How Worried Should You Be About Fraudulent Ad Clicks?

No company wants to spend more on their advertising than they need to.

Which is why the prospect of advertising dollars going towards fraudulent ad clicks is frustrating.

And this is especially true if you’re in a highly competitive industry where the costs of keywords are high.

Some of our law firm clients, for example, can pay $600 per click.

But what’s the best way to eliminate fraudulent ad clicks?

Should you pay for a third-party software to catch those fraudulent ad clicks before they happen?

The answer might not be what you think.

Fraudulent ad clicks

What are Fraudulent Clicks?

Before we get too far into this discussion, let’s clarify what we mean by “fraudulent clicks.”

Google calls these clicks “invalid clicks.” Here’s how it defines them:

[Invalid clicks are] clicks on ads that Google considers to be illegitimate, such as unintentional clicks or clicks resulting from malicious software.

…Here are just a few examples of what Google may consider to be invalid clicks:

  • Manual clicks intended to increase your advertising costs or to increase profits for website owners hosting your ads
  • Clicks by automated clicking tools, robots, or other deceptive software
  • Extraneous clicks that provide no value to the advertiser, such as the second click of a double-click

What’s the Solution to Fraudulent Clicks?

Some advertisers implement third-party software that claims to catch these fraudulent or invalid clicks.

But is that a good idea?

Generally, I would say no.

Ten years ago, fraudulent clicks were widely prevalent in the world of PPC advertising.

It was such a problem, for example, that you couldn’t go to any digital marketing conference without multiple sessions dedicated to the issue of invalid clicks.

But things have changed since then.

Google has made significant strides to address the issue of fraudulent clicks, and they’ve developed sophisticated AI to identify, prevent and give credits for invalid clicks.

As Google describes it:

We use over a hundred complex algorithms to spot bad traffic as it happens, and our global team of PhDs, data scientists, engineers, and researchers works around the clock to prevent advertisers from paying for — and publishers benefitting from — invalid clicks, impressions, views, or interactions.

How do I know Google has been successful in catching invalid clicks? I’ve seen it happen.

For example, here’s a recent report from a client account:

Invalid clicks caught by Google Ads

As you can see, Google caught 72 invalid clicks in this monthly period (with 238 clicks accepted as valid).

This seems like a healthy ratio.

If only a handful of invalid clicks was getting caught, I’d be more sceptical.

Also, it’s not uncommon for my team to check an account in the evening and see an ad spend of $4K for the day, for example.

When we check the same account the next morning, and the ad spend for that day has been adjusted to $1.5K.

This huge drop occurs because Google has caught suspicious clicks and credited the ad spend back into the account.

As Google explains:

When we find something wrong, we try to make it right as soon as possible. We suspend or disable invalid accounts, and may withhold payments to the publisher. When appropriate and possible, that money is credited back to the advertisers — not only for the month where we found the invalid activity, but often for the previous month, as well.

I’m also persuaded by the fact that it’s in Google’s best interest to protect advertisers against bad clicks.

Google knows that third-party “anti-fraudulent clicks” software is out there — and Google would much rather keep this function in house.

From its perspective, money not spent on third-party software is money that could be spent on Google advertising. It means more money in its pocket.

So Google is highly motivated to eliminate the need for third-party solutions.

Don’t Let the Price Point Tempt You

Third-party software is tempting for some advertisers. It’s priced just low enough to make it an easy sale.

Given the price point and promises, the ROI looks good.

In fact, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from clients lately about these “fraud prevention” tools, which makes me think they’re in the middle of an advertising blitz in a way to grow their presence in the PPC market.

Given the low price point, you might think, “Well, what could it hurt?”

But implementing this software isn’t without risk

Can Third-Party Fraud Prevention Software Stop Good Traffic?

Last year, we landed a client who was struggling with its PPC accounts, with clicks and conversions way down.

We audited the account to figure out where the problem lay. It didn’t take us long to spot the third-party anti-fraud software.

We asked the client when they started using this software… and it was around the same time when clicks and conversions took a dive.

We removed the software, and the number of clicks and conversions started to rebound.

Thus, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that the “anti-fraud” software was, in fact, blocking legitimate — and valuable — traffic.

How Worried Should You Be About Fraudulent Clicks? Not Very

If you’re wondering how worried you should be about fraudulent clicks, the answer is not very.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Maybe you have reason to be extra cautious in your market.

But for 95% of advertisers, Google’s built-in fraud click detection is all you need.