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What is invalid traffic or IVT, and can you do anything to stop it?

What Is Invalid Traffic (IVT)?

In search marketing, you’ve probably seen the term invalid traffic around, and dismissed it as an inevitability. Perhaps you’ve even claimed some money back from Google or Bing for invalid clicks on your Adwords campaigns.

After all, they do issue automatic refunds for invalid traffic. Don’t they?

And actually, once you get down to the details, what is invalid traffic? And is there anything you can do about it?

The definition of invalid traffic (IVT)

Invalid traffic is a catch all term that refers to any non-genuine click activity on a paid link. Some of these clicks can be intentional and fraudulent, others might be genuine accidents or caused by poor ad placement or pop ups.

According to Google:

Invalid traffic is any activity that doesn’t come from a real user with genuine interest. It can include accidental clicks caused by intrusive ad implementations, fraudulent clicking by competing advertisers, advertising botnets and more.

Yes, this is an accurate description, but what about that ‘and more’? If we dig deeper into the definition of invalid traffic, we can also include:

Although practices related to click fraud and ad fraud are included in the term invalid traffic, it can also simply refer to people clicking on links accidentally. If you’ve ever clicked on a link while scrolling through a news feed, only to close it the moment it starts to load, well… That’s an invalid click.

The cost of invalid clicks

By definition, any clicks from these sources are invalid, meaning that you shouldn’t have to pay for them – according to the ad platforms. 

If you’re using pay per click such as Google Ads or Facebook Ads, each click can be quite costly. If you’re paying a few cents per click, you might dismiss invalid traffic as collateral damage in your marketing budget.

But if you’re bidding on keywords which have a higher dollar value, you might be more interested to know exactly how much invalid traffic there is out there, and how much it’s costing you.

Another factor to consider is that invalid clicks don’t just cost you money, they also reduce your potential for exposure to a genuine lead. If you’re an SME or digital marketing agency handling a limited budget, losing clicks to non-genuine actors can affect your KPIs and skew that return on investment. 

How much internet traffic is invalid clicks (IVT)?

Data suggests that over half of all online traffic is automated, coming from web scrapers and other bots.

But when it comes to paid search links, not all the invalid traffic is necessarily automated. As we’ve seen above, plenty of invalid traffic comes from sources such as vindictive business rivals, brand haters, or websites with poor ad placement.

Based on our own data here at ClickCease we’ve found that, as of 2020, the average rate of fraudulent clicks or invalid clicks is around 14%.

However this is just the average, with some industries seeing over 70% invalid clicks on their PPC ads.

Photographers, locksmiths and plumbers are just a few of the industries seeing these dizzyingly high rates of fake clicks on their ads.

And when it comes to industries such as law, finance and ecommerce, the levels of IVT are still up around the 30% mark.

In fact the majority of all paid search ad campaigns, around 90%, are affected in some capacity by invalid clicks and invalid traffic.

Read our research into click fraud in 2020 here.

How to spot invalid traffic

The common signs of invalid traffic include:

  • High bounce rates on your site, or
  • Low time spent on your site, usually with single page views
  • Unexpected peaks in traffic
  • Low conversions, especially during those traffic surges
  • Multiple clicks from the same IP addresses
  • Strange patterns of traffic peaks, such as increased traffic at unusual times
  • Consistency in the strange traffic patterns

On their own, most of these signals might be indicators of other problems. For example, a high bounce rate could also indicate a poorly optimised ad, or traffic peaks could relate to your campaign timing or the product you’re promoting.

But, if you spot a mixture of some of these; for example consistent surges in traffic with high bounce rates and no additional conversions, it’s likely this is caused by invalid traffic. 

How can you avoid IVT?

Invalid traffic is a sad reality of running a marketing campaign, but you don’t have to just accept it.

Firstly, if you think you’ve been affected by invalid traffic, you can contact your ad platform and express your concerns and ask for a refund.

You should also consider optimising your search campaigns by using negative keywords, geographic exclusions and using timing. 

The best way to avoid invalid clicks and invalid traffic?

Use ClickCease as part of your marketing strategy to block invalid traffic and prevent losing money to fake clicks. When you consider that using ClickCease for a month can cost as little as one paid click on some keywords, you could be saving yourself more than money.

We have a whole article explaining how ClickCease works (and why it’s the best), but to summarise:

  • We block traffic based on our own device fingerprint ID, not on IP addresses (which can easily be masked)
  • Our blacklist of known fraudulent devices is constantly updated and has been since our inception in 2016
  • By using our machine learning algorithms and keeping an eye on click fraud and ad fraud trends, we are able to block some of the most problematic bots and fraud sources before anyone else is even aware of them

If you’re running Google Ads, YouTube or Bing Ads search or display campaigns, run a free diagnostic on your ad traffic with ClickCease.

Oli Lynch

Since working for ClickCease, Oli has become something of a click fraud nerd, and now bores people at parties with facts about click farms and internet traffic stats. When not writing about ad fraud, he helps companies to optimise their marketing content and strategy with his own content marketing business.

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