What is Click Fraud? 

Click fraud is a form of marketing fraud that occurs when pay-per-click (PPC) online ads are illegally clicked to increase site revenue or exhaust a company’s budget. It is often intentional, malicious, and has no potential for clicks to result in a sale.

PPC ads generate revenue for publishers or exhaust client budgets for an advertiser based on how much a customer clicks on them (and how many of those clicks are converted to sales). Clicks become fraudulent when those doing the clicking are a computer program (ex. bots), an automated script mimicking a legitimate user or a human with no actual interest in the ad’s target. It is considered a “black hat”, or violating computer security for personal profit or malice.

Sometimes click fraud can be carried out by a site owner to artificially boost ad revenue for their business. It may be carried out by a publisher or ad agency to artificially inflate their click rate making them more appealing to companies looking to market themselves, without actually having such an audience.

click fraud 

Here are several different types:

Non-contracting party click fraud

Between advertisers

One advertiser attempts to use up another advertiser’s budget by engaging in click fraud. Once the latter advertiser’s budget and space are used up on irrelevant clicks, the former becomes the sole advertiser and takes up the space and visibility. 

Between publishers

Another version of this occurs when an attacker maliciously attempts to frame a publisher by making it look like they click on their own ads. This would cause an advertiser to mistrust the publisher and end their relationship with them. Because PPC revenue is often the primary source of income, this practice can destroy a publisher’s business.


It is often difficult to track down the culprit of click fraud motivated by vandalism. Often, fraudsters target publishers or advertisers for political or personal vendettas.

Friends and Family

Click fraud can also occur when a publisher is supported by their friends or family clicking on ads to generate revenue. Sometimes the publisher conspires with their personal relationships to commit this type of click fraud, or it is truly just patronage on the part of the friends and family. 

Classic click fraud

Site owners (publishers) publish ads using an advertising network like Google AdWords, and click on ads placed on their own sites to increase ad revenue. The advertiser (company creating and placing the ad via advertising network) has their budget exhausted or is defrauded by the actions of the publisher. 

Click Farming

Some companies will outsource to low-cost employees to manually click ads all day and generate ad revenue, as part of “click farms”. 

Automated Script 

A computer program mimics a user and clicks an ad. It does so by translating existing user traffic into clicks and impressions. Another method is to bombard a large number of computers with viruses and have those viruses make the computers click ads. 

Hit Inflation

Some advertising publishers use this method to drive traffic from a dishonest site to a dishonest publisher, generating clicks and thus revenue. This occurs when the dishonest site contains a script that converts website interaction on it to clicks for the publisher. The user interacts with the initial site and interacts, not knowing that their interaction is generating clicks for a secondary publisher that they do not directly interact with or are not aware of. 

Search Result Manipulation 

This iteration of click fraud occurs with the click-through rate of a website rather than PPC ads. Ranking of sites increases when search results generate clicks to those sites – for example, if you were to search “fraud.net” up, the highest clicked site would be listed at the top of search results (that’s us!). In this version, fraudsters generate false clicks on results they want to promote and avoid results they want to demote. The businesses with the higher clicks will have improved rankings while those avoided will not – many malicious publishers or companies will use this to put their competitors at a disadvantage.

The Cost of Click Fraud 

According to PPC Protect’s Global PPC Click Fraud Report, 11% of all search clicks are fraudulent, with 17% on connected TV campaigns and 36% on display ad campaigns.

How to Combat Click Fraud

Despite the many ways click fraud can manifest for your business, there are some key things to look out for to check if you’ve been victimized:

  • Unusual rises in impressions
  • Unusual peaks in clicks
  • No corresponding increase in conversions with a click or impression peak
  • Page views decrease during click or impression peaks
  • High bounce rate during click or impression peaks.

If you suspect you’ve been targeted by click fraud, contact your advertising network running your PPC ads and report your findings. This way, fraudulent clicks can be credited back to your account or budget.

However, the best protection is prevention.

Fraud Prevention with Fraud.net

Fraud.net offers a wide range of products to combat various types of marketing fraud, including click fraud. Contact us for a free demo and product recommendations to protect your business.