The term ‘click fraud’ is the act of illegally clicking on pay-per-click (PPC) ads in order to increase site revenue or to exhaust an organisation’s advertising budget. It is vastly different from invalid clicks (those which are repeated or made by the advert’s host/publisher) in that it is intentional, malicious as well as has no potential for the advert to result in a sale.
Who Perpetuates Click Fraud?
In some cases, click fraud is achieved by a firm’s competitors. A competitor could click on a company’s online ads to try and drive up the amount that the firm which pays for the search term. If click fraud is done effectively enough, it can actually push a competing business out of the market.
The practice of click fraud is sometimes utilised by advert publishers in an attempt to “game” paid search advertising. This is a very common practice on affiliate networks where marketers sometimes have little insight into the advertising data.
Although not technically click fraud, customers sometimes engage in behaviour which appears similar. This takes place when one user regularly clicks on paid search advertisements in order to visit a specific website as opposed to navigating directly or from a search engine. While not click fraud as traditionally defined, such behaviour may nevertheless be characterised by search engines as potentially fraudulent, with any payment for the suspicious clicks subject to invalidation.
What Is A Click Bot?
A click bot is a bot which is programmed to carry out click fraud. The most straightforward click bots will just access a webpage and then click the desired link. Also, well-designed click bots will be programmed in order to take actions which a real user would also take:
- Mouse movements,
- Random pauses prior to taking an action,
- Varying the timing between each click.
The individual who put designed the bot will be wanting to hide the bot clicks as being from legitimate users. Owing to the fact that hundreds or thousands of clicks from one single device would look suspicious immediately, a click fraud campaign will usually make use of bots installed on many devices.
Each of these technologically enabled devices has a different IP address. Thus, it looks like each click comes from a totally different user. This type of network of devices, with each device who is running a copy of a bot, is termed as a botnet.
Botnets take into account thousands or even millions of user devices which have bots installed on them. The vast majority of the time, these botnet click bots are running on the devices without the users’ knowledge as a result of a malware infection. A lot of large, well-known botnets have been used for click fraud – for instance, “Clickbot.A” was a click fraud botnet that infected over 100 000 user machines.
Botnets aren’t required for click fraud; a single bot can also propagate illegitimate clicks. However, bot traffic coming from just one machine is easier to detect and block. The web server could simply stop serving that IP address.
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