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How Does Google Ads Prevent Click Fraud?

how does google ads prevent click fraud

What is click fraud?

Click fraud entails clicks on online ads that do not originate from real user interest. This is often caused by bots, click farms or competitors that click ads to generate revenue or cause harm to the advertiser.

Click fraud is part of a larger category of “invalid clicks” that also includes accidental engagements and repeated clicks.

Examples of clicks Google may deem invalid include:

  • Manual clicks aimed at boosting your ad spend or to enrich website owners displaying your ads
  • Clicks generated by automated tools, bots, or misleading software
  • Inadvertent clicks that offer no benefit to the advertiser, like the additional click in a double-click scenario

How much click fraud is there?

Despite Google’s efforts to prevent click fraud, independent studies still show click fraud remains a major problem for digital advertisers.

Based on an in-depth study conducted by Juniper Research, 22% of all ad spend is lost due to fraud. This totals $84 billion in wasted ad spend in 2023.

Juniper Research’s was generated after reviewing 78,700 datapoints which analyzed digital advertising activity in 45 select countries across 8 key regions between 2019 and 2028.

What are examples of click fraud?

Here are two recent examples of ad fraud:

1. Forbes misleads advertisers with Made-for-advertising click fraud:

The WSJ revealed in March 2024, that Forbes had knowingly sold ads under a subdomain,, that contained spammy Made-for-advertising web pages (“MFA.”) MFA sites are largely designed to generate clicks from users with an extremely high volume of ads on the page and placements of ads over critical navigation links. This ad inventory was sold as normal without any disclosures from the publisher.

2. Google’s TrueView ad fraud scandal:

Adalytics, a premier advertising research firm, conducted an in-depth investigation which uncovered discrepancies in ad counting methods. Their examination of more than 1,000 brand campaigns showed that numerous TrueView advertisements on platforms other than YouTube did not meet Google’s established criteria.

This encompassed video advertisements displayed in minimized video players, muted ads, ads mixed with empty content, or those that barely engaged viewers. Additionally, there were numerous cases where ads were shown to the bot “,” that watched the videos.

Read more about this case: Google’s TrueView is Costing Advertisers Billions in ‘Ad Fraud’.

How does Google Ads prevent click fraud?

According to Google, they employ a combination of live reviews, automated filtering, machine learning, and in-depth investigations to identify and minimize click fraud and invalid traffic.

Their detection system “use machine learning and complex algorithms to protect our partners and keep our ad platforms clean.” For cases of suspected invalid activity that might not be captured by our automated systems, we conduct manual reviews. If we detect unusual traffic patterns, or if an advertiser or publisher presents a legitimate concern, our team examines the data closely, makes informed decisions, or devises new filters.

Their detection process includes:

  1. Automated filters – most traffic is filtered through automated detection using “cutting edge technology.”
  2. Real-time filtering (including near-real time) – additional filtering is processed on the spot based on behavioral tracking such as suspiciously high click through rates.
  3. Manual detection – some traffic goes through a manual review, either to approve or disapprove of the traffic source.
  4. Research and botnet hunting – their research team devices filters and analyzes data to help catch newer fraud schemes.
  5. Account suspensions – if publishers are discovered to be engaging in fraudulent or abusive activity then Google will suspend accounts.

How to view click fraud in Google Ads?

You can view the amount of “invalid clicks,” which includes click fraud, detected by Google Ads in your reports. Here’s how:

  1. Click “Campaigns” – main left nav
  2. Click “Campaigns” – secondary left nav
  3. Select “Columns” above the main reports data
  4. Add “Invalid Clicks” and any related data points
  5. Select “Save

Scroll to the right and you’ll see your new columns added along with the data.

How to view invalid clicks in Google Ads

Can I get a refund for Invalid clicks from Google Ads?

Google automatically refunds you for clicks they detect as invalid, but if you are seeing fraud in your analytics then you’ll need to complete a form and provide documentation to prove you shouldn’t be paying for those clicks.

