Click fraud is a plague of digital marketing and can be defined as the intentional practice of producing clicks, that don’t originate from potential consumers, on pay-per-click ads. Only in the cases of click hijacking are the clicks originating from potential customers.
Click fraud can be perpretated by publishers who want to inflate their PPC revenues or by competitors who want to consume the PPC budget of a competitor advertiser.
Fraudulent clicks can be generated:
manually by the fraudster himself
manually by paid clickers
manually and unwittingly by some visitors (clickjacking & deceptive practices)
manually by rightful clickers which are redirected (search result hijacking)
by a single centralized script or bot
by the way of a botnet
Human clicks are made by publishers themselves, employees (competitor fraud), human rings or people from countries with lower salaries. Manually generated clicks are the most difficult to identify when cleverly done.
A newspaper classified ad in India to recruit human clickers:
Bots generate automatic clicks and seek to simulate human behavior, they can also achieve specific post-click actions on the advertiser’s website.
Click fraud is by nature hard to estimate and it depends on what is taken into account. Volumes are probably very high for all fraudulent clicks on the web but less high for fraudulent clicks actually billed to advertisers and therefore not filtered by PPC or affiliate networks.
It is often considered that click fraud might exceed a billion $ and represent between 10 and 20 % of all paid cliks. Some botnets might make over one million per month through click fraud.
Moreover, behind average figures, the magnitude of the problem may vary widely from case to case. A small advertiser or merchant who, because of lack of knowledge, does not analyze his traffic sources, can be plagued by click fraud. Likewise, the proportion of fraud is probably higher for second or third tier PPC networks than for the larger ones. One can also think that click fraud is more prevalent on sponsored link networks and platforms for high value keywords.
The line is thin between click fraud and some infringements of guidelines edicted by PPC platforms and merchants using affiliate marketing. Thus, has the click to reveal practice used by some affiliates to be considered a click fraud ?
For more details on click fraud practices and techniques, see:
For details on fighting back fraud, see click fraud detection.
Click fraud is only a part of invalid clicks.
See also impression fraud.