Good, loyal competition is one of the greatest things that can happen to your business. It can drive you to find the best, most marketable, and most useful iteration of your product or service.
But for every loyal competitor, how many do you think are trying to get a leg up on you using any means necessary?
Probably more than a few. And because one of the ways disloyal competitors can hurt businesses the most is by targeting their online ads, you get questions like this one posted on Quora. And by 2025, you get an ad fraud industry the size of a small European country’s GDP.
The Threat of Disloyal Competition
Ad fraud is a big problem that is often hard to pin down. There is no way to know how many fraudsters are doing it to steal your, or Google Ads’, money, and how many are doing it just to hurt your business.
Your competitors are probably the latter, though. If there are competitors who want to relatively easily sabotage your business, they can do it simply by draining your daily campaign budget.
Some might do it for their own financial gain. If they are sophisticated, or if they work with people who are, or even if they’ve read those answers on Quora, they can cause a lot of damage.
If you think this isn’t going to happen to you, think again. Competitors’ interference with your ads is an incredibly common threat. In case you are having trouble understanding how they do this and manage to get away with it, read on. We’ll cover the most common methods your competitors might be using to click on your ads.
The “Same Device, Different IP” Method
Before we get to explaining this method, you need to understand how Google Ads and third-party tools like ClickGUARD detect click fraud. They do it by monitoring a number of parameters that come with each ad click. One data source is given by Google Ads via
The device ID and the IP address are some of the parameters you need to monitor. And when they see a pattern in which the same device clicks on your ad using several different IP addresses, in quite an uncommon manner then you should put that down as a possible fraud.
What this kind of fraud looks like in practice? Imagine your fiercest competitor taking their smartphone and using the office Wi-Fi to click on your ad. They then use their mobile plan’s internet access to click on the ad. Then they look for public networks they can connect to, using any networks they find to click on your ad. It’s not unreasonable to imagine competitors driving around town and hoping networks just to click on your ads from different IPs.
In this case one variable never changes, a device ID. It is quite easy to block a device from ever seeing your ad using one of the available protection rules.
The “Same IP (or IP Range), Multiple Devices” Method
If your competitors have a lot of employees and connected devices, they can do a different type of attack. It can get hard to find a lot of different networks without moving around a lot. The next best thing is to use as many devices as possible to click on the ad using the office’s connection, for an example.
In general, offices either share a single IP address or a range of them. So even if your competitors get their employees to use every computer, laptop, tablet, and mobile device they can get their hands on, you can still catch them because of the same IP address or range. And they’ll try to do this because it’s still an inexpensive method to mess with your ads.
The “Spam the Bejesus Out of Those Clicks” Method
Click fraud often takes time, especially if people want to cover their tracks. Let’s say your competitor figures out how to easily change devices and IP addresses. They still have to click the ad enough times to drain your budget. The stealthy tactic would be to spread those clicks over a day.
For various reasons, this isn’t always the most practical approach for the fraudulent competitor. Instead, they choose to power through your budget by incessantly clicking on your ads. At best, they’ll spread the clicks over a short timeframe. Who’s got the time to carefully schedule clicks on ads?
The “Click on the Same Keywords We Use” Method
The one thing you certainly have in common with your direct competitors are the keywords you use. If you’re not sharing at least a couple of important keywords, you’re not really competitors.
If you notice that one of these overlapping keywords is getting massive amounts of clicks, you’d be right to suspect your competitors are behind it. And what they’re doing is neither sophisticated nor hard to figure out.
By draining your budget for that keyword/campaign, your competitors are trying to remove your ads from appearing after queries that contain the common keyword. They want their ads to be the only ones appearing when people search for that keyword, and they’re trying to remove you from the picture. Who said unsophisticated attacks have to be ineffective?
You can play by the books as much as you like, but that won’t help you avoid being on the receiving end of your competitors’ click fraud strategies. The bad news is that your advertising network, probably Google Ads, does not always care to understands what’s going on, and is not doing all that it could to protect your ads. After reading this article, you too can understand what’s going on and do something to help protect your ads. And if you’re still unsure what that something is, here’s a hint — it starts with “try” and ends with “ClickGUARD.”