Signs of competitor click fraud in Google Ads

November 4, 2020
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Are you an easy target? Find out how to protect your ads with PPC click forensics

Unfortunately, “what is the most  effective way to exhaust our competitors’ Adwords budget?” is not a hypothetical question in all too many cases. In this press release by Juniper Research, competitor click fraud is listed as one of the top 5 sources of click fraud. It comes in many forms: from hard-to-block brand name misspellings and multiple long-tail keyword searches to easier-to-stop (but no less annoying) repetitive ad clicks from the same IP address.

A response from an enterprising click fraudster in the “what is the most  effective way to exhaust our competitors’ Adwords budget?” thread promises that “your competitors will be crazy because of this.” Seeing his ad budget drained day after day was certainly enough to get Ralph Perrier to start ClickGUARD:

“The simple answer to ‘why click fraud software’ is to drive awareness’ ... so that small business marketers like myself or you no longer have to keep feeding and funding $23 billion a year of click fraud waste”

In this post, we break down the methods your competitors may be using and show you how you can stop being an easy target for competitor click fraud by using PPC click forensics and automated rules in ClickGUARD.

Table of contents

How to find out if your competitors are trying to gain an unfair advantage in PPC ads

Common competitor click fraud strategies 

Targeting shared keywords or keyword groups

Competitor click fraud: targeting shared keywords or keyword groups

The one thing you certainly have in common with your direct competitors are the keywords you bid on. When they drain your budget for that keyword or campaign, your competitors are trying to remove your ads from search results for specific queries.

“...we suspect that one of our competitors is engaging in serious click fraud. How do we know? There is no way to know for sure.  But when you have 500 clicks over 90 days with no conversions for just ONE keyword you suspect something is up”

Read more here

To stop this type of click fraud, you’ll need to use a third-party solution. For example, ClickGUARD can block devices or IP addresses that target keywords that you’re bidding on

Eliminating competitors’ ads early on with click surges

Competitor click fraud: eliminating competitors’ ads early on with click surges

In most cases, a sudden spike in traffic over a short period is caused by a click fraud attack. Even though you might think that a smarter strategy would be to spread clicks over time, most competitors will choose to power through your budget by clicking on your ads until you’re out of the game.

This might seem reckless, but for the purposes of unethical competitors, this makes sense: by quickly eliminating you from the game, they get the playing field all to themselves and get more potential customers clicking on their ads.

While this can be infuriating, this is also an opportunity to block unscrupulous competitors by setting up rules based on click frequency.

Sudden spikes in traffic are a sign of click fraud in general. However, there are additional ways you can identify competitors that DIY their click fraud operations.

Competitor click fraud: signs of a DIY operation

Using multiple devices while clicking on ads from the same IP or IP range

Competitor click fraud: using multiple devices while clicking on ads from the same IP or IP range

If your competitors have a lot of employees and connected devices, they can use those devices to click on your ads while using their office’s IP address or IP range.

Fortunately, 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 stop them. A spike in traffic coming from the same IP address or an IP range can be identified and blocked through Google Ads settings. 

Using different IPs or IP ranges to click on your ads from the same device 

Competitor click fraud: using different IPs or IP ranges to click on your ads from the same device

But if your competitors are even a little bit technically sophisticated, they are not likely to keep clicking on your ads from the same IP every day. Instead, they might try to use the same device, but click on your ads while connecting to different IP addresses.

In this case, competitors use the same device to click on ads while switching between different networks, for example their office Wi-Fi, then mobile internet access, then public networks to avoid detection.

The one variable that never changes for this method of competitor click fraud is their device. While you can’t block a particular device through Google Ads, third-party tools with click forensics capabilities can identify a particular device by its digital fingerprint and block it based on its behavior.

Outsourcing click fraud activities to “professional” fraudsters

While some businesses are willing to invest time and effort into thwarting your ad campaigns, there are also companies that outsource these activities to fraudsters-for-hire who’ll unleash low-wage workers, malware, software, or scripts on your ads.

In most cases, you can still identify and stop them. However, continuously keeping track of fraudulent clicks and manually updating the frequently-changing IP addresses they come from can become quite a task.

Fortunately, this can be done automatically with third-party tools that use click forensics to block fraudulent traffic.

How to use PPC click forensics information to eliminate competitor click fraud

Click forensics is a collection of data points that can be used to make data-driven decisions and block suspicious or fraudulent clicks. PPC click forensics helps prevent click fraud by identifying suspicious devices or behaviors.

For competitor click fraud, this can be a high volume of clicks from the same IP address or the same IP range with little or no time on page, a high volume of clicks from devices with no digital fingerprints coming from outside of your targeted location, or a high number of clicks for specific keywords coming from the same device or IP.

In all of these cases, it’s possible to set up automated rules to prevent these clicks from depleting your ad budget.

It’s also possible to optimize advertising campaigns by setting up rules meant to improve your ROAS, for example by excluding traffic that doesn’t convert.

You might not be always able to tell whether you’re dealing with indecisive prospective customers or tricky competitors trying to avoid detection by emulating “normal” website visitor behavior — but you can block them from clicking on the ads and wasting your budget.

PPC click forensics data in ClickGUARD

PPC click forensics data in ClickGUARD

In ClickGUARD, click forensics reports include:

  • IP address and unique device
  • Visitor behavior, including pageviews, site interaction, and time on site
  • Geolocation information
  • Related clicks, IP addresses, and devices
  • Related IP address, IP range, or placement exclusions
Stopping competitor click fraud: click forensics report in ClickGUARD

In addition, you can view reports including the following forensics info:

Read this post for a complete overview of how click forensics data in ClickGUARD can be used to inform automated rules and exclude fraudulent clicks. 

If you’re worried that competitors are sabotaging your Google Ads campaigns, reach out to our team of data scientists to get a free traffic audit — and get actionable suggestions on how to automatically block fraudulent clicks in the future.

Jason is a passionate data-driven specialist with extensive PPC & SEO experience. When not writing about SEM he can be found surfboarding the wildest ocean waves of the Argentinian coast.