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Google’s Most Popular Ad Fraud Questions, Answered!

Google’s Most Popular Ad Fraud Questions, Answered
Reading Time: 10 minutes

The world of digital and mobile ad fraud is a complex one, living within the dynamic and multifaceted digital advertising ecosystem. Naturally, it’s spawned a variety of questions from inhabitants (you, the marketers and advertisers). We’ve checked out Google’s most popular and commonly asked ad fraud questions and answered them here. Is there a question you have that’s not represented among these answers? Then hold tight: Part 2 is on its way! 

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What’s in this article/

 

Ad Fraud

Ad fraud is certainly a hot topic. Marketers around the world are beginning to take notice, and for good reason – mobile ad fraud siphons $50 million per day from advertising budgets.

1. What is Bot Traffic?

What is bot traffic? Bot traffic is any traffic to websites, apps or other online channels that is generated by bots rather than humans. This is not always “bad” or “fraudulent” traffic, and it can sometimes be harmless traffic such as search engine crawlers. This can sometimes be referred to as GIVT or general invalid traffic. 

Bot traffic becomes a concern when it is the vehicle for ad fraud. This type of bot traffic is also referred to as SIVT or sophisticated invalid traffic. This is a sophisticated form of invalid traffic, which is often fraudulent. Fraudulent bot traffic can produce a number of different types of ad fraud, such as fake installs, fake clicks, SDK spoofing and more. If you’d like to learn more about the different types of traffic generated by humans or bots, respectively, you can read about it here.

2. What is Incentivised Traffic?

What is incentivised traffic? Incentivised traffic is traffic that is incentivised, usually with some sort of financial offer — although a range of incentives can be used. This traffic is often disingenuous, and often leads to uninstalls, or is very low-converting. Since the customer downloads and engages with the app for the purposes of only getting the incentive reward, they have low LTV and hence lead to low retention rates.

3. What are Device Farms?

What are device farms? Although there are different types of device farms, in the ad fraud world, device farms refer to an ad fraud operation perpetrated by many phones, all programmed to simulate activity such as clicks, installs, and other events; after which then the device is reset and the activity begins all over again. They target advertising campaigns that pay according to action, clicks or installs such as CPI, CPA or PPC ad campaigns, by falsely inflating clicks, actions and installs. This fraudulent activity is usually carried out by outdated “smartphones” that often have outdated operating systems. This may be an indication that device farms are accounting for some of your installs. If you’d like to know more about different kinds of ad fraud, check out of our easy to understand, yet comprehensive guide on ad fraud. 

 

Impression Ad Fraud

These are some of Google’s most commonly asked questions related to impression ad fraud. Stay tuned, we have more impression ad fraud questions coming!

3. What is Impression Ad Fraud?

What is impression ad fraud? Impression ad fraud targets impression ad campaigns through falsely inflating impressions that did not occur. The most common methods of impression ad fraud are ad stacking (or a stack of ads) or pixel stuffing. These two methods attempt to fool MMPs into thinking multiple ads were viewed (impressions) when this is not the case. 

4. What is Ad Stacking?

What is ad stacking? Ad stacking, or a stack of ads, is just that: a method of impression ad fraud carried out through stacking ads on top of each other. Only the top-most ad will be visible to the audience. However, if successful, the MMP or attribution tool will be fooled into thinking multiple ads were viewed by the audience, and the sub-publisher will receive credit for impressions. In fact, as many of those ads were stacked behind another, they were not viewed, and thus no impression should have been credited to that sub-publisher. If you’d like to know more about other kinds of ad fraud, such as mobile ad fraud, impression or click ad fraud, click here to read our comprehensive yet easy-to-understand guide. 

5. What is Pixel Stuffing?

What is pixel stuffing? Pixel stuffing is another form of impression ad fraud similar to ad stacking. This is when ads are reduced to a size not visible by the human eye. This is often the size of a single pixel. Multiple pixels are stuffed into one genuine ad. Thus, although only one ad is visible to the human eye, the MMP or attribution tool might be fooled into thinking that multiple impressions took place. This is how pixel stuffing attacks impression campaigns. 

6. What is Cookie Stuffing?

What is cookie stuffing? Cookie stuffing is when a publisher attaches multiple 1st- or 3rd-party cookies to a browser in order to their steal a genuine organic action, or steal another publisher’s genuine paid action (misattribution). 1st-party cookies are cookies that come from the website visited. 3rd party cookies are cookies that are from another website that is not currently being browsed. Cookie stuffing is a form of CPA or CPP ad fraud. 

