Prevent Bot Fraud
Click Fraud: Origins; Perpetrators; and How to Protect Yourself
According to a revealing new report recently released by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), click fraud is becoming a bigger problem for website owners and advertisement buyers alike, and the industry as a whole is losing billions of dollars to this fraudulent traffic each year. The following document is a recap of the White Paper, providing background on click fraud, who is behind it, and ways to minimize trouble for your own ads or website.
The dangers of click fraud have been known in the advertising industry for quite some time, but this new study reveals that there could be even more problems on the horizon for both advertisers and web owners. In the study by the ANA and White Ops (and other contributing agencies), it was suggested that marketers are on the verge of losing between $7.9 billion to $30 billion worldwide if there is not a concerted effort made to reduce click fraud, by increasing security.
At YourProfitWeb.com, we understand that the day-to-day demands of running a business take top priority, leaving little time to learn how to combat fraud, if it is even on the radar as a security issue to begin with. Our proprietary platform deploys a traffic matrix and risk score algorithm assigned to each website visitor to help identify harmful traffic long before it ever reaches your online content.
Let’s dig into this detailed and informative click fraud white paper to better understand what is at stake for your business and your revenues.
What is Click Fraud?
Click fraud at its most-basic level is a large-scale undermining of Yahoo, Bing, or Google pay-per-click revenue programs through unauthorized website traffic. This fraud puts money into the pockets of scammers by diverting website traffic and financial return on investment from advertisers who need visitors the most. Click fraud is a willful act committed by a person, company, or bot clicking on search engine advertising banners with the sole intention of increasing clicks to the ads while consuming an advertiser’s pay-per-click revenue. Click fraud could potentially undermine the online advertising market since advertisers are the ones getting hurt, and Google, Bing, Yahoo, and the like, still get paid, providing little incentive to institute greater security protocols or refund policies. That is why business owners must implement a plan to identify click fraud as early as possible, to stop any blood-letting. The professionals at YourProfitWeb.com can identify and halt fraudulent ad clicks before they drain your pay-per-click budget.
Why Do People Commit Click Fraud?
Numerous motivations drive click fraud perpetrators but Very few cases are a one-time occurrence. Most cases derive from malicious intent, and include a methodical approach to creating erroneous and excessive click activity that hurts the advertiser. The following examples describe how and why you might be the victim of click fraud attacks:
- Your Friendly Competitor: it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know who is paying for advertisements that appear for certain long-tail keywords. Your competition simply needs to review a list of their best performing keywords to know whether or not you are paying for ads to generate greater sales from those organic searches. A mischievous competitor can click ads that go to your website diverting the lion share of new traffic for certain keywords that would otherwise benefit you. . This jealous competitor regularly visits and reviews your website but now they cost you money each time they follow a paid advertisement to get there. The smart competitor will limit their clicks to go unnoticed, slowly draining your advertising budget. Sophisticated competitors with an axe to grind can certainly take things to the next level with minimal effort, and cause significant financial harm.
- The Angry Competition: chances are pretty good that there is one competitor that would be more than happy to see your website and business close up for good. Competitors committed to hurting your business can use black-hat methods to cripple websites and benefit from the increased organic traffic that would have gone to the owner paying for those online advertisements. These unscrupulous competitors pay coders to develop programs that sends a rush of hits to those ads, quickly depleting an entire advertising budget. This cycle continues each time the business owners adds more revenue to their pay-per-click account, bots line-up and drain the revenue and keep real traffic from ever finding the intended business. They do this to get the top position at a lower price, or eliminate the competition all-together. An arsenal of cloaking technologies, offshore servers, and spider technology exist that will crawl and find those ads, and click them around the clock. Advertising money is being wasted, and your company is potentially at-risk without a plan in place to identify and stop bots and other attacks.
