What’s Really Happening Down on the Click Farm

Alana L. Domingo - March 29, 2018

Sure, we’re a little obsessed with bots on this blog. But we definitely keep tabs on another major ad fraud culprit: human click farms.

Like their bot counterparts, human click farms wreak havoc on the digital advertising ecosystem. They’re responsible for clicking on ads with no intent of converting. They visit sites and rack up worthless impressions. They fill out forms with bogus information, generating false leads. And for online advertisers, they’re a real nightmare.

Digital Farm Labor

Trying to detect human fraud is tough. Unlike bots, human behavior is more nuanced and less predictable. In the early days of click fraud, platforms like Google and Yahoo quickly put filters in place to stop automated clicks. But the filters did a terrible job at blocking fake clicks made by what seemed like real site visitors.

So naturally, fraudsters took advantage of this flaw, launching operations we now recognize as click farms. Under the direction of an owner, or “farmer,” low-paid workers browse the web, performing payable actions like clicks, form fills, and account signups.

Source: YouTube

Traditionally, human click farms operate in two ways. Sometimes, outside “customers” hire click farms to sabotage their competitor’s digital ad campaigns. For a certain price, farm workers click through ads in an effort to eat up the competing advertiser’s budget. Once the funds run dry, the farm customer’s ads have a better chance of ranking higher than the competition.

Related Post: 4 Tips to Protect Your Agency and Clients From Click Fraud

Click farms are also used to directly benefit the farmer financially. Some fraudsters create websites built strictly for advertising purposes, using networks like Google to sell ad space. Once legitimate ads run on the page, the farmer directs their workers to interact with the ads, in turn generating revenue for themselves.

In recent years, click farm antics have invaded social media too, as we’ve seen with the fake Facebook profile debacle. Instead of clicks, many farms now sell profiles, users, or accounts. And because these accounts are created by actual human users, often with seemingly legitimate information, they can successfully pass security filters on social platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

Steering Clear of Click Farms

Immediately, you might think to block sketchy traffic sources as a way to avoid click farm activity. For instance, since many click farms set up shop in developing nations like Bangladesh, Thailand, and India, blocking traffic coming from suspect locations seems ideal. But that might not work, as some fraudsters use the cloud to mask their real locations.  

Source: YouTube

Blocking traffic also means you might be blocking good users with the bad, especially if your campaigns aren’t targeted strictly to specific regions or demographics. So what can you do?

Related Post: Ad Fraud: You're Not Sneaky If We Can See You

Instead of focusing on the source, turn your attention to individual users. Your best bet is to implement an ad fraud solution that analyzes key data points, such as IP addresses and device information, and determines if users are legit or not.

Obviously, eliminating all forms of fraud just isn’t possible, but with the right tools in place, you can guard your campaigns from those pesky click farms.

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Alana L. Domingo

Alana Domingo is the Junior Content Writer for Anura. Born in Philadelphia but raised in Delaware, she attended Temple University and earned a BA in Communication Studies, concentrating on contemporary media environments. When she's not working, you can usually find her playing The Sims, reading comic books, and taking care of her three pet frogs.