Sunday, July 19, 2009

Advertise.com Sucks: They're Stealing Your Traffic

Inspired by Jeff Jarvis and his recent book WWGD and his saga with Dell Sucks I was compelled to share my story. I'll cut to the point here. Advertise.com provides a platform for affiliates to steal your hard earned traffic. Want to know how? Read on...

A few months ago I began running display ads on my site using OpenX hosted and three ad networks; Google Adsense, Yahoo Affiliates, and Adbrite to test display ad serving. Little did I know I opened the door to thousands of thieves. I began noticing that I was being re-directed to a jump site abcjmp.com and then onto various search directory sites.

After a little investigation I came to understand this is known as Open Redirect URL's and it's a major problem. I could say it MAY be happening to you, but if you're running ads on your site I'll presume it IS happening to you. Here's how it happens. You visit a page either through a search engine or by direct navigation and the spammers load a script in the ad code served on the page. The site you intended to land on loads a jump page which redirects you to an advertiser page. It all happens in milliseconds. It happens 10 billion times a month, according to Advertise.com. They tell us this in their corporate press release. The unknowing or unsuspecting web surfer does not realize they have been redirected. There's no longer a need to invest in SEO or Branding or PPC, these affiliates just steal our traffic at a cost of nothing. The ROI on that business model must be 1,000,000%. All the while Advertise.com profits.

I began to research how this was happening and followed the path of URL redirects and it all leads back to one company. You guessed it, Advertise.com and their aliases ABC Search and Blueseek. This company is providing the tools for their affiliates to hijack your traffic and steal your readers, customers, and traffic. Just as if a person standing on a street corner car jacked you and gave the keys to a chop shop or someone breaks into your home and invites other criminals in to steal your stuff, this company is providing the tools and the means to allow their affiliates to steal from you. Thousands of thieves. Who should be concerned? Any major ad network, ad server technology company or publisher of ads.

Why is this a big deal? I've personally experienced this happening dozens of times and have reported 4 cases to Advertise.com. They claim to block the affiliate from their network, but they don't plug the holes in their system to stop all affiliates from doing this. Here's what David Bilgre, Director of Business Development says in an e-mail response to my query, "Per our conversation regarding redirects it is important to note that ABCSearch is a network of 10000+ affiliates who send traffic through us to direct advertisers as well as third party advertising relationships. We make every effort to identify and remove all questionable sources of traffic from our network once they are identified, and we have strict policies that our affiliates have been instructed to follow. Unfortunately, from time to time, a bad source can get by our fraud prevention technologies."

David and Dan, simply writing and displaying a Terms and Conditions policy does not limit your liability for allowing this type of activity to happen. Placing the burden on publishers to recognize and report illegal activity from your affiliates while your company profits is wrong and a conflict of interest. I'm sure you've thought that if we're just lax in our enforcement we can continue to grow and profit from this illegal traffic. It's time to stop.

If I am having this happen routinely, then I can assume my readers are having this happen at the same rate. I can only imagine the problem results in billions of page views being hijacked across the internet. The kicker is these spammers are being rewarded by the advertising dollars they are reaping from your traffic. Just as if they reached into your pocket and grabbed your spare change. Now imagine tens of millions of people being robbed in the same way and Advertise.com is reaping the lion share of this stolen money by facilitating the work of thieves.

The latest headline from Advertise.com on June 22, 2009 states, "Leading Online Marketing and Advertising Company Unaffected by California's Sluggish Economy". The reason for this amazing growth? They're stealing your traffic and charging advertisers for it. I display ads on my site on a PPC or CPA basis. So each time they redirect my traffic without a click or attribution to me for the resulting action I lose money. Worse than that I'm losing the trust of my loyal readers who already are untrusting of the various spam, malware, and viruses trying to attack their computers.

Who cares? Everyone who conducts business online and uses display advertising to monetize their traffic should care deeply about this problem. If it continues unchecked this could erode the market for online ads and ad networks like Glam, Gawker, or Adify. The worst part of this problem is the fact that Advertise.com places the burden for fixing it on the publisher. That's akin to telling a robbery victim to wait until you're robbed again by one of our other thugs and we'll stop that one, but continue to provide the means for 10 others to rob you tomorrow.

Please feel free to Digg this or Tweet it or Share on Facebook or link to it on your blog. I don't have the ability to stop it alone, but if we band together as bloggers and publishers we can stop this illegal activity. Yes, I could simply remove all ads from my site or block off-site redirects, but then what about the millions of other publishers impacted by this activity. Do I just let them suffer while the thieves prosper? I'm asking for help from Jeff Jarvis, Matt Mullenweg, Matt Cutts, Michael Arrington, Neil Patel, Robert Scoble, Pete Cashmore, Duncan Riley, Darren Rowse, Seth Godin, Pete Rojas, Jason Calacanis, Nick Denton and fellow bloggers. Please help stop this type of damaging activity.

How big is this problem? Probably about as big as Advertise.com's growth over the past year. How could one company be growing it's advertising program so quickly while the much larger players like Google and Yahoo are struggling? Did they receive a huge cash investment? I could not find any evidence of that. In January 2009 they claimed having, "over 6 billion searches a month through its network of targeted search engines and niche-specific directories". Then in March of 2009 they claim, "more than 325 million daily searches, which equates to 10 billion impressions per month." So what they're telling us is they grew their traffic by 4 billion impressions in only two months? They are either genius or a major fraud. I'm inclined to believe the latter, unless they can prove me wrong.

For more info contact Daniel Yomtobian, CEO of Advertise.com. He can be reached at 800.710.7009 and you can use the phone directory to contact him directly.

3 comments:

Wiplinger said...

Thanks for the info. How can we prevent it? I just started to use OpenX on a chat robot server (http://chat.elmit.com) and of course I would know if there is a solution.

Tech Tomato said...

Google recommends some methods for stopping this on your own site. For example, stopping off site redirects, but I'm more concerned with stopping the massive scale of these spammers on all sites.

Anonymous said...

Check your analytics. Look at your click maps, user attributes such as browser, and screen resolution. You will see how advertise.com are growing this "traffic".