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Click fraud on your Facebook ads is still a thing – Here's how you can take back control

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Facebook is... peculiar. Some users don't love it, but know they have to be there to avoid missing out. As a result, it has become a huge platform with growing numbers every year, a multi-billion dollar company which would do anything to protect its business model. But although Facebook claims to care for the businesses who are advertising on the platform, it still fails to address some timely and relevant concerns which are hurting advertisers all over the world.

Click fraud is still most definitely a problem on Facebook, and the company isn't doing enough to combat the issue. There are ways to regain control – temporary workarounds, shields and modifications to adopt while we (not so) patiently wait for Facebook to address the root of the problem. Perhaps one day the company execs will finally stop and listen.

We reached out to Stewart Boutcher, CTO and data lead at Beacon, to learn more about the topic below.

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Facebook is not doing enough to combat fake clicks on ads – here’s how businesses can take back control

In addition to being a platform for people to stay in touch with friends and family, and to connect with new people from all around the world, Facebook has fast become one of the most popular channels for businesses to market their products and services to vast amounts of consumers.

According to software app firm, Buffer, 93% of companies are active on Facebook, and with the disruption that the coronavirus pandemic has brought to normal trading for many, the social media giant is only growing in popularity as a powerful and highly influential marketing tool. 

While the platform offers seemingly limitless possibilities to businesses, it is not without its dangers when it comes to ad fraud. One of the most common types is click fraud – the practice of a person or bot pretending to be a legitimate visitor to a webpage and clicking on a pay-per-click [PPC] ad to exhaust a company’s advertising budget.

Indeed, in 2017, Facebook admitted to having up to 270 million fake accounts – almost the equivalent of the US population – many of which are used by fraudsters specifically to click on ads, thereby negatively affecting advertisers, wasting their budgets and damaging their brand reputations.

Evidently, the platform is not doing nearly enough to combat fake clicks on ads and, with the problem having only grown during the COVID-19 crisis, coupled with forecasts from Juniper Research that advertisers’ overall losses to click fraud will reach $100 billion by 2023, urgent action is needed to protect  firms online.

Until then, however, companies should be aware of what they can do now to take back control of their digital marketing campaigns on Facebook. 

Throwing a shield around ad budgets

One of the most effective ways that business can mitigate the risks of click fraud on Facebook is by implementing a click fraud protection platform that is capable of identifying malicious bots and users and taking steps to block them from engaging with their advertising campaigns.

After detecting the presence of a click bot, these platforms can add the device fingerprint to a bot protection database, which is used to block both bot impressions and clicks on Facebook campaigns. 

This database can then be used to build regularly updated, custom-blended bot exclusion lists tailored specifically for the business in question, giving them the maximum reduction possible in click fraud over time. 

What’s more, by removing the ability for fraudsters to tamper with their marketing, ads can then reach a larger number of legitimate users who are more likely to convert to a sale, meaning a considerable portion of a firm’s budget is saved.

Another measure that can be taken is properly setting up rules on a website’s robots.txt file – a file that lives on a web server and specifies the rules for any bots accessing the website. 

Although this might not necessarily stop click bots from getting through to the website, it could harm the efforts of overly aggressive crawlers – programmes that systematically browse the web to create an index of data – to take the site down. 

Facebook needs to do more

While there are certainly steps that companies can take to protect themselves from click fraud, this does not address the responsibility that Facebook has to do more in limiting the capabilities of fraudsters to wreak havoc on marketers.

A report published by web analytics firm Method Media Intelligence [MMI] in 2020 highlights that, while Facebook has the technology to block bots from entering its system via a proper log-in procedure, the company does not do enough to stop this fraudulent activity from taking place. 

The report goes on to assert that the platform only begins blocking bots out at the account registration stage and not before, giving them ample opportunity to engage with ads.

MMI even alleges that Facebook is actively making it easier for robot-controlled software to log into the platform, view pages, and click on ads, despite the ease with which such activity could be blocked before any damage is done.

To prove their point, MMI simulated an automated browser and demonstrated how straightforward it is to log into Facebook and how it was able to interact exactly how a human can. 

Clearly, the social media company could do more to combat the impact of click fraud, but it seems that it is reluctant to do so given the ways in which it profits from such illicit activity. 

The solution

It appears Facebook’s apparent unwillingness to tackle click fraud in any meaningful way is the root cause of the problem for marketers advertising on the platform. 

The solution, therefore, is for governments, business leaders and relevant industry bodies from around the world to place greater pressure on Facebook and other social media companies to take action, or risk facing severe consequences such as fines or tighter regulation on how they operate.

A clear message should be sent to Facebook’s executives that profiting from fraud is not acceptable, and that the company must increase its efforts in supporting those businesses that are legitimately using its services and paying considerable amounts of money for the privilege of doing so.

Moreover, the online giant should be encouraged to do more when it comes to supporting those organisations that are committed to combating click fraud, and only through a greater level of collaboration are sustained decreases in fraudulent activity across the board likely to be achieved.

Until the platform is willing to act, however, click fraud will remain an inescapable reality for firms using Facebook as marketing tool, so the priority must be for them to now think about what they can do to protect their own budgets and brands as much as possible.

Stewart Boutcher is CTO and data lead at Beacon.

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