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What Are Click Bots?

what are click bots

Bots are software applications which are used for many online activities. And while the majority of the activity performed by bots is useful, such as carrying out repetitive tasks or collecting data, there is a huge subset of malicious bot activity out there too.

Whether it’s spreading malware and malicious software, or inflating clicks on online ads, click bots are a growing menace. But how do these click bots affect your online business?

What is a click bot?

A click bot is a bot that is specifically designed to click on online links and other simple click-based activities.

These bots will access a specified page and click the desired link, which can be anything from a social media post or account, to display ads on a website or in a mobile app.

These click bots are the easiest bots to detect because their behavior is distinguishable from human behavior. However, more advanced click bots can imitate human user behavior, like mouse movements, pausing, longer time spent per page, and more random activity or duration on a webpage. These more human actions make these bots much harder to detect, meaning that they can often sneak past the internet traffic filters used by the main ad platforms.

Most commonly, these click bots are used to perform click fraud or ad fraud, which are one of the pervasive forms of financial fraud online.

What is click fraud?

Click fraud is the act of clicking on PPC ads, often for financial gain, but also sometimes to damage the advertisers budget. It’s most associated with Search Engine Marketing (SEM), mobile ads, and affiliate marketing, affecting ad campaigns across programmatic ad platforms to the big players such as Google Ads.

While click fraud can simply mean an organized campaign to click a sponsored search result, it also often incorporates a huge amount of fake traffic to click on display ads embedded in websites. This is also often referred to as ad fraud, which is seen as the more organized form of click fraud.

An effective click fraud campaign relies on huge volumes of fake website traffic which can come in the form of click farms or click bots.

The devices used for click fraud need to have different IP addresses, so they’ll be identified as different users. This often means that click bots or click farms use VPNs or route the traffic through proxy servers to perform their fraudulent clicks undetected.

Another method incorporates botnets, which are a vast network of dispersed click bots from across the internet. Botnets comprise thousands or millions of devices, many of which are infected with malware that installed the click bot without the user’s knowledge.

Read more: What is a Botnet? →

In 2023, advertisers suffered losses of over $84 billion due to click fraud. It’s a large-scale operation that is affecting many businesses around the world right under their noses. There’s also a ripple effect that occurs due to the invalidation of the victim’s website analytics. Any attempt to optimize marketing spend is skewed by the faulty metrics coming from the click bot activity.

Examples of click bots

In 2006, Clickbot A, the first documented ad clicker botnet, infected 100,000 computers to execute attacks against syndicated search networks. The scammers targeted sponsored search results provided by Google and caused an estimated $50,000 in losses.

DNSChanger ran from 2007 to 2011 and racked up $14 million in losses by infecting 4 million internet explorer and apple devices. These were the first criminal charges against an ad fraud network (wire fraud and money laundering).

Those are early examples. The more advanced bots that came after generated tremendous losses of millions per day. Methbot was one such bot that ran from 2015 to 2017, making $3 million per day at its peak. It operated on 1,900 dedicated servers that ran 852,000 false IP addresses.

The truth is that there are a constant stream of click bots that go undetected and perform a growing range of click fraud focused activity.

How to purchase a bot to create fraudulent clicks

Fraudsters can easily download auto-clicking services to click on ads on sites they may own or help to build their social media profiles. While these may be technically legal, as they can be used for repetitive tasks such as farming or completing tasks in mobile games, that’s rarely what they’re used for.

Here’s just a couple examples:

Here’s one that isn’t clicking on ads, but it’s clicking on likes and friend requests to help build fraudulent social profiles that ultimately serve ads without value.

Here’s a look at the features they offer:

Also, a simple google search finds sites that use click bots or real human click farms that click on any ads you choose:

This final one is an example of a click bot that can click on certain parts of a screen, such as on the right side where ads are typically served:

Bot from malware

Increasingly, click bots are also being found as an inbuilt feature in mobile games, web browser extensions and software. These bots are often a hidden element, known as malware, which perform fraudulent clicks or perform fake video ad impressions without the device users knowledge.

Worse still, these click bots can sometimes hide behind genuine user behavior, making them even harder to spot.

A famous case is Cheetah Mobile, a Chinese software developer who was found to have loaded many of their apps with click fraud malware. These inbuilt click bots would perform a process known as click flooding, or attribution fraud, which would then claim organic installs as their own, and earn a payout for the parent company.

Another ad fraud bot called Tekya was discovered built into 56 apps in 2020. This click bot, which was activated after installation (thus allowing it to bypass security) also performed fake clicks on mobile ads.

Social media bots

While click bots on social media are often used for inflating engagement, for example clicking likes or boosting followers, they can also affect ad campaigns too. Facebook and Instagram are two of the most popular social media platforms for advertisers, with some of the best reach online. But are also riddled with fake traffic and bot clicks.

In fact, it’s thought that there are at least 95 million bot accounts on Instagram.

These bot clicks can interact with your social media ads, which doesn’t just cost you money, but skews your audience targeting too. And because Meta’s platforms automate their audience targeting, it’s hard to track and block clicks from bad traffic sources such as bots without a click fraud prevention tool.

How common are click bots?

Bots are the most common type of app installation fraud in every region. There are also other types of bots such as Viewbots which are used to generate fake video views and inflate streaming views on services such as Twitch.

And, there are famously Instagram Spam Bots used to increase fake engagement on social media channels.

Overall, bots account for an estimated 40% to 50% of all internet traffic. Entrepreneur.com suggests that up to 70% of your marketing budget.

How to prevent click bots

PPC marketers increasingly need to be aware of the threat from click bots, and alert to both the signs of ad fraud, and the methods of prevention. If you consider the fact that more than 90% of all PPC campaigns are affected by fraud, it becomes clear that protecting your ad budget from fake clicker bots is an essential step.

And this is one of the reasons why click fraud prevention software is no longer just a nice to have service, but an essential add on for paid marketers.

When a single bot generates an obviously fraudulent number of clicks, it’s relatively easy to instruct a server to stop serving the IP address related to that device.

The problem is botnets that operate advanced bots with human behaviors, or even the growing choice of bot farms using more sophisticated processes. These are almost impossible to detect without dedicated fraud prevention software that uses machine learning.

Fraud Blocker has rapidly grown to become one of the most trusted tools on the market to combat click bots. For business owners looking to boost their marketing efforts and prevent click fraud on their ads, it’s a no brainer.

By using our service, marketers maximize their ad revenue, see improved quality score on their Google Ads and improve their return on ad spend.

The best way to find out if you can save money by blocking PPC fraud is by trying us out with our 7-day free trial today.

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