What to do if Your Suspect Click Fraud

By Sergio Aicardi on September 2, 2020

Click fraud is a real thing and yes it still happens all the time. Unfortunately, if you’re not a savvy internet marketing person, it’s REALLY HARD to tell if you’re getting hit with false clicks (aka invalid clicks). There are companies that offer services to automatically detect and report click fraud and invalid click activity but you can learn how to defend against click fraud on your own if you have a webmaster and some experience with Google Products.

In this blog post, we’d like to share our recent experience with an account that was running Google Shopping ads that we suspected was getting hit with invalid click activity. Our reports were showing a huge disparity between the number of paid clicks vs the actual number of users tracked by Google Analytics after the click was accrued and paid for. As it turned out, we realized the invalid click rate was around 97% or higher within a 3-month course during the COVID pandemic. We’ll explain what we did to find that data, and what we did to solve the problem.

How Does Google Handle Invalid Clicks?

It’s important to understand what “invalid clicks” are. Google’s interpretation of the term “invalid clicks” is pretty vague s you can see from the screenshot below which was taken from Google’s Support site for Google Ads.

invalid clicks

As Google mentioned in their support site, they claim to use a “system” which is “sophisticated” and able to identify invalid clicks in real-time. They also claim to give you credits for any invalid clicks that make it past their “sophisticated system”. Unfortunately, through my own experience as a Google Ads manager, I have seen first-hand that their system doesn’t catch invalid click activity effectively.

What’s even more alarming is that there have been settlements in the past with business owners who have taken legal action against Google for invalid click activity. In a case where Gurminder Singh of Vacaville, California sought financial restitution for spending money on clicks that were not valid, he stated that “Google has a very limited incentive to reduce third-party click fraud, because it, like the third-party website publisher, benefits from each additional click, even if such click is fraudulent.”. To be honest, I could not have said it better myself.

How to Identify Click Fraud or Invalid Clicks on Your Own

In order to track down invalid click activity in your Google Ads account, you’re going to need someone who knows their way around Google Analytics and the Google Ads interface. You will need to look at several reports to really identify invalid clicks. In my most recent exeperience with a Google Shopping campaign, I was looking in my Google Analytics report for Google Ads clicks and noticed that less than 5% of my clicks were actual users as shown in the report below:

Not fair google

The report shows that in the month of August, we paid for 495 clicks which added up to be $1,856.12 in clicks. What’s worse, is that this also happened in July and June which equated to about $6,000 in spend for clicks that were basically all invalid. I checked into many other reports to ensure that the data was in fact accurate, such as my “All Traffic Reports” and even my Google Ads invalid click activity reports to see if there were any big credits that were applied to my account for invalid clicks that were caught from the “sophisticated system”… Low and behold, I received about two dollars in credits for the months of June, July, and August. You can view your invalid click credits in your Google Ads account by navigating to the Billing section, then the “Transactions” link. Once you’re on the transactions page, you must click on the drop-down at the top and change it from “All Transactions” to “Adjustments” to see any invalid click credits. Below is a screenshot of our invalid click credits.

invalid clicks report

During the time that this blog was written, we were in the “Covid 19 Pademic” which was the reason why Google Ads stopped offering phone support (ironically). Getting someone on the chat was my only option when attempting to explain that my Google Analytics data was showing some pretty concerning discrepancies between the number of clicks and the number of actual users. It took about 5 different chat agents that passed me on to the next one, but after about an hour and a half, I was able to get someone that told me I would need to submit weblogs to become eligible for a refund. They explained that Google Analytics data could be inaccurate and it is not acceptable as documentation for requesting a refund.

The term “web-logs” was very vague, when I asked what these “weblogs” were, I received no concrete answer from the chat agent. I managed to get in touch with a more-tenured MCC rep that was able to provide me with insights as to what these weblogs would need to include. Per the email I received from the Google Rep, the data needs to include “data such as who was visiting the site, where they came from, and exactly what they were doing on the website (also the GCLID). Sounds easy right? NOT REALLY. So now that we knew what we needed, we need to allocate hours of work towards proving our case which would require our webmaster’s support.

Once my webmaster generated the weblogs, we were able to send them to the Google Ad representative that was dealing with our case and are now waiting for a reply. We’re planning on writing the second half of this blog post after we receive their response so you can be aware of the outcome. We feel that it’s important for business owners to know about this experience as it can be a big financial burden to companies that are banking on their Google Ads to bring them new business during a pandemic. Hopefully, the Google Ads team is able to manually review the data and tell us whether or not we’re dealing with click fraud or really any sort of reasonable explanation.

If you are prepared to start this process that we went through I recommend starting off with the Google Ads related complaint form which you can fill out here. Keep in mind that there is no guarantee that your refund request will be approved and the amount of time and resources it can take to get the refund might cost you more than its worth.

What We Learned About Invalid Click Credits

All in all, I’m very disappointed with the amount of time it took to get this sorted out when it should have been detected in the first place. I’m also not happy about the fact that the chat support agents kept passing me from one agent to another when the agents realized they were not able to help by simply copying and pasting canned messages from the support site. I really feel that with the amount of money we’ve managed as an agency, we should get some sort of dedicated account specialist to help with situation like these that require a manual review from a person that is actually employed by Google in an HQ that is in the USA so that we can speak with someone that is native, not outsourced overseas. I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with outsourcing customer service overseas but there needs to be someone that is available for escalated situations that are located in the house so they know exactly what needs to be done to remedy the situation. Thankfully, we were able to get some form of credit, although we believe we were owed more. It has been a learning experience and we are going to be more diligent with checking our performance on a daily basis to ensure that the shopping campaign continues to generate valid clicks at a reasonable rate.


About The Author

Sergio Aicardi
Sergio Aicardi /

Search engine marketing is what I am passionate about and enjoy doing. I feed off of the knowledge and the fact that SEO is always and will always be changing. Remember, when it comes to SEO, always think like a search engine and you will succeed.