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The Reality of Click Fraud

Written by Greg | 21-Oct-2013 15:29:00

Click fraud has been around since the advent of digital advertising but that hasn't stopped it becoming one of the hottest talking points of the last few years as both targeting and browsers become more sophisticated than ever before.

So what is click fraud?
In essence, click fraud is the act of purposefully clicking on a display or search based advertisement without the genuine intent to convert. There are many different guises of click fraud, it could be a competitor with the intent to waste campaign budget or a bogus site increasing their own profit through click-based commission. It could also be a bot driving more traffic to the site and tricking advertisers into thinking that its audience is valuable.

Exploiting loopholes in the system
The varying degrees of severity for click fraud are dependent on the advertising channel but most of them take advantage of the open landscape of advertising by exploiting a loophole in the system.

A perfect example of this is 2011’s ‘Operation Ghost Click’ - an FBI investigation spanning two years chasing a team of programmers whose advanced software collected personal information and placed new ad placements on sites such as Amazon, which then rewarded them with referral and impression fees. Some of the men responsible are still at large today and their fraud antics made them almost £9 million.

This rather difficult to see trick is also used in PPC circles with browser add-on tools which click on links several times a second while constantly changing the IP address. Google even encountered problems when a programmer created ‘Google Clique’, a program which, building on the foundation of the Holland Engine, allowed a user to click thousands of ads in seconds with different IPs from around the globe. Poorly optimised PPC advertising can see significant issues due to these fraudulent clicks, spending more money on keywords or campaigns that drive what appear to be high volumes of clicks without digging deeper into the data.

Display is no stranger to click fraud issues either with sophisticated bot programs able to interact with ads (such as playing video or hovering over buttons) or even partially complete e-commerce funnels. Serving false ads on top of each other also has a well-documented history which still thwarts many campaigns.

It only stands to get worse...
Unfortunately, the desktop and laptop ecosystem isn't alone when it comes to digital advertising fraud; in fact it’s part of every type of channel including the ever-growing mobile. A study by Trade Mob in June of 2012 revealed that almost 20% of all mobile clicks are fraudulent and with the news from the IAB that mobile advertising spend has doubled in the last year this number will only increase unless preventative action is taken.

…but it’s not a lost cause
While you could argue that click fraud technology will advance at the same speed as the technology trying to prevent it, here at equimedia we’re ‘glass half-full’ kind of people and we invest time in using regularly evaluated systems and software as well as manual checking to ensure we’re ahead of the curve in not only click fraud discovery but also click fraud prevention.

Fraud will never be 100% removed from digital advertising and any company telling you they have a 100% fraud free service is not being honest. At equimedia, we work hard to ensure that we minimise fraudulent activity and we have a standard across all campaigns of 98% fraud free activity, something we’re very proud of.

If you’d like to learn more about how we make this happen, please get in touch.