Click fraud is bad for advertisers and potential customers alike. It wastes a lot of money and time and can significantly increase the cost of a product or service. But click fraud is here to stay and doesn’t plan on going anywhere. It’s a permanent roommate for online advertising and it doesn’t plan on paying rent, doing housework, or picking up after itself.
The time has come to start speaking reality and stop spending so much time trying to blow beams of sunshine up each other’s behinds or pointing fingers [insert thoughts of recent articles about Facebook here]. The online advertising industry will not “win” the battle against click fraud if “winning” is defined as eradicating click fraud. When there’s a lot of money changing hands, fraudulent behavior will almost always stop by for a visit and will continue stopping by unannounced no matter how many times you’ve slammed the door in its face. This happens in every line of work, not just online advertising. Our job as an industry is to smoke click fraud out from its hiding place, minimize it as much as possible, and keep one step ahead in order to limit the damage caused and the money wasted.
First and foremost, everyone needs to educate themselves about how they can help fight against click fraud. We can’t fully pass the responsibility to third-party automated click fraud prevention technology. No doubt there are many benefits in applying such technology to online advertising campaigns but nothing can replace the power of human interaction and keen observation. Following some basic guidelines and keeping an eye on a few key customer data points and campaign statistics will go a long way in helping discover and minimize click fraud. Let’s have a quick look at a few suggestions.
- Don’t be cheap. Cheap cars! Cheap dates! Cheap food! Cheap clothes! They all underperform vs. their more expensive counterparts. Online advertising is no different. Being financially responsible and diligent with your budget and costs are good things but don’t try to purposely go the cheapest route possible without assuming you are increasing the probability of advertising on websites that are more prone to fraudulent behavior and results. Find the happy middle ground because it’s almost always true that higher quality costs more but in the long run you will be happier and experience better results.
- Be realistic. Realistically, click fraud exists all over the place and as I outlined above, won’t be going away anytime soon. Despite utilizing the latest and greatest click fraud prevention technology on the market and watching your campaign’s analytics like a hawk, click fraud will still show its ugly head from time to time. Be realistic about this reality. Battling click fraud is a cat-and-mouse game. Don’t give up and abandon online advertising. Be patient and determined, as the benefits of this form of advertising far outweigh the negatives.
- Pay attention. Being observant and knowledgeable of what to look for is a key component in generating successful campaign results while at the same time vetting out and minimizing click fraud. For instance, if an inventory partner or specific website is generating a click-through rate that is exponentially higher than industry standards or all other websites being targeted, then it’s worth looking into and asking questions. Also, if inventory partners or websites with high click-through rates aren’t corresponding to higher overall conversion rates, then take a deeper look. These are just a couple items to keep an eye on. The point is, watch for trends and analyze data against historical results or industry standards. Find the outliers and take a deeper look at what is going on. Sometimes your biggest culprits for click fraud will exist in the smaller, clean-looking, unknown websites that just stroll along with click-through rates twice as high as everyone else while generating zero conversions and zero repeat visitors.
Remember, cockroaches and click fraud have a lot in common. They are both disturbing pests that provide no obvious benefit and should be gotten rid of altogether. However, despite such feelings, cockroaches have been around for over 300 million years and they aren’t going anywhere, regardless of the tens of millions of dollars spent developing modern sprays, traps, and prevention methods. Often the best defense is to look out for signs that they exist (e.g., alarming high click-through rates), minimize your exposure (e.g., stick to known websites or trusted vendors), take action at the first signs of infestation (e.g., exclude websites immediately upon observing odd behavior and implement click fraud prevention technology), clean regularly in dark areas (e.g., continue to review and scrub previously used website lists), and keep your home clean.
Cockroach image on home page via Shutterstock.
This column was originally published on Aug. 29, 2012.