Click bots and bogus traffic cost online advertisers $35 billion each year

4 November 2022

Click bots and bogus traffic cost online advertisers $35 billion each year

Business man clicking internet search page on computer touch screen at home office.According to studies, click bots and fraudulent traffic are common, but Google is slow to respond.

The world of pay-per-click advertising relies on traffic to function. But, for almost as long as PPC ads have existed, there have been bots to “click” on them and game the system.

This problem is far more widespread than many digital marketers realise, with some estimates claiming that fake users account for nearly 40% of all web traffic.

PPC fraud is a big deal.

According to a University of Baltimore study, ad fraud will cost businesses $35 billion globally in 2020.

One of the most common methods is PPC fraud, which occurs when website owners use an automated clicker or click bot, to target Google Display, YouTube, or responsive text ads on their own site.

If these clicks are not identified as fraudulent, which they frequently are not, the fraudster receives the advertiser’s payout for each click. This not only inflates ad performance, but it also drains advertisers’ digital ad budgets for nonexistent traffic.

Bot proliferation may be aided by reactivity, fear of poor performance, and embarrassment.

Google has technology in place to detect and block bot traffic. Users can instruct Google Analytics to “exclude all hits from known bots and spiders” by using the search engine’s automatic filter.

But this begs the question: why doesn’t Google automatically block click bots? An anonymous publisher expressed the following viewpoint:

“Google has a long history of being reactive rather than proactive when it comes to fake clicks.” Google developed anti-fake click policies in response to publisher schemes to exploit the advertising platform.

Until it was prohibited, for example, publishers could style their ads with colours and fonts that blended with the webpage layout, blurring the distinction between advertising content and regular content, resulting in clickthrough rates as high as 50% and revenue paid to the publisher, implying the advertiser was charged.

Another example of how Google reacted was when a person known for their click bots partnered with people to revenue share ad clicks in the early days. This individual got away with it for a long time.”

Google has been left scrambling to catch up as click bots develop new strategies and workarounds. Currently, technological limitations prevent servers from accurately tracking what is actually seen by a browser due to privacy policies. Servers are essentially winging it.

As for the advertisers who are being defrauded by false clicks, it appears that many are more interested in artificially inflating their traffic numbers or are embarrassed to admit they purchased ad space that generated fraudulent clicks.

Fake accounts are being blamed for Musk’s failed Twitter deal.

Elon Musk, the current world’s richest man, cited concerns about the number of spam accounts on Twitter as a driving factor in halting his acquisition of the social media platform in May.

According to Musk, Twitter undercounted the number of fake accounts on the platform by millions, a claim supported by testimony from Peiter Zatko, Twitter’s former head of security, who claimed executive bonuses were tied to daily user numbers.

Twitter retaliated by filing a lawsuit against Tesla CEO, alleging that less than 5% of all Twitter accounts were bots.

This case is set to be heard in Delaware Chancery Court on October 17. If Musk loses, he will be forced to pay $4 billion for Twitter.

Safeguard Your Ad Budget Against Click Bots

Although it is impossible to completely protect your ad campaigns from bots, you can reduce your exposure by following a few simple steps.

  1. 1In Google Ads, create IP exclusions for known click farms.
  2. Change your ad targeting to exclude geographical areas where fake clicks are common.
  3. Make placement exclusion lists to prevent your ad from appearing on fraudulent or dubious websites.

Fighting click fraud is a continuous process, and while implementing an elimination process may reduce your performance numbers initially, it will save you money in the long run.

If you need any help or advice for your own digital strategy, simply get in touch! You can also follow Viva Digital on Facebook to receive regular news, tips and how-tos in your feed. Thanks for reading.

Paul Smith

Paul Smith

With more than 20 years of industry experience in the UK, USA and Australia under his belt, Paul Smith is a seasoned professional who will infuse your digital marketing with his wealth of knowledge and expertise. Paul specialises in digital strategy, SEO and data analytics.

Business man clicking internet search page on computer touch screen at home office.