Ad Fraud: Warning Signs & How To Lower Your Risk!

Posted by WhatRunsWhere on September 6, 2013
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Ad Fraud Threat MapAd Fraud Threat Map, from ClickForensics

Online ad fraud is a serious concern for many Internet marketers – rightfully so, because it’s estimated that the full cost of click fraud is a staggering $400 million per year. Simply put, ad fraud happens when someone clicks on an ad with malicious intent, whether to increase publisher revenues or to drive up the cost of a competitor’s campaign. Multiply that by thousands of clicks, delivered through viruses or bots, and you can see why this has become a huge problem.

While there’s no way to prevent ad fraud, you can keep an eye on certain metrics to identify the symptoms of an attack, and take action to minimize the risk of such.


Warning signs of ad fraud

Ad fraud is extremely difficult to pinpoint, simply because of the nature of ad delivery and audience behavior. How can you tell the difference between real interest and malicious clicks? While these warning signs aren’t a smoking gun that points to ad fraud, they at least provide a heads-up that you should investigate further.

1) Unusual peaks in impressions & clicks

If it sounds like it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. While we can all hope for the day that the Internet suddenly discovers our own content, it’s probably not going to happen without a significant marketing push. Keep in mind that impressions and clicks organically increase during the mornings and evenings, but they’re unlikely to peak suddenly in the afternoon or during sleep hours.

2) Unusually low number of page views

If your figures for impressions or clicks have skyrocketed, your page views should also increase accordingly. In this case, static page views are indicative that your ad isn’t pulling real customers into your site at all.

3) Higher bounce rate or lower conversions

At its core, the purpose of advertising is to drive more people to convert. Even if people click and visit your site but leave soon thereafter, your advertising dollars aren’t being well spent. When combined with higher impressions, elevated bounce rates (visitors leaving after landing on your site) and lower conversions are suspicious. This is especially incriminating if your offers or other marketing efforts have stayed the same throughout this period.

How you can lower the possibility of ad fraud

1) Reduce financial risk

Set a maximum for your daily total bids, especially for content-targeted sites. If your ads receive an excessive number of clicks, this will ensure that you won’t be slapped with a massive bill at the end of the month.

2) Use distinctive keywords

Generic keywords are usually much more competitive and expensive per click. Instead, use long-tail keywords – these will likely lead you to more serious buyers and will cost less as well.  Consistently refine your negative keyword list as well.

3) Don’t advertise in high-risk countries

Countries with extremely low labor rates may harbor “hired clickers,” whose job is solely to click on ads to drive up publisher revenue. Block them out by restricting these locations in your campaign. See the above map for which countries have the highest threat of click fraud.

4) Don’t advertise on low-quality sites

Similarly, keep track of sketchy sites and exclude them from your campaign, as a person or a bot may be clicking on the site’s behalf.

5) Track and monitor your campaigns

Perhaps most importantly, keep an eye on your performance metrics. Google AdWords has tools that show you the number of clicks that its algorithms have deemed invalid. You can also use a number of third-party tools to monitor clicks that may come from competitors, such as Adometry or AdWatcher.

How WhatRunsWhere comes in

Though it’s not a foolproof solution, you can also use ad tracking tools like WhatRunsWhere to sniff around for the possibility of ad fraud by studying ad prevalence vs. duration of placement. Either extreme of the two variables is not ideal:

  • Low prevalence + long duration period = your ad doesn’t appear on the publisher much
  • High prevalence + very short duration = warning! Many clicks in a short time period is not normal, unless you had intentionally set up a focused and intensive campaign


Watching out for ad fraud is certainly a long-term battle, but knowing what to look out for and putting safeguards in place is a good start! Do you have your own tips and tricks for limiting the damage of click fraud? Let us know in the comments!


Topics: Media Buying, PPC, Online Advertising, Advertising


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