What is Click Fraud and How Do You Prevent it?

In pay-per-click advertising, click fraud is a technique that is costing companies and entrepreneurs thousands of dollars. As a business, click fraud prevention is imperative to having successful ad campaigns and saving money in your advertising budget. In this article, you will learn about what click fraud is, how to identify it, and click fraud prevention. 

What is Click Fraud?

By definition, click fraud is when an individual, computer program, or generated script exploits online advertisers by repeatedly clicking on a pay-per-click (PPC) advertisement to generate fraudulent charges. Click fraud drives up advertising costs, lowers conversion rates, and skews user data for online businesses.

what is click fraud

Your best strategy for click fraud prevention is to know how to identify it and who is causing it. When it comes to click fraud, there are three usual suspects who would perpetuate it: your competitors, publishers, and customers.


In some instances, click fraud is performed by a firm’s competitors. A competitor can click on a company’s online ads in an attempt to drive up the amount that the firm pays for the search term. If click fraud is performed effectively enough, it can actually push a competing business out of the market.


The practice of click fraud can sometimes be utilized by ad publishers in an attempt to “game” paid search advertising. This is common on affiliate networks where marketers sometimes have little visibility into the advertising data.


While it is not actually click fraud, customers sometimes engage in behavior that appears similar. This occurs when one user regularly clicks on a paid search advertisement to visit a particular website, rather than navigating directly to or from a search engine. Even though this is not click fraud as it is traditionally defined, such behavior may nevertheless be characterized by search engines as potentially fraudulent, with any payment for the suspicious clicks subject to invalidation.

preventing click fraud

What Are the Main Sources of Click Fraud?

A competitor clicking on your ad multiple times a day will cost money on advertising, but there are other ways that click fraud occurs. 

High Volume Clicks

High volume clicks occur when click fraud is happening quickly. There are a few ways that this happens.

Bots and Web Crawlers

Web crawlers and bots are designed to crawl the web looking for information, usually for span or data collection purposes. There is such a thing as “friendly” bots. These “friendly” bots do a multitude of things, including looking through the internet to scrape contact information. There are also deliberately vindictive bots that have the sole purpose of clicking on your ads hundreds or thousands of times in order to deplete your ad budget. 

Click Farms

Click farms are used by all sorts of businesses, often to inflate their following or engagement. They can be hired to do multiple actions, from liking social media accounts, watching videos, sharing links or information, leaving comments, and clicking on PPC advertisements multiple times. Although the bulk of click farms are based in developing countries, there are an increasing number of click farms in the United States and Europe. 

Fraud Rings and Bot Networks

Fraud rings and bot networks are established by crime gangs in order to defraud advertisers. One of the best known networks is Methbot, which is a highly sophisticated scam bot network. Scan bot networks are complex setups that are designed to fraudulently collect the payout on video views using a network of computers.

Ad Fraud

With ad fraud, publishers create a website that is designed to host banner and text ads. Then, they channel fake clicks through the website to collect a payout. Ad fraud often involves placing ads on websites with little chance of genuine traffic being able to find it, but with the opportunity for the site owner to maximize their income.

click fraud prevention

Medium to Low Volume Clicks

With medium to low volume clicks, your advertisements will still be suffering from click fraud. However, it will not be nearly as significant as with the methods listed above.


Your direct competitor can try and siphon off your PPC budget so that their ad ranks higher for relevant searches. They might just click your ad every time they see it, or they might instruct everyone in the office to click your ad. If more people are participating, this could potentially be quite damaging. Although competitors can try to manually inflate your PPC spend, you might find that this is a temporary measure or occasional practice. 

Human Error

Unfortunately, click fraud prevention is not possible when it is due to human error. People making a search inquiry may accidentally click on your sight in the SERPs, but then click out again. While doing this, people may not even realize that they are clicking on a paid ad. Technically, this wouldn’t be categorized as click fraud, but an invalid click. There is no strategic sabotage happening in this scenario, it’s simply a mistake. However, repeated mistakes like this can cost advertisers a fair amount of money. 

