by Roy Dovaston, Operations Lead, Click Guardian
On 6th February 2018 ‘Safer Internet Day’ was celebrated across the globe with the slogan “Create, Connect and Share respect; A better internet starts with you”. The active involvement of more than a thousand organizations throughout the UK has helped to inspire a national conversation with regards to the use of technology in a responsible, respectful, critical and creative manner, leading many business owners to reevaluate their digital stature.
With this assumed industry awareness of cyber-threats, you would think things have improved. However, progress has proven to be essential by recent reports, indicating that advertising fraud – and more specifically, click fraud (the repetitive clicking of competitors’ ads to deplete their daily advertising budget and rapidly diminish profits) – is at its highest ever frequency.
Highlighting the lack of efficient web security, Safer Internet Day emphasizes the regularity of cyber threats and the benefits in discussing preventative methods. However, with many businesses continuing to fall victim to click fraud, that additional assistance might be required in preventing loss of profits as a result of this digital crime.
Recently, it has been reported that “cyber-attacks are becoming more ‘technically sophisticated,’” and so the task of understanding the diverse array of potential cyber-threats cluttering the web could be an infinite one, with little reward for both small and large businesses reliant upon online marketing and advertising.
It has been argued that the most damaging form of online fraud is ‘click fraud’ – a method capable of ‘swallowing the internet’ and the critical data of which it comprises. This form of online fraudulence has rapidly increased in popularity over recent years; with statistics indicating a rise of almost 10% in the space of just one year alone. Similarly, it has been found that an appalling 50% of billed for ads were generated by non-human traffic. This hidden hacker evidently goes undetected by a significant number of businesses, emphasizing the need for Safer Internet Day and its key focus.
Click fraud is the illegal and repetitive clicking of online ads to waste a business’s daily advertising budget and as a result, ruin their success and financial gain. Like many other forms of online fraud, click fraud is becoming all the more diverse and can harm online campaigns in a multitude of formats. For example, this fraud may be carried out manually at the hands of ‘click farms’ i.e. establishments based in poverty-stricken countries where low-paid employees are solely hired to click your ads.
Alternatively, the new software allows ‘click-bots’ to automatically infect a computer without the owner’s knowledge or permission, repetitively clicking ads on sites to their detriment. This form of click fraud is particularly concerning, as the software is not subject to human limitations such as working hours or technical know-how.
In either instance, click fraud not only appears to be increasingly common but ever-more versatile, ruining the success of online campaigns with ease. It may also be argued that no matter which methods are implemented, the source of such fraud often lies within the hands of your competitors, with the fundamental goal of diminishing your resources.
In ‘the age of technology’ and following events such as Safer Internet Day, it would be widely assumed that cases of security failings are both minimal and easily preventable, particularly as click fraud is fundamentally a criminal offense prohibited across all major marketing platforms. Whilst infamous channels such as Google have implemented methods of preventing click fraud, these are not entirely successful. It appears that the most efficient method of protecting an online campaign, personal information and customer data is for business owners to further educate themselves – maintaining safer internet throughout 2018 and beyond.
To assist with the daunting task of protecting your online campaigns, Roy Dovaston of Click Guardian, the UK’s number one-click fraud prevention service, below outlines several tips to avoid click fraud, as well as stating why establishing and maintaining a safer internet is crucial.
Firstly, the most basic form of click fraud prevention is observing the behavior of your competitors who are more often than not the source of such criminality. To identify these competitors, you should begin by monitoring who is rivaling your keywords in search engines – it is highly likely that these will be the businesses most inclined to commit click fraud on your campaigns.
While it is important to remain vigilant towards your competitors, business owners must remain equally as observant of their own campaigns. It would prove useful to check ratings daily on your ad campaigns for irregular spikes in clicks – if a dramatic improvement occurs for no apparent reason, it may be necessary to delve more deeply into the source. More specifically, the IP addresses these from which these clicks originate.
The significance of such IP addresses is key; it is useful to remember that these must all be different. Although it may be an arguably obvious concept, this is essential in detecting and preventing fraudulence. Typically, your ad will show up on search engines and websites for a unique user every time and so genuine traffic is attained through different IP addresses.
If there are multiples of the same IP address, this highlights a possible case of click fraud, and further measures must be taken.
As a first small step, you can limit the damage caused by click fraud by pausing your account, give you the opportunity to consider the incident and think about your next steps. This alleviates the risk of such fraud persisting and wasting your PPC budget – stopping this threat in its tracks.
It may also be beneficial to limit the exposure of your ads by setting specific spending caps on your overall campaign or alternatively, your hourly or daily budget. This allows for a regular re-evaluation of the success of your campaign and highlights any areas of possible weakness or vulnerability, better protecting your marketing budget. Similarly, the use of diverse or long-tail keywords within your ads may be useful. Often, primary keywords are highly sought after and may, therefore, attract questionable behavior from competitors seeking the same words.
Once essential alterations to your ads have been established and preventative budgets set, it may be necessary to consider the audience targeted by your ad. The main appeal of utilizing online marketing is to significantly widen your audience pool, who could be reached at just a click. However, entirely unrestricted exposure of your ad may not be as beneficial as initially presumed.
As mentioned previously, notorious ‘click farms’ are often based in developing countries where there are staggeringly low labor rates. Hiring low-paid workers, your competitors can conduct click fraud without notable financial costs. To avoid this, we recommend stopping running ads in countries in which you are more inclined to experience such sabotage. Consider strategic location filtering to prevent you from spending unnecessarily, even where not exposed to such fraud.
Finally, the most efficient method of click fraud prevention is the use of click fraud prevention services. For example, Click Guardian offers a detection and protection service which monitors all clicks on your ads, tracks the behavior of your visitors and automatically blocks AdWords if excessive clicking is detected. Once a block is issued, adverts are no longer delivered to the perpetrator, meaning vulnerable advertising budgets will remain intact. The use of such proactive software eliminates the pressure for business owners to prevent click fraud who often solely react to an issue and are limited in their efficiency by human factors alone. Alongside this, the affordability of these external programs allows for their use in any size business.
Safer Internet Day 2018 inevitably drew attention to the ongoing concern surrounding click fraud, among the many cyber threats brought up by this event. Evidently, Safer Internet Day continues to be an ideal method of promoting the safe and positive use of digital technology, encouraging business owners to explore the role they are playing in helping to create a better and safer online community for both them and their customers.
The internet is an invaluable source for any company, no matter its size or notoriety and helps to promote a business through social media whilst eliminating any restrictions implemented by location. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to survive within the industry without the use of the internet and at least some form of online exposure. The discussion inspired by Safer Internet Day must not fade and continued efforts to remain educated and informed are crucial for prosperous business owners, with due diligence to the concerning rise of click fraud.
Should you need help preventing click fraud, visit: https://www.clickguardian.co.uk/
About the Author
Roy Dovaston, Operations Lead, Click Guardian Having been managing Google Ads since the inception of Google AdWords, Roy is the owner of pay per click agency and anti-click fraud specialist Click Guardian – in 2014 Roy realized a major issue was going undetected in the form of excessive clicks on his client’s ads. Click Guardian was born from this insight and now actively protects thousands of AdWords advertisers in the fight against click fraud. Roy can be reached online via our company website: https://www.clickguardian.co.uk