Invalid clicks cost marketers millions in lost revenue and opportunity every year. If you're running AdWords campaigns it's imperative to plug this potential drain of your marketing resources ASAP. Google considers invalid click activity as "any clicks or impressions that artificially inflate an advertiser's costs, or a publisher's earnings." Click fraud still exists, even with Google's Ad Traffic Quality team monitoring traffic across its ad network in an effort to prevent advertisers from paying for invalid traffic. Since about 90 percent of Google's $74 billion in revenue last year came from advertising, they consider protecting against this type of fraud paramount. The company recently launched an in-depth Ad Traffic Quality Resource Center designed for both advertisers and publishers so there is no excuse not to be paying attention.

1. Monitoring your ad traffic

If you want a job done right, you should do it yourself. Of course Google is looking out for you, but you obviously have your own best interests at heart. So it only makes sense for you to keep an eye on it. Here are a few quick monitoring tips:
  • Segment your ad traffic - Breaking down your traffic based on different channels will make it easier to determine how these sources affect your traffic.
  • Be aware of who's visiting your site - Use Google Analytics to really understand the source of your traffic, as well as all user behaviors, particularly keeping an eye on any suspicious activity.
  • Avoid partnering with low-quality sites - Invalid clicks and traffic may increase when working with questionable and untrustworthy ad networks and directories.
  • Don't click on your own ads - You might think it's perfectly fine to click on your own Adwords campaigns, but this activity is filtered by Google and may raise some red flags. Google may see this as trying to inflate your own earnings with the possibility of disabling the account altogether.
  • Check your implementation - Make sure your ad campaigns adhere to the policies, have no errors, and run smoothly on all browsers so that users will react to them the way you want them to.
  • Use the site authorization feature - This allows you to identify certain sites that have access to your Google ad code in order to prevent unauthorized use of your code by others
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2. Be wary of third-party click tracking methods

Although you'll want to be proactive about monitoring your website and ad traffic, click tracking via third-party software or custom ad implementations can be a risky proposition for you and your business for two primary reasons:
  • These methods can inadvertently disclose sensitive information about your website.
  • They can disrupt Google's ad delivery or click logging in a way that violates the company's Terms and Conditions.
This was the case for Epic Marketplace, a marketing distribution platform that was issued a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission due to illegally collecting user information and browser history. This goes to show that every astute business person needs to proceed with caution when implementing third-party sites. Besides, the best click tracking efforts of third-party sources may not even provide you significantly more information than your AdWords or Analytics reports. Focus on working with these channels to help gain greater insights into your account.

3. Let Google do some of the work

Google uses real-time detection and filtering systems to examine each click on an AdWords ad. In effect, they look at several sources of data points for each click, including the time of the click, duplicate clicks, and various other click patterns. There are three particular types of processes Google uses to detect invalid clicks:
  • Filters - Automated algorithms proactively filter clicks before it is even charged to the account. The discarded clicks can be viewed in your Adwords account.
  • Offline analysis - Both automated algorithms and manual analysis are used to detect invalid clicks while offline, and is credited to the advertisers. The date from offline analysis is used to update the online monitoring systems.
  • Investigations - All inquiries about invalid clicks are addressed and investigated by Google. Although this is a rare occurrence, it is taken very seriously and usually resolved within a few days.
Once potentially invalid clicks are identified by the system, a member of Google's team examines the affected account to learn more about the source of the potentially invalid clicks.

4. Monitor, report and receive

It should already be clear that protecting advertisers' interests through continued monitoring is a key step in keeping the network as a balanced ecosystem where users, publishers, and advertisers can all grow and thrive together. However, Google is trustworthy when it comes to reimbursing credits from these automatically filtered invalid clicks, as well as clicks they manually discover. These manually discovered links are then used to update any irregularities in this system, and in turn, continue to improve the process. Google returns earnings as quickly as possible to the affected advertisers, and the credits can easily be viewed in the billing section of your account. If you're watching your campaigns you should be able to protect yourself from fraud.

5. Decreasing Daily Budget

A depleted budget early in the day does not necessarily mean something shady is going on with your account. In fact, more often than not there is a legitimate reason as to why your budget gets spent quicker than you expected. Here are a few:
  • Your daily budget may not be high enough to accommodate the amount of traffic that your ads receive each day. You may need to optimize your account by targeting specific keywords, decrease your cost-per-click bid to reduce the amount you pay for each click, or simply increase your daily budget.
  • Changes in web content and user behavior may affect the performance of your ad due to how traffic varies at different hours.
  • Recent trends, news items, or current events at times dramatically influence the number of impressions and clicks you receive.
  • Different times of the day may yield more valuable traffic depending on the set up of your ad delivery method - which should ideally be targeted towards a particular time period.
  • Ad delivery method set to "Accelerated" speeds up the occurrence of your ads, which will deplete your daily budget faster than anticipated.
To make sure that your campaign budget isn't suffering due to invalid clicks, you can always run a report to see the percentage of clicks that are automatically filtered from your account. If the report seems fine, go back over these reasons to get a clear understanding of how your budget is being used.
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Invalid Clicks and Account Performance

As mentioned, invalid clicks can occur due to any number of reasons from automated robots to suspicious activity. Being aware of this activity can be easily monitored by adding the invalid clicks column within Adwords, allowing you to see the exact number and percentage of invalid clicks to each campaign. Google's algorithms proactively catch any suspicious activity, like if a competitor is intentionally trying to exhaust your budget, but it's important that you are aware of the trends in your own account.
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