How Google Protects Your Ads From Spammy Clicks

7 August, 2018

In 2017, about one in five ad clicks were fraudulent.

Now, let’s be clear from the start.

This article isn’t meant to scare you out of using Google Ads; quite the opposite in fact. The main goal is to educate you about those pesky spammy clicks.

The bad news? Yes, they do happen.

The good news? You do have the power to reduce the number of fraudulent clicks in your account!

In this article you’re going to cover off four key areas about spammy clicks:

  • What spammy clicks are
  • What Google is doing to protect your account from being affected
  • Getting a refund on fraudulent clicks
  • Practical steps to take to ensure your account is protected

What are spammy Google ad clicks?

Erin Sagin from Google wrote an insightful article discussing fraudulent clicks. In her article, she gave a helpful explainer of spammy clicks:

“Click fraud is a black-hat technique of falsely inflating the number of clicks on a pay-per-click ad. Click fraud is usually driven by one of two incentives:

  • Advertisers are trying to sabotage their competitors by driving up their costs and meeting their budget caps early on in the day
  • Ad publishers are clicking on the ads displayed on their own sites to generate more revenue for themselves.”

Let’s discuss.

Sabotaging competitors.

It sounds like your competitor must have a lot of spare time on their hands if they’re falsely clicking on your ads. Or your competition is threatened by your astonishing and carefully crafted ad copy.

Either way, they’re driving up your advertising costs.

You’re getting false data from their irrelevant clicks.

The clicks are obviously not turning into converting customers.  

With countless other tasks on the list, who has time to deal with people trying to sabotage your Google Ad performance?

As for the second major point, Ad publishers clicking on their own ads.

Say your advertising on a well-known website that attracts a click-through rate of 6% (let’s assume this is over the average click-through rate for your industry).

Have you ever stopped to think why the click-through rate is so high?

Unethical publishers may click your ads to make it seem like you’re achieving high levels of interaction on their site.

The scarier part is, some companies use malicious software to automatically click your ads.

Why do some ad publishers do this?

To get you to keep advertising on their website.

Later on in the article, we’ll discuss practical steps you can take to ensure your account isn’t affected. Before you go on, if you’re still a little confused about spammy clicks then watch this short two-minute video explainer about invalid clicks.

What is Google doing to reduce spammy clicks?

Google wants you to keep spending money on Google ads so they’ve put mechanisms in place to protect your account.

After having my fair share of phone calls with Google, it’s clear their revenue model is built on providing a positive user experience for both advertisers and the end-customer.

Google understands that, as much as it sucks, fraudulent clicks do happen and the Google Ad Traffic Quality Team has measures in place to protect your account.

Google has a system in place to detect and filter spammy clicks before they occur. Google segments invalid clicks into three categories:

#1. Filters: Google’s algorithms automatically filter out invalid clicks before your account is charged.

#2. Offline analysis: This usually happens when Google’s automated algorithms pick up fraudulent activity. This automated report then goes to the Google team which conducts a manual analysis.

#3. Investigations: This is Google’s reactive approach and is less regularly used. It happens when an advertiser of a Google Ads account enquires about invalid clicks happening in their account.

Google automatically conducts the first two approaches, the only time when you or your Google advertiser will be involved in the process is if you request a formal investigation into fraudulent clicks.

Google’s helpful resource about invalid clicks clearly details its three approaches to protecting your account from fraudulent clicks.

How Google refunds fraudulent clicks

Want to know if your account has been affected by spammy clicks? Follow these steps:

  1. Sign into your Google Ads account.
  2. Click the tool icon in the upper right-hand corner of your account.
  3. Click “Set-up”, select Billing and payments.

Fraudulent clicks will be labelled as “invalid activity” on the transaction history page and you would have been given AdWords credits.

Any invalid interaction credits you’ve received will be labelled “Invalid activity” on the transaction history page and will be credited to you.

See below for visual instructions.

Step 1:


Step 2:


Step 3:


Practical steps to take

Google’s automatic filters catch the majority of fraudulent clicks but as with all tech products, it’s not always 100% effective. There can still be instances when Google may miss spammy clicks very occasionally, but you can do something about it.

Google’s third approach to spammy clicks involves manual investigations. These are based on an advertisers’ reports of suspicious activity. Once Google conducts the investigation, they will label any malicious clicks as ‘invalid’ and you will be reimbursed with Google Ad credits.

Here’s a link to Google’s resource center to help prevent invalid traffic. I suggest you go through the resources as most of the time they will provide you with the answers and you won’t need to waste time with the formal investigation.

In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to reduce the likelihood of spammy clicks.

  • Use Google analytics to breakdown your site visitors into segments or channels. Do you see a trend in channels or similar characteristics? Are there any outliers? These outliers are the ones you’ll want to take a deeper dig into to better understand if they’ve led to a spammy click.
  • Don’t click your own ads. Better still, don’t search your ads at all. If you want to see what your ad looks like on Google then use the Google Ads preview tool.
  • Add the “Invalid Tools” column to your adwords account. See below for how to do this.

Step 1: Go to your Google Ads account and click Column → modify column


Step 2: Click the search bar and type “invalid clicks”. Select invalid clicks and select apply.

You will now see a column in your Google Ads data that outlines how many spammy clicks Google has filtered from your account.

Focus on your Google Ad performance rather than spammy clicks

You’ve digested a lot of valuable information about fraudulent clicks.

Here are the key are the things to remember in case your brain has gone into overload:

  • Fraudulent clicks are spam. They usually involve a person or malicious software clicking your ads
  • Google automatically filters out spammy clicks and reimburses you with Google Credits that you can use on Google Ad campaigns
  • If you think your account hasn’t filtered out all the fraudulent clicks, then you can visit Google’s resource center to find the most effective solution

Google is on top of this fraudulent-clicking warfare, so you can focus on the things that matter: your return on ad spend, converting those customers and looking for opportunities to expand your business.

Want to talk to an expert about fraudulent clicks? Get in touch with the Gorilla team and ask us how we can monitor spammy clicks for you.

By Jessica Goerke
Since 2018 Jess has smashed client goals as a PPC specialist with her signature holistic approach to digital marketing. When she’s not driving awesome results for her clients, you’ll usually find her in the gym.
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