March 26, 2021 by Jason Pittock | 8 min reading time

Websites for businesses in every industry the world over get a fair amount of invalid traffic and fraudulent clicks on their websites. To what extent? Bad bots made up almost a fourth of all web traffic in 2019. About 37% of all internet traffic in 2019 wasn’t even human. That’s not the kind of traffic that will produce revenue. 

To prevent wasting your ad budget, you need to protect your ad campaigns against invalid clicks. It’s not possible to prevent invalid traffic entirely without also preventing the good traffic that brings you business. To minimize the effects of invalid traffic, it will help you to answer the question, “What is invalid traffic?” We also have some great tips for how to spot it and stop it. 

What Is Invalid Traffic in Google Ads?

Let’s get started with an official definition of Google AdSense invalid traffic.

“Invalid traffic includes any clicks or impressions that may artificially inflate an advertiser’s costs or a publisher’s earnings.”

In other words, it’s traffic that comes from someone that's not a real user or someone that isn’t genuinely interested in a product or service. 

AdSense invalid traffic can come in any one of these forms:

  • Accidental clicks
  • Fraudulent clicks
  • Bot traffic
  • Crawlers

These types of issues may violate the Google AdSense terms of service. Publishers that make a practice of AdSense click fraud can get banned from the platform. The problem with these types of clicks and impressions is that they just don't have any value when it comes to building a business. 

Something else you should know in the fight against AdSense click fraud is to learn where it comes from. Traffic can be considered invalid even if it’s accidental. 

Check out these 3 sources of traffic bots:

  1. Publishers view and click on ads to increase the numbers of impressions and ads on websites.
  2. Publishers use automated tools to create invalid clicks using click bots, bot farms, or software.
  3. Fraudsters attempt to steal a user’s data using bot traffic to spam web pages.  

You may not want to believe that people are out there deliberately sabotaging your ads, but the reality is it happens a lot. When it does, there are two ways to categorize it:

  1. General Invalid Traffic (GIVT)
  2. Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT)

We’ll explain each of them separately.

What Is General Invalid Traffic in Google Ads? 

General Invalid Traffic (GIVT) – The keyword here is general. More specifically, it refers to non-human traffic that’s not malicious. It’s not the type of traffic that interferes with ad campaigns. It’s easy to identify and it’s easy for filters to catch it. Known industry bots and web crawlers crawl the web, but it’s not considered fraud or mobile ad fraud because it collects data, but it doesn’t do any harm. 

What Is Sophisticated Invalid Traffic in Google Ads? 

Sophisticated Invalid Traffic (SIVT) – Sophisticated invalid traffic is the direct opposite of General Invalid Traffic. It’s fraudulent and non-human traffic that’s designed to appear as if it’s human traffic. What classifies it as sophisticated is that fraudsters try to mask their behavior as legitimate, making it more complex and difficult to catch. Marketers need advanced analytics, tools, and time to nip it in the bud. Google watches out for SIVT as well. If they detect a high level of invalid traffic on a publisher account, they will likely suspend the account. 

What Are the Main Sources of Invalid Traffic in Google Ads?

Now that you understand GIVT and SIVT traffic, let’s look at the sources of each type of traffic. 

GIVT

GIVT traffic sources
  • Self-identifying bots, search engine crawlers, spiders
  • Known data centers that crawl the internet  
  • Unknown browsers that are legitimate

SIVT

SIVT traffic sources
  • Malware or adware
  • Cookie stuffing
  • Incentivized traffic (offers users something to browse the site)
  • Devices or sessions that get hijacked and engage with ads
  • Bots and spiders that appear to be human and manipulate analytics

Understanding the sources of invalid traffic is the first step in tackling invalid traffic. Let’s move on to how to spot it.  

How to Spot Invalid Traffic in Google Ads?

Google detects unusual traffic using sophisticated technology and they monitor traffic heavily. When they detect it, they use complex algorithms to identify patterns and bad traffic while it’s happening. Then they filter it out so advertisers don’t have to pay for bad clicks. If they can’t intercept it, they’ll send advertisers a refund. 