- The Advertising Affiliate: affiliate programs provide yet another way to deplete an advertising budget by financially rewarding the perpetrator. Advertising affiliate programs pay people to connect new organic traffic with web-based advertisements. Elaborate cloaking or deceptive approaches have been created that allow individuals to defraud the system and make money at the same time. A blocked or disguised IP address is generated each time an ad is clicked, creating the appearance of organic, new traffic. An ad is clicked, the visitor stays on your site for a few minutes, leaves, and then returns with a new IP minutes later. This cycle can continue unchecked, while the scammer gets compensated by the affiliate program because it appears they have been sending new organic traffic to the website several times a day. They make money, and you lose it, with each click. A Wired News report featured the story of one scammer who made more than $50,000 in affiliate commissions using bots to make fake clicks around the clock. The YourProfitWeb.com team deploys technology and the expertise to spot and block this type of fraud from affecting your advertisements.
The majority of click fraud includes competitors trying to deplete your advertising budget and gain an edge, or a special interest group trying to drive a particular company out of business for having views opposed to their own. This end of the spectrum uses malware as the tool of choice to click ads fraudulently. Further down the spectrum are loyal patrons trying to help a business by clicking the ads repeatedly in an effort to give the website a higher organic search ranking. The far end of the spectrum includes the actual ad publisher driving up the price of their own inventory by clicking ads. It is important to understand that motivations for click fraud vary across a spectrum, but they are all crimes nonetheless in the eyes of the pay-per-click (PPC) agency.
What to Look for Concerning Click Fraud
Actively monitoring website traffic analytics puts you ahead of most website owners who focus on growing business and sales and neglect to closely monitor who is really visiting their website. Taking control of an advertising budget begins with a proactive approach to studying key parameters in your pay-per-click marketing, and creating a baseline for visitor behavior so that unusual and suspect patterns are easily identifiable.
Companies like YourProfitWeb.com provide real-time professional services to manage, and prevent click fraud. However, you can create a matrix of analysis points to evaluate your security right now. We’ve created the following key indicators to help analyze your vulnerability to click fraud. Evaluating the following factors can begin limiting leaks from your advertising budget before they sink the boat:
- Clicks by Country: country of origin is one of the easiest ways to identify click fraud. A savvy business owner or affiliate scammer wanting to ramp up fraud can outsource to overseas workers willing to do the work for pennies on the dollar. Dozens or hundreds of visits to your site from India or Romania provides a pretty big clue that you are the victim of some degree of click fraud.
- Conversion Rates: establish baselines for your current pay-per-click campaigns. For instance, a current campaign might take visitors to your website sign-up box, which requires a valid email address or form completion for verification. You might expect 20 people to click the ad, which yields one valid new customer from that group – that is your baseline. Now take a look at future campaigns, and their conversion rates. Perhaps there were 300 clicks but only two new customers completed the entire form; it is highly likely that your ads are under attack from click fraud.
- Time on the Website: few indicators on their own can help you identify click fraud easier than the amount of time visitors are on your website. There are numerous legitimate reasons to explain traffic surges from a particular country. But many visitors leaving after a few seconds should trigger bells that bots might be making those clicks. An automated bot generates a large number of page views but they do it in a very short amount of time. Humans need more time on a page than the bots, especially considering the time required to simply review page content to decide whether to stay or not. Establish baselines for how long the average visitor spends on your website as part of your click fraud analysis.
- Page Depth: sophisticated technology can trick analysis by page depth alone, giving a false impression about what is taking place on the website. Sophisticated scammers can easily code the bots to go deep into the website, possibly five or more pages before leaving. This helps cover their tracks while giving the impression of real visitor traffic. Calculating and combining time-on-page and page depth can help you see if the bot is crawling but not engaging the content.
- Clicks at Unusual Hours: the world-wide-web never sleeps but you should pay close attention to a rush of clicks occurring at strange times of the day or night. Actual visitors, or even a bot might show up around the clock to make clicks. However, a group of people being paid to fraudulently click your ads residing in a different time zone might not think twice about clicking the ads at 3:00 am your time because they just want the commission – it is about the click, not being smart. Repeated clicks from India at normal business hours might be alright, so use other indices in your growing matrix to ascertain if these visitors are real or scammers.
