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How Does Google Detect Invalid Clicks?

Google’s primary concern has always been user satisfaction.  If you’ve been running an online business for long, you’ve no doubt suffered through a slew of animistic algorithm updates, from Panda, to Penguin, to Hummingbird, to Pigeon, and beyond, each one imposing a stricter set of guidelines pertaining to relevance of content and keywords.

Of course, Google doesn’t make money from search users, per se.  The lion’s share of their earning come from advertising dollars, or more specifically, businesses that are willing to use tools like Google Ads (formerly AdWords) to garner traffic on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis.

While Google hasn’t exactly made it easy for businesses where SEO is concerned, creating ever-more restrictive algorithms to crack down on black hat practices like linking schemes and keyword stuffing, they do want to keep your company pumping marketing dollars into PPC campaigns.  This means they do a lot to combat serious issues like invalid clicks that could quickly rachet up your costs without offering any value.

Invalid clicks, defined by Google as “any clicks or impressions that artificially inflate an advertiser’s costs, or a publisher’s earnings”, include fake or fraudulent clicks, such as clicks from automated tools, malevolent manual clicks to inflate your costs (such as multiple clicks from the same IP address or VPN), and errors like double clicks that should only count as one.  These shouldn’t count against your PPC totals, and incredibly, Google doesn’t place the onus on you to track this.  While you should always monitor your clicks to make sure you’re getting what you pay for, you’ll find that Google also has a few ways of tracking invalid clicks on your behalf.

Filters

Like every other Google algorithm, the one used to detect invalid clicks is proprietary, so no one knows for sure how it works, but their sophisticated system apparently starts by filtering clicks in order to verify valid ones to charge you for and discard invalid clicks at no charge to you.  You can see both in your Google Ads account if you want to keep track of where invalid clicks are coming from, for your own monitoring purposes.

Offline Analysis

In addition to technologies that monitor clicks in real-time, Google follows up with offline analysis, including both automated and manual processes designed to double check for mistakes.  When errors are found using this method, any charges erroneously made to your account for invalid clicks are credited back to you.

Investigation

What if, after all this, Google still charges you for invalid clicks?  Their systems are sophisticated, but not infallible.  If you don’t catch errors, Google will charge you for the clicks.  This is why it’s so important to conduct your own audits of clicks and charges.

If you do uncover billing errors related to invalid clicks, you can lodge an inquiry with Google and they will investigate your claim.  Typically, the issue will be resolved within just a few days.  Google takes these matters seriously, and it’s no wonder, considering over 85% of their revenue comes from advertising (via Google properties and member properties combined).

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