The Impact And Cost Of Bots To Your PPC Campaigns
The rise of bots is here.
Ad bots that is.
As per a recent report published, for every $3 spent on digital ads, $1 goes to ad fraud. Another study by PPC Pro found that click and ad bots are the #1 reason for a low ROI from Google Ads and other PPC campaigns.
The impact is not only seen on desktops but a majority of bot traffic comes through fraud clicks on smartphones. In fact, ad fraud from smartphones has increased by 102% in 2019.
You don’t need to look too far from home if you’re running ads on Google Ads - enable the invalid clicks/interaction column and you will see how many clicks Google has already refunded you towards fraudulent clicks.
How Ad Fraud Stole Millions From Businesses In The Recent Past?
A massive Ad fraud scheme was acknowledged by Google on October 23, 2018 that stole $10 million from its ad networks. The scheme involved more than 125 Android apps and websites that mimicked real user behavior in order to bypass fraud detection systems. These bots generated fake ad views that earned money for the fraudsters and resulted in loss of money for actual advertisers.
Below are some of the highly popular bot operations discovered till date along with the amount of estimated losses these bots accounted for each day. Methbot was the most popular bot farm targeting programmatic video advertising that accounted for $3,000,000 loss in revenue every single day!
What is A Bot? Meet The Good And Bad Bots
“Bot” is a shorthand term used for a web robot. These are software applications that run across the internet and carry small tasks. The most popular example of a bot is the Googlebot that crawls link to every new page created on the internet. It helps Google to find new websites and new webpages.
The Googlebot is an example of a good bot. But, not all bots are good. There are other bots that exists to ruin the effectiveness of internet and cause monetary losses to people. They are known as “Fraud bots”.
“Fraud bots” are the ones that carry malicious tasks that impacts the end user. Fraud bots can be “malicious bots” and “ad fraud bots”. Malicious bots carry malware codes from their master and harvests them in the victim’s computer while ad fraud bots mimic user behavior and generates false impressions and clicks that results in paid traffic without any real conversions.
Types of Ad Fraud Bots
The below are the 4 main types of ad fraud bots:
1- Click Fraud Bot
These bots carry out ad fraud on a large scale on the internet pay-per-click (PPC) online advertising platforms. Under PPC form of advertising, webmasters who run ads are paid on the basis of clicks they receive on the ads running on their websites. Some webmasters take the help of click fraud bots to fraudulently increase the number of impressions or clicks happening on their site in order to earn more money. Similarly, there are ad fraud companies who create a network of websites to run click fraud bots on them in order to earn more money.
The below image from Hubspot explains how a Click fraud strategy works. Fake websites are created and they join the Google search network in order to display paid search ads. Bots are used to search for high value keywords on the created fake websites. Bots click on the ads and generate high profits for the webmasters.
These are specialized bots that are used to watch video ads that run on YouTube or other ad networks. These are a type of software that are designed to carry out a number of tasks clicking from one site to another or watching a video in order to increase video views so as to earn revenue for the webmaster in a fraudulent manner.
3- Retargeting Bot
These bots mimic user behavior for a specific interest like clothes. Meaning, a retargeted bot will click on ads related to clothes so that the retargeting programs are activated and more similar ads gets displayed before the fraudster bot. The bot then clicks more of such ads and earn a high revenue from retargeted ads. Ads that are targeted for a particular niche earn higher revenue as compared to non targeted ads, hence these bots are employed to earn more in a less period of time.
4- Download Bot
These bots fraudulently increase the download count in your analytics resulting in a spike in the number of conversions with no actual value. They are more likely to mess up with the number of conversions your site is having because the download count will always show an increase without the actual download taking place.
Search Engines Are Serious About Click Fraud
Major search engines like Google and Bing are serious about ad frauds and they take every step needed to prevent bots from manipulating their paid search data.
Google’s automated detection systems uses the power of machine learning and complex algorithms to keep the ad platforms click fraud free. Besides, they manually review each and every case of suspected invalid activity as reported by the advertisers or found by the internal team and create a new filter to stop the fraud bots.
Google displays all the invalid clicks activity under the ‘View Transactions and Documents’ link under ‘Billings and Payment’ section.
All the invalid clicks would be labelled as “invalid activity” in the transactions history page as displayed in the table below:
Google’s anti-click fraud program is the most robust and it automatically eliminates bot traffic before the click and impression data gets calculated. The advanced search algorithms filter out invalid clicks in real time before the advertisers are charged. The data related to the invalid activity resulting from bots gets displayed in the Adwords dashboard as shown in the below screenshot. The amount mentioned under the Invalid clicks activity is added to the advertiser budget thereby minimizing the losses resulting from click fraud.
