How Ad Hijackers steal traffic of brand name owners and affiliate commissions with brand bidding in PPC

Since 23th of March 2010, when the decision of the European Court of Law about bidding on brand names in Adwords came in act Brand Bidding and Ad-Hijacking is a very hot topic. With brand bidding the affiliate will use the high converting brands name in Google Adwords. When an advertiser has stated in its affiliate regulation that this is not allowed, the affiliate marketer is in violation with the advertiser’s terms.

Ad-Hijacking goes one step further. The ad hijacker will actually copy and overbid the original ad of the merchant with the goal to hijack the search traffic on the brand name and make it run through the affiliate program. The affiliate marketer can then collect the affiliate percentage for the sales. Advertising on brand names and shop names is very interesting because these keywords convert very well. Ad-Hijacking and Brand Bidding is mainly done by affiliates, comparison sites, competitors, ecommerce shops, auction sites etc.

According to a research of Xamine German advertisers loose yearly about 13 million euro’s to these ad-hijackers which is about 4% of the total affiliate turnover in Germany. Ad hijackers walk freely as there is nothing more that can be done against them then excluding them from the affiliate network or affiliate campaign.

Some strategies used by ad hijackers:

  • Overbidding the merchant’s bid; 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.
  • Manipulate ad quality; The hijacker will then create a bot which will automatically search in Google for the brand name using different IP addresses which simulates human behavior. Because the bot doesn’t click on the merchant’s ad, the Click Trough Rate of the ad and quality score will go down. The bot will however recognize the affiliate’s ad and click on it making the quality score go up. Soon the affiliates add will be shown above the merchant’s ad and with a higher bid it wiltagetingl stay on that position.
  • Using limited daily budgets and day parting so the ad appears only occasionally. If ad-hijacking happens on a large scale it can be seen in a sudden drop in click and conversion data on the brand name. Many of the abusers, however, ensure that they do not do too much, making it difficult to discover with only data analysis.
  • Only show the ad in the night and in the weekends because when no one is in the office the changes to get caught are more slim.
  • 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.
  • Making the add show up in countries where Google does not investigate the use of brand names in ad text by using a high radius around the area they are targeting. This way you can cross borders and your ad will actually show up in the country where Google does investigate the use of brand names in ad text. But because they targeted the ad in the country where they don’t, the ad will not be investigated.
  • 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 SEM SEO 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.
  • Using geo targeting for ad displaying. If they know that the office of the brand’s company and the SEM company of the brand is in a particular city, they can exclude the ad from appearing in those regions.
  • Excluding the merchant’s IP address with Adwords IP exclusion tool.
  • Use link cloaking software to cover up the referral url’s. With a link cloaking technique using Javascript it is possible to redirect from the affiliate site dropping the affiliate cookie to the merchant site.

How can you protect yourself from ad hijacking?

  • Use your affiliate guidelines to make a statement about brand bidding and tell you will prosecute every trademark infringement.
  • Send the trademark infringement complaint form to Google or just send an email to Google Trademark team:
  • Exclude the use of your own brand name’s exact match. If your campaigns visibility drops then this is an indicator that people are bidding on your brand name.
  • Use software to detect ad hijacking like xamine, marketdefender, sistix, adgooroo, bestbrandprotection, or sem-scout. Xamin and Bestbrandprotection are probably the best ones from this list because they do checks on brand names and do checks from different cities and regions.

The big search engines can easily exclude hijacked ads by ensuring that the specified display and destination url as reported before redirects are the same. That is not the case right now. Without any of these changes ad hijacking will continue to happen.

At least now you know how to protect you from ad hijackers and which strategies are used. Make sure you always have a clear affiliate policy which states that your brand name may not be used in PPC.

Read our related post about brand name bidding in PPC.

[slideshare id=3649014&doc=smxmnchen24032010evertino-1270566602-phpapp01]


Hi, my name is Wouter, I´m a professional internet marketeer and I write about my passion internet marketing and search engine optimization. I hope you enjoy reading the internet marketing articles here and that you will share your thoughts and tips with us in the comments section.

  • escortbg

    Wow! Amazing! Good thing is, you posted how you can protect yourself from ad hijacking.

  • Whatever

    This is a nonsense post.

    You seem to be forgetting they are actually selling the merchants product.

    The merchant is allowed to occupy 1 spot out of the 8 PPC ads.  By allowing affiliates to occupy the other 7 the merchant ends up with MORE traffic and sales, not less.

    They also get more exposure on the page, so that people are less inclined to choose alternative vendors from the natural results.

    This is another example where the affiliate is somehow demonised for making the merchant free money.

    I laughed at the 4% statistic. If the merchant can only occupy 1 spot, but could occupy all 8 with the help of affiliates, then clearly that study is rubbish.

    My advice to merchants is to allow your affiliates to bid on your trademark terms, end of story. They are not ‘stealing your traffic’. They are giving you free traffic that they only get paid on if someone buys.

  • Styling Designs

    It is not nonsense. Here you will find a the press release of Xamin which will go deeper into this matter. Unfortunately it is written in German:

  • K753159

    It’s not nonsense. I agree with you when talking about affiliates which are bidding on general terms, in that case and depending on your strategy you would sell more. But if affiliates are replacing your ad copy with their ad copy things are quite different: You would sell exactly the same, but pay tons of money to your affiliate network. Google has to stop this from happening, it is totally illegal that they allow those kind of trademark infringement. Chris

  • Julian

    This is a million dollar issue.
    The following website used to hijack our ads stealing up to 30% of our branded traffic (which means we were paying, let’s say, 15€ for an affiliate sale instead of, let’s say,  1€ for a branded paid search sale).
    Cast a glance at the number of brands they are hijacking! And they have other sites! (,…) they will appear in your monitoring tools as or, so that you cannot identify them…

    Google is absolutely not interested in helping advertisers with that (they think it is not their problem because they get money anyway for the searches). They just ignore these 2 facts:
    1. The global cost per lead of advertisers increases because of hijackers (more sales paid 15€ and less sales paid 1€)
    2. Hijacking makes the affiliate source look very cheap.

    As a consequence advertisers will slowly reduce their spending on expensive sources like… Adwords! Is it that obvious only for me?

  • Julian

    Another thing:
    Xamine, Bestbrandprotection, Sistrix… You work with the German market right? ;)Can’t use any of these tools for other markets :(
    Which of the remaining tools is the best to monitor hijacking? ppcenforcer, adgooroo or sem-scout? Thesearchmonitor works well but not if hijackers use geo targeting they are invisible…

  • Simple Seo Amsterdam

    I think Adgooroo works best for other markets. Here you can view how you can fight trademark infridgement:

    They say you can monitor geo-targeting and dayparting and these are their core features to fight ppc brand bidding:
    – Find advertisers bidding on your brand terms
    – Track usage of your brand name within PPC ads
    – Defeat geo-targeting and dayparting evasion strategies
    – Generate complaint letters
    – 24/7 monitoring of 8 search engines in 52 countries
    – Deep analysis of over 155 ad servers and affiliate networks

  • Julian

    Thanks! Just asked a trial version.

  • Graham

    Appreciate this post. I have been trying to find out who this is – as they’re brand bidding on one of our merchants and earning affiliate commissions. Having seen your reference to – I immediately recognised them – as this is the URL they’re using. Be aware , I am sure that they use others, but and are using fraudulent techniques to earn affiliate commission. I am almost certain that they also own

  • Julian

    Thanks for the information Graham. We are now exploring the legal way:

    -ask the affiliate platform to give us a complete refund for all the commissions accumulated by
    -try to attack the hijacker directly.It will take a lot of time, I will update you if we obtain something.