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Click fraud and fake competitor clicks are losing you money

4 Competitor Click Fraud Practices You Should Know

Competition in business is healthy. While that statement is true, there are some competitive practices that are definitely not healthy, or fair. One of these, competitor click fraud, is a growing trend in high value and competitive industries.

The act of competitor click fraud is when a rival business clicks on the paid ads of a competitor to deplete their PPC ad budget. This usually means Google Ads paid search results.

As of 2020, the rate of competitor clicking has never been higher. However, the patterns of competitors attacking your campaigns with fraudulent clicks differs depending on the sector you are in.

Based on exclusive ClickCease data across 78 countries and 38 sectors, we analyzed the characteristics of online sabotage by competitors in four very different sectors.

The most common methods of competitor click fraud

In our position on the front line of digital marketing, we see a lot of examples of click fraud in action. Many of these affect small or medium sized business. However, click fraud can also affect businesses and industries of any size.

Are suspicious clicks from your competitors losing you money?
  1. On Demand Repair specialists: Drive-by click fraud

Locksmiths, plumbers, pest control specialists, heating and ventilation experts are among the hardest hit by competitor click fraud.

These vital on-demand repair specialists suffer at least a rate of at least 40% invalid clicks across their PPC campaigns.

The businesses who see the highest volumes of competitor click fraud include:

  • Pest control services 62%
  • Locksmiths 53%
  • Plumbers 46%
  • Waste removal specialists 45%.

This tends to be repeated, and not very subtle online attacks on rival spend, that can only be put down to unfair and illegal competition.

Repair businesses are seeing their ads clicked 5 to 10 times a day with no accompanying call for services.

Zack Shipman, Senior Consultant at ClickCease says: “We have found it is usually tradesmen driving around in their vans, doing a search for tradesmen in their area and clicking a bunch of times on ads for competitors. In these cases, their daily limit for ad spend is $500 a day, however because of the high cost keywords, at around $50 per click, this budget is exhausted in 10 malicious clicks.” 

Matt Robinson of 12-person Palace Plumbers in the UK says: “Losses from click fraud have amounted to at least a couple of thousand pounds“. Robinson adds: “I began to notice that our activity would spike at certain times of the day and deplete our daily budget. This always seemed to be around the daily peak period of 10:00 am -12:00 pm.”

Another way that this form of click fraud manifests is with fake callouts from Google Ads extensions. Lots of fake calls and no conversions for on-demand services is, obviously, very suspicious.

  1. Ecommerce and gambling 

Online gambling and ecommerce companies achieve rates of click fraud at around 14%. Given the lower cost of clicks (usually 10 cents), click fraud usually involves bot traffic clicking on top keywords. Such bots are automated browsers that are programmed by cybercriminals to do a specific set of tasks. For example hit webpages to cause display ad impressions to load and then click on them.

In fact, ecommerce click fraud – encompassing attacks against both enterprise and SMEs – has been found to cost businesses $3.8 billion in 2020.

This form of click fraud usually works when your ad campaigns retarget previous visitors. The bot service may have visited your site, and maybe even abandoned a shopping cart. By retargeting these fake web users, you’re generating more invalid traffic on your own ads.

  1. White-collar Click Fraud

In the case of landing a real estate listing or a big-ticket client representation, competitors in law firms or rival realtors demonstrate their sharp elbows to sabotage their client’s ads.

Rates of click fraud among law firms is 15%, however this rose to 17% during May 2020 when COVID 19 kept many lawyers in lockdown and saw even large firms carry out large scale redundancies.

Stephan Futeral, CEO of JustLaw, a digital marketing agency for law firms speaking about the considerable impact of click fraud says he managed a PPC campaign for a DUI defense firm spending $20,000 a month. He soon found strange analytics infecting his PPC campaign.

He says: “I have encountered substantial fraudulent activities that, if left unchecked, cause significant financial losses and poor campaign performance.”