- Not Accepting Cookies: customers of established companies with a trusted brand and website do not mind if your site utilizes cookies to track and gather vital information. They understand cookies are the cost of doing business, at a minimum, but also could be used to maximize their user experience or product offerings. So repeated blocking of cookies should set off questions in your system. Browser-less spiders do not accept cookies, leading to an increase in the number of visitors blocking them. Repeat visitors from your sponsored ads blocking cookies is a serious problem because someone is working hard to deplete your pay-per-click ad budget as quickly as possible.
Repeat Visitors from Same IP Address: this one indicator alone might not reveal the presence of click fraud but helps deepen the pool of available evidence when combined with the above indicators. The repeat visitors indicator should be the very first line of defense in your efforts to sport potential fraud. A rush of visitors from the same IP address and country, failing to perform the desired task should set off alarm bells before the fraud perpetrator drains your pay-per-click budget.
The above seven steps should help to identify whether or not you are vulnerable to (or experiencing) click fraud. The professional and friendly team at YourProfitWeb can help protect your website, ads, and money. Contact us to learn more, and schedule a consultation today.
How Can You Minimize Click Fraud?
The roots of click fraud should be clear at this point, as should whether you are vulnerable, or already a victim of click fraud. We’ve provided the warning signs, now it’s time to begin minimizing click fraud that might be taking place. This white paper is intended elevate understanding of the click fraud problem but also provide tangible resources for you to retake control from the thieves who are stealing from your company. Chances are high that these crooks will always be one step ahead of the latest security brigade, but there are steps you can take to minimize damage now.
- Cap Click Frequency: contact the company running your PPC campaign and request a cap on click frequency. This is a basic first step in your line of defense, so you may want to reach out to a different company or try another method to limit the losses if the PPC company is not deploying this rudimentary tool. The frequency cap is nothing more than a filter designed to prevent duplicate clicks originating from the same IP address.
- Filter by Country: inquire if your PPC company allows filters, and if they have one to block certain countries from clicking your ads. Define your target market and block accordingly. A marketing campaign does not need to target Africa, China or India if you only sell bulk t-shirts with shipping to the lower 48 states. Filter clicks and limit the searches to the desired target country if you already see clicks originating from a country outside the service area.
- Limit Daily Click Costs: most companies do not have unlimited budgets for their online marketing campaigns, yet they regularly risk thousands of dollars that a scammer can drain in hours. Capping the daily budget to what you feel comfortable spending is the best way to protect your business and capital, while trying to stop scammers clicking your ads.
- Seek Professional Help: criminals regularly getting past existing filters means you are under intentional, sustained attack and need to deploy more robust protection. Stop by YourProfitWeb.com and let one of our specialists analyze your traffic to develop a plan that keeps unwanted clicks from depleting your money. We are PPC experts, and work around the clock to stay ahead of crooks and the methods they use to game the system. Our tools quickly spot a fraudulent click, or worse, and block the user and their IP from ever getting access to your content.
Are Search Engines Doing Anything About Click Fraud?
Major search engine companies have been getting a tremendous amount of grief over their lack of efforts to curb click fraud for many years. But look at the reality of the situation, search engine companies get paid whether a real person or bot clicks an ad., In fact, the more clicks, the more revenue pouring into search engine companies. Logically then, search engine companies have not wanted to risk their billions in ad sales, and dragged their feet when trying to completely stop click fraud. However, all major search platforms are implementing some form of click fraud prevention to maintain their reputation and revenue streams.
Google is at the forefront of efforts to protect advertisers, deploying one of the most robust and secure click-fraud programs working behind the scenes. Their unique detection protocol makes use of a three-pronged filter to prevent scammers from gaming the system. Automated filters are Google’s first line of defense, then advanced algorithm detectors spot invalid clicks occurring in real-time, and credit back the advertiser. The automated process is effective, but Google takes things further by incorporating a manual task force called the Ad Traffic Quality Team. Their sole focus is conducting offline manual analysis and removing any clicks they find invalid before advertisers are billed. Google will also launch an investigation if they notice a pattern of suspicious activity on an advertiser’s report. A fraudulent click is marked and credited back to the advertisers.
