Click bots and fake online advertisers at a cost of $35 billion

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

An open secret, this problem is more prevalent than many digital marketers might assume, with some estimates claiming that fake users make up nearly 40% of all web traffic.

PPC fraud is big business

A study by the University of Baltimore estimated that advertising fraud cost companies $35 billion globally in 2020 alone.

One of the most common ways it is committed is through 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 often are not, the fraudster charges revenue for each click from the advertiser. Not only does this falsely inflate ad performance, but it also takes money out of advertisers’ digital ad budgets for non-existent traffic.

Reaction, 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 click bots by default? A publisher, requesting anonymity, provided this view:

“Google has a long history of being reactive rather than proactive against fake clicks. Google has developed rules against fake clicks in response to publishers’ schemes 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 in with the web page layout, blurring the difference between ad content and regular content, resulting in click-through rates of up to 50%. Payment of earnings to the publisher, which means that the advertiser is charged.

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

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

As for advertisers being deceived by false clicks, many seem to be more interested in keeping their traffic numbers artificially high or embarrassed to admit that they bought ad space that resulted in fraudulent clicks.

Fake accounts responsible for the failure of the Musk Twitter deal

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

According to Musk, Twitter has reduced the number of fake accounts on the platform by the millions, a claim made credible by testimony from Twitter’s former head of security, Peter Zatko, who claimed executive bonuses are linked to daily user numbers.

Twitter responded by slapping the Tesla CEO with a lawsuit, alleging that less than 5% of all Twitter accounts were bots.

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

Protect your advertising budget from Click Bots

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

  1. 1 Set up Google Ads IP exceptions from known click farms.
  2. Adjust your ad targeting to exclude geographic areas where fake clicks originate.
  3. Create specific placement exclusion lists to prevent your ad from appearing on fraudulent or questionable sites.

Combating click fraud is an ongoing process, and performing the deletion process may hurt your performance numbers up front, but it will save you money in the long run.

Featured Image: Shutterstock/TarikVision

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