Realtors seeking a high-priced commission engage in click fraud, with invalid rates of 31% on PPC campaigns. This rose to a massive 44% in April 2020 as the impact of COVID 19 brought fierce competition for low numbers of listing opportunities. Homes for sale in the US continue to be in short supply, down nearly 20% compared to a year ago, according to the US Housing Trends report.

  1. B2B Click battles

It is not only ads seeking consumer clicks that are sabotaged. Highly competitive B2B software vendors see invalid click rates at 9%. Callum McKeefery Founder & CEO of REVIEWS.io, which offers a solution allowing clients of a business to review their product or service online, says: “This has happened to us a lot.

A competitor has continuously clicked on our paid ad. There was one device in Melbourne, Australia that clicked on our ad, once every couple of days, but on really expensive keywords. These keywords cost between $13 and $19 a click. Competitors are doing this on hundreds of devices.” 

How do your competitors carry out click fraud?

When it comes to clicking your ads and wasting your Google Ads budget, yes, your competitors can (and do) just casually click your link whenever they see it. But it’s also possible to use various automated or outsourced methods to cause more damage to your ad campaigns.

Organized in-house clicks

Some companies may have multiple departments, locations and, these days, work from home employees. And, with some unscrupulous companies, it can be simple to organize some casual click fraud to waste the competitions ad budget.

This type of click fraud is unlikely to go out in a company wide memo. But there might be an understanding that damaging a competitors Google Ads campaign might help the company goals.

Click bot software

There are software packages for hire specifically for committing click fraud. These can be bought online and will run from your device using VPNs or other methods to hide their origin, often switching IP addresses to avoid detection.

Read more about click fraud bot software openly selling their services online.

Outsourced bot traffic

Unethical competitors can also find traffic for hire services online, often based out of click farms or bot farms. They can request huge volumes of invalid traffic at relatively low cost. The giveaway here is often that the traffic will be from geographic locations outside of an ad campaign’s target area, which is why tracking out-of-geo clicks is so important.

Bot traffic is also used in ad fraud, which is when organized fraudulent publishers host your ads and inflate their ad traffic to maximize their payout.

Read more about click farms here, and also bot farms (they are a similar thing but slightly different).

Incentivized traffic

A modern form of click farm is the paid to click website, or PTC site. These are websites which offer their users a reward for watching or clicking on an ad, often a few pennies. Anyone can sign up for paid to click sites, usually low paid workers for whom ten dollars a day can make a big difference.

As for the ‘advertisers’ on these sites? Mostly the ads are embedded from ad platforms and the site makes money from these ad clicks from it’s users and then pays them a (very small) cut.

Can your competitor sign you up for a PTC website? Absolutely…

Can the website sign your website up without your knowledge? Of course they can…

Worse still, there are plenty of scam PTC sites which never pay their workers – and make off with all the fake click revenue.

How to stop competitor click fraud?

Some of the telltale signs of competitor click fraud include:

  • High click thresholds
  • Higher than usual bounce rates
  • Clicks from outside your targeted geographic location (often using VPNs or other IP address masking tools)
  • Unusual surges in ad click traffic, often at similar times
  • Suspicious devices used to click your ads, such as custom browsers (usually a sign of a click farm)

If you think there is a strong case for a competitor to click your ads, or you suspect that your PPC Ads aren’t performing as well as they should be, try ClickCease for free.

ClickCease uses hundreds of algorithms to detect click fraud in real time – from high risk IP addresses, suspicious devices or even known sources of bot fraud and ad fraud. Avoid becoming a victim of click fraud and use the best fraud blocking tool on the market.

Use our free 7 day trial to run a traffic audit on your ads. Whether you’re running Google Ads, Bing Ads, Facebook or Instagram Ads, or all of the above, chances are you are seeing click fraud in some capacity.

How much? It can be hard to say as the fraud levels vary from industry to industry.

Sign up today for your FREE trial and start blocking those bad clicks!

Ilan Missulawin

Ilan is a co-founder and the CMO of ClickCease since 2015.
When he isn't dreaming about click fraud you can find him writing about it.
Two of his favorite things in life are: Peppa Pig and writing about himself in third person.

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