Is Google Doing Enough To Stop Invalid Clicks?

Amber Dawson | August 2nd, 2021

google invalid clicks

The most common objection we hear regarding invalid traffic protection is that Google already takes care of it. We also hear “I don’t have an invalid click problem” a lot too – but there’s a quick and easy way to see if this is the case. 

Today, we’re focusing on what Google actually does in the face of invalid clicks and if it’s enough. With 11% of search ad clicks and 36% of display ad clicks being invalid, and the online advertising world booming due to COVID-19, it’s more important than ever that advertisers are protecting themselves from invalid clicks.

After all, there’s no point in shaping your PPC campaigns based on the behavior of traffic that has no genuine interest in your business.

Invalid traffic sources are notoriously difficult to stop. As soon as you’ve put a stop to one, another three appear – it’s the monster with never-ending heads.

It’s not all just from bots and click farms either, but a wide range of origins like users who click on the first result they see. So, the best way to protect your business is to ensure preventive measures are in place to watch your back.

Google, as the biggest online advertising network, has a duty of care to its customers regarding invalid clicks. You’d assume that with their technology, expertise, and billions in the bank, they’d have created a solution that protects their ad network and advertisers from malicious intent.

Well… not really.

What Google Is Doing To Tackle Invalid Clicks

tackle invalid clicks

Google claims to take invalid traffic very seriously. They have a number of solutions in place to combat click fraud such as automated filters, real-time filters, and their own Ad Traffic Quality Team who manually analyze and review invalid clicks.

They’ll even re-credit your account if they detect invalid clicks on your ads. Plus, ad fraud also violates their terms and conditions – something we’re sure has fraudsters quaking in their boots.

Seems like they’ve got all their bases covered, right?

There are a few holes in Google’s plan of attack. Firstly, they only offer a one-size-fits-all solution which, even with all the hope in the world, won’t work for the vast array of businesses who advertise on their huge network.

Their methods which stretch across the 11 million websites advertisers can run ads on, such as the AdSense verification process, is easy to fool – all you need is to make a website look semi-legit and it’ll pass the review. In fact, it’s estimated that 90% of AdSense sites are spoofed.

Similarly, whilst their Google Play Protect system scans apps for malware and successfully stopped 1.9 billion malicious installs in 2019 alone, this ongoing problem isn’t something that’s going away anytime soon. It’s very much a case of one attack being thwarted as ten others appear. As the volume of invalid traffic grows exponentially, so should Google’s methods of combating it.

Sadly, most of what Google does seems to be reactive rather than proactive. For instance, they’ll reimburse you (if you sift through your data and find exactly what they need) only once every 60 days and you have to do all the legwork.

The systems which are designed to prevent invalid traffic aren’t foolproof (otherwise companies like PPC Protect wouldn’t exist) but, worse still, they don’t actually block this invalid traffic. This means that botnet rings, click farms, competitors and all the rest simply retarget you, and the clicks still enter your CRM and mess up your data.

So, not only are your campaigns being compromised but so are your future decisions, and that can cost you far more than just ad spend.

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Why It’s Not In Google’s Interest To Fight Click Fraud

The primary reason Google isn’t leading the fight in the invalid traffic war is simple: it’s not in their interest. Of its 135,301 employees, roughly just 100 make up their click fraud team. As an advertiser, Google makes money whether clicks are legitimate or not, so their focus lies in other areas such as systematically eliminating the competition.

Google’s antitrust court battles have been splashed across the headlines for years. But, these are not the only cases that shine the spotlight on their lack of transparency. There are a great number of cases that have been brought against the tech giant from smaller companies, demonstrating exactly who suffers at the hands of fraudsters.

The case of Michael Anthony Bradley began back in 2004 when Bradley walked in Google’s HQ and demanded $150,000; this was in exchange for software he’d created which could cost Google millions from false clicks.

Google took him to court over the issue, but months later, the case was quietly dismissed with everyone suddenly refusing to comment. So what changed? What made Google step away from an open-shut case that would have sent a big middle finger to those making money off ad fraud around the globe?

Well, despite what they publicly say, Google is notoriously tight-lipped. As the biggest search engine, they keep their secrets close to their chests so they can continue their reign. Suing Bradley would require them to lift the lid on their invalid traffic practices and give insights into fraud data. After all, in order to prove click fraud, the prosecution would need to give examples of why clicks generated by Bradley’s software were deemed fraudulent.

