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How To Prevent Ad Fraud on Your PPC Campaigns

Last Updated on 16th Jul, 2024 | Social Media

Prevent Ad Fraud on PPC Campaigns

A Beginners Guide to PPC Ad Fraud Prevention

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is one of the most effective ways to reach new customers online. Services like Google Ads make it easy to display your ads to targeted audiences as they search for products and services. However, behind the simplicity of PPC lies a major challenge for advertisers: ad fraud. To prevent ad fraud on your PPC campaigns, you must be vigilant against sophisticated bots and fraudsters who artificially inflate ad costs by generating fake clicks, impressions, and conversions.

By some estimates, advertisers lose $20 billion per year globally to ad fraud.

For PPC marketers, ad fraud drains budgets and obscures campaign data. Invalid traffic makes it harder to optimize campaigns and demonstrate ROI.

The good news is that with the right strategies, you can dramatically reduce wasted ad spend and improve your PPC results.

This comprehensive guide will teach you how to prevent ad fraud in your PPC campaigns.

Key Takeaways

  • Ad fraud is a huge problem in PPC, costing advertisers billions per year. The main types are click fraud, pixel stuffing, domain spoofing, and ad stacking.
  • Prevent ad fraud by vetting your publishers, using anti-fraud tools, optimizing targeting, regularly analyzing data, enforcing frequency caps, avoiding low-quality inventory, and blocking known offenders.
  • Monitor click-through rate, conversion rate, cost per conversion, bounce rate, session duration, invalid traffic rate, and location targeting for signs of fraud.
  • Use IP exclusion lists, pre-bid filtering, and monitoring during campaigns to cut off fraudulent traffic sources.
  • Work with large, reputable publishers and exchanges. Use whitelists instead of blacklists. Go directly to the publisher rather than through resellers when possible.
  • Letting some invalid traffic through may be unavoidable. Focus on maximizing valid conversions rather than eliminating every invalid click.

What are the Different Types of Ad Fraud in PPC

Ad fraud shows up in PPC campaigns in a variety of forms. Here are the major categories you’ll want to safeguard against:

  • Click Fraud
  • Pixel Stuffing
  • Domain Spoofing
  • Ad Stacking

Click Fraud

Click fraud is the most common type of PPC ad fraud.

As the name suggests, fraudsters artificially generate clicks on your ads with no intent of engaging further.

Bots and human fraud networks deliberately click PPC ads to drain advertiser budgets. In some cases, unscrupulous competitors will also intentionally click rival ads.

With pay-per-click billing, these fake clicks directly cost you money.

Click fraudsters often target PPC platforms with the highest cost per click, such as Google Ads. Even a few hundred fake clicks per day can significantly inflate budgets over time.

Pixel Stuffing

Pixel stuffing refers to fraudulently generating ad impressions without visibility to users.

The scam takes advantage of how ads are counted as “viewable” based on pixels loaded rather than actual visibility.

By dynamically loading hidden iframes containing ads, scammers can ramp up impressions without being seen.

For PPC marketers, pixel stuffing can quickly use up their daily budget, but it’s unlikely to lead to more clicks or conversions.

Domain Spoofing

Domain spoofing is a tactic where fraudsters mimic legitimate publishers.

By creating lookalike domains and pages, spoofers lure advertisers to bid for placements on fake sites.

Domain spoofers then use bots and trickery to simulate ad engagement. Their sites will show high volumes of impressions, clicks, and conversions.

However, the traffic is not from actual users interested in the products. This falsified data makes campaigns appear more successful than they really are.

Ad Stacking

Ad stacking occurs when multiple ads are dynamically stacked on top of each other in rapid sequence.

When done intentionally to inflate metrics, ad stacking qualifies as fraudulent.

The technique artificially boosts impression volume since multiple creatives are counted. But in reality, only one ad is visible to users.

How to Prevent Ad Fraud in PPC Campaigns

With careful planning and proactive measures, you can greatly reduce wasted ad spending from invalid traffic and fraud.

Follow these tips throughout your PPC workflow, from publisher vetting to auction optimization, targeting settings, and monitoring.

Vet and Select Reputable Publishers

One of the best lines of defense is being selective about publishers.

By partnering only with legitimate, high-quality publishers, you can avoid much of the fraud that runs through shady sites and exchanges.

Research new publishers thoroughly:

  • Check their reputation. Ask for referrals from other advertisers and read reviews.
  • Evaluate site content. Fake sites often have thin, low-quality content.
  • Look for obvious spoofed domains. Type in URLs directly rather than clicking links.
  • Verify site analytics. Cross-check traffic and engagement metrics from independent third parties.
  • Check credentials. Confirm companies are who they claim to be by contacting references.

