be able to determine, quickly, if you are seeing positive returns on your campaign. And that doesn’t have to necessarily mean you are making money at a rate of $5-$1. If you have specific goals in place (sign ups, contact requests, etc.), make sure you are acheiving your marks. If you can’t make your goal, you shouldn’t have your campaigns running. Re-evaluate and seek help if need be.

Impression Fraud

Impression Fraud doesn’t quite fit with click fraud, but it is related. Impression fraud isn’t nearly as prevalent as click fraud, and it’s not as directly damaging. Impression fraud is done by people with lots of extra time on their hands.

Instead of draining a budget, the goal of impression fraud is to artificially damage the credibility of your ad campaign in the eyes of the engine. The major PPC players put strong weight on the Click Through Rate (CTR) of ads, and when ads are shown often with few (or no) clicks, the engines will disable the ads.

The impression fraudsters will work to have your ad displayed several times in an effort to push the CTR below the acceptable threshold, thus keeping you from ever being seen by legitimate prospects. So far, this can almost be seen as more of a nuisance than anything, but techniques are probably becoming more sophisticated everyday.