It is important to stay calm and rational when trying to assess if your advertising campaigns are falling victim to click fraud. Not generating business through paid search is more often a result of poor campaign set up or bad management rather than a malicious competitor clicking your ads night after night.
Experts put the total percentage of fraudulent clicks at somewhere between 10-15% of the total online advertising market and these are concentrated around publisher fraud rather than competitor click fraud. So if you are a small business advertising primarily on the search network (and have opted out of the content network) then you are generally safe from publisher fraud.
You are most likely a victim of competitor click fraud if you are in a competitive industry and you detect unusual visitor activity in a normally profitable and well set up AdWords account. Activity such as unusually high spikes in traffic for one or two particular adgroups that don’t result in any conversions are tell-tale signs that you could be falling victim to click fraud.
So are you at risk from competitor click fraud?
Competing companies may click your online adverts fraudulently to exhaust your budget so you no longer appear in the paid search results. The competitor has more chance of gaining credible visitors as a result and if conducted over a prolonged period of time it can be used to price you out of using paid search as a traffic source altogether, especially if it goes undetected.
Excessive competitor click fraud is usually detected and prevented by Google and the other main advertising platforms and they do have systems in place to help prevent your advert from being clicked on repeatedly. However if a competitor is determined to click your advert repeatedly day after day and you have a limited advertising budget it can have a significant impact on the conversion costs of your campaigns and result in a significant loss of business revenue.
So what should I look out for?
When detecting click fraud you are looking for unusual traffic activity such as:
• Unusual spikes in traffic – an un-explainable increase in traffic uncharacteristic of your marketplace and not in line with organic traffic trends.
• Too many clicks from the same IP address – Could be a competitor clicking your adverts.
• A large amount of clicks from a country you do not do business with – potentially “click farms” in third world countries could be clicking your adverts.
• Significant drops in conversion rates – a significant decline in conversions, especially around the adgroups gaining increased traffic
• Visitors leaving your website quickly – sudden decreases in the time spent on a site can be due to click fraud.
Reporting click fraud and getting your money back
The best way to detect if you have fallen victim to competitor click fraud is through server logs. Check for an unusually high number of clicks from one IP address and collect all evidence of times and unusual spikes in traffic and create a report. Google will then assess your account and examine the evidence you provide and if successful you can claim back the money you spent on fraudulent clicks. You can then use the IP Exclusion Tool in Adwords Tools (in the “Opportunities” tab) to exclude this IP address to prevent any future unwanted clicks.