Use Anti-Fraud Tools and Settings

Take advantage of the anti-fraud capabilities in your PPC platforms and add-on tools:

  • Google Ads: Enable invalid activity and click fraud filters. Use IP address exclusion lists, bid adjustments, and auction-time filters.
  • Facebook Ads: Leverage Facebook’s advanced detection systems and work directly with reps if issues arise.
  • Anti-Fraud Tools: Implement pre-bid filtering, domain monitoring, fingerprinting, and more (see recommendations later in the guide).

Optimize Targeting Settings

Dial in your targeting to avoid bids being wasted on fraud-prone inventory:

  • Focus on context. Target topics, keywords, and placements rather than broad demographics.
  • Avoid high-risk placements. Skip sites with user-generated content or disreputable domains.
  • Cap low-quality inventory. Limit exposure on non-premium sites.
  • Block known offenders. Create exclusion/block lists for IPs, sites, etc.
  • Enforce frequency caps to limit repeat impressions from bots.

Monitor Campaign Analytics for Anomalies

Analyze your campaign data regularly to pick up on any unusual patterns:

  • Sudden spikes or drops in clicks, conversions, cost per conversion, etc.
  • Higher than expected impressions relative to spending or changes in other metrics.
  • A low click-through rate (CTR) combined with high impressions can indicate ad stacking.
  • High bounce rate and short session duration are red flags.
  • Traffic sources that you haven’t explicitly targeted warrant investigation.
  • Geographic report anomalies, like huge volumes from one obscure city.
  • Mismatches between PPC platform analytics and other sources (i.e., Google Analytics) may reveal inconsistencies.

Avoid Tactics Prone to Fraud

Some PPC approaches are more susceptible to fraud than others:

  • Broad keyword targeting makes it easier for click farms to find your ads. Use specific, relevant keywords.
  • Remarketing beyond engaged users increases impressions from potential click fraudsters.
  • Pushing for maximized impressions rather than conversions invites fraudulent inflation of metrics.

Enforce Frequency Caps

Frequency capping limits how often a user sees your ads within a given period.

This helps reduce repetitive ad views from bots and fraud rings.

The exact caps depend on your industry norms and goals, but most users should be limited to 1-2 views per day or 3-5 views per week.

Frequency capping works best when implemented platform-wide rather than per campaign or ad group.

Use Bid Adjustments Strategically

Increase bids for known legitimate publishers and decrease bids where fraud likelihood is higher:

  • Raise bids for direct, authorized partners: Google’s Publisher Center, major ad exchanges, reputable affiliates, etc.
  • Lower bids on exchanges and networks with less vetting and transparency.
  • Suppress bids entirely on questionable sites identified, blocked domains, etc.

Block Fraud-Prone Mobile In-App Inventory

Mobile in-app ads are ripe for fraud, given less transparency and oversight compared to mobile web or desktop.

Prevent wasted spend in this channel by:

  • Avoiding incentivized traffic from offer walls and rewards apps
  • Blocking known fraudulent developers and anonymized SDKs
  • Using trusted mobile measurement partners to identify and stop fraud

Use Location Targeting Precisely

Targeting by city, region, DMA, etc., is an easy way to focus ad spend.

But fraudsters often spoof locations to match campaign targeting. They feed your ads bogus traffic pretending to be from your targeted areas.

Use location options sparingly and avoid narrow location targeting. Advertise globally or nationwide unless there’s a compelling reason not to.

Proactive Anti-Fraud Tools and Techniques

In addition to campaign settings and inventory selection, leverage these proactive anti-fraud tools and techniques:

Pre-Bid Blocking of Invalid Traffic

Pre-bid blocking solutions prevent fraudulent inventory from entering auctions in the first place.

These tools stop bids before they happen by screening publishers, fraud bots, suspicious domains, etc. This saves budget while still allowing you to reach legitimate audiences.

IP Address Exclusion

Blocklists of known fraudulent IP addresses stop scam clicks in their tracks.

PPC platforms like Google Ads and tools like GeoEdge allow IP exclusions. Lists must be updated regularly as offenders switch IPs.

Forensics and Pattern Recognition

Vendors use sophisticated techniques to detect emerging fraud patterns across the web.

By identifying signatures of different scam types, tools block them automatically on your behalf.

