Posted on 9/28/22 by Louise Principe
Along with the rapid transition of data-gathering to online, automated clicks or bots have become a prevalent issue in the market research industry. According to a report by Cheq, digital fraud primarily caused by click farms have cost marketers around $42 billion in 2021.
But what exactly are click farms, and how can you stop them from infiltrating your study? In this article, we’ll explore click farming, common click farm practices, and how you can detect and prevent their damaging effects.
What are click farms?
Click farms are defined as locations that generate fake website traffic and bulk clicks for various purposes. They could consist of hundreds or even thousands of people working behind a computer terminal. But typically, they comprise a network of devices (e.g., phones, tablets) controlled by a team of human operators.
Today, click farms can be accessed through resellers found on the internet. A simple online search for ‘buy clicks’ brought 83 million engine results – further proving how widespread these services are.
Click farm services are used in:
- Inflating social media followers and likes
- Posting reviews and comments on websites or social media profiles
- Creating backlinks
- Generating traffic to websites
- Doing repetitive click-based tasks
- Channeling traffic to sites for high domain authority and rankings
- Collecting payouts from display ads
A lot of the clicks generated from fraud farms usually originate from automation bots, which are relatively straightforward pieces of software to build. Imperva reports show that bots will account for 27.7% of website traffic in 2022.
Where are click farms located?
Although most click farms are found in low-income countries (e.g., India, Bangladesh, Vietnam), there are cases of them being found in China, Europe, and the USA. They also allow for smaller operations and outsourced freelancers, who are rewarded by paid-to-click (PTC) sites for human click activity.
Is click farming illegal?
There are no specific laws against running click farms. However, the Chinese Anti-Unfair Competition Law (AUCL) does state that employing a third-party service to give your business an ‘unfair advantage’ is prohibited. This implies that some click farm operations, such as fraudulent reviews and paid ad clicks, would be potentially illegal if uncovered.
Most Common Click Farming Practices
Changing IP and MAC addresses
Device operators use software to regularly change IP and MAC addresses. This technique reduces the chances of their bot being banned due to overactivity.
Switching multiple accounts
This strategy is prevalently used when mass liking, commenting, or following on social media as well as in website and product reviews. Periodically switching profiles every few hours help fraudulent accounts avoid being flagged due to spam activity.
Outsourcing human clickers
While automated bots are usually cheaper, most are only limited to simpler tasks. For more complicated tasks such as filling out forms and captchas, click farms offer buyers more expensive packages that use humans.
Creating custom profiles
Many operations utilize different mobile devices and sim cards to create a custom profile modeled after a particular demographic. They create these profiles by collecting cookies from websites and searching for keywords to build specific user intent.
Using VPNs and proxy traffic
This technique helps click farms mask their geographies and avoid paid-per-click PPC campaign location rules. Since advertisers in wealthier countries offer higher incentives, click farms use VPNs to encrypt their data and reroute their traffic.
How to prevent click farm attacks
With this daunting problem comes fraudulent respondents, bad data, and fake market research. But what steps should digital marketers take to preserve the accuracy of their research?
- Block IP Addresses
Perhaps the most simple solution to eliminate fraudulent clicks is to block an individual or range of IP addresses if you notice irregular traffic coming from them. While this task could be quite tedious, it will help you save on bandwidth while reducing strain on your server.
- Identify Fraudulent Behavioral Patterns
Another tactic you could use to detect fake participation and click farms is to harvest and evaluate fraudulent data patterns from other websites and applications. By knowing what to look for, you can set up the proper tools to flag risky behavior as it happens.
- Pinpoint Interactions with Similar Telemetry
Most devices rarely repeat telemetry (e.g., network speed, IP addresses, phone models, browser versions) in large numbers. Try looking through device specifications and see if a group of devices share the same telemetry. If you notice this anomaly, it’s best to block all fraudulent traffic.
- Time-Wasting Questions
This technique is a double-edged sword. While including time-sapping challenges and questions in your links or surveys can eliminate suspicious traffic, it can also deter qualified respondents. Since many click farmers have to meet a quota, they are more likely to opt-out of your research and look for easier targets.
- Pre-Screened Respondent Panels
If you want to save yourself some time and money, hiring a recruitment firm that could provide you with trusted and qualified respondents is your best bet. This ensures that the data you gather is valid and reliable.
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