How To Identify Click Fraud?
Here are some of the best ways to identify bot traffic resulting in click fraud:
1- Check For Abnormal Spikes in Traffic And A Sudden Increase In Bounce Rate
Any abnormal spikes in traffic along with an increase in bounce rate might indicate the presence of fraud bots. This is because fake visits will increase the traffic to your site but bot traffic won’t engage with your site resulting in an increase in bounce rate.
Login to your analytics account and check the percentage of new visits. If you are able to see artificially high numbers along with a high bounce rate and average visit duration of seconds then that traffic is predominantly coming from bots. Have a look at the below data from Google Analytics that displays approx. 97% new visits with an average duration of .04 seconds and a high bounce rate of approx. 97%.
2- Thoroughly Check The Placements Tab Under Display Campaigns
Sign in to your Adwords account and navigate to Placements under Display Campaigns as shown in the below screenshot.
Check the placements with abnormally high conversion rates. In most cases, such sites are fake. A fake site will have thin content, spammy domain name, have an extension other than .com, will employ a template with little customization and will have a high number of ads per page. An example of a spammy domain is provided below:
3- Watch Out For Abnormally High CTRs
An abnormally high CTR in your campaign dashboard might indicate the presence of bot traffic. Have a look at the below chart displaying the clicks over time for a period of around a month. You can clearly see a spike in traffic on the 7th of Oct, 2016. Random traffic spikes such as these should be carefully examined.
4- Make Use of Google Tag Manager
There are certain pieces of information that you need in order to track bot traffic with the help of Google Tag Manager so that it gets reported in your analytics dashboard. These pieces of information are:
With the help of IP address, you can find out whether the visitor is genuine by conducting a check like who is behind that IP address using tools like IP Pin Info.
Besides, whenever any genuine visitor arrives at your website by clicking on an ad, he leaves a click timestamp and after he takes an action, an action timestamp is generated. If you are able to see a lot of click timestamps and no action timestamps then probably such visits are fake. Moreover, you can use the user agent to find whether the person behind the IP address is the same. You can filter out such IP addresses in your analytics account.
How To Protect Yourself From Ad Fraud Bots
There are ways to protect your ad budget from getting wasted due to fraudulent bot activity. Here are some of the best ones:
1- Use Facebook/Twitter Ads
Instead of investing all your money on Google Adwords, you can advertise your business on Facebook or Twitter. Facebook and Twitter displays the ads directly on their platform so there are no third-party websites where your ad will get displayed and hence chances of ad fraud are reduced.
Moreover, the ad placement is based on keyword research so it is hard for your competitors to click on your ads. If you are concerned about ad fraud consuming your ad budget then move some of your ad budget to Facebook or Twitter ads. This is true in the case of smaller businesses who have limited budgets. Obviously, you can’t let a major chunk of your small advertising budget being consumed by ad fraud.
2- Block Spam IP Addresses
Identify all the IP addresses that do not have user data or action timestamp and filter those from your Adwords account. The process of doing this is rather simple.
Sign in to your Adwords account and click on Settings.
Choose the campaign from which you want to exclude the IP addresses. Click on ‘Expand IP Exclusions” section and enter the IP addresses that you wish to exclude.
Click on save when finished. Google will automatically exclude traffic coming from the excluded IP addresses thereby reducing ad fraud.
3- Exclude Ads From Certain Geographic Locations
If you are able to identify the presence of a bot farm by looking at the data in your Adwords or Analytics account then you can exclude the location of that bot farm so that all invalid clicks are automatically eliminated from displaying in your Ads account.
Sign in to your Adwords account and click on Campaigns. Now, click the name of the campaign that you wish to edit.
Click on Settings and expand the Locations section. Now, click on the Advanced Search and search the location that you wish to exclude.
Click save and you are done. Google won’t display your ads in the excluded locations thereby saving your ad budget and maximizing the number of conversions.
4- Take The Help Of Fraud Prevention Software
One of the best ways to fight off bot fraud is to invest in a top ad fraud prevention software. Such software provides robust algorithms that can automatically identify and filter fraudulent traffic from your Adwords account.
The software monitors, detects and blocks fraud bots from clicking your Adwords and Bing ads. They track each and every click on your search network by identifying the IP addresses and even VPNs.
Every click receives a score based on several parameters. All the spam IPs are automatically excluded from your Adwords account. Besides, they quarantine dangerous IP addresses so that they are immediately blocked from accessing your servers.
Do not underestimate the impact of bots to paid search traffic because around 30% of your ad budget will go wasted if you do not take the required steps to keep your ad accounts safe from the effects of ad fraud. Follow the strategies discussed in this article to identify and reduce ad fraud in your account. Happy advertising!