Click fraud - Lawyer Prevention Guide

Digital advertising for law firms has completely changed the way businesses reach clients. This type of marketing effort is widespread because it combines real-time data analysis and closely monitors ad spending. Behind digital advertising, one of the most influential and customizable strategies is PPC. 

PPC for law firms presents many opportunities for firms investing in marketing. But primarily, your firm can gain online visibility and drive traffic to your site in a shorter period (unlike SEO, which focuses on long-term goals). On the other side, with so many businesses leveraging PPC advertising and with money constantly circulating online – it also attracts an increasing number of fraudsters.

If your law firm is investing in pay-per-click that does not convert into real clients, you could be a victim of a hidden adversary – click fraud. This unscrupulous tactic can rapidly drain your marketing budget, yet remain almost invisible.

why is Click fraud an invisible threat

To understand how these fraudsters take advantage of online advertisements, it’s best to understand a little more about the advertising models themselves. We’ll focus on Google since it’s #1 in the search engine realm. While most might think the businesses paying the most in advertising get the top positions, this isn’t always the truth. The beauty of PPC is that advertisers cannot simply pay to reach the top position in Google, and this levels the competitive field for small and big law firms competing for visibility. 

What Your Firm Needs to Know About Google’s Ad Auction

Ads go through a series of filters in a bidding system Google calls Ad Auction. The three main factors Google takes into consideration are: 

  1. Your firm’s bid: The maximum amount you’re willing to pay for a click on your ad. 
  2. Your ads’ quality: How relevant are the advertisement and external links, e.g., on your website? Does it offer high-quality and, perhaps even more importantly, relevant content? 
  3. The expected impact from your ad extensions: Ad extensions include things like your phone number, reviews, address, etc.

According to Matt Smyers, Senior Digital Advertising Advisor at Consultwebs, the Agile digital advertising landscape is changing and balancing the competition scale. 

Now that we’ve explained the basics of PPC, we can dive back into the challenges. Although PPC can bring your firm more clients through the door, it can also be costly even before taking click fraud into account. All these businesses want to get their share of the pie, although numbers state top 3 get around 41% of clicks. However, not all clicks are quality leads. Approximately 38% of all web traffic comes from automated bots. 

What’s click fraud, and should my firm be worried?

Cost of click fraud for lawyers

Bots are one part of click fraud, also known as click theft or fraudulent clicks, which is the act of illegally clicking on PPC ads to exhaust a company’s advertising budget. (Remember we previously mentioned one of the main factors in PPC is your firm’s bidding – how much you’re willing to pay/your budget.) This poses the most extensive ad fraud threat for all advertisers. 

Click fraud can be frustrating. But should your firm be worried? The answer is: no…as long as you are aware of such a threat, learn how to identify it, and better yet, work with a digital marketing team that is actively managing your budget.

On this note, we’d like to tell you that not all hope is lost. Click theft is a severe threat to businesses today, but we’d like to clarify that there are already laws that are being enacted that consider this act a penalty. Under the CFAA, computer fraud and abuse act, there are prison terms and penalties up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for bigger organizations (we’ll explain more of the latter in the following chapters). 

 With that said, we’d like to help you answer another question that might pop up: 

If click theft is a thing, should my firm continue investing in PPC?

Yes, 100%. PPC is powerful and will continue to grow even though challenges like fraudulent clicks exist. Digital advertising is not only replacing traditional advertising. It has surpassed it. 

Search advertising spending is projected to grow to about 190.5 billion U.S. dollars by the end of 2024. It’s not likely to be replaced anytime soon, as more businesses consider this their lifeline to reach and capture more cases. 

Who’s responsible for click fraud? 

If only we could put a name and a face to this issue, but the reality is that there isn’t a single party responsible for it. There are four types of click fraud:

  1. Competitors: Remember we previously mentioned Google looks at the budget when firms are bidding on an advertisement? Well, other businesses looking to compete for that place can outrun your budget, and this is where it can turn into a ferocious competitive battle. Many firms will place a daily budget to avoid hurting their wallet with PPC. Once the budget is reached, the advertisement will stop appearing. 
  2. Webmasters: Depending on the campaign’s goals, webmasters can purposely click their ads to give themselves more profit. This violates Google Ad Terms of Services, but it still happens today. 
  3. Customers: Although it’s not likely they’ll be clicking on ads to cause harm, some customers might click on the same ad for different reasons, and it can give false hope that the click-through rate is high, but in reality, it’s the same person. Ideally, you’ll want a potential client to click on the ad and convert, but this isn’t often the case. Please note: some might consider this click fraud, but for the most part, if it’s not a, e.g., a disgruntled customer using up your clicks on purpose, then this could be considered a simple case of invalid clicks
  4. Fraud rings AKA click farms: Although it may seem ‘harmless,’ many operate under a false business offering digital interaction services. Their whole purpose is to generate industrial volumes of clicks. According to Click Cease, most of these click farms are located in countries with unsupervised and minimal labour and employment laws. The majority have been found in countries like China, India, Bangladesh, Russia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Venezuela, The Philippines, and South Africa. Although, Europe and the USA are also no exception to the rule.

Signs to see if your firm’s being affected by click theft and what to do about it. 

If you invest in marketing, checking on your firm’s pulse is critical. Your pulse should tell you if something is out of range. To check if your firm’s been a victim of click theft, look at the following in your marketing metrics: 

  1. Distorted campaign metrics: If all of a sudden, your click-through rate went through the roof, calls and cases seemed to stay the same. 
  2. Low ROAS, return on advertisement spent. This is related to the high ad spend and low conversion rate. 

The rates behind click fraud vary based on the following factors: 

  • Your firm’s practice area(s) 
  • Your firm’s geographic location
  • The time of the year 

Here’s what your firm can do to stay guarded against click theft: 

  • Study the traffic sources: Where are most clicks coming from? How many are converting? Law firms are getting immediate answers to leads, clicks, calls, contact forms, and more through LawEval, a data-driven platform specifically designed for law firms. 
  • Once you identify the IP causing abnormal clicks with no conversions, you can block your ad from the associated IP address. 
  • Focus on remarketing campaigns. This means reaching out to customers that have previously interacted with your firm, e.g., signed up or visited your website.
  • Adjust the geographic regions.
  • Check with Google’s Ad Traffic Quality Center. If you report something suspicious, you can then contact Google, and they’ll check the traffic sources, quality, etc. 

Takeaway: Protect Your Digital Frontier

Google ads are by far one of the most essential tools businesses can leverage, but it’s also open to problems like click fraud. Although Google is constantly trying to introduce new changes, invalid traffic and click fraud is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. This affects millions of businesses, no matter their size. 

If you’d like to take full advantage of advertising, we’d recommend you start by becoming familiar with the marketing metrics you should keep an eye out for, in addition to LawEval, a data-driven platform where you can view your real-time marketing numbers. 

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If you’d like to walk through the process of securing your online advertising investments, book your 1-1 with our executive assistant Jessica Hawkins