Can My Competitors Click Me Out of Business? Internet Marketing Mysteries

Nearly every business out there has a rival. Some of these rivalries are much more cutthroat than others. Some competitor rivalries even lead to suspicion of sabotage.

One of the top questions we hear when preparing a new Google Adwords campaign is, "What if my competition tries to click me out of business?"

clicked out of business

Is it possible that Circuit City went out of business because Best Buy employees spent their entire days clicking on Circuit City ads, racking up a fortune in ad spend that left them so deep in the hole they couldn't recover? And maybe Barnes & Noble did it to Borders. Next, Bing is going to do it to Google. When will the madness end?

Good news: Google already thought of this potential problem, and they even thought of ways to prevent it from happening.

In short, your competitors can't click you out of business (you might be able to search yourself out of business, but that's a topic for another day).

Invalid Clicks Won't Kill Your Business

Fake clicks. Spam clicks. Competitor clicks. Google refers to these things as invalid clicks, and they don't count against your ad spend. In other words, it's impossible for your competitor to click you out of business.

Does that mean Google won't charge me if one of my competitors clicks on my ad once?

Okay, so you'll probably still be charged for that. But one fake click isn't going to ruin your campaign or run you out of business.

But what if my competitor strategically sets up people around the globe who go from public computer to public computer, clicking on my ads until I'm out of budget?

Well, I suppose that's possible, but it's extremely unlikely. If your competitor is going to such great lengths to eat up your ad budget, they'll probably be the ones out of business. The cost to orchestrate such a scheme would be astronomical, unless of course they had a team of volunteers doing this. Naturally, anything can happen if you want to create enough conspiracy theories.

But how exactly does it work? How can Google determine which clicks are fake?

In the words of Google, "Each click on an AdWords ad is examined by our system, and Google has sophisticated systems to identify invalid clicks and impressions and remove them from your account data." In other words, Google is really smart. It knows if your competitors are trying to click you out of business.

And what happens when they do find these invalid clicks? How do I get my money back?

The great thing is that, most of the time, you never actually get charged for those clicks. Here's what Google has to say on the subject: "When Google determines that clicks are invalid, we try to automatically filter them from your reports and payments so that you're not charged for those clicks. If we find that invalid clicks have escaped automatic detection, you may be eligible to receive a credit for those clicks. These credits are called 'invalid activity' adjustments."

Wait a second. Why wouldn't Google just charge me for these clicks? Doesn't Google want to get as rich as possible?

Of course Google wants to make money, but it's in their best interest to remove these invalid clicks. If they didn't, your ROI/ROAS would go down, making you less likely to spend money with Google. Although Google wants to make money, they also want you to make money. Think of it as a symbiotic relationship. If you don't make money, they won't make money. By removing these invalid clicks, everyone wins (except of course those competitors who are spending all of their resources trying to click you out of business).

Okay, this sounds pretty cool. But where's the proof? I'm still afraid of my competitors sitting around and clicking on my ad.

The proof is right in your Adwords account. You can see how many invalid clicks your ads have gotten at the Campaign level. Just click on "Customize Columns" and add "Invalid Clicks" under the Performance metrics.

adwords invalid clicks

Apply the change and you'll see the number of invalid clicks each campaign has gotten during the specified time period.

invalid click data

Look at how much money Google saved this campaign by detecting invalid clicks. At the average cost-per-click of $2.32, this amounts to $11,342.48. A nice chunk of change for your business. These are clicks that Google determined were invalid before you were even billed for them. Pretty cool, huh? It's like you're busting shoplifters before they even come into your store.

In rare events, Google will discover invalid activity after you have been charged for the clicks. When this happens, you will notice an "Invalid activity" credit in the billing section of your account. You can find these easily if you filter by adjustments and look for "Invalid activity":

invalid click adjustment

In this case, we found only one instance of an invalid activity credit since the campaign began—and it was only for $3.73. Google is very good about weeding out these invalid clicks before you get billed, allowing your ads to run longer each month.

