What is ad hijacking and how do you protect your brand from it? by Adthena

Have you ever clicked on a brand’s ad and ended up on a website  you weren’t expecting? That’s ad hijacking. And it hurts advertisers and users. 

Keep reading to learn how ad hijacking works, the risks it poses and how to protect your brand.

What is ad hijacking?

Ad hijacking is when an affiliate mimics a brand’s ads to steal clicks and revenue on their trademarked keywords. Affiliates do this to trick you into clicking on their ad instead of a real one from the brand.

How does ad hijacking work?

Imagine you search for [your favorite clothing brand]. Normally, the first ad you see should be the brand’s official one, taking you straight to its website. Here’s how ad hijacking disrupts that:

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  • The rightful owner: The first ad above belongs to the brand. It leads directly to its own website via the correct tracking link..
  • The obvious culprit: The second ad is from an affiliate. It redirects you to the brand’s website, but adds the affiliate’s  tracking link in the process. This lets them steal a commission for any sale you might make, even though you intended to visit the brand directly.
  • The masked marauder: The third ad shows a more sophisticated hijacker using a series of redirects to hide their involvement. They might even send you through several websites before finally landing you at the brand’s site. This makes it difficult to identify them and hurts the brand’s affiliate program because it’s hard to track where the stolen commission came from.

What does ad hijacking look like?

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In this example, a brand violation instance has been captured using Adthena’s Ad Hijacking Detection for a hotel brand (the brand name has been changed for anonymity). A search for “brandhotels.com” has returned the ad shown, which features the brand name in the display URL and site links.

However, the ad has not been placed by the hotel brand. It was placed by an affiliate bidding on “brandhotels.com.” 

Why is ad hijacking harmful to your brand?

Ad hijacking can harm both advertisers and users. Here’s a breakdown of the main challenges it can cause:

For advertisers:

  • Lost sales and revenue: Imagine paying for clicks that don’t reach your website! Hijacked ads steal clicks meant for your official ads, diverting potential customers and reducing sales.
  • Increased costs: Advertisers compete with hijackers bidding on their brand terms (i.e.,  your brand name). This drives up the CPC, meaning you pay more for each person who sees your genuine ad.
  • Channel conflict and data skewing: If you and a hijacker use affiliate programs, things get messy. Metrics like impression share and revenue attribution become inaccurate, making it difficult to track campaign performance effectively.
  • Brand reputation damage: If users click on a hijacked ad and end up on a low-quality website or experience something negative, it reflects poorly on your brand. They might associate the bad experience with your company.

For users:

  • Deception: The whole point of ad hijacking is to trick users. They click on an ad believing it leads to a brand’s website, only to find themselves somewhere else. This can feel misleading and like a waste of time.
  • Exposure to malware: In some cases, hijacked ads might lead to malicious websites containing malware. This software can steal personal information or harm your device.
  • Wasted time: Users expecting to visit a brand’s website after clicking on an ad will be disappointed if they land on an irrelevant page. They’ll waste valuable time navigating away from the wrong website.

Spot and stop ad hijacking attempts

Catching ad hijacking can be tricky, but there are tools to help. 

Adthena’s Ad Hijacking Detection catches instances of ad hijacking instances from 50+ affiliate networks and sub-networks, by:

  • Constantly monitoring your brand: Ad Hijacking Detection continuously scans search results for ads containing your brand terms, trademarks and even variations of them. It acts like a tireless lookout for imposters!
  • Identifying suspicious activity: Sophisticated algorithms analyze ad copy, landing pages and affiliate links. If anything doesn’t seem genuine, it will be flagged for further investigation.
  • Alerts and reports: Get notified right away if potential hijacking attempts are detected. These reports will include details like the infringing ad copy, landing page URLs, and even the suspected affiliates involved.
  • Gathering evidence for takedown: Having all the evidence in one place makes it easier to report the infringing ad to Google. You’ll have the affiliate ID and other details needed for a swift takedown.
Adthena-SEL-Article_5-8-24-hijaking2-800x450-1 What is ad hijacking and how do you protect your brand from it? by Adthena

See Ad Hijacking Detection in action in a self-guided platform tour. Get started. 

How to spot ad hijacking in your campaigns

Being proactive is key to fighting ad hijacking. Here are some red flags to watch out for in your branded ad campaigns:

  • Performance slump: A sudden drop in clicks and conversions for your branded ads could be a sign that hijacked ads are stealing your clicks.
  • Suspicious spikes in affiliates: A surge in referral traffic or conversions from an unknown affiliate is a cause for concern.
  • Copycat conversions: If an affiliate’s conversion rates suspiciously mirror your branded ad campaigns, it might be because they’re benefiting from hijacked clicks.
  • URL mismatches: Always check the landing page URLs linked to your affiliates. If they don’t match your brand’s domain or contain strange redirects, it could be a hijacking attempt.

These warning signs can help you catch ad hijacking early and take action to protect your brand.

Prevent ad hijacking before it strikes

Why wait for trouble? By being vigilant and monitoring your campaigns closely, you can take steps to identify and address ad hijacking attempts by affiliates.

1. Secure your brand identity:

  • Trademark protection: Register your trademarks and brand terms. This strengthens your legal stance if you need to confront hijackers.
  • Brand watch: Use brand monitoring tools to track online mentions, including search results. This helps you spot potential hijacking attempts early on.

2. Manage your affiliate program:

  • Clear affiliate agreements: Outline acceptable practices in your affiliate agreements. Ban affiliates from bidding on your brand terms or using misleading ad copy.
  • Performance monitoring: Regularly monitor your affiliate program performance. Look for unusual spikes in traffic or conversions from specific affiliates.

3. Paid search defense:

  • Negative keywords: Use negative keywords to prevent your ads from showing for searches that include hijacked terms or variations of your brand name.
  • Trademark bidding: Consider trademark bidding on your branded keywords. This ensures your ads appear prominently in search results, pushing hijacked ads down the page.

4. Advanced protection solutions:

  • Brand Protection: Explore advanced brand protection tools like Adthena’s Ad Hijacking Detection, a part of the Brand Protection solution. These tools actively scan for hijacking attempts and provide detailed reports to help you take action.
Adthena-SEL-Article_5-8-24-web-grahics-800x463-1 What is ad hijacking and how do you protect your brand from it? by Adthena

Learn more about PPC brand protection and how to do it in the complete guide to PPC brand protection.

5. Take action:

  • Report infringing ads: Report any instances of ad hijacking to the relevant search engine platform.
  • Terminate rogue affiliates: If you identify affiliates engaging in ad hijacking, terminate their agreements immediately.

Fight back against ad hijacking

Ad hijacking can be sneaky, stealing clicks and damaging your brand reputation. By understanding how it works, you can take proactive measures to:

  • Protect your brand: Register trademarks and use brand monitoring tools to stay vigilant against hijacking attempts.
  • Secure your affiliate program: Define acceptable practices in affiliate agreements. Block affiliates from bidding on your brand terms or using misleading ad copy.
  • Put paid search protection in place: Use negative keywords to prevent hijacked terms from triggering your ads. Consider trademark bidding to ensure your ads appear prominently.
  • Consider advanced protection: Explore tools like Adthena’s Ad Hijacking Detection for advanced monitoring and defense.
  • Take down hijackers: Report infringing ads to search engines and terminate relationships with rogue affiliates.

By staying informed and implementing these strategies, you can reclaim control of your online presence and ensure a positive experience for your customers. 

Do you know if your branded keywords are being hijacked by your affiliates? Take a self-guided platform tour of Adthena’s Ad hijacking detection or Book a demo to get started.


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