PPC advertisers were probably thrilled when the FBI busted a massive click-fraud cyber-ring that had scammed over $14 million in malicious clicks over the last few years. Over 4 million computers in over 100 countries were infected with the crime ring’s malware, at least 500,000 of which were in the United States.
While it might feel good to have these crooks off the street, it is still very difficult for law enforcement to crack down on the widespread click-fraud that some estimate pilfers over $1 billion from PPC advertisers and publishers each year. Even more disconcerting is that most of these victims are probably unaware that they have been scammed.
Before you panic and pull your ads off of AdWords and AdCenter, remember there are ways to protect yourself from the Internet’s underworld. While there is no way to eliminate click-fraud, taking steps to mitigate its effects can keep PPC advertising profitable and the effect of click fraud negligible.
The following tips minimize the effect click-fraud and will help you sleep well at night.
Stick with the Major Pay-Per-Click Players
While there are other options outside of AdWords and AdCenter that might offer better prices, the giant PPC networks are the most committed to thwarting would-be click frauds. Google, for example, has protections in place to detect potential click fraud and has a process for refunding costs accrued due to click-fraud.
Watch the Data
Click fraud, especially in paid search, is sometimes possible to identify based on campaign data. If your paid search clicks increase while your conversion rates plummet, there’s a chance you’ve got a problem on your hands. As tempting as it might be to set it and forget it, success in paid search is dependent upon paying rigorous attention to the data. This is just another one of those cases.
Flee the High-Risk Countries!
Some countries are notorious for click-fraud infection. Unless these countries are a big market for you, it’s probably best to geo-target your ads so they won’t run in risky places. China, Egypt, Indonesia, and Nigeria are known for widespread click-fraud, and you can find a list of other risky countries here.
Don’t run your ads 24/7!
One mistake people often make with PPC campaigns is that they run their ads all the time to make sure they don’t miss any customers. Turning your ads off at certain times, like late at night, can not only improve your conversion rate but also protect from click-fraud. The smaller the window your ads are running, the harder it is for a spam-bot to run amok. Figure out what times of day you are seeing very poor conversion rates and avoid running ads at that time. You will protect yourself from click-fraud and optimize your campaign. It’s a win-win!
While there is no doubt click-fraud is a problem, paid search is still one of the best marketing investments online today. Take precautions, and keep an eye out for suspicious clicks, and you needn’t lie awake awake worrying about click-fraud.