High-quality affiliate programs can be a successful part of a comprehensive and sophisticated online marketing program, complementing a PPC program and helping advertisers reach their goals. Unfortunately, there are times when affiliate programs go from supplemental to detrimental. One such instance, and the focus here, is ad hijacking.
Affiliate ads often look like the existing ads in the space. By using similar headlines, descriptions, and the same display URL, affiliates increase their chance of getting traffic. Unfortunately, the engines don’t allow multiple ads with the same display URL to serve at the same time. If the affiliate ad is chosen to serve in place of the original advertiser’s ad, this is affiliate ad hijacking.
Hijacking negatively impacts PPC programs in several ways. If an affiliate ad shows, then they control the messaging. If they don’t utilize crucial ad extensions (call extensions, sitelinks, etc.), useful information is not passed on to the consumer. Because affiliate ads are typically on the strongest-performing searches, losing that traffic will cost advertisers valuable conversions.
With affiliate ads looking so much like the existing ads, it can be difficult for advertisers to identify when ad hijacking happens to them. Here are some ways to quickly catch hijacking before it gets out of control.
Check Impression Share
Keeping regular tabs on Impression Share (IS) at the keyword level can help advertisers rapidly diagnose potential hijacking instances. This is particularly true of brand terms, where IS should be above 95%. If hijacking is suspected, advertisers should confirm by live monitoring (described below) to confirm their suspicions.
Live monitoring, although a simple way to check what ads are serving on queries, needs to be handled very carefully. First, advertisers should start in the Ad Preview and Diagnosis (APD) tools for Google and Bing. These tools enable the user to see what the general population sees for those same searches, without being influenced by prior search history or activity. In addition, the tools help identify possible reasons why an ad is not serving. The tool does not state whether hijacking is taking place, but will use language expressing that another ad is showing due to a higher ad rank (which is a possible indicator of hijacking).
In addition to the Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool, advertisers can also perform live searches in the engines in “incognito mode.” Incognito mode, or privacy mode, is a feature that enables a person to browse without storing cookie data. For ad monitoring, it enables users to search without the search results being affected by their prior search history (which can alter the search results). Advertisers should only use this method to verify results, as it is not as effective as the APD tool.
If a potential hijacker has been identified through APD and Incognito mode, the last step to verification involves checking the URL of the possible hijacker to confirm that it is redirecting through an affiliate program. Right-click on the ad headline in incognito mode, copy the URL and paste it into a redirect verification tool. If the redirect includes an affiliate program URL, then the advertiser has confirmed that the ad in question is a hijacker. The redirect often includes affiliate identification information that will help the advertiser when it comes time to remove or reprimand the affiliate.
Ad Monitoring Tools
Ad monitoring tools, such as The Search Monitor or BrandVerity, automate the live monitoring process and can be configured to identify ad hijacking. They often stagger their monitoring so it occurs multiple times throughout the day. When hijackers are identified by the tools, they send notifications to the user with details that help them find the affiliate and report them.
Ad hijacking is not something that most affiliates engage in, but when they do, the harm done to paid-search programs can be substantial and can overshadow the positives that affiliate programs bring to the table. Following the steps outlined above will keep advertisers on top of any potential issues so that their pay-per-click and affiliate programs can work hand in hand.