Ralph PerrierJuly 14, 2022

Click fraud is real - it’s as real as it gets, and financially draining too. By the end of 2022, click fraud is expected to cost advertisers no less than $44 billion – and things will only escalate from there, as some estimates say the entire ad fraud industry will reach $100 billion in just a couple of years. Under these circumstances, you definitely want to stop competitors clicking AdWords to safeguard your PPC budget, right? 

Right. 

Also, not so right. 

Click fraud is more complex than just competitors clicking AdWords. 

Read on if you want to learn more about how to stop competitors clicking AdWords, but also other dangers connected to click fraud. 

What IS Click Fraud? 

Click fraud is a type of ad fraud that focuses on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. It is the practice of repeatedly clicking on an ad without any real interest in the ad or the advertised product. 

Why would anybody do that? The intention may be that of generating revenue for the host website or simply draining the advertiser’s budget. Even if this isn’t the end goal itself, click fraud will waste an advertiser’s budget and limit the exposure of ads to legitimate users. 

Now that we’ve established what click fraud is, let’s also have a look at 

  • Who is clicking on your AdWords?
  • How does click fraud happen? 

Are Competitors Clicking on Your AdWords? 

What do you think of when you think of click fraud? 

Is it your competitors sitting in an office and clicking on your ads? This scenario could be partly true, but it’s not the whole picture… 

But first, let’s dive deeper into why you should worry about how to stop competitors clicking AdWords. 

Let’s look at two scenarios:

Scenario 1: 

Your ad is showing up more often or in a better position than your competitor’s. Maybe you are ranking first and your competitor is ranking second. 

By deploying a large number of (irrelevant) clicks on your ads, your ad budget will be depleted fast, potentially leaving the competitor’s ad in a better position. 

Scenario 2:

Your competitor has a big launch or an event planned. They want all eyes on them on a ascertain date and their strategy includes Google Ads. 

The fact that you are competing for the same search terms isn’t helpful. 

But if they waste all your ad budget, they can get you out of the advertising picture long enough for their campaign to get (better) results. 

In both these scenarios, deploying a competitor’s ad budget can be a productive strategy. Competitors might decide to attack your Google Ads campaigns. 

So, it is plausible for competitors to try to deplete your ad budget.

Your wish to stop competitors clicking AdWords is legitimate.

There is of course the problem of HOW your ad budget is depleted… 

Click Fraud Is More than Just Competitors Manually Clicking Ads

If you’re stuck in the scenario of competitors sitting in an office and clicking on your ads you won’t be able to effectively stop competitors clicking AdWords. Because the reality is more complex. 

The internet isn’t all about humans creating ads and searching for information. In fact, it is estimated that about 40% of all web traffic is bot traffic. 

Out of this 15% of traffic is generated by good bot traffic, while about 25% is bad bot traffic. 

Who are these bad bots messing with the internet?

examples of bad bots

They are bots created by fraudsters to help them with their wrong-doings: 

  • Scam bots, for example, are designed to post spammy links and comments. 
  • Content scrapers are bots designed to scrape the web in search of content to steal. 
  • Click bots are bots designed to click on PPC ads and deplete your marketing budget. 

That’s right, click bots are better at consuming your ad budget than your human competitors. 

And this is where things get interesting and why instead of trying to stop competitors clicking AdWords, you should focus on limiting the effects of click fraud in general.

Human Clicks vs. Bot Clicks

Let’s go back to that scenario of competitors sitting in an office and clicking on your ads. 

Is this something you would like to do? Probably not, it’s not an interesting task.

And there is a better way. Well, a worse way of doing this. 

Bots.

We can’t talk about click fraud without talking about bots. Direct human clicks to an ad are worrying, but there’s also the problem of click farms and click bots. 

Click bots can deploy hundreds of clicks within a minute, and cause more damage than humans can. Moreover, unlike human behavior, bot behavior is constantly changing - bots are always being improved by their creators. They are getting better and better at mimicking human behavior and avoiding detection. 

Who can benefit from deploying click bots? Strategies such as deploying click bots can be beneficial for several parties - cybercriminals, website owners, or competitors. Essentially, click bots and botnets can be “rented” out to anybody for the right price. 

But in the end, does it really matter who is clicking on your ads? What matters is that you are wasting valuable resources and that your competition will benefit from your problems. 

