Retargeting is a digital marketing strategy often recommended for two reasons: it can increase sales and simultaneously limit losses perpetrated through click fraud. Unfortunately, fraudsters have caught up with the retargeting strategy. They now have sophisticated click bots that make retargeting less attractive on both fronts.
To understand why this is such a big deal to advertisers, you need to understand both retargeting and click fraud itself. Needless to say that companies like Fraud Blocker, companies that make click fraud prevention software, are working as hard as they can to identify bot behavior and stop it.
The Retargeting Concept
Among the many advantages digital advertising has over its analog counterpart is the ability to target one’s audience more accurately. In a pay-per-click (PPC) setting for example, an advertiser can target its audience based on a variety of factors including keywords, demographics, geographic location, etc.
The idea behind retargeting is to target an audience more specifically. Retargeting is essentially a strategy of serving up ads only to users who have already spent time on an advertiser’s website. Retargeting relies heavily on cookies placed inside web browsers as people navigate across the web.
Retargeting Generates New Sales
As a sales tool, retargeting is extremely effective. Conservative estimates suggest that consumers reached through retargeting efforts are 70% more likely to make a purchase. That is pretty impressive. It is no wonder digital marketing agencies who specialize in PPC tend to encourage retargeting.
Needless to say that click fraud perpetrators are very aware of how well retargeting works. It’s only natural that they would design sophisticated click bots capable of taking advantage of retargeting. So Fraud Blocker and its counterparts need to find better ways to identify click bots before they completely destroy the retargeting concept.
Click Bots Are Easy and Effective
In its simplest form, a click bot is a piece of software programmed to search for PPC ads and click on them. Today’s click bots are generally not so simple. In fact, they are getting increasingly more sophisticated as time goes by. Fraudsters love them because they are easy to create, highly effective at what they do, and gradually getting harder to identify through software solutions alone.
Sophisticated Click Bots for Retargeting
So how do click bots designed around retargeting work? They more or less follow a two-step process. The first step is to go out and browse the internet just like a human user would do. The point here is to collect retargeting cookies as the bot goes from one site to the next. While the bot is ‘surfing the web’, it is also simulating human activity:
- It is clicking links.
- It is filling out contact forms.
- It is answering surveys.
- It is adding items to a shopping cart.
The bots are also programmed to constantly change up signals that would make them easy to identify. They change IP addresses, fingerprint data, OS reports, and so forth. The icing on the cake is that they mimic human activity randomly.
Time to Go Home
After a certain amount of time spent surfing the net, the click bot is programmed to return home to the fraudster’s website. Then it waits for ads to be served up. When they are, the clicking begins. Every fraudulent click perpetrated by the bot constitutes a charge to the corresponding advertiser.
Throughout all the fake clicks, the bot continues to simulate human activity and change up its signals. If a bot is sophisticated enough, it can run up millions of dollars in fraudulent charges before it is discovered.
The Big Cookie Question
There have been efforts in recent years to eliminate the cookie for privacy and security reasons. In fact, Google said they would stop using cookies in their Chrome browser by mid-2023. Their plans remain in place, but they have been delayed until next year. So at least for now, both retargeting and click fraud based on it will continue.
Would retargeting still be possible without the cookie? Where there is a will, there is a way. I strongly suspect that the decision to delay phasing out cookies is the result of Google, Amazon, Apple, and so many others looking for a way to keep doing what cookies do but without the cookies themselves.
Fraudsters Will Find a Way, Too
It seems reasonable that eliminating cookies could dampen the efforts of fraudsters to rip off advertisers. But do not expect fraudsters to sit around and do nothing while tech companies work to eliminate a technology that generates a significant portion of the fraudsters’ income.
Those who would perpetrate click fraud are not sitting idly with their revenues at risk. They are preparing for an internet with no cookies. They are working on new strategies that will enable them to do a better job ripping off advertisers to the tunes of billions of dollars annually.
What Advertisers Can Do Now
Cookies will very likely be eliminated within the next couple of years. Until then though, they remain a crucial tool in the digital marketing box. Advertisers should not just hold their breath and take their losses. They can, and should, fight back. A good place to start is a click fraud prevention software package or service.
Combining software with human expertise is the best way to identify click bot activity and put a stop to it. Preventing click fraud is by no means an easy task. But it is not an impossible task if advertisers bother to try.
The only way to limit losses is to search high and low for any vulnerabilities. And when potentially fraudulent activity is detected, it needs to be stopped in its tracks.