What is ad hijacking?

Ad hijacking (also known as brand poaching, direct linking, URL jacking) is when an affiliate impersonates a brand by running ads that look identical to a brand’s ads.

Customers typically have no idea they have clicked on an affiliate ad, and the affiliate is paid a commission for conversions that the brand would have captured directly.

There are some affiliates that seek exclusive permission to run campaigns on behalf of their partner brands and that would not be considered “ad hijacking” if the brand authorizes this type of arrangement.

What does ad hijacking look like?

To someone looking at a Search Engine Results Page (SERP), ad hijacking doesn’t look any different from regular advertising.

Ad hijacking specifically refers to unauthorized situations where the affiliate, counter
to the brand’s policies, uses similar headlines, descriptions, and the same display URL, to increase the odds that unsuspecting users will click on their ads instead of the brand’s ads.

What really happening behinds the scenes: 

Ad Hijacking

The Brand’s Ad

This is the brand’s ad that leads directly to their own site via their own tracking link. The brand pays a few rupees per click.

The Affiliate Hijacker’s Ad

The affiliate places an ad that goes immediately through their tracking link to the brand’s site. They therefore are stealing the commission on any subsequent purchase and are increasing the cost-per-click on branded search terms.

The Sophisticated Hijacker’s Ad

The affiliate places an ad and masks its referral through a series of redirect URLs. The affiliate hijacker receives an unearned commission and uses evasive techniques to avoid detection.

This is particularly damaging to a brand’s affiliate marketing program because it is virtually impossible to determine who the affiliate is without the help of a paid search monitoring tool.

What is the impact of ad hijacking?

Ad Hijacking can be very damaging to a brand’s paid search programs with several negative impacts including:

Reduction in brand revenue

Ad hijackers steal clicks, eat into profit margins, and gain unearned commissions. Brands lose money when they have to compete with their affiliates for conversions or sales from paid search keywords.

Metrics such as impression share and ROI are also affected–the brand’s metrics become skewed and accurate revenue attribution becomes impossible.

Channel conflict

When the affiliate and the brand are advertising on the same keywords, channel conflict ensues. The search engines will only show one advertisement at a time with the same display URL.

As a result, the affiliate is increasing the brand’s CPCs and competing against the brand to be on the SERP. The affiliate is supposed to be bringing new business to the brand, not diverting existing business.

Messaging conflict

The affiliate’s ad, which visitors think is the brand’s ad, may not match the brand’s messaging. Outdated offers and off-brand messaging are common. Since the search engines only allow an advertiser’s domain to appear once on a given SERP, affiliate hijackers often replace brands’ ads with their own – taking away the brand’s control of their own message.

3 Common Indicators of Ad Hijacking

Ad hijackers use techniques like geo-targeting (running ads in locations where the advertiser believes the brand won’t see them) and dayparting (setting ads to run during times of day in which they believe the brand won’t monitor them) that make it virtually impossible to find them without the help of an automated paid search monitoring tool.

However, three indicators of ad hijacking include:

  • Spikes in referral traffic and conversions from affiliates that are not well known to the brand.
  • Nearly identical conversion rates for an affiliate and branded paid search.
  • A reduction in impressions and clicks since the search engines don’t allow multiple ads with the same display URL to serve at the same time.

A good rule of thumb is that if the affiliate is not a well-known site or the brand doesn’t have a strong working relationship with them, it’s worth taking a closer look at how the affiliate is driving their traffic.

How can you stop affiliate ad hijacking?

The first line of defence against ad hijackers is airtight affiliate agreements. Be sure your agreements clearly state what your brand-bidding policies are and what the consequences are for violating them.

Affiliates who engage in this type of nefarious behaviour don’t want to be discovered by the brand. They use tactics like geotargeting and dayparting to avoid detection, making it almost impossible to uncover and stop them.

While some of the red flags mentioned above can give an indication of ad hijacking, manual investigative methods are time-consuming and error-prone.

Also, there are paid search monitoring tool, make this impossible task easy.

Know more about: Click fraud and how you can block it here.