Check out our step-by-step instructions for getting a refund for invalid clicks from Google Ads.

Does Google Ads also prevent “Accidental clicks”?

Short answer: Not really 😔.

Google does supervise publishers to ensure your ads aren’t place in poor places just to generate a click – such as placing them on top of play buttons or hiding them as nav menu links.

They also don’t charge visitors for “double-clicking” an ad. This is similar to when you open a folder on your computer where you need to double-click on it.

However, Google Ads does charge you if you click on an ad, visit a website, and bounce very quickly (even before it finishes loading). This is very common on mobile devices and on social media, where the screens are smaller and ads can consume more than 50% of the space on the screen.

Google Ads also charges you if your intent is to close the ad by pressing the “X” in the upper right corner, as shown in an excellent heat map from Dr Augustine Fou:

Location of clicks on an ad suggests users intended to close the ad.

Preventing click fraud is a conflict-of-interest for Google

Advertising agencies and ad networks, such as Google Ads, are not incentivized to combat click fraud. Since their company earnings are tied to the amount an advertiser spends with them, their primary interest lies in boosting their traffic volumes, disregarding the real return on investment (ROI) for the end client. This may involve letting some click fraud through, at the expense of performance for the advertiser. Some agreements with agencies or ad networks can be based on performance, but those are extremely rare and not an industry standard.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that networks would have fewer impressions to sell if they were to cut down on fraud, thereby diminishing their appeal to major purchasers.

Read more about this problem: Ad Fraud is a Problem Sellers Don’t Want to Solve

How will AI impact ad fraud?

The dual role of AI in both enabling and combating ad fraud is a widely discussed subject among global fraud prevention platforms.

Tools like ChatGPT can develop sophisticated bots and malware capable of emulating human actions. Such emulation enables these fraudsters to siphon off advertising budgets by generating ad views and clicks that real users never encounter.

AI also allows fraudsters to continually alter their tactics to evade discovery. In response, they leverage AI not just to disguise their illicit activities but also to identify chances to simulate legitimate traffic. To counter this, fraud prevention specialists can use AI analytics to help verify, pinpoint, and scrutinize fraudulent behavior. Nonetheless, AI aims to dodge detection from AI-driven anti-fraud measures, leading to an ongoing struggle akin to a “cat-and-mouse” game.

How to stop invalid clicks in Google Ads?

As you’ve read, Google Ads doesn’t stop all click fraud. There is still a large portion that exists due to a conflict-of-interest, new AI tools, or from accidental clicks and competitors.

Here are a few suggestions to get cleaner traffic and better performance with your Google Ads campaigns:

  • Use Independent Fraud Detection Tools: These tools can go above-and-beyond what Google provides. They can help block more fraud and clicks from competitors. Check out our leading ad fraud protection service, Fraud Blocker.
  • Use a Honeypot: Honeypots are invisible fields within the form’s code that are not visible to human users. Bots scanning the code might fill these out, revealing their non-human nature. Using a honeypot can help prevent fake leads from lead forms and the like.
  • Avoid MFA Websites: MFA sites are loaded with ads and scammy ad positions to encourage a high rate of accidental clicks. Use our free list of MFA sites to exclude from your campaigns immediately.
  • Avoid Automated Ad Placements: Google automatically places your ads across their vast network of hundreds of thousands of websites. Running ads across their network is dangerous and can quickly drain your budget.
  • Avoid “AI”-driven campaign types (such as Performance Max and Demand Gen):  Google is pushing their users to use “AI” campaign types that limit your targeting options and place your ads anywhere they think is best (including lots of spammy sites). It’s a black box and can be an expensive test in futility. Read more about our concerns with Performance Max and Demand Gen campaigns.

Want to boost your ad performance? Remove click fraud

We can help boost your ad performance by removing fraud, bots, accidental clicks, and more from your advertising campaigns. Try our 7-day free trial and see how much money we can save you.


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