What is Click Spam and How Can You Stop It?

Brock Munro
March 21, 2022
March 20, 2024
What is Click Spam and How Can You Stop It?

Digitalization has upended the world of advertising, bringing audiences closer than ever before. But as marketers invest more in digital ads, fraudsters are also taking advantage.

If you are running digital ads, you should be aware of how digital ad fraud in general—and click spam in particular—can affect your marketing efforts and your business.

 Table of contents:

Ad Fraud is Real: The Statistics

What Is Click Spam? [Definition]

How Does Click Spam Work?

Types of Click Spam

What Are the Effects of Click Spamming on Advertisers?

How Can You Detect and Stop Click Spam?

Final Thoughts

Ad Fraud is Real: The Statistics

The digital ad market has exploded in recent years. Google's 2021 revenue from Google Ads was $209.49 billion, according to Statista, up from $79.38 billion in 2016. Companies spent $144.8 billion on search advertising globally in 2021, similar research shows, up from $71 billion in 2016.

The worldwide adoption of mobile devices has also influenced this ad market. Another Statista report shows that mobile search results account for 65% of clicks on paid search results.

While these statistics highlight the relevance of digital media, there is a dark side to the story. It is the story of "bad guys" trying to exploit this market for their own profit. Ad fraud in general, and mobile fraud in particular, are on the rise.

Here are a few statistics that highlight this:

Mobile ad fraud is a real problem and companies that run digital campaigns must be aware of it. A digital advertiser needs to stay informed and install click fraud protection mechanisms to save their marketing efforts and their money.

What Is Click Spam? [Definition]

Click spam, sometimes referred to as click flooding, is a form of mobile ad fraud where fraudsters use mobile apps or mobile websites to generate fake clicks.

Other forms of ad fraud include click injection, click spoofing, attribution fraud, device farms, etc. But click spam, in particular, works through generating fraudulent clicks via infected mobile apps or mobile websites.

Click spam generates non-human traffic, also known as BOT traffic. The user is unaware of either having downloaded a fraudulent app or having visited an infected website and has no control over the resulting click spam.

How Does Click Spam Work?

Click spam usually happens through mobile apps, but it can also happen on mobile web pages. Sometimes referred to as organic poaching, this kind of click fraud affects a campaign's organic traffic.

Click spamming starts with an unsuspecting user downloading an infected app on their device—or by visiting an infected mobile website. Infected apps are usually downloaded outside of the Google Play Store or the iOS App Store, as these platforms are already fighting click fraud.

The infected app has built-in code designed either to create clicks on ads or allow external devices to click within the app. The app works normally for the user, except for this tiny piece of code that runs in the background.

Once the app—more specifically, the malware code—starts running, click spamming begins. Spammers invest in click spamming operations because it can be a lucrative business, with ad clicks or in-app purchases assigned to the fraudster. The higher the number of undetected spam clicks, the greater the financial reward.

Types of Click Spam

While there are a few types of click spam, which we’ve listed below, their ultimate goal remains the same—collect the payout on mobile ads.

1. Background Clicks

This method deploys fake clicks during background app activity. There are two scenarios for this kind of click spam:

  • The spammer clicks in the background while the user engages with the app, making it appear as though the user has engaged with a mobile ad.
  • The app can generate clicks at all times if it is running in the background; this is possible in the case of a utility app such as memory cleaners or battery savers.

This click spam method is common and very efficient, as users have no reason to suspect anything is amiss. In most cases we aren't even talking about visible ads, the fraudsters are clicking ads that the user can’t even see.

2. Impressions-as-clicks

As the name suggests, fraudsters use click spam to misled advertisers into thinking that impressions are actually conversions.

This will lead to both increased ad spend and create uncertainty over the reliability of the advertising network, owing to the fact that it is difficult to tell which impressions have generated genuine clicks.

3. Device Clicks

The spammer sends clicks to tracking vendors from fake device IDs.

What Are the Effects of Click Spamming on Advertisers?

Ad fraud makes ads and ad networks unreliable. For businesses, this involves a loss of time, money, and accurate data.

The effects of click spam include:

Increased Ad Spend

Click spam can greatly affect marketing budgets. After all, spammers are trying to generate fake clicks in order to receive payment for ad clicks.

Many advertisers choose to work with pay-per-click (PPC) ads and each fraudulent ad click wastes a bit more of a company's budget.

Inaccurate Organic Traffic

Click spam is normally tracked and measured as click activity by organic users. Without diving deep into analytics data, advertisers can't differentiate between real users and fake ones. This means that ad campaign reports can be highly inaccurate.

Bad Marketing Decisions

In a world driven by data, marketers usually try to make data-driven decisions. Marketing decisions are made on statistics and numbers, not on guesswork.

If fraudulent activity isn't identified and stopped, advertisers will only have access to inaccurate data. This can lead to poor decision making, which in the end affects an organization's overall marketing efforts.

How Can You Detect and Stop Click Spam?

There are several ways in which you can detect instances of click spam or other click fraud. The first step is to carefully monitor your data:

Analyze Traffic and Conversions

Invalid traffic can usually be attributed to high amounts of traffic in a short space of time. Sudden spikes in the number of clicks or other unusual patterns can be a sign of fraudulent click activity.

This fraudulent traffic usually does not lead to any conversions. It's safe to assume that if you are dealing with high amounts of traffic and a low number of conversions, something is wrong and needs further investigation.

If you are experiencing this situation, you should look into where your clicks are coming from and isolate any suspicious sources—mobile apps or websites. Then dig a little bit deeper into the analytics and remove any sources of bad traffic.

Analyze Publisher Analytics

Click spamming apps don’t interact with ads the same way that real users do. Once again, you can identify patterns and click distributions that indicate when an app is generating fake clicks.

Examine the analytics of each app publisher to identify where unusual patterns are happening, then make sure your ads don’t appear there again.

App Validation

Apps are usually reviewed by advertising networks and exchanges to ensure that the code within the app isn't malicious. Avoid apps that are not validated, as chances are higher that bad code will go undetected.

However, bear in mind that app validation can take a long time and not all developers are willing to share their code.

Be Proactive in Fighting Click Fraud

The measures listed above are helpful in identifying click spam once it happens. A more proactive approach to fighting click spam involves investing in anti-fraud solutions.

Such a solution uses sophisticated algorithms to help identify and block fraudulent activity before it eats up too much of your advertising budget. Any solution that offers in-depth traffic and click analytics is worth investigating.

Of course, you can manually choose what ad networks and placements to use. This however can be time-consuming. It might be worth investing in a solid technology stack that helps you manage your ads and their placements. This can help you minimize and even automate your work.

Final Thoughts

As a digital advertiser or publisher, you should be aware of the effects that click fraud activities like click spam can have on your marketing activities.

The first step in preventing click spam is staying informed of how it works. The next? Taking preventative and proactive actions that ensure click spam is identified and blocked as soon as it happens.

Publift helps digital publishers get the most out of the ads on their websites. Publift has helped its clients realize an average 55% uplift in ad revenue since 2015, through the use of cutting-edge programmatic advertising technology paired with impartial and ethical guidance.

If you’re making more than $2,000 in monthly ad revenue, contact us today to learn more about how Publift can help increase your ad revenue and best optimize the ad space available on your website or app.

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