Paid search is a powerful tool for businesses to reach relevant audiences online. When used effectively, it can help businesses increase brand awareness, drive traffic to their website, and generate leads and sales. However, there is a dark side to paid search: bad actors can use your brand name to create fraudulent ads that can damage your brand's reputation and impact your bottom line.
This is why online your brand protection strategy is so important. By taking steps to protect your brand online, you can help ensure that your paid search campaigns are successful and that your brand is not tarnished by the actions of others.
In this article, we will discuss the importance of online brand protection in search and display ads. We will also provide tips for protecting your brand from fraud and abuse.
Paid Search Is a Brand Protection Powerhouse When Done Right
Paid search is a powerful tool for businesses to reach their target audience, boost conversions, and maximize ROI. However, it is also a target for bad actors who try to capitalize on brands' reputations and likeness. These bad actors can use insidious PPC tactics like ad hijacking and trademark infringement to exploit the system and siphon off brands' hard-earned revenue.
Ad hijacking is the act of redirecting users to unauthorized websites through unauthorized advertisements. This can happen without the knowledge or approval of the brand, advertiser, or website owner. The intent behind ad hijacking can be twofold: either to direct traffic to the hijacker's own website or to earn commissions through affiliate monetization of the paid search ads.
To protect their brand protection companies and brands from ad hijacking and other PPC fraud, businesses should take steps to:
- Use strong brand protection policies and procedures.
- Monitor their paid search campaigns for unauthorized activity.
- Report unauthorized activity to the search engines.
- Work with a top brand protection service partner to help detect and prevent fraud.
What is Ad Hijacking and How to Prevent it.
Ad hijacking is a type of online fraud in which unauthorized advertisers redirect users to their own websites or other malicious destinations through unauthorized advertisements. This can happen without the knowledge or approval of the brand, advertiser, or website owner.
It all begins perfectly normally when the owner of a brand website partners with an ad network, allowing ads to be displayed by third party websites on their behalf in exchange for commission. These advertisers invest their resources developing creative and ads under the guise that the affiliates will help the brand reach new target audiences.
But many times bad actors find and exploit weaknesses by injecting their tracking link into PPC ads–unbeknownst to unsuspecting advertisers–in order to capitalize on the traffic hitting the SERP and earn commission from the potential conversion.
Once the PPC ad containing the affiliate link is clicked, it methodically redirects users to the brand site OR fraudulent websites, scam promotions, and in some cases, to dangerous malware downloads. And none of this would appear out of the ordinary to users thinking they’re on a website that they trust.
Some examples of ad hijacking include:
Affiliates redirecting paid search ads that appear to be representative of the brand through a commissionable link in order to earn commission on any conversions that result without the brand knowing otherwise.
Ad Malicious Intervention
Cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in the website or ad network to inject their own tracking link or manipulate the ad content being displayed on the site.
Instead of displaying the legitimate ads that the website owner expected, the injected code redirects the user's browser to different websites, potentially promoting scams, fake products, malware downloads, or other fraudulent activities.
Ad User Deception
Visitors to the website are often unaware that they have been redirected to different destinations than what the website intended to show, and they might inadvertently interact with the malicious content.
Yet the deceit wears away user confidence, tarnishes brand reputation, undermines the brand's relationship with its customers.
For brands, the damage could truly be devastating. Not only does ad hijacking disrupt legitimate ad campaigns, leading to a drop in click-through rates and conversions, but it wastes the advertiser's investments that can be quickly eroded thanks to wasted ad spend via duplicitous commissions.
Brand Protection Solutions Against Ad Trademark Infringement
Unlike ad hijacking which redirects users through commissionable tracking links or otherwise, trademark infringement refers to the unauthorized use of a registered trademark or a substantially similar mark that, while not an exact dupe, can reasonably cause consumer confusion about the validity of the source.