How exactly are organic actions fraudulently stolen? It starts when a genuine browser visits a website (publisher). That publisher might attach some fraudulent 1st-party cookies that falsely simulate a click, or action. If that browser organically performs that action, such as a purchase, click or registration, the publisher will be paid for what is actually an organic action. 

How are paid genuine actions stolen via cookie stuffing? This is achieved through a publisher (website) attaching fraudulent 3rd-party cookies (belonging to other websites) to a browser. If that browser goes to that website and genuinely performs that action (such as an ad click), there is a chance the fraudulent cookie/publisher will gain credit for that action. However, this situation should be prevented with last-cookie attribution. 

 

Click Fraud

There are numerous questions on “click fraud” on Google. Many people are curious about what exactly is click fraud, how to detect click fraud, and how to prevent click fraud. We take a look at the most popular questions, related to click fraud.

8. What is Click Fraud?

What is click fraud? Click fraud targets PPC (pay-per-click) digital advertising campaigns, falsely inflating ad clicks in order to receive fraudulently obtained revenue. The most common form of this is the website owners that falsely inflate clicks on the PPC ads which are displayed on their website through methods such as click farms and bot traffic. 

9. What is a Click Bot?

What is a click bot? A click bot is either a script, bot or software that is programmed to click on ads, mimicking real human clicks. This method is often used to perform click fraud on PPC (pay-per-click) ad campaigns. This causes some advertisers and marketers to pay for clicks that are fake, and in fact generated by bots. 

10. What is a Click Farm?

What is a click farm? A click farm is when a large group of people work in collaboration to click on ads for a little financial compensation. The purpose of this is to commit “click fraud”: when ad clicks are falsely inflated targeting PPC (pay-per-click) ad campaigns in order to increase revenue from clicks. These clicks might look human — and in the case of click farms, they are — however, they are not genuine clicks from potentially genuine customers. 

11. Where are Click Farms Located?

Where are click farms located? Due to the cost-benefit ratio of click farms, they rely upon low paid workers to make the fake-clicks profitable. Thus, click farms often exist where a potential cheaply acquired large labor force is easily accessible. Such countries often have many citizens in a low socio-economic situation. 

12. Is Click Fraud Illegal?

Is click fraud illegal? Click fraud is considered a felony under some jurisdictions, such as in California. However, laws vary from country-to-country. This will also be affected according to extradition laws, and the geographical location where the “illegal” click fraud was committed. Why? Because click fraud committed from a base in one country may be affecting multiple people and businesses from around the world.  

13. Is Click Farming Illegal?

Is click farming illegal? Click farms produce click fraud which is considered a felony under some jurisdictions, such as in California in the United States. However, laws vary from country to country. Additionally, this will also be affected according to extradition laws, and the geographical location the “illegal” click fraud or illegal click farming operation exists. Why? Because click fraud may be committed from a base in one country, however, be affecting multiple people and businesses from around the world. 

However, there have been multiple cases where click farms have been raided and closed by the local authorities, such as an infamous click farm that was raided in Bangkok, Thailand and closed down. This click farm operated by three citizens from China. This shows that although jurisdiction and geographical barriers might be present, legal consequences can still be carried out. 

14. How do I Stop Click Fraud?

How do I stop click fraud? Below are the 4 easy steps that can lessen your chances of being exposed to click fraud.

  1. How do I stop click fraud? Get to know the competition! It is integral that you understand your business competitors, especially in the PPC landscape. Do a quick Google search on your most relevant keywords and see which businesses frequently rank highly.  Afterwards, you can use free tools such as AdWatcher, ClickForensics or ClickDefense to observe whether your competition clicks on your ads or not. 
  2. Set an exposure cap. To get a handle on the number of fraudulent clicks your ad receives, try to focus on the most important countries for your ads. Exclude countries that are not relevant, and if possible, exclude countries that often produce a lot of click fraud, such as many countries with a lower GDP or socio-economic status. 
  3. Monitor your ad campaigns carefully. This is vital for the long-term analysis of your ads. Without a thorough understanding of a benchmark performance of your ads, you will not be able to detect anomalies, which may be indicative of click fraud. 
  4. Quality websites should be your focus. It is estimated (at the time of this writing, Dec 9, 2019), that there are 1.7 billion websites. That’s a lot of unknown sources to quality check. Rather than quality controlling those 1.7 billion, instead focus on high-quality sites, that you can be more certain of the credibility, and value, regarding being home to your target audience. 

