7 Things to Know About the Nefarious Business of Click Farming
Farming is an honorable profession when it involves growing crops or raising livestock. Not so much when it involves ripping off publishers who think they are spending money on legitimate pay-per-click advertising when they really are not. The nefarious business of click farming collectively rips off publishers by way of ad fraud.
Click farming is not as sophisticated as one might think. There is no doubt that some operators use technology, like click bots for example, to do what they do. But there are others who make their money the old-fashioned way: through highly unsophisticated human labor.
No matter how you cut it, click farming is a crime. It also costs a ton of money. Publishers spend on ads they believe drive traffic to their websites. But because the traffic isn’t legitimate, they never see an increase in conversions. They keep spending money on pay-per-click ads but not selling any more products or services as a result.
Fraud Blocker is a California company that offers an advanced fraud protection software package capable of searching out and identifying all sorts of ad fraud. Here are seven things they say every ad publisher should know about click farming:
1. Fraud Is Its Business Model
The starting point for this discussion is the concept of fraud. Make no mistake, click farmers make no attempt to deliver legitimate advertising results for publishers. Generating legitimate traffic from customers who might actually buy something is never even considered. That is not the point.
Fraud is the click farmer’s business model. Furthermore, click farmers don’t do what they do by accident or mistake. Their actions are not the result of incompetence. Rather, they know exactly what they are doing and how to do it well.
This is an important principle to grasp for the simple fact that publishers should never give suspected click farmers the benefit of the doubt. The minute an ad network provider shows any signs of being a click farmer, it is time to cut ties.
2. Manual Labor Is Preferred
Some click farmers make use of click bots to do what they do. A click bot is a tiny piece of software designed to automatically click PPC ads 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Click bots are the most efficient way to run up illegitimate clicks on unsuspecting publishers. But they are also easy to thwart with the use of simple technologies.
That being the case, many click farmers prefer to utilize manual labor instead. They hire armies of low-paid workers who sit in front of computer screens and phones, visiting websites and clicking links.
Hiring human beings to do the dirty work makes it more difficult for ad fraud software to pick up on click farming. But difficult does not mean impossible. There are ways to analyze traffic for the purposes of covering large-scale click fraud.
3. Farming Isn’t Limited to Websites
Although click farmers do make good use of websites, they also target mobile apps. App developers make use of ads to not only pay for the apps they develop, but also to drive profits. Click farmers target mobile apps using many of the same strategies they apply to websites.
Click farming through web apps is not necessarily harder for fraud protection software to identify. After all, the ads in mobile apps are designed to redirect the user to a website via the phone’s browser.
Moreover, Google and Apple have both implemented fraud protection strategies designed to uncover click farming in mobile apps hosted in their respective stores. Yet even their best efforts have not completely eliminated mobile app click farming.
4. Click Farming Corrupts Marketing Data
A successful click farming operation can generate so many fake clicks that a publisher’s marketing data becomes completely corrupted. Note that it is nearly impossible to conclusively identify click farming just by looking at click-through rates. As such, marketing data can make it look like a set of PPC ads is doing a knockout job of reaching customers when, in fact, that is not the case.
Unfortunately, digital marketing budgets are often driven by the marketing data publishers collect. If that data cannot be trusted, it throws the entire marketing budget out the window. Publishers can’t accurately measure ROI or other key performance indicators because their data may or may not be accurate.
5. Click Farming Harms the PPC Model
By its very nature, click farming is bad for PPC advertising in general. It does great harm to the model simply by putting a seed of doubt in a publisher’s mind. If a publisher believes that fraud is rampant in PPC advertising, what are the chances that publisher will invest in it?
Companies like Google and Apple have every reason to fight against click farming. So do governments, though law enforcement cooperation isn’t always guaranteed. More often than not, PPC fraud crimes go unpunished because they are either undetected or too difficult to prove in court.
6. Click Farming Costs Publishers Money
It goes without saying that click farming costs publishers a lot of money. Millions of dollars are spent on ads that never actually reach their target audience. It is enough to turn some publishers completely away from PPC advertising.
7. There Are Ways to Fight It
Finally, there are ways to fight click farming. Publishers can start by investing in a click fraud protection software platform capable of continually monitoring their PPC ads and traffic. A well-designed software package automates the most difficult aspects of stopping PPC fraud.
Above and beyond utilizing software, companies can also pay close attention to their website traffic. A good thing to focus on is traffic origin. If large numbers of ad clicks are coming from identical or similar IP address concentrated in a small geographic area, chances are that click farming is responsible for it.
Click farming is both unethical and illegal. But it is also a reality. Being victimized by it is one of the risks of pay-per-click advertising in the digital world.