Furthermore, they couldn’t bring about an extortion charge without explaining what they were being extorted over; Google has always downplayed invalid click numbers in comparison to industry statistics but doesn’t reveal their own exact numbers. Having to get specific in court would have revealed the true size of the issue – something we already know to be true.

Allowing Bradley to go unpunished enabled Google to keep its secrets; the question that intrigues us is what did they deem valuable enough to let someone off a 20-year jail sentence?

Google: A Closed Book

As big tech’s influence grows, more questions arise about their motives and transparency. After all, advertisers’ true products are us; the data they collect about our behaviors is what makes them millions. Advertising has always been Google’s priority as it made up $146.9 billion of its $181.69 billion profit in 2020 and so it makes sense that their loyalty will always remain with what turns a profit – clicks.

Google’s lack of transparency is a frequent topic of conversation; it’s typical for PPC managers to wake up and find something changed overnight, which dramatically affects their ROI. There’s a reason why the PPC industry is bursting with news: everyone is trying to stay ahead of the game and anticipate what Google may change next. 

Something to bear in mind when relying on a big corporation such as Google for the majority of your business is how different their objectives are from yours.

Transparency around their goals is imperative the bigger they become otherwise Orwell’s 1984 looks increasingly less fictional. Big tech needs to be kept on a tight moral leash, and Google’s cloaking of invalid traffic data isn’t helping matters.

Many Davids vs Goliath

Google’s antitrust battles demonstrate the minefield which is enforcing sanctions on a world-dominating corporation. But it’s important because, for the businesses who rely on the search engine to connect with their audiences, their practices make or break these businesses’ success.

However, if Google doesn’t act in the best interests of an SMB, what can these Davids really do about it? This is the reason big tech accountability is such a poignant issue in this digital world.

Whilst there are cases of small businesses taking the tech giant to court, this obviously isn’t something many people can afford to do. This is made worse by the fact Google has proven difficult to get money out of without a court order in the past, so businesses going it alone have a steep hill to climb.

This doesn’t mean, however, that many SMBs haven’t noticed discrepancies with their Google Ads. One man discovered 48% of his clicks were invalid – but only through his own experiments. Furthermore, small businesses in Australia began legal proceedings earlier this year, arguing that fake clicks are costing Australian businesses $756 million a year.

Another example includes a gentleman who was exploring Google’s practices into invalid traffic after repeatedly contacting the Google Team to express his concerns over the validity of his client’s clicks. Google replied stating they were certain there was no fraudulent activity on the account; in fact, they went as far as to say they were “doing a great job” of catching suspicious activity and the low-quality clicks were likely due to incorrect account structure. For a final flourish of helpfulness, the “person” leaves in the {insert recommendations} template and doesn’t give any further advice. Brilliant.

I understand that you have some lingering concerns about potentially invalid activity on your account. Your concerns here are understandable, and I can say that if I were a business owner in your position, I would likewise want to verify that the clicks I am paying for are legitimate. That’s only natural.

At the same time, I want to assure you that this is something Google takes very seriously. To that end, we have a three-tiered system in place for detecting invalid activity.

First, we automatically filter out traffic deemed suspicious based on a pattern of unusual user behavior.

Second, we retroactively credit accounts back for clicks that we deem invalid on a secondary sweep of traffic.

Third, we are able to conduct full-scale, thorough investigations into accounts where advertisers are still uneasy about invalid clicks. This is what I was able to request on your behalf, and I see that after our trained professionals conducted such an investigation, they did not find additional instances of invalid activity.

Though I was glad to initiate the investigation for you, to be transparent, in my experience invalid click investigations don’t often uncover additional invalid activity. This is actually a good thing. It means we’re doing a great job of catching this activity before it reaches that third tier of protection.

Although your Google Ads activity doesn’t constitute invalid clicks, it may be that the clicks you’re receiving are low-quality, and that you’re not reaching your desired audience due to the set-up or structure of your account. I do actually have several recommendations to help improve your performance so that the clicks you’re getting are coming from the best group of users possible. {Insert recommendations}

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation. – Google Ads Support Team

Why You Should Care About Your Traffic Quality

click fraud industry breakdown

There are a lot of statistics out there about how much invalid traffic is costing advertisers globally. This makes it difficult to envisage exactly what that means for your business. $66 billion sure sounds a lot, but what does that equate to for individuals?

