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What is URL Hijacking (aka Direct Linking)?

Hijacking occurs when another advertiser creates an ad that looks like it’s your ad.  It happens within paid search ads, contextual ads, and in display network image ads.

  • Paid Search Hijacking.  When URL Hijacking occurs in paid search, the hijacker will use your URL as the display URL in its ad. This is problematic because search engines only allow 1 paid search advertiser to show in search results per display URL.  This means that if you and an affiliate or a competitor are both using the same display URL, your ad will only show a portion of the time, and the remaining portion of the time the other guy’s ad version with your display URL will appear.  We call this getting ‘knocked-out’.   Our system will tell you the percentage of the time that you have been knocked-out of the search listings by a competitor.
  • Display Hijacking.  When URL Hijacking occurs in display ads, the hijacker will use your URL in the ad, your brand name, and your colors.  This is problematic because the advertisements may contain improper messaging or may interfere with ad serving of your direct campaigns as they do in paid search.

Why does URL Hijacking Occur?

There are several reasons why an advertiser would want to disguise their ad to make it seem like your ad:

  • Affiliate Hijacker.  An affiliate who is URL Hijacking is doing this to avoid having to create a landing page.  Traffic from the hijacked ad is directed through an affiliate link and then ultimately to your landing page.  On the plus side, you wind up receiving the business.  However the cost is tremendous.  First, as noted above, your own ads are knocked-off of the search results page.  This then causes channel conflict with your SEM team and your automated campaign software.  Second, you are not able to control the messaging.  Third, the competition is now between you, the marketplace, AND your affiliate.  More competition for placement equals higher CPC’s.  Finally, affiliate hijackers typically hijack on brand or brand plus terms where the meatiest traffic lies thus taking clicks away from you.  We can find these hijackers by looking for incorrect tracking urls and identifying affiliate links within the redirect path.
  • Traffic Hijacker/Phishing: A traffic hijacker usually wants your traffic so that it can fool a consumer into giving away personal information like an email address.  The pattern from ad to landing page will be an advertisement that looks like yours, then to a landing page that is owned by the hijacker and not owned by you.   The landing page may be disguised to fool the consumer by using your colors, logo placement, and wording.  We have seen this behavior with phony gift card give-aways for example.  We detect these hijackers by noticing a mismatch between your website URL and the landing page URL of the advertisement.
  • Quality Score Hijacker.  The search engines grade your ad quality using a formula that they call Quality Score.  The better your quality score, the less you have to pay in CPC’s.  In order to boost quality score for new campaigns, sometimes competitors will hijack your display URL in order to gain quality score points.  This happens to bigger more well known brands who are likely to have a great quality score.  The hijacker will disguise its SEM ad as you, use your display URL, and direct traffic to your landing page.  The hijacker will do this for a period of time in order to boost the quality score within its adwords account.  We can usually find these hijackers because the tracking URL used will be different than your own.


Posted in: Affiliate Managers