What is invalid traffic?
Invalid traffic is any activity that doesn't come from a real user with genuine interest. It can include accidental clicks caused by intrusive ad implementations, fraudulent clicking by competing advertisers, advertising botnets and more.
Our Ad Traffic Quality team is dedicated to stopping all types of invalid traffic so that advertisers don't have to pay for it and the people who cause it don't profit from it. We also work closely with industry groups like the Interactive Advertising Bureau , Media Rating Council, Trustworthy Accountability Group, among others to develop industry standards for advertising traffic worldwide.
What is invalid user activity?
Invalid user activity is when a real person interacts with an ad, but not out of actual interest.
Some actions are accidental, like when a mobile user reaches for a link and taps an ad instead. Others are intentional and sometimes downright fraudulent. For example, publishers might ask (or even pay) users to click on ads, watch videos, or view content they wouldnt normally engage with to increase their impression counts.
Traffic caused by deceptive tactics like these creates bad user experiences and provides little or no value to advertisers, which is why were committed to stamping it out.
What are some examples of invalid activity?
Invalid activity can take many forms, including bot traffic, click farms, incentivized clicks, and accidental clicks.
One of the more malicious forms of invalid activity is bot traffic. Bot traffic generally comes from computers that have been infected by malware or otherwise remotely controlled by a third party. The malware or hijacker can install software on the hijacked computer, which can then be used to perform any number of illicit tasks, one of which may be to load ads and click on them.
Another type of malicious invalid activity comes from click farms, which are large groups of people paid to view and click on ads.
Some traffic providers may appear to provide legitimate site visitors but may actually be delivering invalid traffic, such as bot traffic or clicks from a click farm. For this reason, we strongly urge you to use caution when partnering with third-party traffic services. The traffic provider checklist can help guide your discussions with any potential traffic provider.
Incentivized clicks are when users aren't actually interested in viewing the ad content or landing page, but are motivated to click on ads for other reasons. A simple example of this is when a publisher encourages users to click on its ads by saying "Help keep my site free by clicking my ads!" or offers some sort of reward for users who click ads.
Accidental clicks are, as the name implies, clicks where users didn't intend to click on the ad. They often occur as a result of poor ad placement. Please review our Ad placement policies to learn more. For example, ads should be clearly distinguished from other website content, such as menu, navigation, and download links.
What is advertising fraud?
Simply put, it's any invalid activity designed to increase ad traffic while pretending to be genuine. The most common methods include:
- Click farms (hiring people to manually click ads)
- Automated browsing (running a hidden browser on a user's computer to automatically visit ad sites)
- Session hijacking and botnets (hijacked computers used to create non-human traffic and clicks)
- Falsely represented inventory (traffic falsely portrayed as coming from high-value users or a site claiming it is a different site)
Below, we'll describe a few common ways people use these tricks to commit advertising fraud.
What is display impression fraud?
Display impression fraud is any fraudulent or malicious activity used to increase the number or value of image-based ad impressions or video views. Impression fraud uses many of the tactics described in the section above to mislead advertisers into believing the traffic is genuine. To cover their tracks, fraudsters often mix the fraudulent traffic in with with real user traffic, making it more difficult to detect.
What is click fraud?
Any click on an ad, web page element, or content for the sole purpose of increasing click revenue constitutes click fraud. Most people who commit click fraud either want to sabotage their competitors by exhausting their ad budgets, or boost their own revenue by driving up the number of ad clicks on their websites. Here are some of the most common methods:
- Click farms: teams of people who can be hired to manually click on ads
- Click bots: software that that can be purchased or programmed to automate click activity
- Clickjacking: hiding invisible ads on a website or manipulating their position to cause users to click them unintentionally
- Botnets: networks of hijacked computers that generate huge numbers of clicks while registering as human.
What are advertising botnets?
Botnets are automated software programs that run on Internet servers or hijacked computers. When used for ad fraud, botnets can be programmed to create a large volume of invalid impressions, clicks, and traffic. Unfortunately, they can also be programed to act like real users, which makes their traffic difficult to spot. So in addition to our automated filters and manual reviews, we also deploy specialized research teams to hunt out and stop botnets harming advertisers, publishers and users.
Working with industry groups to prevent invalid activity.
We work hard to keep our own network free from fraud, but to prevent invalid activity across the web we all need to work together. Recently, we worked with the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) to create a glossary of common ad fraud tactics, including session hijacking, crawler traffic, and cookie-stuffing (its not as fun as it sounds!).