Have you ever met a friend for lunch and noticed they were carrying a trendy designer handbag or sporting an expensive watch? If so, you may have wondered if they won the lottery or if it was a gift from a wealthy relative. Or did they think they scored a bargain on Canal Street?
Your curiosity may have been piqued, especially if their taste in accessories is usually more moderate, but you likely didn’t ask if it was authentic or counterfeit. However, when it comes to your ad click rate, that should be the first thing you ask if something seems out of the ordinary.
How can you tell if your clicks are real or fake? Is your campaign paying off, or are fraudsters making off with your ad dollars? And what do fraudulent clicks have in common with fake designer accessories? Let’s find out.
Who or What Is Behind Fake Clicks?
Clicks from real prospects drive results by converting to quality leads and sales. Fake clicks lead to wasted time and ad dollars, decreased ROI, skewed marketing data, and damaged brand reputations. Fake clicks come from several sources and can be manual or automated. Fake clicks lead to click fraud, one of the most common forms of ad fraud. So, who, or what, is behind those fake clicks?
Bad bots. Any traffic that isn’t human is bot traffic. Some bot traffic, such as search engine crawlers, is harmless and necessary, as they help your site’s content be found. Then there are bad bots that can damage your website or perform malicious tasks, such as clicking on your ads to generate fake clicks. Bots can create click flooding by going on an attack that produces a large number of fake clicks.
Publishers. Advertisers rely on publishers to get their ads in front of their target audiences. Publishers rely on advertising revenue. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous publishers deploy underhanded tactics to generate revenue for themselves but little to no revenue for their advertisers.
Dishonest publishers may deploy bots or human click farms to click on their site’s digital ads to increase revenue and make it seem like those ads are generating results for advertisers so they will continue to place ads with them. A publisher could also use this tactic on another publisher’s site to discredit them when advertisers realize they aren’t getting results.
Other shady publishers create made-for-advertising (MFA) sites that don’t offer valuable content to consumers but do offer cheap ad space, which also leads to a lot of ads. They may generate clicks, but it’s usually a case of getting what you pay for—cheap space and poor-quality clicks.
Some other fraudulent publisher tactics include pixel stuffing, loading multiple ads into a 1x1 pixel, making them so small they are not visible to the human eye but can still result in an ad impression. Ad stacking is a similar technique, with multiple ads stacked on top of each other so they are not visible. Because they aren’t visible, you may not get many fraudulent clicks, but you are paying for impressions of ads that can’t be seen.
Competitors. While your competitors’ marketing teams aren’t clicking on your ads all day, they may hire a human click farm to do so. How does that work? Humans get paid to click on ads all day, which quickly exhausts the budget for these ads, so they are no longer displayed. If consumers can’t see your ads, they can’t know about your products and won’t be able to buy from you. This drives up your ad costs while generating no return for your campaign and opening up opportunities for your competitors to display their ads.
So, What Do Fraudulent Clicks Have in Common with Fake Handbags, Anyway?
Fraud is fraud. It can look different depending on the actors and the industry, but its roots lie with bad actors who have figured out how to take advantage of a system and steal money. What does fraud in these seemingly disparate industries have in common?
Cheap labor. Human click farms pay people very little money to click on ads, while publishers and fraudsters rake in the money from advertisers. Faux designer handbags (or watches, sunglasses, jewelry, etc.) are produced in sweatshops, mostly overseas, using cheap labor.
Brand risk. Publishers who generate a lot of fake clicks quickly lose their reputation as viable advertising platforms. Advertisers lose ad dollars and perhaps some of their brand luster if their ads wind up on MFA sites or those known to spread misinformation. They can also lose brand awareness if the ad runs get shortened by fake clicks that deplete their campaign budget.
Designer brand reputations are diluted when counterfeits glut the market. If everyone can afford a “designer” bag, the brand loses its luxury appeal. If someone unwittingly buys a knockoff, they will likely be disappointed in the quality and think less of the brand.
A “quantity over quality” mindset puts some of the victims at risk. Advertisers who rely on programmatic platforms to place more ads in more places—instead of focusing on fewer, more targeted ads on higher-quality sites—are setting themselves up for click fraud. Many consumers who buy fake luxury goods know they are doing so, wanting the label without paying the price. They shouldn’t be surprised when the items don’t last or wear as well as the real thing.
How does Anura stop click fraud, protect your ad budget, and improve your campaign performance? Find out here!
How Can I Tell If My Ad Clicks Are Real or Fake?
Since you can physically see and feel a designer knockoff item, identifying it as such can be easy: the fake bag’s logo is a bit crooked and the lining tears easily, or the “Fauxlex” watch is lightweight and tarnishes. Fake ad clicks are harder to detect; however, there are some red flags if you know what to look for:
Lots of clicks, few conversions. If you notice a campaign is getting a lot of clicks, especially if there are more than you usually see from a specific source, and those clicks lead to few or no conversions, you’re likely looking at click fraud.
Unusual traffic patterns. A lot of traffic from one source, traffic coming from geographic regions outside your target area, a significant spike in traffic in a short time, or any other traffic patterns that just don’t look right can all indicate click fraud.
Rapidly draining budgets. If your campaign budget quickly runs dry with little to no results, it’s highly likely that you have click fraud, possibly launched by a competitor.
High bounce rate. Assuming there isn’t a legitimate reason, such as a landing page with no clear call to action, a high bounce rate can be a sign of click fraud.
I Think I Have Real Click Fraud. Now What?
While the signs of click fraud may be easy to spot, knowing where it’s coming from and figuring out how to stop it is more complicated. It doesn’t help that advertisers and publishers have more to focus on than fighting click fraud, while fraudsters have nothing to do but figure out how to make money. They’re outsmarting advertisers, publishers, and even many ad fraud solutions in several ways.
Ineffective tools. We hate to break it to you, but CAPTCHA is not effective in preventing click farm attacks. It’s up against humans working for human fraud farms, but even worse, some bots are better at solving CAPTCHAs than humans!
Smarter bots. Bots constantly update, upgrade, and adapt their behavior, making them harder to detect and stop. Most available ad fraud tools simply can’t keep up.
Better tools. Fraudsters mask their activity with device spoofing tools or using multiple devices to attack simultaneously. Basically, the good guys often use single-blade knives to fight fraudsters with Swiss Army tools.
If you’re serious about fighting click fraud, you need a partner who’s not only as serious as you are but also knows what to look for, how to fight it, and how to stop it. Even better, they can show you where your legitimate clicks are coming from so you can stop wasting your ad budget on what isn’t driving results and put your dollars and efforts into what does.
Anura’s ad fraud solution changes along with, and often ahead of, fraudsters’ ruses. We look at multiple data points, not just IP addresses or any other single identifier, and apply technology along with human experience and expertise to add context and stop the bad actors before they can commit click fraud.
Not only can we help stop the click fraud you have today and proactively fight future fraud, but our 99.999 percent accuracy rate means you’re not rejecting legitimate visitors and losing valuable sales and leads. Partnering with Anura is a win-win for advertisers and publishers who are serious about stopping click fraud while protecting their budgets, their revenue, and their brand reputation.
If this sounds too good to be true, we invite you to see for yourself with our free 15-day fully functional trial.