Definition: Click fraud is when an individual, computer program or generated script exploits online advertisers by repeatedly clicking on a PPC (pay-per-click) advertisement to generate fraudulent charges. Click fraud drives up advertising costs, lowers conversion rates and skews user data for online businesses.

Who perpetuates click fraud?

Competitors: In some instances, click fraud is performed by a firm's competitors. A competitor can click on a company's online ads in an attempt to drive up the amount that the firm pays for the search term. If click fraud is performed effectively enough, it can actually push a competing business out of the market.

Publishers: The practice of click fraud is sometimes utilized by ad publishers in an attempt to “game” paid search advertising. This is common on affiliate networks where marketers sometimes have little visibility into the advertising data.

Customers: Though not actually click fraud, customers sometimes engage in behavior that appears similar. This occurs when one user regularly clicks on paid search advertisements to visit a particular website, rather than navigating directly or from a search engine. While not click fraud as traditionally defined, such behavior may nevertheless be characterized by search engines as potentially fraudulent, with any payment for the suspicious clicks subject to invalidation.

Spotting click fraud

Click fraud occurs on search engine and affiliate PPC advertisements. You may be a victim of click fraud if you identify any of the following:

  • Repeated clicks from similar ISPs without conversions
  • Spikes in search costs that exceed expectations
  • Anomalies in performance data that can't be explained

How to reduce — or prevent — click fraud

  • Lean on specialized services that automatically identify signs of click fraud, such as Sift Science.
  • Select industry-specific keywords and apply negative match
  • Regularly monitor user behavior
  • Establish and adhere to a budget


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