Impression Forensics at Auction

Analyzing impressions in real time for anomalies, such as identical bid requests across domains, helps identify fraud before it costs money.

Device Fingerprinting

Browser fingerprints help distinguish real human traffic from bots and click farms. Associating ad clicks with verified devices improves transparency.

Publisher Sourcing and Verification

Evaluating publishers, exchanges, and sellers reduces the chance of spoofing, misrepresented inventory, and other frauds. Know your supply sources.

Monitoring During Campaigns

Rather than solely relying on post-campaign reports, use safety nets during live campaigns. Fraud detection APIs and interim analytics preserve budgets.

Top Metrics to Monitor for Ad Fraud

Keep a close eye on these campaign metrics to detect potential fraud:

  • Click-through rate (CTR): Unusually high or low CTRs warrant further investigation. Click fraud causes high CTRs while stacking/stuffing depresses CTRs.
  • Bounce rate: High bounce rates, particularly on landing pages, may indicate bots rather than engaged users.
  • Pages per session: Low pages per session and short session times are red flags for non-human traffic.
  • Conversion rate: Drops in conversion rate combined with unusual click patterns might reveal invalid clicks.
  • Cost per conversion: Sudden decreases in conversion costs can stem from bots inflating conversions.
  • Traffic source: High volumes from unexplained referrals or direct traffic could be ad fraud.
  • Geographic distribution: Spikes in obscure locations are suspicious. Compare to your customer base.
  • Platform discrepancies: Different performance metrics between the PPC platform and analytics often highlight fraud.

Signs Your PPC Ads May Be Targets of Fraud

Watch for these common indicators that your PPC ads are being deliberately targeted with invalid clicks or engagements:

  • You receive complaints about competitors clicking your ads.
  • Clicks spike, but conversion volume remains flat or drops.
  • Click-through rates are extremely high compared to benchmarks.
  • Traffic comes from unexpected geographies.
  • Engagement is abnormally high during overnight or weekend hours.
  • Your daily budget gets used up much faster than normal.
  • Monitoring tools flag domains sending traffic as suspicious.
  • Little branded search volume occurs despite claimed conversions.

Is Some Invalid Traffic Unavoidable?

With vigilant efforts, you can eliminate most ad fraud. However, the chances of blocking 100% of invalid traffic are low.

Aiming for zero waste may leave legitimate channels to be noticed. Sophisticated bots also adapt to blend in better over time.

Allowing a minimal “invalid traffic rate” lessens the stringent requirements of trying to eliminate every bot and script.

The key is to ensure that illegitimate activity stays under 5-10% of traffic volume. Focus on maximizing real engagement and conversions rather than chasing perfection.

Final Thoughts

Ad fraud threatens PPC marketing budgets and undermines data. But savvy advertisers can protect their spending with rigorous prevention measures.

Vet publishers thoroughly, leverage anti-fraud settings, optimize targeting, monitor analytics diligently, and use proactive blocking tools.

Avoiding fraud-prone tactics, being selective about inventory, and using metrics like CTR and bounce rate help detect issues.

While some invalid activity may be unavoidable, you can dramatically minimize waste. Your PPC budget is precious: guard it from fraudsters and maximize real conversions.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much of PPC ad spending is lost to fraud globally?

Research estimates ad fraud drains $20 billion per year from digital ad budgets worldwide. About 20% of all ad dollars are lost to invalid traffic. PPC accounts for a significant portion, though exact figures vary.

What are the signs of click fraud in PPC?

Possible signs of click fraud include extremely high click-through rates, spikes in clicks, lowering cost per conversion, traffic from unexpected locations, clicks never converting, and rapid daily budget exhaustion.

Should I avoid remarketing due to click fraud?

You don’t necessarily need to avoid remarketing outright. But use it selectively for engaged audiences, monitor closely, and use frequency capping. Bots are drawn to remarketing for easy clicks, so caution is required.

How do I block fraud traffic in Google Ads?

Google Ads has numerous built-in tools to block fraud, including IP exclusions lists, bid adjustments by geography, invalid click reporting, and bid strategies targeting legitimate publishers. Enable these proactively.

What are the signs of ad stacking or pixel stuffing?

Unusually high impressions coupled with low CTRs and minimal improvement to other metrics can indicate ad stacking. Traffic sources and referrers you haven’t actively targeted warrant further investigation as well.

Should I avoid advertising on social media due to ad fraud?

Don’t avoid social media altogether as long as you use reputable platforms like Facebook and Twitter. However, diligently monitor performance for irregularities regularly. Social ads are frequent targets of ad fraud.