How to Recognize and Avoid Fraud in Your Inbound Marketing

Not everyone who advertises online is ethical. There are various practices that give scammers an unfair advantage. Online advertising fraud affects areas such as pay-per-click, banner advertising and others. As an honest marketer, it’s important to know about these practices. Otherwise, you risk losing out to unethical competitors. Here are some ways to recognize and avoid fraud in your inbound marketing campaigns.

Fake Traffic

Not all traffic is beneficial. A great deal of traffic on the web today is fake, generating by bots. Spammy referral traffic is a problem because it distorts your analytics. You think you’re getting lots of traffic, but these bots aren’t going to produce leads or sales. Fake traffic also produces high bounce rates, which may cause you to think there’s something wrong with your page. These bots also perform all kinds of harmful tasks on your site, such as spreading malware or scraping content. Google Analytics provides an option to block bots. However, you will probably never eliminate this problem entirely as bot traffic is so rampant. Knowing this at least helps you stay aware that not all traffic is real and not all analytics data is accurate.

Click Fraud

Pay-per-click advertising is one of the best ways to reach a large and targeted audience quickly. Unfortunately, the world of PPC is full of dishonest practices. Click fraud is fairly easy to accomplish. Google and other PPC platforms, however, take strong measures to detect and prevent it. The most common type of click fraud involves clicking on a competitor’s ads to drive up costs. This is usually done by automated bots. While it’s difficult to estimate exactly how pervasive this problem is, experts guess that between 3 and 37 percent of clicks are generated by bots.

The most common type of click fraud involves clicking on a competitor’s ads to drive up costs. Since, as a PPC advertiser, you’re paying for clicks, it obviously does you no good if someone clicks repeatedly on your ads only to drive up costs. Undetected, this practice is a devious way to render someone’s campaign unaffordable. Click fraud applies to video as well as text ads. As YouTube and other video platforms generate more advertising, there’s a growing problem of fake video ad impressions.

Click fraud is a problem for Google and other PPC platforms as well as for advertisers. In response to this type of fraud, Google uses a sophisticated algorithm that catches the most blatant violators. There are measures you can take as well if you suspect that an unethical competitor is using this black hat tactic on you. To do it yourself, it’s necessary to track the IP addresses of people clicking on your ads. There are also a variety of software applications and services that perform this task.

Impression Ad Fraud

There are several varieties of ad impression fraud. Hidden ad impressions refer to ads you purchase that aren’t visible to consumers. One method is to stack ads on top of each other so most are hidden. If you see ad impressions sold at very low prices, be suspicious.

Another way to scam advertisers who are buying impressions is by putting up fake websites. These are websites with little or no actual content. At a brief glance, these sites appear normal and professional but they often contain many redundant pages with generic content. If you advertise on such a site, you’ll most likely see no returns.

Domain Spoofing

Domain spoofing occurs when advertisers believe their ads appear on legitimate websites but actually appear on sites with pirated content, pornography, illegal gambling, and other spammy or low-quality content. In this case, scammers secretly manipulate URLs to mask domains. Hackers also do this by installing malware on computers that redirect users to these unsavory websites. This is an insidious as association with questionable websites harms brand credibility. The only way to detect this is to test the websites on which you’re advertising to make sure that your ads actually appear where you want them to.

Retargeting Ad Fraud

As retargeting gets more popular, there’s a strong incentive for fraudsters to game this type of advertising. This type of advertising targets consumers who visit a website. They are then followed to different sites to show them the products they’ve browsed. Sophisticated bots are able to mimic consumer behavior and fool the system into generating retargeted ads. In this case, it’s bots rather than actual website users that are seeing the ads.

Mobile Advertising Fraud

As mobile devices get more popular, both mobile marketing and mobile advertising fraud are exploding. Click fraud is common on mobile as well as traditional advertising platforms. In the case of mobile, there are also more accidental clicks, which make it a little harder to detect fraud.

One trick that’s currently quite popular is ad stacking, the same principle discussed above under ad impression fraud. In other cases, ads are hidden in spots viewers can’t see. Still another type of mobile fraud involves apps. Fake app installs make it appear that an app is more popular than it actually is. This type of fraud is usually perpetrated by app developers, ad networks, and publishers trying to artificially increase the value of an app.

It’s often challenging to detect mobile ad fraud. As with other types of advertising, continual testing is one of your best weapons. When you do detect clicks that are fraudulent, save them and compile a blacklist to avoid getting scammed by the same IPs in the future.

Your Best Defenses: Testing and Awareness

Fraudulent practices in online advertising are ubiquitous. The problem isn’t going to vanish anytime soon. All you can do as an ethical advertiser is pay careful attention to your advertising campaigns and minimize issues such as fake clicks as much as possible. This applies to all types of online advertising, including PPC, CPC, videos, mobile and banners.

Working with trusted publishers is usually safer than advertising with unknown companies. It’s not, however, a guarantee against fraud. As noted, scammers are able to pull off many types of fraud. In many cases, this occurs on the largest and most trusted advertising networks. The best defense is to constantly test your campaigns and look for evidence of fraud. Beyond this, keep up with the latest news so you know what types of fraud to look for.

For help with all aspects of inbound marketing, contact us.

Daniel Allen

About Daniel Allen

Danny Allen is a Utah-native who—when not writing killer, lead-generating content—prefers to spend his winters snow skiing and his summers water skiing. Before joining the Foxtail Marketing team, Danny worked in IT project management, public relations consultancy, and in traditional marketing functions primarily assisting technology startup companies to grow in efficiency and revenue. He received his bachelor’s degree from BYU in Public Relations with an emphasis in International Business. After having experience working for clients in Canada, Europe and Asia, he hopes his career will take him abroad. Danny is happiest when spending time with his wife and one-year-old daughter.

Foxtail Marketing is a digital marketing firm that provides content marketing, digital marketing, and lead generation services for small and mid-market companies.

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