When it comes to advising publishers on how to address AdSense click fraud, Google is only mildly helpful. They might suggest publishers check Google Analytics or choose their traffic sources wisely, but those strategies do little to prevent click fraud proactively. 

In Google’s defense, they’re a little cryptic about exactly how they try to block AdSense click fraud because they don’t want fraudsters to find a way to block their filtering methods. We give them E for effort, but it’s not enough to keep traffic bots out of your hair (or out of your campaigns).

Google Analytics is a good tool to use because it’s informative, free, and easy to use. Looking for some other simple ways to filter out invalid clicks? Try these:

  • Don’t click on your own ads! And tell others on your team not to do it either. You’ll eat into your own ad budget and Google could flag the account as fraud. 
  • Segment your traffic so it’s easier to see where IP addresses are coming from.
  • Perform quality checks in your Google Ads account. Two sets of eyes are better than one, so ask other in-house marketers to cross-check each other.
  • Follow Google’s policy guidelines when creating ads. 
  • Publishers should leverage Google Adsense’s site authorization feature to prevent activity on unwanted ads from registering on your AdSense account.
  • To help with tracking, add invalid click and invalid click rate columns for campaigns inside Google Ads. 

Check Google’s definitions of terms related to invalid traffic:

Invalid clicks-The number of clicks Google deems illegitimate and doesn’t charge you for.

Invalid click rate-The percent of invalid clicks in comparison with total clicks. 

Invalid interactions-All interactions that stem from invalid clicks.

Invalid interaction rate-The percent of invalid interactions in comparison to total interactions. 

Now let’s put it all together and explore some strategies to stop traffic bots from destroying your ad campaigns. 

How to Stop Invalid Traffic in Google Ads? 

Before we get into the steps you can take to stop invalid clicks, let’s review the problems that invalid traffic cause:

  • It increases advertising costs.
  • It can lead to a decrease in the market value of ad inventory.
  • It creates havoc with your analytical data. 
  • Makes it difficult for advertisers to plan campaigns.
  • Makes it difficult for publishers to forecast inventory. 

Now, let’s get down to the business of stopping AdSense click fraud with the following 6 strategies:

  1. Review your ad traffic using Google Analytics-Create various audience segments so you can track IP addresses easier. 
  2. Avoid purchasing traffic from untrusted or low-quality partners-Get familiar with AdSense policies and comply with them. Monitor your reports on a regular basis and decipher whether any sources are negatively impacting your ad traffic. 
  3. Block bot activity-Use robots.txt or restrict IPs that are generating invalid clicks. Implement click fraud prevention software. 
  4. Avoid test-clicking your ads-Use the Google Publisher Console to test click your live ads so they won’t be counted toward ad spam. Google understands that clicks happen and they allow it as long as you don’t overuse it. 
  5. Use ad placements strategically-Best practices will help you determine the best ad placement so users will click on ads rather than other parts of a website. 
  6. Ask a third-party to review your traffic-Get some help from the experts. A fraud detection company has the expertise to tackle ad fraud and help you deal with the problem of invalid traffic. They know all the tips and techniques to prevent other types of fraud like ad injection, viewability, and domain spoofing. 

Lots and lots of traffic is a good thing as long as it’s traffic that helps you meet your goals. When you’re dealing with invalid clicks, and everyone does, you need to pull out all the stops to prevent it from impeding all the progress you’re making on your ad campaigns. Google Analytics is a good basic tool to find invalid clicks and filter out bad bot traffic. While it’s free, it won’t give you the best shot at getting rid of invalid traffic all on its own. What’s more, Google requires publishers to monitor their traffic to ensure it complies with their policies.

As we’ve noted, there are several things you can do in addition to using Google Analytics to monitor clicks, conversions, and trends. Work with reputable publishers, keep improving on your knowledge of invalid clicks, and follow best practices for preventing click fraud

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.