In the end, you don’t want to be a victim. Bots are a real threat, no matter how and why they are operated. That’s why you should definitely include them in your plan to stop competitors clicking AdWords.

What’s Google Got To Do With It? 

The short answer is not much.

Google is claiming to be taking precautions against click fraud and to reimburse click fraud victims. However, measures don’t seem to be enough. 

In fact, most advertising platforms are finding it difficult to tackle click fraud and to stop competitors from clicking AdWords in the process.

On the one hand, there is not much interest for these platforms to stop click fraud, as long as they are making a profit out of it. And on the other hand, bots are constantly evolving and getting better and better to mimic human behavior. That’s why it’s difficult for advertising platforms, which are themselves focused on making a profit, to keep up-to-date with new ways of identifying bots and click fraud schemes. 

The fact that advertising platforms are taking a stance and publicly declaring a fight against click fraud is a good thing. But it is hardly enough. 

For example, Google hasn’t exactly been living up to its promises to fight click fraud and reimburse victims. In a famous 2006 trial, namely Lane’s Gifts and Collectibles vs. Google, the court ruled in favor of the 70 plaintiffs that sued Google for billing them for invalid clicks on their ads, thus hurting their businesses. And this is not the only case. There are many examples of victims going to court for click fraud. 

Unfortunately, not all companies have the resources to do this. Prevention is better than relying on court verdicts.

How to Stop Competitors Clicking on Your AdWords 

In the murky waters of the internet, it is difficult to stop competitors and fraudsters from clicking on your ads. At the rate at which bots are evolving, it is impossible to stop fraud altogether. 

What you can do, however, is to take a proactive approach to mitigate the effects of bad bots and fraudulent clicks. 

Here are our 4 top tips on how to approach click fraud and how to stop competitors clicking on AdWords in the process:

Don’t focus on competitors, but on click fraud in general

how to eliminate invalid traffic

As we’ve already pointed out, focusing on stopping competitors is not enough. Instead, you should focus on stopping click fraud altogether. 

No matter the source of click fraud, the effects are the same. Instead of trying to identify your competitors’ IPs, focus on identifying all irrelevant traffic on your Google Ads campaigns. Block that traffic and there’s a high chance you will also stop competitors clicking AdWords.

Here are some actions you can take to eliminate invalid traffic: 

  1. Identify where your irrelevant or invalid traffic is coming from and set up IP exclusion lists;  
  2. Adjust ad retargeting, particularly if you are only targeting certain locations; 
  3. Focus on valuable placements and publishers; low-quality websites can be a source of click fraud; 
  4. Monitor invalid clicks using both the data offered by Google Ads, but also that of specialized software;
  5. Run remarketing campaigns, as these campaigns target only users who have visited your website; therefore, chances are minimal for those visitors to be bots. 

Analyze your data and use it to optimize for intent 

Don’t take anyone’s word on it. You know your campaigns best. Get as much data on your campaigns as possible, analyze it and make your decisions based on your findings. 

Use this data to optimize your Google Ads for intent - because after all, you want your visitors to convert to customers. Once you do this, you can focus on the traffic that actually converts, slowly eliminating bad or irrelevant traffic. 

Use the right tools

You don’t have to do everything manually. There are many good analytics and optimization tools out there. Choose tools that offer you in-depth information about your PPC campaigns. Better yet, use a tool that allows you to easily filter and block bad traffic. 

You can also choose to use ClickGUARD for its in-depth click forensics. This feature gives you the full story for each and every click on your campaigns. You can then decide on what you wish to block. This can also help you stop competitors clicking AdWords. 

Don’t be lazy about it 

All of our advice here is no good if you only apply it once and then forget about it. Click fraud schemes don’t go around hitting every victim once. They are getting more complex, more efficient, and targeting more potential victims. 

Only by staying informed and by constantly analyzing and optimizing your campaigns will you be able to limit the damage. As we’ve already pointed out, you won’t be able to forever stop click fraud, but you will make it more difficult for fraudsters to hurt you. 

So, what are you going to do to stop competitors clicking AdWords? Are you going to look into a more “holistic” approach to stopping click fraud? We certainly hope so. 

Just remember, keeping your ads safe is a more efficient approach than wasting precious time looking for culprits.

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.