URL Hijacking & Your Brand: 3 Tips To Protect Yourself

April 19, 2017

Affiliate Managers, Agencies
url hijacking threat levels

First things first: What is URL hijacking?

URL Hijacking is when another advertiser creates a search engine ad using your Display URL and runs the click through a URL that isn’t yours (e.g. an affiliate link).

It’s usually not an accident. They’re showing your Display URL (and sometimes entire ad) to piggyback off your brand recognition and increase their click rate, and then they run it through their affiliate links to get commission on a sale that they didn’t truly deserve.

Why Care About URL Hijacking?

When an affiliate hijacks your URL, it can hurt your business in several ways:

  • Search engines only allow one advertiser per display URL, so you may get ‘knocked out’ out of search results, meaning you lose out on clicks, website traffic, and your CTR will go down.
  • URL hijacking creates channel conflict between SEM teams and automated campaign software
  • You lose control of the brand messaging since you have no control over the URL destination
  • You are competing with your affiliate, causing fewer clicks & higher CPCs

That sounds bad. But how common is URL hijacking?

While most affiliates comply with program rules, there are sneaky ones out there who do not. Would you believe that 29% of affiliates monitored by The Search Monitor engaged in URL hijacking as of April 2017?

See below for a breakdown of affiliate threat levels determined using our database of Affiliate Profiles. Note that URL Hijackers are also guilty of brand bidding, so they are counted in both the Bidders and Hijackers categories. Contact us with questions or to see results for your affiliates.

With the background provided on the seriousness of this threat, let’s get to the solutions. We’ve been monitoring paid search ads since 2008 and have collected thousands of examples of how URL Hijackers commit their crimes, and how to detect and stop them.

Here are our three most effective tips to stop URL hijackers from making money off your brand.

1. Set up automated monitoring for URL Hijacking

Setting up automated monitoring and reporting allows you to focus on other aspects of your program (e.g., affiliate recruitment) while not letting badly-behaving affiliates slip through the cracks and hurt your bottom line, or your brand.

Tools like The Search Monitor’s compliance monitoring platform crawls through ads to detect redirect links, affiliate links, and landing pages. Our technology then compares redirect links and landing pages to authorized lists to isolate hijacker imposters from the real advertiser, capture the affiliate ID. We will automatically alert an advertiser of an issue or potential issue, including a time stamped screenshot that can be submitted directly to search engines and affiliate networks for ad take-down.

2. Use the URL Hijacking data smartly

Setting up monitoring is the first step to combat URL hijacking. But what’s next? Below are best practices for utilizing affiliate monitoring data.

  • Pull data each month for a real-time snapshot of the entire affiliate landscape.
  • Drill down to look at just your affiliates and compare their compliance and threat levels to 1) the entire industry or 2) your competitors.
  • Review affiliates applying to your program to ensure you are only approving affiliates without a history of URL hijacking.
  • Set benchmarks and routinely check the health of your affiliate program by your affiliates’ threat levels. These change more often than you think!

3. Report URL Hijacking violations

Don’t be afraid to complain! The best defense against unauthorized brand bidding and URL hijacking is to monitor, quantify the impact, and then use the available enforcement techniques.

To enforce compliance against competitors and affiliates, you have the following options:

  • Search engine complaints
  • Pacts or agreements
  • Lawsuits

Brand owners are required to report violations to the search engines in order for any action to be taken to remove the ads. By monitoring frequently hijacked keywords (e.g. brand, brand.com, brand plus coupon or promo code, misspelling variations), you can be proactive in catching violations.

Enforcement is attainable when you employ consistent ad monitoring, establish strong affiliate agreements, submit complaints to the search engines when violations occur, and (as a last resort) file lawsuits.

Learn More About URL Hijacking Protection

Let The Search Monitor show you how to implement Affiliate and Trademark Monitoring. Contact us, and we’ll show you how use compliance monitoring to protect your brand.

Then, learn more about our brand protection and affiliate monitoring services.

Request a Demo


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