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Click Fraud and Invalid Activity

There has been some concern regarding the possibility of a company’s competitors clicking on the company’s ads to quickly deplete the daily budget and thus cause the ads to stop showing, making the ads unavailable to potential customers. This scenario can be referred to as spam clicking, fradulent clicking, click fraud, and other such terms. In this case, it is invalid traffic of the malicious sort.

Google has methods in place to manage invalid traffic. There are different types of invalid traffic (which are described below). We have researched this and hope to provide some understanding.

We would like to mention that if there appears to be “suspicious” activity on a Google AdWords account, it may not necessarily mean that competitors are abusing the ads. There are various valid reasons that Google has provided that could be contributing to unusual account activity.

Invalid Traffic

Invalid traffic refers to clicks and impressions on AdWords ads that we suspect aren’t the result of genuine customer interest. Examples of invalid traffic include clicks and impressions performed by automated tools, as well as accidental clicks – for instance, if someone double clicks your ad. We don’t charge you for invalid clicks and impressions because we think that they have little or no value.

Types of invalid traffic

Below are some types of clicks and impressions that we consider to be invalid:

  • Accidental clicks that provide no value, such as the second click of a double-click
  • Manual clicks intended to increase someone’s advertising costs
  • Manual clicks intended to increase profits for website owners hosting your ads
  • Clicks and impressions by automated tools, robots or other deceptive software
  • Impressions intended to artificially lower an advertiser’s click-through rate (CTR)

Detection & Filtering

Note that the AdWords system examines each click that your ads receive, considering internet protocol (IP) address, the time of the click and various other data points. Clicks determined to be invalid are automatically filtered from your account. You won’t be charged for these clicks and they won’t appear in your account statistics. You can view filtered clicks by running an invalid clicks report. If this doesn’t answer your question, please contact us using this form. If we determine that you’ve been charged for invalid clicks in the past two months, we’ll issue an appropriate credit. We’re unable to retroactively change account reports.

Possible causes of “suspicious” account activity

Common reasons for increased traffic

Just because you see a spike in the number of clicks or impressions in your account doesn’t always mean your ads are affected by invalid traffic. In most cases, these spikes in traffic are caused by other things.
Examples of why you might see an increase in traffic:

  • Changes in daily budget: If you raise the daily budget for your campaigns, it’ll allow your ads to get more impressions and – naturally – more clicks.
  • Changes in maximum CPC for keywords: Raising the maximum CPC (cost-per-click) for one or more of your keywords might allow your ads to show more often. It might also allow the ads to show in a higher position than before. That’s also true for ads that show on the Display Network – a higher CPC can result in a higher position and therefore more impressions and clicks.
  • Adding new keywords: Adding new keywords to your campaign, especially if the keywords are quite general or correspond to popular search queries, can increase the number of impressions and clicks that you get.
  • Ads are showing on new Display Network sites: If your ad campaign uses automatic placements and has enough daily budget, your ads’ traffic can significantly increase if it starts showing on a new publisher site.
  • Seasonal trends or news events:Sometimes a sudden increase in interest in a specific topic can cause increased traffic – for example, if it’s a special holiday or if someone famous blogs or talks about a particular topic.

More about valid reasons for increases in traffic »

Daily budget quickly depleting

A depleted budget early in the day doesn’t necessarily signify invalid activity. There are a number of legitimate reasons why your daily budget can be expended earlier than you expect.
Here are the common reasons and some ideas for what you can do.

  • Your daily budget may not be high enough to accommodate the amount of traffic that your ads receive each day. There are three ways to prolong the amount of time your ads run each day:
    • Optimise your account: To conserve costs, we recommend refining your keyword list so that it contains only the most targeted terms. This way, your daily budget won’t be wasted on high-traffic keywords that may not yield a high conversion rate. Read some optimisation tips to learn more.
    • Decrease your CPC bid: Lowering your cost-per-click (CPC) bid can lower your ad position and reduce the amount that you pay for each click. Your ads may also receive less exposure and accrue clicks less quickly.
    • Increase your daily budget: If you don’t want to change your keyword list or decrease your CPC bids, change your daily budget to increase your ad exposure. See the recommended daily budget that would cover more of the potential traffic available to you each day.
  • Changes in web content and visitor behaviour may affect the serving of your ad. Due to the dynamic nature of the Internet, web traffic may vary from hour to hour, affecting your campaign’s performance.
  • Recent trends, news items or current events may dramatically influence the number of impressions and clicks that you receive.
  • Certain times of the day may yield more valuable traffic for your ad. If your ad delivery method is “Standard”, our system may determine that it would be most effective to use the majority of your budget in a certain time period, rather than distributing it more evenly throughout the day.
  • “Accelerated” ad delivery means that the system shows your ads as often as possible, rather than distributing them over the day. If you recently changed your ad delivery method to this option, your daily budget may deplete more quickly than you’re used to.

