How much does the average law firm spend on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising? In the US at least, the monthly spend is regularly over $50,000, with some of the highest CPC online. However, legal services PPC ads are also subject to some of the highest levels of click fraud too.

Sources show click fraud at rates of at least 13% on PPC ads for legal services. Data from ClickCease shows that, in fact, rates of click fraud on law firm’s PPC ads maintain a high level, regardless of disruption such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Zack Shipman, senior consultant at ClickCease, says, “Right now (May 2020), the fraud level stands at 25%, which is one of the highest across the board… In fact, the average click fraud volume is up on last month…”

It doesn’t take a maths whizz to realise that 25% of $50,000 is a lot to pay out to fraud. But why are law firm’s PPC ads so heavily targeted, and what can be done about it?

Why so much click fraud on legal PPC ads?

The term click fraud covers a wide range of activities and is often referred to, by the PPC networks, as invalid clicks. By Google’s definition, an invalid click can cover anything from someone accidentally clicking on your paid ad through to an organised campaign to defraud your marketing efforts.

Organised click fraud is still a huge problem in the pay-per-click industry, in spite of efforts to remedy the situation. Despite the introduction of initiatives such as ads.txt, which is designed to limit who can display your banner or video ads on their sites, the practice of impression fraud and ad fraud is still easy money for fraudsters.

In fact, across the whole of the marketing world, it’s estimated that in the region of $20 billion is siphoned off by fraudulent practices every year. In the US alone, it’s widely predicted that the legal industry could see almost $195 million lost to click fraud in 2020.

As well as a high cost per click, local legal services are also often quite competitive, with much to be gained from a single client. The conversion rate for law firm ads online is also one of the highest, which usually implies a high cost per click too.

All of this adds up to fertile grounds for click fraud. 

The real world impact of PPC fraud

An interesting example comes from Stephan Futeral of Just Law Marketing, who specialises in optimising PPC campaigns for legal practitioners. While managing a DUI defense services client in Arizona, Stephan noticed that even after making many adjustments to the campaign, it was still being bombarded with click fraud.

By optimising the ad campaign and blocking the click fraud activity, Stephan notes that cost per conversion dropped by 35.06%, conversion rates went up by 97.07%, and the amount of invalid clicks dropped from 22.84% to 16.54%.

As he notes, by assuming an average click price of $50 and blocking 222 fraudulent clicks, he saved the client over $11,000. Stephan adds that “…ClickCease simplified and automated the entire process. In fact (using ClickCease) catches much more fraudulent activity than we are able to do manually”.

Where is your firm’s money going?

With all these millions going walkabout, you’re probably wondering who is pocketing your marketing budget. After all, if you’re paying out around 15-25% of your advertising to shady practices, you want to know who’s profiting.

When it comes to competitors clicking on your ads, the aim of the game is to deplete your daily budget and knock your ad off top spot. With less competition, your competitor is free to pick up the leads throughout a specific day or week.

Although your competitor wins new business from your lost visibility, the advertising platform (Google, Bing or whoever you’re paying to display your PPC ad) still gets paid for those clicks. 

The more nefarious practice of organised click fraud (also known as ad fraud) is perhaps the one that many people are more worried about. Enterprising criminals have realised that creating fake websites to host ads and then directing automated traffic through them is a relatively easy way to make money. 

Perhaps the best known of these click fraud networks are the twin campaigns Methbot and 3ve (Eve), who were active between 2014-2018. These sophisticated networks created fake websites that looked like the genuine articles, packed with videos and banner ads. By using a huge network of automated bots, they could collect millions of dollars each day in fraudulent ad views.

Despite attempts by the advertising industry to close loopholes and make it harder for fraudsters, the reality is that it’s still a booming (and growing) industry. In fact, click fraud is one of the industries unaffected by social distancing, so activity has remained fairly consistent. 

How can you prevent click fraud on your law firm’s ads?

There is a long list of things you can do to minimise your law firm’s ads exposure to click fraud. We mentioned ads.txt, which all marketers should really be using. This is a list of sites that you authorise to host your ads on their site although, as we found, using ads.txt does come with it’s own issues.

Regular monitoring of your traffic can also help you spot irregularities such as surges in traffic, strange bounce rates or other suspect activity. 

You’ll most want to keep an eye on factors such as:

  • Repeat IP addresses
  • Timestamps including time and action
  • User agent

In most platforms, you can manually configure ads to stop clicks from specific locations or to block IP addresses. However the problem with a lot of click fraud is that it uses sophisticated techniques such as location cloaking or IP address spoofing to get around a lot of these techniques. So even if you’re only targeting your local area, there is a high chance some of those search results will be seen beyond your national borders.

For solid protection, backed by a number of law firms and legal services marketing agencies, ClickCease offers security that is hard to beat.

Studies have shown that law firms and legal services are expected to lose $193 million to click fraud in 2020. Of this, US law firms are set to lose $74 million to this rising problem. Any law firm running pay per click ads should take the issue of click fraud seriously. After all, you don’t want to be paying criminals around half of your advertising budget for nothing do you?

Sign up for a free trial of ClickCease to get a diagnostic on your law firm’s PPC ads.

Find out more about click fraud in out in depth guide