It happens when a third party uses a brand's protected logo, name, symbol, or slogan without the brand’s permission. This action undermines the rightful brand’s distinctive identity and reputation, often leading to consumer deception and great financial loss for the legitimate trademark owner.
While lawful owners of the trademark have the right to take legal action against the infringers to protect their intellectual property and maintain the exclusivity and integrity of their brand in the marketplace, it often proves difficult for a brand to detect let alone action against.
Some fictitious, hypothetical examples of trademark infringements in online ads include:
DizcountSoles.com using Nike's trademark: Let’s say a hypothetical website called DizcountSoles.com bids on the already trademarked term "Nike" in their online ad campaign. When users search for "Nike shoes," DizcountSoles.com's ad appears at the top of the search results making it appear to consumers that they’re actually buying discounted Nike brand shoes from an authorized retailer, but in reality, DizcountSoles.com has no direct or authorized association with Nike, hence the trademark infringement against Nike.
TekWrek offering "Apple" products: Let’s say a fictitious online electronics store named "TechWrek" runs ads promoting "Apple" products at substantially lower prices than expected. However, when a user clicks the ad, they’re redirected to a page selling refurbished and/or counterfeit devices. This could easily trick customers into thinking they’re purchasing authentic Apple products, harming Apple's brand reputation while also committing trademark infringement against Apple.
XYZ Software mimicking Microsoft's branding: Let’s say that XYZ Software creates an ad for their software product, using closely associated colors, fonts, and design elements classically associated with Microsoft's branding. Then an unsuspecting user searches for "Microsoft Office," and XYZ Software's ad appears. No reason to believe it’s not a legitimate site with real Microsoft products thus trademark infringement is committed against Microsoft's intellectual property infringements and trademark rights.
While all hypothetical scenarios, each of these examples shows how bad actors exploit well-known trademarks to attract consumers, and cause reasonable confusion over the source of the products or services being offered. This deception damages the legitimate trademark owner's reputation and financial interests, making it imperative for companies to monitor and enforce their trademark rights to combat such infringements in the physical and digital technologies and advertising space.
But protecting your brand from ad hijacks and trademark infringement isn’t always reasonable or effective simply using your own resources.
How to Protect Your Brand With a Monitoring Solution
A paid search monitoring solution is a software application that helps brands monitor their paid search campaigns for unauthorized activity, such online threats such as ad hijacking and trademark infringement. These solutions typically use a variety of techniques to monitor campaigns, including:
Keyword monitoring: This involves tracking which keywords are being used to bid on your brand name or other trademarked terms.
Ad copy monitoring: This involves tracking the ad copy of ads that are bidding on your keywords.
Landing page monitoring: This involves tracking the landing pages that users are being directed to after clicking on your ads.
IP address monitoring: This involves tracking the IP addresses of the websites that are running your ads.
To protect online platforms against ad hijacking, trademark infringement, and other nefarious activities, both brands and ad networks need to implement robust security measures, keep their software up to date, and be vigilant for any signs of suspicious activity.
To protect their digital assets and preserve their reputation and their precious ad spend, brands must adopt proactive measures including regular ad placement audits, and employ sophisticated security solutions like those that can be found in a reputable paid search and compliance monitor like BrandVerity. By leveraging compliant tracking services, marketers can enjoy the benefits of an always-on brand safety and compliance monitor for ad hijacks and trademark infringements so brands can optimize their ad campaigns, improve targeting strategies, and deliver impactful results in the digital advertising space.
BrandVerity is committed to protecting and defending the world’s leading brands online with paid search monitoring, brand compliance monitoring, monitoring for brand threats, marketing compliance, PPC monitoring, and affiliate monitoring.
Through continuous monitoring, effective enforcement measures, and optimization, marketers can maintain brand integrity and enhance the effectiveness of their advertising efforts on Google's extensive platform all while safeguarding their return on investment (ROI).
Want to learn more about what BrandVerity can do to keep your brand protected online? Contact us right here.