OK so you’ve read or heard enough to make you concerned about click fraud. In a 2006 survey of 1,400 search marketers in the U.S under 50% of the group had plans to monitor click fraud across their campaign in the coming 6 months (MarketingSherpa) so by creating an action plan now you will already be in the minority of mindful and risk conscious PPC marketers. Your PPC click fraud action plan will be tailored to your own campaign budget and your analysis of the risk level involved. Here’s a guideline.
Allocate a Budget
This should be relative to your campaign ROI. If you’re spending £1000/ month (roughly $2,000 USD) and you measure your campaign ROI at 125% you’re not going to want to spend £250/ month (roughly $500 USD) monitoring click fraud. If you haven’t noticed the effects of click fraud already, chances are your invalid click level will be 5% or lower so as a general rule you won’t want to regularly invest more than 5% of your estimated gross campaign profit back into click fraud detection. (The % effort for click fraud detection should be taken from your profit and not from your campaign budget as this is supplementary work. If you detect zero invalid clicks, you will still have spent the same total budget.)
Who will be responsible for monitoring invalid clicks across your campaign? If your PPC account is managed internally by your marketing team this may be another role for them in their regular account maintenance duties. If you use an agency to manage your PPC, they may take responsibility for this either included in your package or at an additional cost. Ask your agency what their policy and action plan is for click fraud detection. If your campaign budget exceeds around £5k a month ($10,200 USD), you may want to consider using a click fraud vendor (a specialist agency dealing with click fraud) these have sprung up across the U.S and are starting to appear in the UK too (I will review UK vendors in future posts or there may be ads on this page).
Decide on a Timescale
You may be losing money to click fraud on your PPC campaigns right now. Then again chances are if you haven’t noticed you may not be. The major search engines do monitor click fraud or invalid clicks and should alert you to this but none the less, if you have a larger PPC budget, you should be doing your own monitoring right now. Calculate how much you could be losing based on your total spend and a ball park figure of 5% invalid clicks due to click fraud. Then work out how many hours you should be assigning to this. If you calculate you could be wasting up to £1000/ month and you value your time at £100/hour then any time under 10 hours a month spent on click fraud detection could make it a profitable exercise. Set a date for review, say at 3 months and 6 months and report back to all parties responsible for the campaign to analyse the estimated impact of click fraud on your PPC budget. If you have found nothing suspicious after 3 months, put click fraud detection work on hold for 3 months and do another audit.
Make it Policy
Make click fraud detection part of your PPC campaign policy and procedure. Make it a subject at planning meetings and try to fit monitoring into your day to day account maintenance.
A plan is worth nothing without effective implementation. click fraud can be a complex area but there are some simple signs to look out for. Here’s a summary of the top signs of click fraud:
1. click through rate (CTR). Monitor your CTR’s historically and look for sudden, sharp % increases. Sometimes these may be explainable i.e. the seasonal nature of your AdWords campaign, but it could also indicate these clicks are invalid or fraudulent.
2. Sudden drops in conversion rates. If your campaigns usually convert at a steady 3% month in month out and this suddenly drops for no apparent business reason, it could indicate click fraud as invalid clicks will rarely go through your site any further than the destination URL landing page
3. Faster than usual daily spend. Look at your hourly data and get a feel for when in the day your budget usually runs low and your ads stop showing. If on 1 day or a run of days your budget runs out sooner than usual, it could be a sign of click fraud.
4. Keyword stat variations. Look at very similar keywords that usually attract similar CTR’s. A spike in 1 keyword and not the other is a tell-tell sign of click fraud.
5. Suspicious IP addresses. Your web logs or Google Analytics will give you a record of the IP addresses of every visitor to your site. Although not all ISP’s provide their customers with unique IP addresses, above average page impressions for a certain IP address is often the best way of spotting click fraud and Google may ask you for this information when conducting a click fraud investigation on your behalf. Google Analytics is a really useful way of matching IP addresses to PPC clicks.
6. High traffic levels from unusual locations. Again your web stats or Analytics will help you here. Look at the geographic location of your PPC clicks. If you run an international campaign, look for high levels from countries you don’t usually deal with or where a different language is spoken. If you’re UK based, look for unusually high click densities coming from particular locations even though your campaign or product is not regionally based.
7. Remember to look at CTR’s and conversion rates separately for search clicks and content network clicks otherwise the overall data could be skewed.
Above all remember it is the smallest percentage of pay per click advertisers who ever see serious effects from click fraud so be cautious but don’t sacrifice the benefits of a well managed pay per click campaign for irrational concerns.
About The Author
John McElborough is a UK search marketing specialist and Google Adwords professional. Read the Vanilla Digital search marketing blog at VanillaDigital.com .