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man committing ad fraud on facebook

All About Facebook Ad Fraud

Facebook have firmly established themselves not just as the biggest social media network, but also as a formidable way to spread your advertising message. But with some pretty iffy press over the past few years; with a series of scandals linked to fake news and data breaches, you can be forgiven for wondering about how reliable Facebook’s advertising network is when it comes to click fraud. 

Running ads on Facebook is nothing new, with the company also owning another social media behemoth, Instagram. So, if you’re planning on running an ad or marketing campaign on social media, you’re probably considering one of Facebook’s offerings.

With that in mind, understanding how your ad can be affected by ad fraud, or click fraud, is an important step in avoiding and minimising your exposure to it. 

How does ad fraud on Facebook work?

In much the same way that other online advertising can be defrauded, so can Facebook’s. In August 2019, Facebook actually sued two Asian based software developers for ad fraud on the Audience Network. It’s alleged that the two app developers, LionMobi and JediMobi, both created apps that were infected with malware. Once installed, the malware would then perform fake clicks on Facebook ads, which would pay out to the advertisers.

The Audience Network is a display ad network, not unlike Google’s display ads. What this means is that external websites and mobile apps can sign up to display ads from Facebook. If a visitor then clicks on these ads, the site or app owner will receive payment for hosting the ad. 

You might also be aware of the problem of scam ads on Facebook, but it’s worth noting that this is a different kind of fraud. These are genuine adverts which have been created to defraud potential customers, often relating to cryptocurrency or suspect products like diet pills.

The most common types of Facebook ad fraud

Although the example of the app developers is quite alarming, in fact the majority of ad fraud comes in the form of the more general fake clicks or invalid clicks. These are most likely to be clicks from:

  • Automated traffic such as bots or web crawlers
  • Click farms, designed to drive up popularity and traffic of pages and sites
  • Competitors looking to deplete your advertising budget
  • Non-interested parties, such as people just browsing or accidental clicking of your ad

Bot Traffic

Put very simply, bot traffic is any non-human automated traffic that goes through your ad. Frustratingly, bot traffic does still count as a click, even though there is no chance of a sale or interaction from it. These bots can be anything from scrapers, amasssing information from across the web, to viruses, malware or any other automated process. It’s estimated that around half of all internet traffic is of the automated variety…!

You can read more about bot traffic here.

Click Farms

The click farm can be either a group of people, hired to click on ads or social media profiles, or an automated set up. Yes, they do exist, normally in low income countries such as Bangladesh or the Philippines.

People can buy clicks online for whatever purpose they need, from driving up traffic on a website to getting more followers or likes. These purchases tend to go through click farms.

Competitors

The one thing about a PPC advertising campaign is that it can soon add up, and if you’ve set your budget correctly, your ad will stop at a certain level. Competitors know this and play games with your ad, clicking on it multiple times to maximise your ad budget.

Invalid/accidental clicks

This refers to any click on your ad that is unintentional. It might be from people not paying attention to what they click on, or from a shared post that attracts random traffic on Instagram or Facebook.

How can you avoid ad fraud?

To be fair to Facebook, they have been more and more active in combating ad fraud and click fraud on their platforms. Having been the subject of a spate of recent scandals, they’re obviously trying to minimise their bad press by being proactive.

In one instance Facebook sued a company that was selling fake likes on it’s Instagram platform. They also appear to be making an effort to remove spam and scam pages, or those that have been identified as having inauthentic behaviour.

So Facebook are doing their bit. How can you avoid ad fraud?

Pay attention when setting up your ad

It’s very easy to set up a Facebook ad, and also very easy to do it wrong. It’s highly recommended you take a look at Facebook’s own documentation and tutorials about setting up an ad online to make sure you target the correct demographic and general audience. 

The first defense against problems with your Facebook ads is doing it right!

Choose your audience wisely

When setting up your Facebook ad, you have an incredible amount of control over who sees your ad and where. From age ranges, job types, geographic locations, interests… This is one of the best things about using Facebook for your advertising.

With this in mind, it can be tempting to go for the broadest possible canvas and watch those customers come rolling in. However, it pays to be a bit more cautious, especially when starting out.

Study your customer personas, work out who best to target, as well as the when and where. This will help you avoid fraudulent traffic considerably.

Avoiding ‘Audience Network’

As we’ve already seen in this article, Audience Network does mean that your ad is displayed on partner sites and apps. Although this means your ad reaches a wider audience, you will have less control over where your ad is displayed.

Audience Network does offer a very interesting way of getting your message out there, with a variety of ways to display your ad. From traditional banner ads to reward videos, there is no doubt that it can be effective. However, it is also a very easy tool for ad fraud networks to use too. Consider carefully if you do want or need to use the Audience Network.

The thing is Facebook make it very easy to use Audience Network, but not so easy to turn it off. If you decide you don’t want to use it, make sure to check that you have deactivated it before your ad goes live.

Blocking users and locations

As well as choosing specific demographics and locations, you can also block certain hotspots or user profiles from viewing your ad. You might want to pre-emptively block traffic from some countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria or Venezuela, but then what about the authentic traffic from these sources? You might also be a business based in those countries, or targeting those markets, so this might not be your best option.

What you can do is monitor traffic and activity using website trackers. If you spot multiple visits from certain IP addresses, or a particularly high traffic flow from a particular advertiser then you can add these to your block list.

Using a click fraud protection package

Currently, there is no service that can protect you from facebook fraud. It is possible to identify fraudulent traffic and report it to facebook, but there is no service that automates this process for you. ClickCease click fraud protection can block fraud from Google Ads campaigns, but not from facebook.

The reason for this is that identifying fraudulent traffic is one thing, but having a platform partner to block this traffic once detected is another.

For this reason, the rules above for avoiding bad facebook traffic are so important.

In conclusion

Aside from Google, Facebook is one of the biggest and best advertising platforms available. For boosting your brand visibility or getting more engagement with a product or service, it’s close to unbeatable. Especially when you consider that Instagram, Facebook Messenger and the Audience Network can all maximise your ad reach.

If you are using Google Ads for your advertising click fraud is still a big problem, and one that is only getting bigger. If you want to stay in full control of your ad spend, and be assured that it’s seen only by REAL people who are potential customers, ClickCease is a wise investment.

Oli

Oli is from the UK and is currently somewhere in Europe working on his laptop. He has become something of an expert on click fraud, and now bores people at parties with facts about click farms. When writing on the subject he likes to wear a tin foil hat. Just in case.

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