How do I know Google is catching all of the invalid clicks?

In reality, you don't. You do have to place a certain level of trust in Google. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Google doesn't want your competitors to click you out of business
  • Google is smart and can determine if clicks are invalid
  • Trying to click someone out of business is not a sustainable business model

Are your competitors trying to click you out of business? Not likely. Can your competitors click you out of business? Not unless they have the resources to outsmart Google. And in that case, they probably don't need to click you out of business.


This post is part of Internet Marketing Mysteries, a weekly column addressing actual client questions related to SEO, analytics, website best practices, and any other topic connected to internet marketing. Have a question you'd like to see tackled in a future post? Let us know in the comments. 

8 thoughts on “Can My Competitors Click Me Out of Business? Internet Marketing Mysteries”

  1. Nice article but I disagree with the premise that fraudulent clicks cannot damage your campaign. Fraud is real and based on many net researchers, it is believed that 20% of adwords clicks are fraudulent.
    Trusting google to catch these clicks is pretty amateurish. You can agree that it is in their best interest to be pretty lax when it comes to identifying fraud. It is true that they want to keep their customers, but they are not too hasty to consider a click fraud.
    At first I wasn’t too sure about this whole issue, but then I started working with a click-fraud stopper tool (clickcease.com). They gave me reports that clearly showed IP’s that were fraudulent (they never ever converted) which google never considered as fraud.
    So I wouldn’t downplay clickfraud as you have in this post. When it comes to my marketing spend, I don’t trust anyone but myself, and any tool that can help me save 20% of my budget is completely welcome!

  2. Nice article, but i can tell you, fault clicks still work fine and google does not consider all these clicks as invalid.

  3. I’ve Actually Recorded a Call from one of my competitors. He was threading My Business to leave The Google Adwords Arena in he’s area and if not he will put me out of business.

    I took this threat seriously and I installed tracking software and they’ve actually proved google that they have invalid clicks.

    I let them listen to the recorded call and they still never returned a dime into my account.
    Never trust Google with Fraud clicks.

  4. Interesting piece as I’m new to this area. I’m not new to Internet security however and I can easily speculate that your view that having a network of click fraudsters would be cost prohibitive is ill-informed. Distributed denial of service attacks use networks of bots which can be rented. I don’t know that these are used for click fraud as well..[STOP PRESS}. actually, I just went and Googled and there’s plenty of coverage of this. ONe example: http://www.businessinsider.com/this-is-what-it-looks-like-when-a-click-fraud-botnet-secretly-controls-your-web-browser-2013-11?IR=T

  5. It doesn’t look like on click-to-call campaigns they can do anything about click fraud. They don’t show invalid clicks. It would be virtually impossible for them to track mobile IPs which change. I’m getting clicks but none of them are reaching the other end.. Wondering what’s going on.

  6. Cost to perform click fraud is under $20 a day and you can waste competitors budgets (I’ve seen it go up to $10,000 a day).

    Negative SEO, click fraud, and so on is an industry in and of itself. Much easier to take others out than build your self up.
    Unethical but the market for it is pretty big especially in competitive niches.

  7. If I allocate a certain amount of money per day, it seems it would be easy to click ads until my daily budget is reached…thereby stopping my ads from running. This seems like a real issue for those with very limited advertising budgets. Just a few clicks…and your ad stops running.

  8. Here my issue with it from a small business standpoint. Even if you are not getting fraudulent clicks, Adwords is one of the only ways a newly started business can get there name at the top of the first page so in my case I am starting from nothing with nothing and trying to scrape buy while I build my name up. I track all my incoming visits and have order service online features and a chat service to help people order my services and get me to there house and I am 100% my site and prices are better then the next guys (did my research) and yet I always hit my monthly budget of $300 even though I see maybe 1 or 2 people actually coming from the ad click scheduling service with me (again tracking everything). Yet I have always hit my monthly budget. Seems fishy to me. I think it is a combination of people who are trying to sell me SEO services and sales generation or lead generation services clicking on my add all the time and barely any customers.

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