Sure, we’re a little obsessed with bots on this blog. But we definitely keep tabs on another major ad fraud culprit: human click farms.
Like their bot counterparts, human click farms wreak havoc on the digital advertising ecosystem. They’re responsible for clicking on ads with no intent of converting. They visit sites and rack up worthless impressions. They fill out forms with bogus information, generating false leads. And for online advertisers, they’re a real nightmare.
Digital Farm Labor
Trying to detect human fraud is tough. Unlike bots, human behavior is more nuanced and less predictable. In the early days of click fraud, platforms like Google and Yahoo quickly put filters in place to stop automated clicks. But the filters did a terrible job at blocking fake clicks made by what seemed like real site visitors.
So naturally, fraudsters took advantage of this flaw, launching operations we now recognize as click farms. Under the direction of an owner, or “farmer,” low-paid workers browse the web, performing payable actions like clicks, form fills, and account signups.
Traditionally, human click farms operate in two ways. Sometimes, outside “customers” hire click farms to sabotage their competitor’s digital ad campaigns. For a certain price, farm workers click through ads in an effort to eat up the competing advertiser’s budget. Once the funds run dry, the farm customer’s ads have a better chance of ranking higher than the competition.
Click farms are also used to directly benefit the farmer financially. Some fraudsters create websites built strictly for advertising purposes, using networks like Google to sell ad space. Once legitimate ads run on the page, the farmer directs their workers to interact with the ads, in turn generating revenue for themselves.
In recent years, click farm antics have invaded social media too, as we’ve seen with the fake Facebook profile debacle. Instead of clicks, many farms now sell profiles, users, or accounts. And because these accounts are created by actual human users, often with seemingly legitimate information, they can successfully pass security filters on social platforms like Twitter and Instagram.
Steering Clear of Click Farms
Immediately, you might think to block sketchy traffic sources as a way to avoid click farm activity. For instance, since many click farms set up shop in developing nations like Bangladesh, Thailand, and India, blocking traffic coming from suspect locations seems ideal. But that might not work, as some fraudsters use the cloud to mask their real locations.
Blocking traffic also means you might be blocking good users with the bad, especially if your campaigns aren’t targeted strictly to specific regions or demographics. So what can you do?
Instead of focusing on the source, turn your attention to individual users. Your best bet is to implement an ad fraud solution that analyzes key data points, such as IP addresses and device information, and determines if users are legit or not.
Obviously, eliminating all forms of fraud just isn’t possible, but with the right tools in place, you can guard your campaigns from those pesky click farms.
This post originally appeared on Anura.