How To Identify and Mitigate Against Click Fraud

We’ve published a lot about click fraud but what IS click fraud and do you know how to identify and mitigate against it properly?

This blog will give you the necessary information and tools to look at your digital marketing analytics and social media and pick out what could be bots on your website.

Advertising is often the largest spend a company has to budget for outside of any physical location or staff costs. But it can also be one where there is a high wastage because companies don’t always know how effective their marketing is or whether they’re reaching real people.

Criminals and fraudsters know this, and they take advantage of it through the use of click bots and server farms. Back in 2018 I wrote Ad Fraud Is Killing Your Marketing; in 2019 that position hadn’t changed much and as we head into 2020, it’s still a big concern.

What Is Ad Fraud?

At its simplest, Ad Fraud is the categorical term given for all forms of online advertising fraud including Impression fraud, Click fraud, Conversion fraud and Data fraud. 

In 2004 Google’s CFO George Reyes said that fraud was the biggest threat to internet economy, with the first research paper covering the topic coming from the Department of Computer Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which published it back in 1999.

And in 2013 AdWeek published an article with a headline that provoked debate: “Online Ad Fraudsters Are Stealing $6 Billion From Brands.”

Even the father of modern advertising, John Wannamaker, had something to say about wasting money, although his complaints related to the days of newspapers.

Why Should We Be Concerned?

Ultimately, it all comes down to the same problem – advertisers are made to pay for exposure or clicks which never take place, or if they do take place, are not transacted by humans. Digital ad fraud affects between 10 to 60 per cent of different types of digital advertising, according to numerous studies.

Fraudsters are becoming more advanced, using bots that can mimic the behaviour of how real users interact with their smartphones and mobile devices.

Because this engagement appears genuine, it is increasingly hard for marketers to identify which activity is real and which is fake. On top of the financial impact to brands, there is also a huge risk to reputation if engagement is based on fake activity.

2019 research from mobile analytics firm AppsFlyer revealed that marketers were largely unaware of the risks of ad fraud on mobile advertising campaigns and there were fears that fraudsters were moving quickly to create new methods of bypassing detection software.

When analysing the types of fraud, click flooding was as high as 52% in the UK, compared to 46% globally. There is also an international difference in the approach to combating ad fraud – in the US, 44% have changed their metrics to account for any fraud, whereas in the UK 43% are working with a third party to verify any threats.

Paul Wright, Managing Director of UK, France & MENA, AppsFlyer said: “Ad fraud is a huge challenge for advertisers – just as mobile has rapidly evolved on all fronts, so has mobile ad fraud and the battle against it. The continued growth in ad spend, in combination with a growing risk of ad fraud means it is more crucial than ever for marketers to truly understand the effectiveness of their campaigns and to protect their ad spend.”

Why Is Click Fraud A Specific Problem?

Essentially click fraud occurs when a script or software program uses an auto bot command to get information from a website link in the same way a human clicking on a link with their mouse or trackpad would do.

The latest ANA (Association of National Advertisers) study in conjunction with Reed Smith, released in September 2019, showed that trust remained an industry issue because of digital fraud and other concerns.

However, their survey on ad fraud, done in partnership with White Ops, released in May last year, reported that:

“Economic losses due to bot fraud are expected to total $5.8 billion globally this year, but for the first time ever more fraud will be stopped in 2019 than will succeed.”

The study revealed that while fraud attempts amount to 20-35 percent of all ad impressions throughout the year, the amount of fraud that gets through and gets paid for is now much smaller.

The majority of those fraudulent impressions are now getting invalidated by demand-side platforms (DSPs) or supply-side platforms (SSPs), filtered as SIVT before being paid for, or invalidated later via claw backs (the recovery of ad spend after a campaign has run). 

Without these preventative measures, fraud losses could have grown to an estimated $14 billion annually according to the report.

A lot of this reduction is down to an increase in awareness and better industry cooperation and this is great news, but $5.8b globally is still an exceptionally high amount of money being lost to fraudulent web traffic.

What Can We Do About Click Fraud?

Ad Fraud, and Click Fraud in particular, is becoming more advanced with bots which mimic the behaviour of real people in how they interact with their smartphones, mobile devices and online.

The introduction by Google of its simple Captcha – which is used on websites in a number of ways, from a simple checkbox through to showing an image which requires the visitor to click elements of a photo – is one of the reasons why fraudulent sign-ups for competitions or email services have lessened.

According to Vinay Shet, the product manager for Google’s Captcha team: “Instead of depending upon the traditional distorted word test, Google’s “reCaptcha” examines cues every user unwittingly provides: IP addresses and cookies provide evidence that the user is the same friendly human Google remembers from elsewhere on the Web.” 

He adds that even the tiny movements a user’s mouse makes as it hovers and approaches a checkbox can help reveal an automated bot.

In 2016 the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) created the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) to enhance accountability and transparency in the digital ad industry.

TAG works collaboratively with companies throughout the digital ad supply chain to eliminate fraudulent digital advertising traffic, combat malware, prevent internet piracy of content and products and protect the integrity of the digital supply chain.

Tools To Help Identify Click Fraud

Knowing your marketing data is key to highlighting and identifying potential click fraud. Analysing the results of your social media marketing gives you the clues for where your web traffic is coming from, what times of day your visitors land and their interactions once they visit your site.

Using built-in analytics tools on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will give you part of the picture. Google Analytics will give you a more detailed overview but tools like Beacon can  help even further.

With Beacon tracking code installed on your website, the app will track every link click and website visit from the Beacon Links you create for your marketing, giving you detailed analytics on how people interact with your campaigns.

It will also give you valuable insights and intelligence into how visitors behave once they land on your website. Beacon reveals website visitor stats from individual links, reporting on when your links were clicked, how your visitors behaved, and the percentage of real vs bot clicks.

Our Click Bot indicator can help you:

  1. Learn which channels are driving the most confirmed human visitors so you can then allocate your marketing budget better to reach real people
  2. Discover the real value of each click you’re paying for and work out how much the fraudulent bot clicks costing you
  3. Benchmark your average human/bot click ratio enabling you to work at improving this metric.

In Conclusion

Becoming aware of the different threat practices, implementing cutting-edge technologies, analysing user behaviour and web traffic data, sharing information with industry colleagues and keeping up-to-date with market innovations will help reduce Click Fraud.

Effectively combating click fraud means giving attention to the issue and requires an ability to crunch massive data streams across multiple social media and digital marketing platforms, checking algorithms and identifying vulnerabilities.

Making sure you have the best tools at your disposal is only one of the components to helping protect your business from click fraud. They cannot be totally eliminated but with apps like Beacon you can help cut them out from the data traffic which drives your ad spend or that of your customers and clients.

Talk to us today about how we can help you implement a Beacon solution for your business.