How to Identify Click Fraud

Now that you know the ins and outs of click fraud, you need to know how to identify it in your own account. Search engines want to protect their advertisers from click fraud, so they examine clicks and credit back the invalid clicks to the advertiser’s account. They have many filters to detect invalid activity. They search for clicks coming from the same IP address, repetitive or duplicate clicking, and the time of the clicks. 

All the major search engines give you reports and ways to track your PPC ads’ effectiveness. You tag your pages with code that is provided by the search engine, and track everyone who comes to your site through a PPC ad – from clicking the ad to landing on your site and all the way to exiting. This detail gives you a way to analyze clicks on your ads. You can watch for click fraud using these analytics as well. 

Here are the warning signs to look for that may indicate you’re the victim of click fraud:

  • Unusual peaks in impressions (which is the number of times your ad shows on a search results page)
  • Unusual peaks in the number of clicks
  • No increase in the number of conversions during peaks in impressions or clicks
  • Drop in the number page views (how many pages were visited per visitor) during peaks in impressions or clicks
  • Higher bounce rate (number of people clicking your ad and then quickly going back to the search results page) during peaks in impressions or clicks

When you detect a pattern that may indicate click fraud, you should report your finding to whichever search engine is running your ads. It’s possible they have already identified the same behavior and credited your account for those clicks. However, if they haven’t, they can analyze their data to determine if it is fraud, and will credit your account if they find that it is. 

click fraud protection

Click Fraud Prevention

While you can’t completely eliminate the risk of click fraud, you have the ability to decrease the likelihood that it will completely take over your advertising budget

Set Different Bid Prices for Content-Targeted Sites

You can reduce your financial risk by limiting the amount of money you are prepared to pay per click. Limit your exposure by limiting your placement of ads on “just any” website relevant to your keywords.

Keep an Eye on Your Competitors

It’s important to monitor who is competing with your keywords in the search engines. They could be a potential source of competitor click frauds. Tools like ClickForensics offer free click tracking reports that details the number of clicks on your ads that come from competitors and other common sources of fraud. Companies such as AdWatcher and ClickDefense offer free trials for their services. You can also search on SourceForge for open source PPC fraud detection.

Always Track Your Advertising Campaigns

Google makes monitoring your ad campaigns easy through two AdWords program tools: Campaign Performance and Account Performance. These allow you to see the number and percentage of clicks that Google has categorized as invalid.

Only Advertise in Specific Countries

Countries with low labor rates employ people for the sole purpose of clicking on advertisements. Keeping this in mind, it may be fruitful for your business to not run ads in countries where you could possibly suffer from click fraud.

ppc click fraud

Target High-Value Sites for Your Ads

Some low-quality websites are where click fraud can occur most frequently. A person or bot may be clicking your ad, or any ad, on these sites to boost the owner’s PPC revenues. Google and Yahoo! allow you to set up ad campaigns that only run ads on the sites you specify, thereby avoiding sites where unethical revenue generating may occur.

Purchase Software Programs that Generate Special Referral Reports

ClickTracks and Clicks2Customers are two of the top services that offer search reports that can help you identify any content targeted websites that are sending suspicious amounts of visitors to your site. ClickTracks also helps you prepare a fraud report if you would ever need to prove your case to a search engine firm. 

Prevent Click Fraud Today

Preventing click fraud is critical to the success of your advertising campaign. To ensure your PPC campaign is as successful as possible, you need to invest in click fraud protection. You can use one of the companies above for click fraud prevention. Or, you can reach out to SEO Design Chicago for more assistance running your PPC campaign..


  • What is click fraud?
  • Where does click fraud come from?
  • How does click fraud occur?
  • How do I prevent click fraud?
  • Who does click fraud most often?

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