Pay-per-click marketing is one of the most attractive advertising models globally, with even the major search engines and social media employing it as their source of revenues. Its adoption, however, has led to it attracting an increasing number of PPC scammers that want to abuse it for their personal gains. These seemingly simple frauds often involve groups of people who are hell bent on robbing you of your profits, bringing ruin to carefully designed PPC marketing budgets. All of this warrants a deeper look into the methods for detection and prevention of PPC scams which get a comprehensive treatment in this post.
Wreaking Havoc on Your PPC Campaigns
First of all, you need to have a clear picture of how PPC scams work. At its most elementary level, they are fraudulent clicks of PPC ads that ultimately swindle advertisers out of their money. Think of them as equivalent to having your promotional materials stolen by criminals, thus preventing other people from hearing about your product or service. They can be perpetrated manually on so-called click farms, or automatically, through the use of bots and automated software. Despite their apparent simplicity (or precisely because of it), these frauds cost the advertising industry several billion dollars annually.
In addition to the direct financial damages, PPC scams create a false picture of how your PPC campaign performs, as the gathered analytical data no longer represents what really takes place. This makes it essential for marketers to timely recognize the symptoms of a PPC fraud and avoid falling prey to it.
How Do You Detect PPC Scams?
First of all, you may detect unusually high click-through-rates (CTRs) for your PPC campaigns. At the same time, you may observe abnormal trends in your website’s metrics, such as inexplicable traffic spikes. Analysis of the data on average time per sessions may reveal that it is significantly lower than the general traffic. You can also dig into analytics reports to find some unusual referral sources that could be traced down to bots or spams. Make sure you check the IP addresses that provide constant clicks for your ads and examine who they belong to on sites such as www.whatismyipaddress.com, www.whatismyip.com or www.ip2location.com.
Still, the safest course of action is using your internal reporting to dig up information that points to irregularities usually associated with PPC scams. In addition to the IP addresses, you’ll do well to gather data on click timestamps, action timestamps, and user agent parameters. Click and action timestamps will help you identify IP addresses that are received by your website without garnering any significant conversions.
Click timestamp indicates the time your visitor arrived at your website after clicking on an ad, while action timestamp identifies the time when this new arrival has undertaken a particular action on your site. Glancing at these two allows you to detect if the number of click timestamps is unusually high compared to action timestamps, which points to the high probability of you being exposed to a PPC scam. Finally, user agent helps you discover if the subject hiding behind a particular IP is actually the same person, based on the software, browser or device they use to get access to your site.
Fight Fire With Tools
Manually detecting PPC scams can require sufficient time to deal with the issue while possessing enough knowledge to recognize PPC fraud attempts. The solution comes in the form of commercially available fraud detection tools that promise to get the job done for you using more automation and less detective work. Among them are Ad Watcher, ClickCease, ClickBrainiacs, AppsFlyer and others. All of them will help you with detecting suspicious activities originating from search engines, as well as with identification and blocking of IP addresses and potentially risky referral sources.
These tools can track each individual click on your ads and gather information on the manner of interaction with them. You can appraise their performance by going over the success rate and tell apart genuine users from scammers and bots. In addition to this, you can also evaluate them for their price/performance ratio, as well establish if their interfaces are most suitable for your UX needs.
Fraudulent practices are equally present in all devices
Secure Your PPC Perimeter
In reality, the defense against PPC scams starts by acting proactively on preparing to protect your website from them in a timely manner. To this purpose, you can employ several techniques that will help you emerge victorious in combating these threats. First of all, you can rethink your general PPC strategy to put more focus on social network advertising, as these platforms are generally less susceptible to PPC scams. Your ads will be better hidden from potential attackers because ad placement is done based on keyword search.
At the same time, you will need to manually block the IP addresses of users that are repeatedly clicking on ads. Although you can develop these addresses in the future, this acts as a quick fix that will save you enough money. If you have done your homework on identifying IP addresses that are suspicious in terms of PPC scamming, you can set up IP exclusions in AdWords as well. Bear in mind that AdWords IPs can only be blocked at the campaign level, making it necessary to repeat this for each campaign.
Finally, you can redesign your ad targeting approach in order to reduce the number of fraudulent clicks. If you establish that the majority of them come from a particular region known for having click farms, you can create an exclusion for both these areas and the languages used in them. Make sure to double check this before taking any steps, as you do not want to rob yourself of quality traffic.
Falling victim to PPC scams is neither an unusual situation nor something you need to panic about. The first step in combating this threat starts by recognizing indicators of anomalies among key parameters related to your analytical data. Being able to correlate them effectively will give you a weapon to deal with potential scam attempts. You are also free to check any of the commercially available tools designed to combat PPC scams. Finally, taking precautionary measures aimed at the prevention and early detection of these frauds will save you both time and money you would otherwise spend to clean up the mess once you get yourself into it.