It’s even easier to sit back and believe Google has got this; to think that if your campaigns are turning a profit then you can’t be being targeted, and even if you are, it’s barely noticeable.

This is what all the companies we work with thought too – until we began monitoring their accounts. Dale Powell from Atomic Marketing spoke about his experience with Google:

“For one client, Google was saying we had £50 to £100 of illegitimate clicks per month. We actually found it was over £500 a month, which turned out to be the case for three months.”

This is a thought echoed by many, including Lauren Kelley from Digital Media Team:

“We thought Google was doing a good job of protecting our ads from invalid clicks until we started using 3rd party software. After getting a second opinion on our traffic quality it was clear we were getting a lot more illegitimate clicks than we first thought.”

The surprise in discovering Google didn’t have this covered for advertisers is something we hear every single day. And that’s the biggest crime being committed in the advertising space right now: how ad fraud has become normalized. It’s expected by savvy marketers that a percentage of PPC budgets will be eaten by invalid traffic – which is wrong.

A leading ad fraud researcher, Dr. Augustine Fou, recently spoke about how because ad fraud is now so normalized, nobody sees it. A combination of the general lack of ad protection and the fact “the various parties in the supply chain are unwilling to look more closely” has led advertisers to believe all the clicks they receive are legitimate. Fou states “they are so used to seeing the large quantities of impressions and clicks, it looks normal to them.”

The fact is conversion rates should be higher across all industries. Most businesses are suffering from invalid traffic at some level, and because traffic quality can change overnight, it’s something you need to continually check for.

There’s a huge cohort of non-genuine click sources out there; it’s not just targeted attacks, but people who click the first thing they see, those doing research, others who have zero purchase intent. This traffic is impacting every company, whatever their size, which is why we’re putting a stop to it.

Software That’s Dedicated To Getting You Quality Clicks

traffic quality increase

PPC Protect’s machine-learning software has been designed to tackle the everchanging issue of invalid traffic in one quick, swift blow.

We don’t use scripts, complicated setup processes, or needy technology; we just give you some tracking code and you’re protected. Better yet, we actually block the invalid traffic from even seeing your ads, so click farms, bots, users without buying intent will never find you. So, rather than having to wait for Google to give you a partial refund, PPC Protect means you never part with your budget in the first place.

Moreover, you’re then optimizing your campaigns based on clean traffic – if invalid clicks are affecting your data, it’s easy to make wrong decisions.

With every new client, we kick things off with a free Traffic Audit to gain a full insight into what’s going on with your Google Ads traffic. Our system categorizes your clicks into valid, suspicious, and invalid and gives you full transparency into what’s going on in your personalized dashboard.

From there, if the security of your ad traffic needs tightening up, we’ll set you up on one of our protection plans to ensure every click is of value to your business from then on.

The money we’ve saved for big brands and clients is exorbitant. Working with Modo25, a UK-based digital marketing agency, our technology improved their traffic quality by 21% and saved £90,000 a month. The same story is repeated with hundreds of brands: we helped Europcar gain 824% return on their investment, a budget Norwegian airline save $27,484 (and counting) in 2 months, and Pure Energie discovered 7% of their clicks were invalid on top of Google’s protection, saving them over $4,000 each month.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking Google is fighting the war against invalid traffic: we are.

This is what we detect on average for clients in addition to Google:

  • 6.4% monthly ad spend saved
  • 9.5% invalid clicks blocked per month
  • 20.5% percentage of illegitimate clicks monitored per month

If Google’s methods are working, then how is all this bad traffic slipping through the net?

Are Google Doing Just Enough?

Clearly, there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that Google should be doing much more to protect its advertisers, but their hearts just aren’t in it.

Google makes money from every click, whether it has genuine intentions or not, so anyone campaigning for Google to up its invalid traffic protection is suggesting they cut their profits, and that’s not going to go down very well.

Google believes that they’re doing enough in the face of click fraud, so waiting for them to act on your behalf may eventually work, but it’ll cost you a lot of money in the meantime.

Get an independent opinion on the quality of your ad traffic today.

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