Competitor Click Fraud: A Case Study

Click Fraud

Ever wondered if your competitors click your PPC ads? Maybe you’ve even considered clicking on your competitors adwords links yourself (naughty naughty). Although a single click here or there is nothing, there’s only one word that can refer to organising a campaign of clicking on competitors ad campaigns. Fraud. Or more specifically, click fraud.

Does this really happen in the real world? And what can the cost be to your business? Look at it like this…

In some industries, perhaps yours, the cost per click can be very high. Depending on your business a $20 CPC can seem very cheap, and if you look at our list of most expensive PPC industries, you can see that the numbers can really climb. We’re talking more than $100 per click in some fields.

To highlight that competitor based click fraud really does happen, we have a real life example from a customer of ours. And, believe it or not, this isn’t an isolated case but is, in fact, worryingly common.

Explain click fraud to me

Putting it simply, click fraud is where you receive clicks on your paid ads from parties who have no interest in completing a purchase from you. This can be vindictive, say, to damage or deplete your marketing budget and remove your ad from the results pages.

It can also be done as part of a more organised campaign to divert your marketing budget to a webmasters account. For example, setting up websites with the sole purpose of making money from display advertising. This is called ad fraud and is a whole other subject.

In this blog we’re going to look at an example of competitor click fraud, and how the mystery was solved using ClickCease.

Click fraud in action

Before we start we’ll just explain how ClickCease works. When you set up a Google Ads PPC campaign, Google will treat each new IP address like a genuine lead. What this means is that a single device might be able to change it’s IP address using techniques such as VPNs, proxy servers and other software.

With ClickCease, we assign a unique device ID for every phone, tablet and desktop device, regardless of the IP address. This means that even if you use some clever chicanery, ClickCease will still know that your device clicked on a specific ad campaign at some point in the past.

IP addresses can give a rough location, but never show you exactly where that device is located. It’s a bit like knowing what street an address is in, but not having the number.

Spotting the problem

Our client in this story is a waste disposal service based in Australia, run by a man called William (not his real name, of course). William’s business is a niche service which has a high cost per click, but theoretically only people who would be genuinely interested would be searching and clicking on these ads.

William noticed that he was receiving a lot of clicks on his Google Ads PPC campaigns and not seeing a corresponding rise in the number of calls to his business. Concerned, William signed up for ClickCease. Once signed up, he noticed that the same device IDs were showing up regularly on his paid ads, a strong sign of competitor click fraud.

In the waste disposal business in his area, the competition is fierce, with all the local businesses knowing each other and there being little love lost between them. But William had a hunch that it was one of the local competitors clicking on his PPC ads and he decided to get to the bottom of it…

Noticing patterns

Although the fierce competition in the industry doesn’t breed close ties, William wanted to see if he was alone experiencing these clicks on his ads. He got in touch with a competitor who he had got on with in the past and decided to ask him if he’d noticed anything strange with his PPC ads.

As it turned out, his competitor was already using ClickCease and had also noticed a strange pattern of device IDs clicking on his paid ads. Looking closer, they realised it was the same device ID on both of their accounts.

Between them, they realised something needed to be done. They got in touch with the other local businesses, and explained what they thought was happening. William and his colleagues all organised to have the businesses that weren’t signed up to ClickCease to sign up for the free trial and then to meet together to look at their data.

Once everyone was signed up, all six of the local competitors would come with their devices and get to the bottom of who was fraudulently clicking on their ads. As an on demand service, it would be most likely that the fraudulent device ID would be a mobile device. However, on the day, only five of the six competitors arrived with their laptops and mobiles.

It’s elementary…

So, together they all sat down and clicked on each others ads to check the device IDs of each others laptops and phones. Of course, they all came up with no matches, but all of the five competitors present had the same fraudulent device ID on their ClickCease IP address list.

And, this ‘Top Clicking Fraudulent Device’ was also from the same region of Australia.

Everyone agreed it had to be the sixth guy, so they called and emailed him with the evidence. The very next day, the fraudulent clicks stopped and all of the businesses involved reported that their PPC Ads began to behave as expected.

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How to stop competitor click fraud

This click fraud example shows that a group of people using ClickCease managed to identify and stop a competitor clicking on Adwords campaigns. But you don’t need to assemble a crew of business associates to work out if you’ve been a victim of click fraud. By assigning a unique device ID it’s much easier to keep tabs on who is clicking your ads, even if they change IP address or location.

And, as we also run a blacklist of suspicious devices, you can be assured that any shady characters who have been identified by us can also be blocked from your ads too.

If you think there is a strong case for a competitor to click your ads, or you suspect that your PPC Ads aren’t performing as well as they should be, try ClickCease for free. With a 7 day free trial, you can see for yourself if there is any strange activity on your paid ads and use the powerful tools of ClickCease to stop click fraud!

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