Marketers face a variety of challenges when launching a new website. From maintaining brand consistency to optimizing for search engines, attracting the right personas, and minimizing IT issues, website building can be a daunting undertaking. And once a website is launched, the work continues as marketers analyze several success metrics to determine if the website is achieving its intended goals. One of the key measurements of success for most businesses is an increased level of interest in their offering and ultimately new lead generation. In this article, we dive into some key areas marketers can focus on in order to maximize their potential for lead generation when building and launching a new website.
1. Create an intuitive user experience
When users arrive on a website, they come with a certain level of expectation for what kind of information they will find and where they will find it. It is great for marketers to get creative with website content, but if a website falls too far outside the general expectations of the website visitor, it can lead to website bounces and loss of potential customers. Navigation best practices include making high-level informational pages easy to find – like product pages, information about the company, and a way for visitors to contact the business. Furthermore, optimizing the site for a quick load time, minimizing redirects and 404 pages, hosting the site on a reputable service, and making the site mobile responsive can all be great ways to meet user expectations. Additional best practices for user experience can vary by industry and product or service offering. For example, e-commerce sites can become easier to navigate if their products can be filtered by product type, sorted by price or style, and if relevant options are suggested based on a customer’s previous queries.
2. Attract visitors in your ICP with relevant content
Website visitors who are considering a new product or service for the first time want to make sure it is something that will benefit them specifically. You wouldn’t want to lose a potential customer just because they quickly look around your website, don’t feel any of the information applies to them, and then incorrectly assume they are in the wrong place. By creating content geared toward specific personas, and carefully constructing use cases for their specific needs, you can help the visitors understand how your offering will help them solve a problem they currently have or make their day-to-day life easier.
3. Customize form fields to include crucial information
Lead generation forms are critical for acquiring website visitor information, which can then be used to better understand their interests and needs. Because this information is so valuable, some companies take the approach of asking website visitors to provide answers to 10 or 20 questions before they can access certain information on their website. While this can be very informative if someone completes the form, it can also deter potential customers who don’t want to take the time to fill out all of that information. On the opposite end, some companies want to acquire as many leads as possible and only ask for a name or email on website forms. While this is great for getting a lot of form fills quickly, the information the company has on those leads is minimal. A great way to find balance is by asking website visitors for the most critical information first. This can vary based on each business but generally, email, location, name, and job title can be a good place to start. Then, progressive form fields can be implemented so that additional information is requested on future form fills.
4. Optimize your site for SEO
If your company is looking to reach new audiences and attract potential customers who are not yet familiar with your brand, prioritizing SEO is critical. A good place to start is by optimizing the content you’ve already created by ensuring every page has an up-to-date title and meta description and relevant header tags. This helps Google and other key search engines easily find your website and present it to internet users looking for the services you provide. Adding tags and alternative text to images can also help you appear in search results and assist with accessibility. Once your current content is optimized, SEO tools can be used to research new keywords to target. In general, it is wise to start with long-tail descriptive keywords with a high search volume but low competition. In other words, you want to optimize for keywords that a lot of people are searching for, but also keywords that your competitors aren’t already dominating search result pages for. If you are a local business, you can also take measures to create content around “shoe stores in Boston, Massachusetts” for example, so that you can show up on geolocation-based search results as well.
5. Reduce the risk of invalid users and bots entering your funnel
Many websites that are carefully optimized can still fail when it comes to attracting relevant leads if they do not have the right security measures in place. Research shows that 27% of direct and organic web traffic is made up of bots and fake users. Even if your website is not being targeted by malicious bots or jealous competitors, invalid traffic impacts virtually every website to some degree. When bots and fake users make their way to a website, they frequently click around on different pages, fill out lead generation forms, and enter customer databases. If you are incorrectly identifying these fake users as legitimate website visitors, you are then making decisions based on skewed data. Not to mention, you are wasting valuable time and resources nurturing these fakes leads and even making drastic changes to your website to better accommodate these fake users. In fact, a recent CHEQ study found that $115 billion in sales labor costs are wasted on invalid leads each year. In order to mitigate these risks, businesses can pay attention to the behavioral patterns of website visitors to identify which users could potentially be fraudulent. Some things to look for that can be indicative of bot activity are haphazard rapid clicks, traffic at unusual times or from unusual sources, and suspicious spikes in activity. Oftentimes, businesses decide to ultimately implement Go-to-Market Security in order to actively prevent bots and fake users from polluting their funnels and harming their lead generation efforts.
Building a new website can be a big undertaking. Because websites are crucial tools for attracting customers and gauging interest, it’s important to carefully assess how to optimize pages for the best possible user experience. Creating relevant content and showing up in search engines is just as important as making sure pages load quickly and can be accessed on different devices. Furthermore, businesses should make sure that their site is free from harmful invalid traffic in order to get an accurate picture of how their website is performing.
What is a PPC audit?
