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EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2925 - October 31, 2012 - ISSN 1539-5065    5 of 6

BrandVerity Fights on Behalf of Brand Advertisers

By Ina Steiner
EcommerceBytes.com
October 31, 2012




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While they may not realize it, brands and online merchants who have affiliate programs and who advertise on Google AdWords and other paid-search programs are vulnerable to affiliate hijackers who use merchants' ad text and display URLs but route visitors through affiliate links. (It's also called direct linking or URL hijacking.)

These ads can be hard to visually spot because they look like the brand's ads, and they significantly raise the merchant's advertising costs without adding any incremental sales.

Launched in early 2008, BrandVerity provides services that detect online brand and trademark abuse. David Naffziger, CEO of BrandVerity, explained how brand hijacking works and what his company does to help advertisers combat the problem.

EcommerceBytes: Please provide background on BrandVerity and the services it provides.

David Naffziger: BrandVerity provides technology solutions to brand owners to combat trademark abuse and advertising fraud. The company’s first product, PoachMark, provides unparalleled insight into the search activity of affiliate marketers, giving brand owners a tool to ensure compliance with their search policies and recover fraudulent commissions.

PoachMark identifies the websites, keywords and affiliate IDs utilized by affiliates as they market through paid search. PoachMark is currently used by affiliate networks, agencies and in-house affiliate managers to protect the brands of thousands of affiliate programs ranging from top 5 ecommerce companies to niche online retailers. BrandVerity also maintains the Affiliate Watchlist, an evolving list of the most affiliates found to be most abusive in paid search.

EcommerceBytes: Explain the problem of brand-infringement with regard to paid-search advertising.

David Naffziger: There are many facets of infringement. The type of infringement our clients are most concerned about is known to as "URL hijacking." URL hijacking happens when an affiliate runs search ads using a brand's display URL against that brand's permission.

For example, any Sears affiliate can run an ad that uses sears.com as their display URL. This behavior is particularly costly when affiliates target keywords involving the brand's own terms. So, the affiliate running an ad as sears.com would target keywords such as "sears" or "sears.com."

URL-hijacking affiliates targeting branded terms can increase the marketing cost 5x to 10x over their brand's own PPC costs without adding any incremental sales or visitors.

EcommerceBytes: Why do brands care if other companies bid on their brand keywords when advertising on Google Adwords or other ad programs?

David Naffziger: There are several reasons:

An increase in cost to the brand: The more participants in the AdWords auction, typically the winning bidders have to pay more per click.

A loss of traffic to the brand: More ads on a particular search usually results in fewer users clicking on the brand's organic links or their own ads.

Off-brand messaging: Competitors and even partners can impact consumer perception of a brand by running ads with messaging inconsistent with the brands intentions.

EcommerceBytes: What is Google's IP policy and how good is it at enforcement?

David Naffziger: Google AdWords trademark policy has evolved over time and differs by country. The most broadly applied set of rules (and also the most liberal) are those shared by the US, CA, UK and IE:

  • Any advertiser can purchase ads on trademarked keywords including competitors;
  • Non-competitors (affiliates, partners, informational sites, resellers, etc.) can use trademarks in their ad copy;
  • Any advertiser can use the trademark in the display URL (eg. ford.com/CompareToyota).

Google's policy is very consistently enforced, but it requires that the brand submit takedown requests to Google (reactive, not proactive).

EcommerceBytes: What about other paid-search ad programs?

David Naffziger: Microsoft AdCenter's policies have evolved as well, but they now closely mirror Google's and, of course, Yahoo ads are now powered by AdCenter.

EcommerceBytes: If I'm selling legitimate branded items (let's say Disney toys) and I use Google AdWords to advertise my products, can I bid on the keyword, Disney? Who is allowed to, who is not?

David Naffziger: Yes, you can bid on Disney. I go into more detail above, but as a seller of branded items, you can both bid on "Disney" and use "Disney" in your ads.

EcommerceBytes: What are best practices for online merchants to follow when conducting paid search advertising campaigns?

I'm answering this with respect to protecting their brand in paid search.

1) Put in place agreements with all partners about their authority to bid on branded terms, their misspellings and "brand + generic" terms. This list should include affiliates, Comparison Shopping Engines, resellers, channel partners, franchisees, etc.

2) Develop procedures and processes for contacting partners and unrelated third parties when brand abuse is discovered.

3) Monitor consistently and:

  • Reach out to partners when violations are discovered;
  • Reach out to the search engines when ads are found that violate search engine's own trademark policies.

EcommerceBytes: What can small merchants do who can't afford monitoring services?

David Naffziger: If a small merchant is simply concerned about competitors bidding on their terms, ad hoc searches go a long way to uncovering competitor activity. We regularly talk at conferences on manual techniques for detecting affiliate abuse and provide a bunch of guidance.

Google supports a few URL parameters that give users visibility into ads from different geographies, and some small merchants will use those parameters to retrieve an assortment of ads. One merchant in particular kept dozens of these saved searches in bookmarked tab groups and every so often would open all them at once and inspect each ad on the search results page.

BrandVerity recently released a social media compliance service giving large online brands the ability to identify and manage brand and trademark misuse on social networks. The technology retrieves and follows tweets and public Facebook status updates based on client-driven keywords, and crawls destination websites to identify affiliate relationships within tweets, links and directly on those destination websites. This allows users to identify and take action on non-compliant messaging. More information is available on the BrandVerity website.

About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.

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