Brand bidding & Ad-Hijacking insights – Part 1

Brand bidding & Ad-Hijacking insights – Part 1

8th April 2010

Editorial note: This post is not meant to give tips and tricks on how to do Brand Bidding and Ad-Hijacking, its meant to give insights on what is done and what is going on.

Two weeks ago, at SMX Munich, I was invited to speak on the blackhat PPC panel. I covered the exciting topic of brand bidding & ad-hijacking in Google Adwords. The topic is pretty actual at the moment, because of the decision of the European Court of Law of March 23 2010.

So what are brand bidding & ad-hijacking? The term Brand bidding is probably pretty clear for most: the use of brands as keywords in Google Adwords. Normally this is done not only by affiliates, but also by competitors, e-commerce shops, auction platforms, price comparison sites etc.

Ad-hijacking goes one step further: affiliates use the brand term of the merchants as keyword in Google Adwords and they copy the original ad text. Their goal, of course, is to replace the original merchant campaigns with their campaigns, to get a commission pay-out on good-converting brand terms.

To reach this goal there are various strategies. The simplest one is to set high CPC’s, so the merchant’s bids are overruled by the affiliate. This strategy works very well, but especially after the introduction of site links, which increases the CTR on a keyword, it has become more difficult to overrule a merchant’s ad that easy.

Another tactic is to build a bot which searches Google for the brand term every few minutes. Of course it uses different IPs to simulate human behavior. It doesn’t click on the merchant’s ad so the CTR of the ad and the quality score will decrease. Now the bot recognizes the affiliate’s ad and clicks on the ad. When doing so, the CTR and quality score will increase and after a few days Google will start showing the affiliate ad because of a better quality score, eventually combined with a slightly higher bid.

The biggest problem with ad-hijacking is: you can’t really prevent it. Actually there are only two things you can do:

– be very clear about brand bidding issues in your affiliate guidelines. Tell your affiliate, there’s no tolerance and you will prosecute every trademark infringement.
– “protect” your trademark sending the complaint form at to Google. Unfortunately nowadays there are a lot of regions where Google will not investigate the use of trademarks as keywords, but you can still complain about the use of trademarks in ad texts!

As you can see in the image above, Google will investigate the use of trademarks as keywords or in ad texts in most countries in central Europe. So how can affiliates still use trademarks as keywords or in ad texts that are “protected” in Google Adwords?

Unfortunately the “brand protection” system of Google has many loopholes. At SMX I showed the audience the “England Trick”. Like I wrote before, Google doesn’t investigate the use of trademarks as keywords in England. With the England trick the affiliate abuses this fact to bid on trademarks in continental Europe like the Netherlands, Belgium, France or Germany.

So how does it work?

First the affiliate creates a campaign which is targeted to England, but uses the language settings of the country he wants to target; German for example.

Then he selects the city Ramsgate in the southeast of England. You probably know that you can set a radius around the selected city. The maximum value of this radius is …. 800 km!

Other known tricks are:
– using spaces, hyphens or other special characters in the brand. So you use “B r a n d”. Google will ignore the characters and will deliver the ad also with the search term without these characters.
–  Use Google Tracking Parameters (ifsearch, placement). That trick actually doesn’t work anymore.
– Content-Search trick: first book a trademark in the content network.  After a few days switch it to the search network.
Metapeople’s Tim Ringel showed the advanced broad match trick at the SEMSEO in Hannover this year. Using the new advanced broad match feature where you can make a part of a two phrase brand term fix and one variable, you could “build” a trademark by using this feature in combination with negatives.

Tomorrow in part 2 of this post I will cover how ad-hijackers try to hide their tactics and a comparison between some brand protection software solutions. Update: now part 2 is online.


Written By
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.
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