Click Bots and Fake Traffic Cost Online Advertisers $35 Billion

The world of pay-per-click advertising relies on traffic to keep it going. But as long as there have been PPC ads, there have been bots to “click” and game the system.

An open secret, this problem is more widespread than many digital marketers would assume, with some estimates claiming that fake users are creating them. Almost 40% of all web traffic.

PPC fraud is big business

a Study by the University of Baltimore Advertising fraud is estimated to cost businesses $35 billion globally in 2020 alone.

One of the most common ways it is perpetrated is via PPC fraud, where website owners use an automated clicker or click bot to focus on Google Display, YouTube, or responsive text ads on their own sites.

If these clicks are not identified as fraudulent, and they often are, the fraudster collects revenue for each click from the advertiser. Not only does this falsely inflate ad performance, but it siphons money out of advertisers’ digital ad budgets for non-existent traffic.

Backlash, fear of underperformance, and embarrassment may facilitate the spread of bots

Google has the technology to detect and block bot traffic. Using Google Analytics’ automatic search engine filtering, users can instruct it to “Exclude all results from known bots and spiders”.

But this raises the question: Why doesn’t Google block clickbots by default? A publisher who requested anonymity provided this opinion:

Google has a long history of being reactive rather than proactive against fake clicks. Google developed rules against fake clicks in response to schemes put in place by publishers to exploit the advertising platform.

For example, until it was banned, publishers were able to design their ads using colors and fonts that caused them to blend with the layout of the web page, blurring the difference between ad content and regular content, resulting in click-through rates of up to 50% and percent click-through rates. Earnings paid to the publisher, which means the advertiser has been charged.

Another example of how Google reacted is that there was someone in the early days who was known for their click trackers who partnered with people to make money from clicks on ads. This person got away with it for a while.”

This interactive approach has left Google desperately trying to catch up as clicker bots develop new strategies and solutions. Currently, due to privacy policies, there are technical limitations that prevent the servers from accurately tracking what the browser actually sees. The servers basically fly blind.

As for the advertisers who are being scammed by false clicks, many seem to care more about keeping their traffic numbers artificially high or are too embarrassed to admit that they have purchased ad space that has resulted in fraudulent clicks.

Fake accounts responsible for Musk’s Twitter deal failure

In stopping his acquisition of Twitter in May, Elon Musk, currently the richest man in the world, cited concerns about the number of spam accounts on the social media platform as a driving factor.

According to Musk, Twitter has downplayed the number of fake accounts on the platform by the millions, a claim corroborated by testimony from Twitter’s former security chief, Peter Zatko, who Claimed executive bonuses were linked to daily user numbers.

Twitter responded Slapping the Tesla CEO with a lawsuit, she claimed that less than 5% of all Twitter accounts were bots.

That lawsuit is scheduled to go to court October 17 in the Delaware Court of Chancery. If Musk loses, he will have to buy Twitter for $4 billion.

Protect your advertising budget from Click Bots

It is impossible to prevent bots 100%, but you can reduce your exposure by taking a few simple steps.

  1. 1 Set up Google Ads IP exclusions from known click farms.
  2. Adjust your ad targeting to exclude the geographic regions where fake clicks are generated.
  3. Create placement exclusion lists to prevent your ad from appearing on questionable or fraudulent sites.

Fighting click fraud is an ongoing process, and implementing deletion may hurt your performance numbers upfront, but will save you money in the long run.

Featured image: Shutterstock/TarikVision

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