Ralph PerrierSeptember 25, 2016

So, you've got a product you'd like to advertise, sure the holy grail would be a slot on prime time TV, but for now, the budget just doesn't stretch that far. You need a cheaper alternative. Fortunately, you can always advertise online. It sounds perfect, all those eyes glued to their devices looking at your products. Anyway, TV's a thing of the past, right? You make the decision and take the plunge. You set up an AdWords account.

You team up with some publishers, their sites seem to get good traffic. You see dollar signs and launch your campaign. All seems well in the beginning a few visits, a few sales for you. Then all of a sudden a huge spike in traffic visiting your product. Fantastic, right? Well, not necessarily.

First off, if you suddenly have both a spike in visits and a spike in sales in your first few days online advertising, I take my hat off to you and your marketing prowess. Congratulations, you savor that walk to the bank. However, if your sales aren't quite matching up to your visits, you are likely to be being scammed by click fraud.

What is Click Fraud?

Click fraud for advertisers means unwanted clicks. Unwanted clicks can refer to any interaction with a site with zero chance of making a conversion, or sale. These cost money, as you'll be well aware from setting your AdWords budget in the first place. Once your budget is exhausted, your advert will no longer show on the publications you have deals with.

Unwanted clicks usually come from either a competitor seeking to gain an unfair advantage on the marketing front (sure, wouldn't we all like to see our main competitor just “disappear” for a while) or, alternatively, they can be down to the website publishers, or hackers working in cahoots with them.

PPC advertising campaigns work because advertisers pay for the space to show off their products on pages. This also means there is substantial money to be made from representing traffic through a publication. Who wouldn't want their product visible on the next must-see, hip current affairs vlog, right?

If a team of hackers can convince advertisers that their publications are real, and then simulate traffic, they stand to make a lot of money off them. The art is convincing the advertisers that the clicks are real. Increasingly, this calls for the use of sophisticated malware, generating clicks from a hidden“zombie” army of bots. Sounds like the plot of a movie, I know, but it's actually happening.

What does this mean for advertisers?

Advertisers must get tough to tackle the problem of click fraud and its a difficult task to do in-house. The sheer volume of data that needs analyzing will put off all but the most spend-thrift from fighting the menace on their own. For those still thinking of doing a John Rambo and saving their advertising budget alone, they'd be well advised to consider what they're up against again. Think back to that covert “zombie” robotic army. Realistically, you're probably going to need some backup to win this particular war.

Ralph works with department leads to ensure they are well-integrated, highly motivated and focused on changing the AdTech space for digital marketers by delivering game-changing products and personal experiences.