Click Spam

What is click spam?

Click spam is a type of online advertising fraud that generates fake clicks to simulate engagement on ads. This deceptive practice is often achieved through SDK spoofing or click injection methods, where fraudsters manipulate the device ID of a legitimate user without their knowledge. The outcome leads to advertisers paying for non-genuine ad engagement.

Impact on digital advertising and marketing

Click spam has far-reaching implications for the digital advertising and marketing landscape, including:

  • Inflated metrics and inaccurate analysis. Click spam distorts performance metrics, leading to skewed data analysis. Advertisers end up allocating resources toward fraudulent impressions and conversions, diminishing the effectiveness of their ad campaigns.
  • Increased ad spend. Many brands use pay-per-click (PPC) cost models to pay for advertising, meaning they pay for each fraudulent click. This drives up costs and, when left unchecked, can drain marketing budgets. 
  • Unfair competition. Click spam undermines fair competition by giving an advantage to unethical advertisers. Legitimate businesses aiming to reach their target audience are penalized as fraudulent clicks skew the market.

How click spam works

Typically, real users engage with an ad by clicking on it, leading to legitimate interactions. Click spam, however, involves the simulation of these interactions through fraudulent means, often without users’ awareness or consent.

Click spammers employ techniques like SDK spoofing and click injection to manipulate unique device IDs, creating false engagements that appear genuine. For instance, a downloaded app may continue to run in the background without the user knowing, generating fake clicks on ads that the user never saw. This fraudulent activity not only depletes advertising budgets but also distorts performance metrics, potentially leading to inefficient marketing decisions.

Click spam vs. click fraud vs. click injection

Click spam is a subset of click fraud — a type of mobile ad fraud that generates fake pay-per-click (PPC) ad clicks without genuine engagement or conversion potential. Click injection is another type of click fraud that specifically injects fraudulent click data into a campaign and creates the illusion of engagement. While all three practices involve fraudulent clicks, they vary in execution.

Technical aspects

Device IDs play a pivotal role in click spam. Every smartphone user possesses a unique ID used to track online behavior. Fraudsters exploit this by mimicking or “spoofing” these IDs, generating a high volume of invalid clicks. This manipulates engagement data, creating a false impression of genuine user interaction.

Fraudulent apps also contribute to click spam by simulating clicks on various in-app ads without the user’s knowledge or consent. When a user unknowingly downloads a fraudulent app, often disguised as a utility app — like a calculator or flash light — it continuously runs in the background on their mobile device, generating fake ad clicks. 

Another common click spam method is SDK spoofing, which involves infiltrating a mobile app’s Software Development Kit to insert malicious code that mimics genuine user behavior and results in fraudulent clicks.

Identify and prevent click spam

Identifying click spam can be challenging due to its sophisticated nature. Signs of fraudulent activities include sudden spikes in click-through rates, unusual conversion rates, or disproportionate engagement from specific regions or device types.

Prevention requires a combination of proactive strategies:

  • Sophisticated analytics: Utilize advanced analytics and tracking tools to detect anomalies in user engagement patterns.
  • Vet advertising partners: Thoroughly assess partners and ad networks for robust security measures.
  • Leverage search engines: Use search engines’ algorithms and machine learning capabilities to detect and block fraudulent clicks.
  • Diversify ad placements: Vary ad placements and target different devices to thwart repetition-based click spam.
  • Relevant ad copy: Ensure ad content aligns with the target audience to reduce the risk of attracting bot traffic.