These are important and effective efforts, however advertisers must remain vigilant because no one, including Google, cares more about your money than you. These free basic services help the average marketer limit risk, but they do not eliminate them – especially if someone is intentionally trying to hurt your business. YourProfitWeb.com can help, visit our site and allow the team of fraud specialists to lock down your pages and ads, in a way that only allows real organic traffic through.
How Do Bots Destroy Your Bottom Line?
The average, large American corporation is losing $300,000 each time there is a security breach from bot attack. The bot can amplify damage because they work at a lightning pace compared to the hacker in his basement manually trying to bypass a security system. Yes, bots can wipe out your advertising budget in no time at all, but they are actually doing more damage to your company:
- Increased Ad Rates: bots clicking your ads are also affecting website analytics, which raises advertising rates. You pay more per customer attained when analytics are off because the majority of the clicks are fraudulent, and traffic reports are higher.
- Collecting Site Data: the damages inflicted by bot click fraud is followed closely by them crawling your website to gather data. These bots are known as data aggregators, and they are programmed to steal all the research and information that you have spent countless hours acquiring. Then they simply release it for free to water down the data, lowering your ability to profit from the hard work that produced the content.
- Price Scraping for Competitors: bots can be programmed to more damage than just draining your advertising budget, or raising the cost of marketing. Bots can crawl each of your web pages and report to the competition what you are selling, and for how much. The bot delivers up-to-the-minute statistics every day that competitors can use against you. Competitors offering cheaper goods and services will draw more organic web traffic as a result.
Why Does a Business Need PPC Protection?
Still not convinced that you need to take more robust efforts to protect your data and profits? Then consider recent studies that show an alarming 20 to 27 percent of all businesses deploying PPC advertising experience fraud. It is one thing to proactively and aggressively study website analytics, but what is the recourse once fraud is uncovered, and filters fail to slow attempts to steal your revenues?
YourProfitWeb.com provides a recourse and defense by deploying state-of-the-art technology that identifies click fraud and then prevents the bots or users from causing damage. This powerful technology can block an IP address just as fast as the bot finds your content, and bans them from returning. Criminals leverage technology that allows them to create new IP addresses and attempt access several times a minute. But our fraud detection system will lock down the site and keep the bots on the outside. The hackers will leave to find an easier target, allowing you to return focus on growing your customer base and increasing revenues with a sense of security.
How Does YourProfitWeb.com Stand Alone?
The reality is that current marketplace defenses will do little to protect you if a scammer decides to code a bot to destroy your advertising budget and website. And these criminal hackers are getting better, faster, and more diligent at sending out these bots to do their dirty work. B need only minutes to begin stealing your content, overload your server so organic traffic cannot access pages, or even sign up for services you offer once access to the website is gained.
YourProfitWeb.com is at the forefront of PREVENTING ALL FRAUDULENT CLICKS. Bots and click fraud are huge concerns for many website owners, which is why we developed a program to battle content theft, eliminate server downtime, combat fraud and spam, while giving you the peace of mind necessary to focus attention on growing your business, and turning new organic website visitors into long-term loyal customers.
Our client base continues to grow because business owners are increasingly frustrated with their current analytics programs and consultants. Our competitors vary in their pricing but tend to downplay the dangers of bots, preferring to sell you on other services instead of confronting the costly and evasive elephant in the room. The average business owner does not have the revenue or resources to create server firewalls that are expensive and take countless hours to design and set-up. You might be able to implement this firewall protection on your website but would then need an infinite amount of hours maintaining and updating it to stay ahead of the criminal hackers.
Stop being held hostage by scammers trying to cripple your business through advertising revenue theft. Getting started with YourProfitWeb.com is easy, simply contact our company today and we will install one page of coding on your website, and take over your protection from there. Our platform will allow you to focus on business growth, protect your advertising investments and website from unwanted visitors; stopping fraudulent activity before it hurts your business again.