15. What is Pay Per Click and Click Fraud?

What is pay per click and click fraud? Pay per click or PPC is a common type of ad campaign that sets the KPI based on clicks on advertisements. The advertiser will pay the publisher when an ad is clicked. PPC or pay per click ad campaigns are usually tracked and measured by digital marketing managers with KPIs such as CTR (click-through rate), conversion rate, number of clicks and CPC (cost per click). 

How does ad fraud or “click fraud” come into the picture? Click fraud is a type of ad fraud that falsely inflates clicks through either manual labor funded via illegal click farms, or via bot traffic. This leads to fraudulently generated revenue for the publisher, paid for by the advertiser, for what seems to be genuine clicks. 

 

Mobile Ad Fraud

Mobile ad fraud – it is a form of ad fraud. What exactly is mobile ad fraud and how is it different from the umbrella term: ad fraud? We will delve into such questions!

16. What is Click Flooding?

What is click flooding? Click flooding is another term for click spamming and is a type of mobile ad fraud. The intention is to steal attribution for organic downloads, by sending a large volume of clicks to a Mobile Measurement Partner (MMP). If one of those clicks organically downloads, it may fool the MMP or attribution tool into crediting that click as a paid click. To learn more, read our guide on click spamming vs click injection. 

17. What is Click Spamming?

What is click spamming? Click spamming, also referred to as click flooding, is a commonly used term for a type of mobile ad fraud designed to steal attribution for genuine organic downloads. This is achieved by sending a large volume of clicks to an MMP or attribution tool. If one of those fraudulent clicks organically downloads, it may fool the MMP or attribution tool into crediting that click as a paid click. To learn more, read our guide on click spamming vs click injection. 

18. What is CTIT?

What is CTIT? CTIT stands for click-to-install-time. This is used to calculate the time from the first ad click, to the time when the newly downloaded app was first opened. In user acquisition, app downloads are only counted once the app is first opened. CTIT or click-to-install-time is a common metric used to detect potential ad fraud, such as click spamming (also known as click flooding) or click injection (also known as click hijacking). The main usefulness of CTIT is through looking at a normal distribution of CTIT and contrasting this against the CTIT distribution of a particular ad network or sub-publisher in order to observe any abnormal CTIT distribution patterns emerging. Want to know more about CTIT or click-to-install times? Read our article on how we use CTIT to detect and prevent mobile ad fraud.

 

Fake Installs

On Google, many readers are curious about fake installs. Understandably so. Here are some of the top “fake install” questions, asked by you, and answered by us.

19. What are Fake Installs?

What are fake installs? Fake installs are either simulated or disingenuous installs that imitate real or genuine installs. This usually occurs due to fraudsters attempting to generate revenue from mobile ad fraud. Fraud which siphons funds from install-based ad campaigns. Fake installs can be caused by numerous different ad fraud methods, such as SDK spoofing, device farms, emulators or incent installs. 

SDK spoofing is a form of hacking where the vital communication between MMPs and application stores are listened to and replicated. Scripts can be written by hackers to simulate any kind of activity, such as installs, in-app activity, even purchases. These signals are then sent to the MMP.

Device farms are large collections of mobile devices that are programmed to perform actions, such as installs, and then repeat the process again and again. Thus, installs can be real, but disingenuous, as they are simply installed from devices programmed to install, and will not be used by an actual consumer. 

Emulator software is software that disguises any device to look like another. Thus, a PC can use an emulator software to easily disguise itself to look like a mobile device. This software can easily be used to mass-produce fraudulent installs on devices such as PCs, while still looking like a genuine install. 

Incent installs are installs that occurred due to the real human device owner being incentivized to download your app. The most common form of incentive is financial. Usually, such downloaders will immediately uninstall your app. 

20. How to Detect Fake Installs?

How to detect fake installs? There are multiple methods to detect fake installs. This will totally depend upon the type of mobile ad fraud that is being perpetrated. SDK spoofing is one of the most complex and sophisticated types of ad fraud, and often cannot be detected without a third-party ad fraud solution provider. Device farms can be detected through abnormal patterns emerging from a particular publisher or ad network. Such patterns might include an abnormally high amount of installs from the same IP or location. Mismatched operating systems are another big red flag for device farms.

Phew! That’s a lot of Google’s most popular questions, answered! Stay tuned for Part Two, as we delve into topics such as click injection, invalid traffic and SDK spoofing. 

Can’t wait and want to talk ad fraud now? You can get started by talking with one of our friendly consultants here, or book a free trial.

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