If you are a publisher monetizing your site with Google AdSense, you might have been surprised to see some amount of your income flagged as “invalid traffic” in your payments reports. But what exactly is invalid traffic?

The final goal of internet ads

To understand what Google AdSense considers “invalid traffic”, one must first understand the final goal of ads on the internet. Just like TV or radio ads, the purpose of a banner ad is to catch the eye of potential customers, present them with a snapshot of the company’s value proposition, whether it’s a product they are selling or a service they provide and incite them to buy into that proposition.

So the ideal scenario for a company that purchases ad space on any site would be as follows.

  1. The company designs a compelling banner ad.
  2. They buy ad space on multiple sites to display their banner ad.
  3. The banner ad attracts potential customers who click on it.
  4. The potential customer lands on the company’s website, where they find all the complementary information.
  5. If everything that the user sees on the website matches what the banner was promising. The user who showed an interest in this company by clicking on their banner ad will purchase from the company and become a customer.

You can look at those as steps of a conversion funnel if you wish. And of course, not every legitimate potential customer will end up becoming one. A valid potential customer might find that the company doesn’t offer what they were looking for, after all. Or they might find their price too high, or simply are not ready to make the purchase just yet and are still researching.

Advertisers know this when they purchase ad space under a CPC (Cost Per Click) deal like the one Google AdSense offers and know they will be paying for plenty of clicks that will not convert to sales. They are ok with that, as long as there is a legitimate interest behind every one of those clicks.

What is Invalid Traffic then?

So what is invalid traffic then? Any click on an ad that has no potential whatsoever of converting is considered “invalid traffic” by Google AdSense. Here are some examples of the cause of such clicks.

Bots visiting your site and “clicking” on ads

Bots are a part of the internet. Some bots visiting your website are good, but some of these bots might follow the links on your banner ads, generating traffic to the advertiser’s site, which will never convert.

Clicks from click farms.

There are buildings full of people around the world who will perform any task online for money. That includes clicking on ads. Some website owners are trying to use such services to generate clicks on their ads in the hope of a rapid increase in revenue.

Clicking on your ads.

In line with the previous point, if you start clicking on the ads that Google AdSense displays on your site with the sole purpose of making money, you will be generating traffic to the advertiser’s website with no chance of a conversion.

Legitimate users are clicking on ads by accident.

Real users visiting your site might click on an ad by mistake if your ad placements are not clearly labeled and separated from your content. Ads placed close to buttons, or that overlap with parts of your content might cause these accidental clicks. They lead the user to the advertiser site without them ever wanting to go there.

Competitors are clicking on your ads

Some unfair competitors can click on the ads with malicious intent. They want to harm the competitor and make them unattractive for advertising networks. Some ad networks like AdSense or Sulvo can detect such fraudulent clicks and handle them as invalid. If you are unsure about your ad network and how they treat invalid traffic, you should ask their support directly.

How to prevent Invalid Traffic?

No one can say they are 100% free of invalid traffic. If we go back to the five main reasons for invalid traffic, you will find that as a website owner, you can only prevent this to a limited extent.

You can avoid purchasing services from click farms, and you can also make sure you don’t click on your ads. But you cannot stop bots from visiting your site. You probably don’t want to either. No matter how compliant you are with Google AdSense policies when placing your ads, some users might click on them accidentally.

You can prevent invalid clicks from legitimate users, e.g., your grandma wants to do you something good, by enabling a click fraud protection as the one included in Advanced Ads.

In general, you should never ask someone to click on your ads. This includes not inviting them to help you out with headlines such as “click here to help us”.

The AdSense placement policies ask you not to mimic the layout of the ads, e.g., you shouldn’t change the layout of your images or other elements on your site to look like ads. This might lead users to think that ads belong to the original content and would lead to your other offers instead of an external site. On the other hand, you are allowed to use native AdSense ads like In-article or In-feed. These are ads that adapt to the layout of your site. Our personal preference is placing individual In-feed AdSense ads into the content of posts.

How does Google flag invalid traffic?

Google doesn’t tell you how they flag invalid traffic, but we do know a few things.

The first thing we know is detecting traffic coming from the internet bots is quite easy. So those clicks will probably never be reflected in your reports. They will be flagged as soon as they happen.

Clicks coming from click farms or generated by yourself are also relatively easy for Google to identify. Although it might take them a while to “find the pattern.” In these cases, you might see the clicks go up on your AdSense dashboard and then go down after a few minutes or even a few hours once Google’s algorithm flags them. If you are continually refreshing your AdSense dashboard, you’ve probably seen this happen sometimes.

Accidental clicks by legitimate users are the hardest to stop. After all, the algorithms will see no apparent fraudulent behavior, and the user might spend some time on the advertiser’s site after clicking the banner involuntarily until they realize their mistake and go back or close the browser.

In these cases, Google might not flag that traffic as invalid until they can run a full forensic analysis on the data. This usually happens at the end of each month before payments are sent.

Example of invalid traffic AdSense report

In the image below, you can see a perfect example of this scenario. This website changed its ad placements on February 11th and adopted a way more aggressive ad layout. By looking at the daily reports back then, you would have thought it was a huge success.

Peaks in the AdSense statistics that indicate invalid traffic
Example of a website with invalid traffic after layout changes (red is pageviews, green is clicks, and blue is earnings)

Until the monthly earnings report came up with this massive amount of invalid traffic that brought the final earnings to less than 20% of what daily reports were showing. On March 2nd, the publisher reverted the ads placements.

Invalid traffic in the Adsense reports
Example of an AdSense report with invalid traffic

Conclusion

I can understand that you became worried now. Don’t be. As long as the percentage of clicks marked as “invalid traffic” by AdSense is low, you don’t need to worry about it. We believe that 5% or less invalid traffic is a good rule of thumb if you’re receiving hundreds of clicks per day. On the other hand, if you’re starting out and only getting a few clicks a day, the percentage of invalid traffic can be higher without you having to worry about it.

With the measures listed above, you should be safe against most unintentional causes of invalid traffic, either from accidental clicks or those coming from people that want to support you. From here on, you should keep focussing on increasing your website’s traffic and run the occasional placement test.


If you have additional questions then we are happy to help you via email support.