Multiple Clicks from the same IP address

Multiple clicks from the same IP address don’t necessarily suggest invalid activity. There are several possible reasons why this happens:

  • Return visits: Individuals may click your ad more than once when comparison shopping or returning to your site for more information.
  • Shared IP addresses: Multiple clicks from a single source may be due to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) assigning identical IP addresses to multiple users. Certain ISPs, such as AOL, distribute a relatively small number of shared, rotating IP addresses to a large number of users. As a result, multiple visitors may access your site from identical IP addresses, giving the impression of repeated clicks from a single visitor.
  • Web server logs: Your site’s web server logs include data for all visitors to your site, not just those who arrived after clicking an AdWords ad. You may see “Google.co.uk” referrers from visitors who reached your site via the Google search results and not via your ad. Rest assured that your account is only charged for clicks that your ads receive.
  • Third-party software: We’ve found that some reporting software records clicks between pages as a visitor navigates through your website. As a result, it may appear that you received a large number of clicks from a single visitor in a short period of time. For a more accurate way to track only AdWords clicks, we recommend using auto-tagging.

Possible Preventions of Click Fraud

Blocking Competitors

If you are concerned that your competitors are clicking on your ads, you can attempt to block them from seeing the ads. You can attempt to do this by blocking by location. Blocking by location means disabling the viewing of your ads to people in a certain location. This comes with some issues however.

Firstly, if your competitor is in the same/similar area as you, then by blocking the location, you are of course also blocking your customers/potential customers from seeing your ads. A possible workaround to this is by creating a separate campaign that is targeted specifically and only at the location/s that you have disabled for your main/regular campaigns. This is a location disinformation trick. With this decoy campaign, you could reduce the costs of bidding (pay less for the ads), reduce the amount of keywords that are used, or use ad copy that is not the most effective. This could make the situation less of an issue if your competitor is indeed clicking on your ads. Also, you have the possibility in still catching some of the potential customers that you may have been excluding by blocking the location.

Secondly, there is the issue of inaccurate location information on Google (read this article for geo-targeting information), meaning that even if you block a particular location using Google’s settings, it may not actually be successful in blocking some people if their IP addresses report that they are not where they say they are. For example, hypothetically, your business may physically be based in Brisbane, but your Internet services may be through a company that is based in Melbourne, and as a result, Google’s systems think that the business is physically located in Melbourne also.

Further Concerns

Please note that while we could try to do everything we can to eliminate or at least reduce the amount of click fraud that you may experience, it seems that there is no 100% completely proven way to eliminate it. In this article there have been descriptions of possible alternative explanations, possible solutions and so on, however we can only do what we can do and then the rest of it is just the way of the world and the limitations of technology and knowledge.

Possible actions to take if still concerned

“Please note that we closely monitor and filter out invalid clicks across the entire Google advertising network. This includes Google properties, the Display Network, and our search partner sites. You can run an invalid click report to see the number and percentage of invalid clicks automatically filtered from your account. Note that you aren’t charged for these clicks and that they don’t appear in your account statistics.”

Monitoring invalid clicks yourself

If you’re worried about invalid clicks in your account, there are a number of things that you can do to monitor your account’s activity.

  • Track invalid clicks in your account statistics: As described in the section above, add the invalid click data columns to your campaign statistics table to see the number and percentage of invalid clicks in your account. Remember that you aren’t charged for these clicks, so they don’t affect your account statistics.
  • Optimise your account: Your first line of defence against invalid activity is to optimize your account so that your ads receive only the most targeted clicks and impressions. Keep in mind that conversion rate is one of the best indicators of successful advertising. Identifying and correcting low-conversion areas in your account will also work towards identifying potential areas of invalid activity.
  • Monitor your account with Google Analytics: Google Analytics is a free tool that helps you monitor various aspects of your AdWords account, including conversion rate, visitor behaviour and campaign performance. Google Analytics provides dozens of reports that you can use to refine traffic to your ads. You can also use auto-tagging to help track the performance of your keywords.
  • Monitor conversion rates on the Display Network: For campaigns opted into the Display Network, monitor your ads’ conversion rates on Display Network sites with the placement report. If you notice that clicks from the Display Network aren’t converting as well as clicks from Google or the Search Network, consider reducing your Display Network bids. If you find that a particular Display Network site isn’t converting well, consider excluding it from your campaign.

Reporting invalid clicks

As mentioned in the section above, there are many common reasons for increased traffic that don’t involve invalid clicks. However, if you suspect that your account is indeed affected by invalid click activity, we’ll be happy to investigate your account.
Our team of specialists will use a variety of different signals including click and impression information to identify sources of invalid activity. Because of the large number of data points that we look at, an investigation into your account may take several working days to complete. When you request an investigation, please share as much information as you have about the traffic that you’re concerned about.
More about requesting a click investigation »

Terms and Conditions

Anyone using Google AdWords and AdSense are bound by the terms and conditions laid out by Google. Please see here for an example of AdWords Terms and Conditions. It is against the terms and conditions to fradulently generate traffic and thus incur costs for websites and businesses. With Google AdSense it is possible for a website to make money by displaying ads for other businesses, which opens people to the possibility of farming those ads by clicking on them repeatedly. This is against the terms and conditions.

Links for further reading

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