Brand bidding & Ad-Hijacking insights – Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the definition of brand bidding and ad-hijacking, on how to prevent it and what „evil“ affiliates do to book trademarks that are „protected“ by Google’s complaint form.

As promised, today I will talk about the methods these affiliates use to hide their strategies and how you can monitor your brand to find out if your brand gets hijacked.

Affiliates have several possibilities to hide their strategies when they are abusing trademarks and hijack ad copies. First of all, most of them will use geo-targeting  for their campaigns. When they know that the trademarkowner’s office is for example in Munich and the agency is in Berlin, they will cover other cities then Munich and Berlin, to prevent them to see the hijacked ads.

Furthermore they use time intervals to cover their tactics. Probably you’ve heard of the more classic approach: they start at 5pm when the offices close and stop their campaigns the next morning or during the night. Besides that maybe they will take a few more risks during the weekend. Nowadays many ad-hijackers go a step further than that: they switch their campaigns over different cities in small time intervals (like 15 minutes) so it’s more difficult to catch them!

Ad-hijacking with short intervals
fig. 1: Screenshot of brand protection software Xamine showing the small intervals some ad-hijackers use. Source:

Using the IP exlusion tool of Google Adwords these affiliates also could exclude the merchant’s IP address. Of course they need to know the IP address, so this method isn’t waterproof, but combined with the above mentioned tactics it will make it again harder to uncover an ad-hijacker.

Finally the affiliates will use link cloaking to cover the referrers, so you can’t really find proof in your statistics. To demonstrate how cloaking works we build this url:

As you can see the url redirects to a page that normally would be the affiliate destination page on the merchant’s website. Now copy and paste the same url and open it in a new browser window or tab …. You probably get redirected to another page which would be the affiliate’s own website.

Looking into the source code of that page reveals the technique: the page drops a cookie before redirecting to the affiliate programm and if that cookie doesn’t exist, it redirects via JavaScript (location.href = ‘new_url’) to another page, which drops that cookie and redirects to the affiliate program. The JavaScript redirects are necessary to change the referrer and won’t let the merchant think a minute about linking directly from the search engine.

By the way, in my opinion link cloaking isn’t always evil. I think normal PPC affiliates have a valid point when they cloak their links to protect their keyword lists and strategies as long as they follow the guidelines of the affiliate program!

So now we’ve seen what ad-hijackers do to cover their strategies, it’s time to find out how we can catch them.  Of course maybe you could find some proof of ad-hijacking in your statistics. If you have only a few impressions and conversions of your brand during the weekend for example, it could be you got ad-hijacked. But to be sure you have to use brand protection software.

After showing the different ad-hijacker’s tactics we now know which requirements are necessary for a good brand protection software:

  • it should check for a trademark infringement in small time intervals. This is already a problem, because Google doesn’t allow automatic queries. So to catch an ad-hijacker a good brand monitoring system has to violate the Google guidelines!
  • it should do these checks from different cities or regions within a country. As we’ve seen most ad-hijackers cover their tactics by geo-targeting.
  • if you are working in different countries, your brand protection suite should work in different countries too.
  • are you interested only in Google or do you want to check also other engines like Yahoo, Bing, Baidu etc.?
  • does the software artificially inflate your impressions? This is a pretty important thing: when software simulates a user, it creates impressions on your brand, but it doesn’t click. So it could hurt your CTR and as a consequence your quality score!
  • does the software support you getting legal proof against ad-hijackers?

Nowadays there are a lot of brand protection solutions on the market: Adgooroo, Xamine, Bestbrandprotection, Sistrix Toolbox, PPCEnforcer and Marketdefender – just to name a few of them. Unfortunately we weren’t able to test them all, but for SMX we tried four of them: Adgooroo, Xamine, Bestbrandprotection and Sistrix.

Fig. 2: Comparison between a few brand protection solutions on European market.

Xamine and Bestbrandprotection caught most ad-hijackers. Both software solutions do checks on the brand and check from different cities and regions to uncover PPC fraud. Sistrix, the only one in the test that only works for Germany, caught a few trademark infringements, but as it checks only on an hourly basis it wasn’t able to find all of them. Adgooroo only found a few brand bidders that weren’t targeting within a country. Furthermore the software respects the Google guidelines and checks only about 12-15 times a day. At the moment an ad-hijacker in Europe can probably stay below Adgooroo’s radar.

One last thing: now that you got your brand protection software setup and you found trademark infringements. How do you react? Well, that depends on you. You can do several things, such as:
– write a mail to Google Trademark team: [email protected]
– contact the affiliate
– cancel his sales
– cancel the relationship with the affiliate. Attention: at some affiliate networks (for example Zanox) cancelling a relationship will result in broken affiliate links. If the affiliate doesn’t react immediately and keeps his campaigns online your possible clients will find 404 errors when they click on the affiliate’s ads. At some networks you can create a 0% commission group where you can put those affiliates in. We use to call this group “0% blacklist”. When an affiliate is placed in this group he’ll understand what happened. The affiliate links will still work though.

Missed the first post? Read it here: Brand bidding & Ad-Hijacking insights – part 1

About Evert Veldhuijzen

Evert Veldhuijzen is consulting various international brands about different aspects of online marketing. His company Netlead is in affiliate business and develops websites for his joint-ventures.

7 thoughts on “Brand bidding & Ad-Hijacking insights – Part 2

  1. Interesting post. Not had much dealings with affiliates but will look out for this if I ever start.

    With regards to trademark issues. I think there is a loophole in Google’s policy. Even if you have registered your trademark, Google will allow the display in the Display URL field.

    If the affiliate/competitor puts, Google will allow display of the ad despite not allowing the trademark term in the title or descriptive fields. I have made Google aware of this through the address you recommend but not seen an update at the time of writing this comment.

  2. Interesting article – Geoff I’d noticed this too. Sometimes it can be really frustrating working with a client who sells products for trademarked brands. This is definitely a good way around it for my clients. However for the brand it must be pretty irritating that there is such a loophole.

  3. These things do happen so brand owners must invest in a good solution to protect their brand. One must really ensure that you are dealing with trustworthy people.

  4. Hi Evert,

    Thanks for the info. I read the article a few years ago, I know It’s far away form then, but I have now a question as I am now dealing with this.

    How is it possible for the affiliate to include in the ad the hijacked website’s url as display url?, as far as I know, adwords platform should recongize that is not the same as destination url and set it not approved.

    Might it be beacuse they use a kind of redirection so google understands destination url the one is redirected to?.

    Thanks a lot.

  5. Hi Fernando, well Google follows the redirect chain and the destination url is the url at the end of the redirect, which is in fact the trademark holder’s url.
    Google has to do it this way, because there are a lot of tracking solutions / bid management systems that also use redirects.
    Furthermore an evil affiliate can always cloak the links so it will send Google Adwords bot directly to the trademark holder’s website, where he sends other visitors through his affiliate link. Unfortunately my cloaking example in the post doesn’t work anymore. We dropped the domain 🙂

  6. hi there , we have a hotel in Egypt published on UK online travel agent..but when clients go to book through it , they forward them to another alternative hotel in same country,, i do not understand what is this and how to stop it

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