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What Is Affiliate Ad Hijacking And How To Combat It

What Is Affiliate Ad Hijacking And How To Combat It?

In the fast-paced world of online advertising, businesses invest substantial resources into pay-per-click campaigns to drive sales and leads. These campaigns are characterized by bidding on your own brand keywords and offer a direct route to connect with your target audience. Branded pay-per-click ads, particularly those involving brand keywords are a popular strategy due to their cost effectiveness. 

However, the allure of exploiting these branded keywords proves irresistible for some affiliates with less-than-ethical intentions. The next thing that happens is a phenomenon known as affiliate ad hijacking, a deceptive strategy that poses significant threats to businesses and their online reputation. 

So, What is Affiliate Ad Hijacking?

Affiliate Ad hijacking, also known as “URL hijacking”, involves malicious affiliates creating deceptive ads that closely resemble a brand’s official advertisements. The goal is to mislead online shoppers by directing their clicks to redirect them to the brand’s website through affiliation by using identical headlines, descriptions, and display URL. The process involves bypassing landing page controlled by the affiliate and going straight to the brand’s website. 

Recognizing Ad Hijacking 

Deceptive affiliates craft ads that mimic genuine branded ads, often duplicating titles and ad copy to create confusion. These hijacked ads feature display URLs identical to the originals, exploiting platforms’ allowance of trademarked terms in display URLs. For instance, Google Ads and Microsoft Ads permit trademarked terms in display URLs, even for advertisers lacking the trademark rights. 

Example Of Affiliate Ad Hijacking 

Imagine a women’s clothing outlet facing a brand violation. A search for their brand leads to a hijacked ad that prominently showcases the brand name in the display URL, headline, and copy. However, this ad isn’t from the brand itself but rather from an affiliate bidding on the brand’s keywords. The ad redirects to the brand’s homepage through a unique tracking link (affiliate link), essentially acting as an unnecessary intermediary. 

Impact of Affiliate URL Hijacking 

Ad hijacking or URL hijacking poses immediate harm by displacing genuine branded ads when shown simultaneously. Platforms like Google and Microsoft avoid displaying multiple ads sharing the same display URL. Thus, if an affiliate’s ad shows up in the SERPs, the genuine ad does not. Moreover, affiliates’ interference inflates average cost per click as they bid on brand keywords. 

Beyond these concerns, Affiliate ad hijacking poses significant harm to brands in various ways. It involves affiliates attempting to mimic a brand’s ads by using similar content and display URLs. This can lead to unsuspecting users clicking on the affiliate’s ads instead of the brand’s, resulting in commissions earned by the affiliate for purchases that should have gone directly to the brand. 

Such hijacking impacts brands negatively by reducing their revenue. The stolen clicks and unearned commissions eat into profit margins and distort metrics like impression share and ROI. Additionally, the practice causes channel conflict, as affiliates and brands end up competing for the same keywords, driving up the brand’s cost-per-click (CPC). This goes against the intended purpose of affiliates bringing new business to brands and can even divert existing customers.

Moreover, ad hijacking leads to messaging conflict. Affiliates ads might not align with the brand’s messaging. In cases where affiliate hijackers employ tactics like redirect URLs, detection becomes even more challenging, making it harder for brands to protect their affiliate marketing programs. 

Overall, affiliate ad hijacking is detrimental to brands as it undermines revenue, creates conflict across channels, and disrupts consistent messaging, all while increasing the brand’s cost in paid search programs.  

Detecting Ad Hijacking

Detecting hijacked ads often requires scrutinizing analytics and ad data, observing declining impressions, clicks, and conversions in branded ads, alongside increases in referral traffic and affiliate commissions. To tackle the issue, it’s crucial to possess evidence of ad hijacking. 

Crafting specific affiliate agreements defining prohibited activities and consequences is essential. Brands should outline forbidden actions, forbid bidding on specific branded keywords, restrict ad copy, and prevent affiliates’ owned websites from bidding on branded terms. Enforcing these agreements with evidence of misbehavior is crucial. A proactive approach involves setting up comprehensive affiliate policies that clearly outline the dos and don’ts for affiliates. 

Empowering Brand Protections 

Brands can proactively safeguard their reputation and revenue by partnering with affiliates who facilitate brand restrictions. This approach demonstrates compliance with affiliate agreements and reduces excuses for non-compliance.

Understanding The Affiliates’ Tactics 

Nefarious affiliates employ sophisticated techniques like geotargeting and dayparting to avoid getting spotted by brands. Geotargeting involves tailoring ads to specific geographic regions, making it difficult for brands to notice unauthorized ads in different locations. Dayparting involves displaying ads during specific time periods, further complicating the detection process. Being aware of tactics is the first step towards effectively combating ad hijacking. 

How To Fight Ad Hijacking?

While some red flags can serve as potential indicators of ad hijacking, relying solely on manual investigation is both time-consuming and prone to errors. Instead, relying on automated tools like VPT’s ad fraud detection solutions can make the process efficient and accurate. Our tools automatically search the web, pinpointing brand infringements that even experienced PPC managers might miss. 

In the end, affiliate ad hijacking represents a significant challenge in the world of online advertising. Evidence gathering and robust enforcement of restrictions are essential to fight this deceptive practice. By taking these steps, brands can preserve their integrity, protect their customers, and maintain control over their advertising efforts. 



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Gaurav Sethi | Co-Founder & CEO

Gaurav is a passionate people man who has worked on delivering business solutions and unlocking business value for a wide array of clients across different industry verticals and across different geographies. He has been an esteemed speaker at various Ad tech events for many years. With his pedigree rich in technology and business management, he has been an entrepreneur for over 15 years.

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