February 2nd 2007 by Scott McCoy
My first attempt at online marketing was a shocker to this traditional advertising veteran. Even as a beginner it was easy to understand that what I witnessed was unethical and was diminishing the ROI for advertisers both directly and indirectly. Directly the result was to reduce click through rates by pushing down legitimate organic search results and indirectly by reducing confidence in and credibility of both paid and organic search results.
An AdWords test campaign was created to drive traffic to my new website. I evaluated the click results with Google analytics before and after the test campaign began then tested Google search by entering my keywords to observe the paid ad delivery frequency as well as the organic search results. In the organic search results I discovered that my ad’s headline had been HIJACKED verbatim and was generating multiple organic search results for someone else’s commerce sites.
The hijacking must have been automated. I wondered if some form of bot had scanned AdWords or search text rankings, harvesting the text of popular topics and automatically linking to Trojan horse websites. The multiple sites that were linked to my marketing headlines contained lists of links with language and subject matter related to my site and ad indicating that it was either a sophisticated contextual program or worse, a human.
Why would someone choose the ad for my low profile site to hijack?
My site, www.savepluto.com, is dedicated to restoring Pluto, the planet, back to planet status and to sell some merchandise along the way. I bought the domain name and designed the site to support the NASA scientist in charge of the mission currently on the way to explore Pluto. He is one of two scientists who are organizing scientists, educators and other interested people to meet in late 2007 to reverse a decision that resulted in Pluto’s demotion.
To generate awareness for Savepluto.com, I signed up for Google AdWords and chose the headline “working with NASA scientists to bring Pluto back in 2007.” This is the headline that was hijacked to generate fraudulent results.
The demotion of Pluto has been extensively covered in the press and just prior to my headline hijack The American Dialect Society voted “plutoed” its 2006 “word of the Year” the verb, meaning “to demote or devalue someone or something”. Perhaps this bump in media coverage prompted the choice of my site as popular enough to hijack for their nefarious purposes.
Could I benefit from the multiple times that their entries appeared on forward pages on Google search results? Savepluto.com was prominently highlighted on each entry and may have created awareness for my site. However, I had to wonder how many people clicked on their links to find spam and then declined to click on my legitimate link.
The many search results generated by my hijacked text opened to pages containing multiple links to other sites. These other sites included what seemed to be an elaborate pyramid scheme that promised free prizes for generating responses to pop-up offers to sign up for and activate credit cards. Something about this just seems inherently wrong.
Ultimately this has to be a bad development. If the bad guys have chosen my low profile site how many other sites have been hijacked? The multiple search results effectively push legitimate site’s results down on the ranking. They have been “Plutoed”. Being Plutoed effectively reduces the cost effectiveness of good money paid for site optimization and AdWords campaigns.
Keyjacking is also rampant on YouTube where “bait and switch” marketers pilfer audience using that day’s most popular news events as keywords for their unrelated content. Johnnie TV is the king of keyjackers and creates more videos per day than he has teeth. Well, bad analogy if you have viewed Johnnie TV, but you get the point. Keyjacking results in frustration and wasted time and potential reduced sales.
This week, it was announced that click fraud is at an all-time high. Recent lawsuits have mixed results on actions relating to “keyjacking” of trademarks belonging to one business inserted by competitors as search keywords to steal potential customers.
The “wild west” environment created by the rapid migration of significant advertising budgets to online marketing has created this environment of click fraud, keyjacking and plagiarism and should be a concern for all legitimate online marketers.