How Cookie Stuffing Steals The Marketing ROI?
Digitalization has taken over almost all aspects of our lives. If we think about it carefully enough, we will realize that spending a day without the Internet is almost impossible. From shopping to paying bills, everything can be done on the Internet in minutes.
Cookies play a vital role in online marketing, especially affiliate marketing. They are pieces of information that store information of a user when they visit a website. Cookies are saved in the user’s browser and crumble every time the user surfs the internet.
Unfortunately, there are third-party cookies used by black hat affiliates to infiltrate the user’s browser or system without their consent to monetize any purchases taking place through that browser. And this is called cookie stuffing or cookie dropping. Cookie stuffing enables the nefarious affiliate to insinuate unwanted cookies or overwrite a preexisting legitimate cookie via digital tools.
How Malicious Affiliates Practice Cookie Stuffing?
Adware is software programmed to display ads and pop-ups on a user’s browser or system once installed. It works by changing the configuration settings of a browser. Advertisers and marketers use adware for effective promotions. Still, threat actors use this to change the user browser to exploit user browser settings, add spyware, or ravage the user browser with ads.
Most nefarious affiliates use adware to inject cookies into the user system and earn commissions without driving any user traffic for the advertisers.
Pop-Ups are very common in cookie stuffing. A malicious affiliate can inject their affiliate link and cookie into the user’s browser by installing pop-ups. Pop-up ads drive the users' undivided attention, instantly turning into clicks. Malicious affiliates use Adware to bombard a user with ads and pop-ups, and when the user clicks on an ad, the cybercriminals inject fraudulent cookies into their browser. Through these injected cookies, they monetize and earn commissions from every sale their browser makes.
iFraming, or inline framing, is when an affiliate embeds an HTML page inside a pre-existing HTML page. Websites across the internet without ample security can suffer from iFrames.
Advertisers have a readable products listing page, and the malicious affiliates (with another line of code) insert an affiliate link on the target page with their affiliate link. When the user makes a valid purchase from that page, leaving an affiliate link, the fraud affiliate earns a commission.
Zero Pixel Images
Affiliate frauds insert a zero-pixel image with an affiliate URL on advertisers' web pages. That image is either transparent or invisible to the user and appears as a blank space. When a user clicks on this image, the web page is redirected to a product page with an affiliate cookie installed on the user’s browser. Whenever the user makes a purchase from the browser, all the commission goes to the illegitimate affiliate.
How Do Malicious Affiliates Benefit From Cookie Stuffing?
Cookie stuffing is not always easy to identify. Most brands usually find something fishy while calculating the ROI of their affiliate programs and unravel that the payouts are more than the generated sales.
There are multiple reasons why malicious affiliates steal the ROI of a brand through cookie stuffing:
- They mess up the brand’s marketing budget by monetizing sales
- Threat actors steal commissions from legitimate affiliates
- They can track user’s browser data and steal sensitive information
Cookies are used to track and keep a record of sales generated by an affiliate by tracking a user’s journey. Once they find a customer’s path through an affiliate’s network, that affiliate earns a commission. The nefarious affiliates hijack the user's journey through cookies and monetize the sale that is bound to happen.
How To Identify Cookie Stuffing?
Analyze the rate of conversions.
Having above-average or below-average conversion rates is the first sign of affiliate fraud. If a publisher contains a fully-functioning site with ample traffic yet no conversion rate, it may be wise to analyze them. The same goes for an affiliate with a high traffic and conversion rate.
Keep a lookout for low-quality websites.
Affiliates who promote through a low-quality website can also be suspected. Low-quality with irrelevant content and low authority barely receives any conversions in affiliate marketing.
Check out click latency.
When a user is bound to make a purchase, the latency time is relatively shorter. Keep a check on latency duration between the click and the purchase, as it can identify affiliate cookie fraud.
How To Stop Cookie Stuffing?
We understand how cookie stuffing can be a nightmare for legitimate affiliates. While it may seem hard, defending your brand against cookie stuffing can be done in the following ways:
Most affiliate programs use tracking cookies to identify a purchase made by a user. However, one way of fighting cookie stuffing is by replacing cookies with affiliate-specific promotional coupons.
Unfortunately, this is not the most full-proof plan. It is very unlikely that the user will go the extra mile to manually add a promo code during the checkout process. Sometimes, they may even forget about the promo code. In addition, the user having to add a promo code may also lead to an abandoned cart.
Another step in preventing fraud is to thoroughly vet the publishers or affiliates before they join your program by identifying measures to confirm the identity of affiliates and assess their demonstrated ability to achieve results.
A suggested avenue for examination is an affiliate’s social media accounts, wherein thorough analysis can be conducted on their channel metrics such as age, post frequency, post engagement, and other relevant details. Through this scrutiny, a valuable member of the affiliate community can emerge.
Battle Cookie Stuffing With VPT Ad Fraud Solution
To stop affiliate fraud, brands and companies need to take ample proactive steps for brand compliance. Collecting enough data to identify fraud and threat actors can take months or even years. They need adequate tools that are able to spot and identify malicious affiliate codes in ads and sites.
With Virus Positive Technologies, you can monitor brand compliance and any fraudulent activity happening on your affiliate channel. VPT’s tools for fraud solutions facilitate the identification of patterns in affiliate programs that may suggest fraudulent activities.
VPT is a pioneer in affiliate fraud management and brand protection services solutions. We have been specializing in helping global brands recover their lost-marketing budgets, protect their brand’s reputation, and amplify customer experience.