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An in-depth look at Affiliate Linkjacking

I wrote a post last week where I explained how to cloak affiliate links. This post resulted in my receiving several queries about how affiliate link hijacking works and how it could affect ones commission. I haven’t seen the latest stats (if there are any), but I have heard that globally Linkjacking can be held accountable for at least 30% per annum in lost commissions for affiliates. In some niches where unscrupulous vendors are involved commission hijacking can be as high as 100% if it isn’t identified and prevented.

How to identify and prevent Affiliate Link Hijacking

Understanding Cookies: Before I go into detail with this post I thought I should mention ‘cookies’. Cookies are very basic text files, which are automatically download to your computer when you browse the internet. There are many different types of cookies, but they are basically used to track ‘your’ internet usage. Affiliate Vendors use cookies to track affiliate sales/referrals. When you visit an affiliate product site a cookie is installed on your PC to identify which affiliate directed you to the offer. These cookies usually have date-stamps or validity periods, so if you buy anything from the vendor within a certain time frame, the original affiliate will get credited for the sale and get his commission.

With that said, lets get into the various methods used to hijack links…

End-User (Reader) Link Avoidance Methods

This is probably the most common method of Linkjacking and while morally a ‘grey area’ it is probably something we have all done at some point or another for whatever reason (I know I am guilty of doing this). In this method, an affiliate drives traffic to a blog post or sales page where he/she is promoting an affiliate product. The promotion includes the Affiliates full and/or original affiliate link.

eg. http://www.affilliatesite.com/redir/affid?1234

Here the End-User can see the original domain name of the product or vendor, so instead of clicking on the link, they simply type the URL in their Browser, cutting off the end bits that identify the affiliate.

eg. http://www.affilliatesite.com/

There are numerous reasons why a reader would do this. For some its simply because they hate the idea of others making money (jealousy). Others may do it because the feel they will get a better deal if they go directly to the product owners site (which is actually the opposite as most good affiliates add extra bonus’). Another popular practice is to use the affiliates link info (the vendor part) to search for other affiliates promoting the same product, but offering better bonuses.

Using this method the original affiliate doesn’t get his commission because his link was totally avoided.

 

Browser & Browser Switching Methods of Link Hijacking

Another form of Linkjacking is Browser switching or the clearing of ones Browser cache and cookies. As explained above, cookies are automatically downloaded to your PC to track affiliates sales, but when these cookies are downloaded they are linked to the web-Browser you were using when you visited the vendors page. If I later go back to the vendors site using another web-Browser, the cookie is avoided and the affiliate looses his/her commission.

eg. If I visit http://www.affilliatesite.com/redir/affid?1234 using Firefox Browser, the cookie is stored in that Browsers settings. It may be that I didn’t buy anything on that occasion and I later decide to buy, but instead of using the same Browser (Firefox) I go directly to the vendors URL (http://www.affilliatesite.com) using another Browser (eg. Chrome Browser). If this is the case, then the cookie is NOT detected because it is stored in the initial browsers cache and the affiliate therefore looses his/her commission.

A more deliberate action to prevent an Affiliate from getting commission is if the end-user simply clears his/her Browser Cache and Cookies. As mentioned, cookies are stored within a particular Browser and if the user wants to he/she can simply go in to the Browser settings and clear these files from the history. Again, there are many reasons why someone would do this…

NOTE: The above practices are known as ‘Soft Linkjacking’ and I can almost guarantee that if you are an affiliate marketer, this has happened to you more often than you would care to acknowledge. Below I get into the more serious, criminal methods of hijacking affiliate links. I will also touch on Paid Per Click (PPC) Link Theft.

Swapping Affiliate Links

When it comes to the criminal the most basic methods of hijacking links is to simply swap the link with your own link. Most of the better known and more popular Affiliate Networks DO NOT allow affiliates to purchase products using their own affiliate links. However, this isn’t the case with all affiliate networks and because of this, link swapping is a popular method of hijacking commissions from an unsuspecting affiliate. Basically, your reader sees your affiliate link and instead of clicking on it, he uses the information to find the vendors affiliate programme, signs up as an affiliate and buys the product using his own link. He/She gets a nice discount and the affiliate is cut-out. This doesn’t happen all that often these days as more and more Affiliate Networks are stopping affiliates from buying via their own links, but it is a method you should know about.

Malware Affiliate Link Hijacking

I think this is probably the most common form of link hijacking since there are so many different ways for criminals to implement this. Firstly, Malware is software that is programmed to deceive, mislead or blatantly rob you. It is considered a type of virus and comes in many forms and has many disguises. I’m sure you all know what a computer virus is, but when it comes to stealing your affiliate commissions, its nice to know how this works.

Example: As an affiliate, let’s say you are sending traffic to an affiliate offer. One of your leads is “Joe”! Now, Joe’s PC is infected with Malware that contains an Affiliate Link Hijacking Script. When Joe clicks on your affiliate link, the Malware identifies the link and the script switches the link to another link provided by the Malware’s owner. This happens seamlessly and in the end, the sale is credited to the Malware Owners Affiliate Account and not yours.

Popular hiding places for this type of Malware is within a Browser Toolbar or in a Browser Plugin/Add-on. The biggest problem with this kind of Hijacking is it is near impossible to block as it would be “Joe’s” responsibility to ensure his PC has sufficient Anti-Virus and Malware Protection. If this Malware identifies your raw affiliate link from within its script, your commission is lost.

Unscrupulous, Rotten Affiliate Vendors

Unfortunately not all affiliate vendors are honest either and it is possible for a vendor to switch or drop your affiliate link on their sales page or by using a malicious script of their own. Do your research before signing up for any affiliate network especially those in the ‘Gaming‘, ‘Adult Toys‘ or ‘Adult Movie‘ Niches. I’ve heard horror stories particularly in the ‘sex industry‘ where vendors steal 100% of the affiliates commissions. I’m not saying these are the only niches where this happens; it could happen in any niche by any vendor, so do some research before signing up for an affiliate programme or stick to the well known and trusted Affiliate Networks.

PPC LinkJacking

Yes, Linkjacking can occur when you run PPC Ads too. This is a little different to regular Affiliate link Hijacking in that your affiliate URL as such isn’t stolen or altered. In PPC Linkjacking someone could copy/steal your PPC Keywords or your entire ad-format and run their campaigns using an Advert identical to your own. In this instance, the URL used points to the same product as the one you are promoting, but the ‘bidder’ (hijacker) bids more for the advert than you and thus gets ranked higher. In this case the ‘hijacker’ is getting the exposure and/or clicks instead of your link being clicked. While this isn’t necessarily considered direct linkjacking, I thought I would mention it so you are aware of it’s practice.

Prevention of Affiliate Link Hijacking

The solution to preventing linkjacking is to use something called ‘Link Cloaking’. For WordPress users, the easiest way to do this is to use a WordPress Link Cloaking Plugin. I use WP Link Shield on my blog, which hides my affiliate URLs and prevents linkjacking from almost every method mentioned on this page except where a user clears his/her browser cache/cookies. WP Link Shield also includes other Add-ons which allows me to increase my sales and prevents vendors from hijacking my readers e-mail addresses (more on that coming in my WP Link Shield Review). There are many other FREE and Premium Link Cloaking Plugins available or you could use other methods to protect your links. If you want to know more, I encourage you to read my previous post about Affiliate Link Cloaking.

As usual, I’d luv to hear your thoughts on the topic, so please leave a comment below…

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 Posted on : - Last updated on Sep 27, 2015

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