You already know how click fraud is a growing threat, and that on paid ads, around one in five clicks are from automated sources. But how can you spot click fraud activity on your ads? What actually defines suspicious activity on your programmatic marketing, and what is simply a sign of poorly optimised or designed ads?

Knowing how to spot and prevent click fraud on your PPC ads isn’t actually that tricky, if you know what you’re looking for. The first step is to understand what is click fraud.

The defenition of click fraud

Put simply, click fraud is the act of clicking on paid links without a genuine interest or intent on the product or service. It’s often performed in an effort to deplete or divert your PPC ad spend.

Click fraud can performed as part of an organized campaign (sometimes from criminal networks), or it can be repeated exposure to bots and web crawlers. Google refers to this under the catch-all title of ‘invalid clicks,’ which covers everything from accidental clicks to malicious activity.

Over the past few years, there have been several high-profile incidents of organized ad fraud, which has drawn attention to the issue of fraud on paid search networks. There have also been a number of court cases against fraudulent developers, mostly famously in the 3ve/Methbot case.

However, it is widely believed in the industry that the big players, Google, Facebook et al, don’t do enough to prevent the practice of click fraud. 

So, knowing how to spot click fraud on your PPC ads means you can keep tabs on what’s going on yourself. Understanding is, of course, the first step in click fraud prevention. So, if you’re running a PPC ad campaign, keep an eye out for these tell tale signs of click fraud or ad fraud.

Read our in-depth guide to click fraud here.

1. Watch for unusual peaks in clicks

Usually, the tell tale sign number one that you’ve been visited by the click fraud fairy is an unusual surge in clicks. This suspicious click activity may also be over a short space of time, or at an unusual time of day. 

It could be particularly obvious if you haven’t done anything to your ad campaign for a while. If you’ve not adjusted your bid, or done any serious tweaking, ask yourself why the unusual spike in clicks on your PPC ad?

If you’re wondering what constitutes a suspicious surge in clicks, it will of course depend on your industry. Anything above twice as much traffic might look a bit fishy. But there can be other reasons why your traffic might spike. For example, if your product or service is suddenly in the public eye, or perhaps you’re running an awareness campaign elsewhere.

If there is a reason for the surge in traffic, but things seem a little off, you should always check the other signs of click fraud on your ads.

big bounce rates and surges might be a sign of click fraud or ad fraud

2. Big bounce rate

A high bounce rate is never a good thing when it comes to PPC ad campaigns. But if you’re looking for tell-tale signs of click fraud, this could be a red flag, especially when combined with other factors on this list.

OK, so firstly, what is an average or acceptable bounce rate for your common or garden PPC ad campaign? Although it’s hard to pin down an average across all industries and sectors, anything under 50% is seen as good. 

Once you start seeing bounce rates over 70% it might be time to start looking at your site and your ads closely. This might be down to your ad targeting or your landing page layout/content rather than fraudulent clicks.

If you spot that your PPC ads have seen a spike in clicks, along with a surge in bounce rates, it might be time to ask some serious questions and start to look at ways to prevent click fraud.

3. Duplicate IP addresses

Historically, seeing lots of duplicate IP addresses was an obvious way to spot if you’d been a victim of click fraud. And of course, seeing lots of the same IP addresses on your log is definitely a red flag when it comes to spotting click fraud or ad fraud.

Modern ad fraud techniques are a little more sophisticated than just using the same computer to click on an ad multiple times. VPNs, browser or device hijacking and virtual IP addresses means that even if your ad has been clicked fraudulently, it may not be evident from the IP.

Yes, this is something to watch out for, but isn’t necessarily the first thing you’ll spot. In fact, you can see multiple clicks from the same IP address for genuine reasons, such as shared or public networks. 

For example, if your service is being researched by a company with one large location, you might see multiple clicks from that same IP address as they research your business.

4. Unusual locations

unusual locations might be a sign of click fraud on your PPC ads

Hang on, we’ve never had a purchase from Kazakhstan – why so many clicks now?

Yes, the global marketplace means that we can buy and sell all over the world. But when it comes to spotting click fraud, lots of clicks from distant or obscure lands could be an alarm bell.

You might have heard of click farms, which are locations where multiple devices are used to click on, well, anything really. These click farms can be used everything from inflating social engagement, to damaging marketing budgets, or whatever you want to use them for really…

The popular perception of click farms is that they’re found in developing countries, like Bangladesh, the Philippines, Pakistan and Nigeria. However, the truth is more complex (isn’t it always?).

Click farms have been busted in the USA, Europe and Thailand. But… And here is an interesting development: App developers in Asia have recently been sued for creating apps which click on ads from users mobile phones.

And with the rise in paid to click apps, the problem of remote click farm workers has reared its head.

In short, you don’t need a physical click farm to bulk click on PPC ads any more!

5. High clicks/Low conversions

Seeing more clicks but not seeing the corresponding conversions? This can be an obvious indicator of click fraud on your PPC ads. A surge in ad clicks really should mean a similar surge in sales, especially if you’ve had a consistent ratio of clicks to sales previously.

Again, keep an eye out for other factors we’ve looked at on this list, such as locations, IP addresses and bounce rates. If you’re seeing that click surge and not sales, plus one of the above, then you’ll need to take some course of action to avoid falling victim to click fraud.

Take a look at our blog about how to improve your click through rate, and improve your conversions.

Click fraud and ad fraud prevention

click fraud and ad fraud prevention is going to become more important

If you’ve looked at your PPC ads and it’s pretty clear that you’ve been paying some fraudster to click on your links, then you’ll probably be wondering what you can do about it…

Once you’ve spotted click fraud on your PPC ads, the first steps to take are to limit your exposure.

Adjusting the times that your campaigns are running, and limiting geographic targeting to protect PPC ad campaigns as much as possible is a good first step to prevent click fraud. This isn’t always 100% effective though, with fraudsters using increasingly sophisticated methods to mask their location.

Although Google and the advertising networks do offer some sort of coverage against invalid clicks, a common complaint is that they still let a lot of bad traffic through.

Another issue is that, even though they do identify and refund if you’ve been a victim of some invalid (fraudulent) clicks, this is often too late. By then you’ve lost the sale and the refund for the click can’t make up for the lost impact of your marketing.

The most effective and proactive way to guard against invalid clicks (aka click fraud or ad fraud), is by using anti-click fraud software. This makes sure click fraud prevention is handled automatically, and smartly, with a dedicated service watching your back 24/7.

ClickCease is designed to protect your PPC ad campaign and minimise the chances of those clicks happening in the first place. Block bots and web scrapers, click farms and any other non-genuine source of clicks.

The only way to find out if it really works is to check it out yourself, so try our 14 day free trial and see for yourself.

For large businesses seeking to end click fraud for all paid search and paid social campaigns (including Facebook) then sign up for CHEQ For PPC.