If you operate an ecommerce site and advertise your products online via any kind of PPC program, beware. It’s becoming increasingly common for competitors to employ so-called “click farms” to click on your ads. By doing so, these clickers deplete your ad budget and your daily ads “run out” before the morning is even over.
In essence, it’s click fraud. Ad networks such as Google AdWords have measures to protect merchants against click fraud; however, nothing is foolproof, and even Google states that the final responsibility lies with the advertiser. Furthermore, due to user privacy concerns, Google does not release ad click IP address info.
So, if you notice your ads being repeatedly clicked on in a short span of time, or if your conversion rate suddenly dips even though your ads have top placement on the SERPs, it’s imperative that you do some detective work. Here’s how you can go about your investigation:
Access your web server log files.
You first need to know which IP addresses ( typically through web browsers) are accessing your web server. This access information is recorded by your web server every time it receives a request from a third party and serves data.
Think of your web server as a meticulous librarian who jots down notes every time a patron shows up at the desk and asks for a book. This librarian records several items such as the person’s name (IP address), information requested, any trouble with providing that info (e.g., 404 page), etc.
You will need some technical proficiency to access your web server log files. The following tutorial gives you a good start.
Locate your competitors’ IP addresses.
Servers are easily identified by their IP addresses via the Command Prompt on any computer. You can access the Command Prompt by hitting the Win and R keys on your Windows-based keyboard or by going to your Applications list and finding the Terminal on a Mac.
Once you’re in the Command Prompt, just type in the word “ping” followed by the competitor website address. Hit Enter and you’ll get a readout like this one, with the red boxes below indicating IP addresses.
Once you have IP addresses in hand, you can check them against the addresses of your ad clickers to learn if you have a match.
What if you only have an IP address to go on? Various search sites such as What Is My IP Address, What Is My IP, and IP2Location are great resources for providing you with the name, geographic location, zip code, ISP, device and more of the given IP address.
Mine competitor email addresses
If you’ve received a communication from an ecommerce competitor, don’t throw it away. There is valuable information hidden within that email header, such as the IP address.
To locate this information, you’ll need to somehow access the full header of the email. Different email servers cloak headers differently; however, Gmail’s email headers can be accessed by clicking on the “Show Original Message” option.
When you open up the email header, you’ll find the IP address and other information.
Defend yourself from bad clicks
Once you’ve found and matched IP addresses to those with suspicious click behavior, you can block them from getting served with your ads. In Google AdWords, you can do this by going to the Settings tab and scrolling down until you see the IP Exclusions input area. Once there, you just type in your suspected IP addresses and they’re blocked.
However, the risk with blocking IP addresses, and especially those addresses associated with servers, is that you might also block legitimate traffic. So, another tactic you should consider is requiring that your ads go through a qualification process before they are served up.
This is easily accomplished if you create an ad retargeting campaign where ads are displayed based on user behavior. This way, your competitors won’t see your ads unless they first peruse your website or related products.
Social media ads
You should also consider placing your ads on social media networks like Facebook or Twitter. With this strategy, you knock out a lot of third party publishing, reducing the chance of click fraud. Competitors are also knocked out because paid social network ads are highly targeted to a specific audience, and ads are served up based on keyword search.
Adjust your ad locations
You can also eliminate bad clicks by customizing your ads to where they are served. For example, if you suspect click fraud from a given geographic region or country, just block that area or language in your ads. If you think that a specific competitor is after you, exclude that entity’s zip code or city.
You’ll still risk eliminating legitimate traffic by taking such precautions, so only take them if you learn that the majority of your clicks from a given locale are fraudulent.
Click fraud and you
When it comes to protecting your ads from bad and fraudulent clicks, you must take steps to prevent it from happening, or stop it when it does. Such vigilance pays off by maintaining high conversion rates and ultimately, generating better revenues.