A PPC audit involves examining your PPC advertising account to check for any issues and identify potential areas for improvement. Its purpose is to help you gain a better understanding of how you can improve your PPC efforts and ensure maximum efficiency across all your ad campaigns. A PPC audit will provide you with information that will help you make data-driven decisions to change your advertising strategy and generate a better return on your ad spend. You should perform a PPC audit at least once every year. If you are experiencing significant performance issues less than a year before your last audit, you should perform another audit as soon as possible.
The 6-Step PPC Audit
We’ve prepared a 6-step PPC audit process that anyone can use to audit their PPC account and reap the benefits of optimizing their advertising strategy to ensure maximum performance.
Keep on reading to learn how you can audit your PPC account by yourself.
1. Check Conversion Tracking
You’d be surprised at how many PPC advertisers aren’t tracking their conversions properly. A study by Disruptive Advertising has shown thaonly 29% of all Google Ads accounts are tracking conversions effectively, with others having poorly implemented or no conversion tracking at all.
Tracking conversions properly is crucial for understanding how your campaigns are performing and identifying which of your campaigns are driving the most conversions.
Make sure that you are tracking conversions and look for these signs of badly implemented conversion tracking:
A suspiciously low conversion count
If your conversion count is suspiciously low, you’re most likely not tracking all conversions. Check if you’ve neglected to add tracking codes to some of your new landing pages or neglected to track phone call conversions.
Identical click and conversion counts
It’s impossible to have your click and conversion counts be the same if you’ve set up tracking correctly. This issue can occur when you mistakenly add the conversion tracking code to your landing page instead of the thank you page.
Very high conversion rates accompanied by low sales numbers
If you’re seeing high conversion rates but not a lot of sales, you’re most likely tracking product page visits instead of hits to your thank you page.
2. Review campaign settings
The next step is to review campaign settings. You’ll want to go through each of your campaigns and review their geographical and device targeting, as well as check your ad scheduling settings.
When examining geographical targeting, you need to ensure that you’re targeting the most relevant countries, states, regions, or cities.
If you notice that a particular location seems to be performing extremely well (or very badly), make the appropriate changes to prioritize that location or remove it from your targeting completely.
You might also want to exclude certain locations from your targeting if you’re unable to provide your products or services in those locations.
Do you want your ads to be displayed to both desktop and mobile users? Perhaps you’d like to avoid advertising to mobile users until you optimize your website for mobile devices?
Whatever the case may be, you’ll want to check which devices you’re targeting with your ads, and make any changes to your campaign’s device targeting that you deem necessary.
If you’re using Google Ads, your campaigns are set to display ads all day by default.
If you want your ads to only be displayed on certain days or during specific hours of the day, make sure to modify your ad scheduling to reflect that.
3. Examine Ad Groups
The best-performing campaigns utilize ad groups that consist of a small number of tightly knit keyword combinations. As a general rule, an ad group should contain 20 keywords at most. If your ad groups currently use more than 20 keywords, try to find ways to trim down each ad group’s keyword list so that you’re able to create hyper-specific ads that will ensure higher quality scores, better click-through rates, and improved conversion rate.
Review all your ad groups to determine if they use the right set of keywords. Focus on user intent and put some thought into whether your ads are offering users what they are looking for when they search for those particular keywords.
You will also want to compare ad groups to ensure they complement each other rather than competing.
4. Analyze Keywords
Once you have examined your ad groups, you’ll want to go ahead and analyze the keywords you’re targeting. This will include checking keyword match types and examining negative keyword lists.
Check keyword match type
In Google Ads, each keyword you target is assigned a match type (broad, modified broad, phrase, or exact match).
Each match type has a different purpose, and you should always be using the one that aligns with what you are looking to accomplish with a particular keyword.
A common PPC mistake is using the same match type for all your keywords.
Since broad match is the default match type for any new keywords you add to an ad group, inexperienced advertisers will often forget to change it to a match type that is more suited to what they want to accomplish.
Examine negative keyword lists
You’ll want to examine your negative keyword lists during the PPC audit to ensure that you’re not bidding on irrelevant or unprofitable keywords.
Additionally, make sure to compare these with your ad groups’ keyword lists to ensure that there aren’t any conflicts that might be preventing you from running ads for certain search queries.
5. Review Landing Pages
You’ll also want to review your landing pages to ensure they’re relevant to the ads you’re running and the keywords you’re targeting.
It’s also crucial that your landing pages load fast and work well on both desktop and mobile devices.
You’ll also want to review your landing pages to ensure they’re relevant to the ads you’re running and the keywords you’re targeting.
It’s also crucial that your landing pages load fast and work well on both desktop and mobile devices.
6. Check For Click Fraud
Click fraud can usually be recognized by examining your ads’ click-through and conversion rates.
If you’re experiencing a sudden major increase in click-through rates or a significant drop in conversion rate, there’s a good chance that you’ve been a victim of click fraud.
Another thing to look out for when looking to recognize click fraud is any surge in unusual traffic (e.g., from a country that is not a part of your target market).
You can use a software solution such as CHEQ to protect your ad campaigns from click fraud. CHEQ blocks fraudulent and invalid clicks and takes advantage of machine learning to exclude invalid audience segments from your campaigns.
You can start your free trial of CHEQ here.
Perform a PPC audit ASAP
Auditing your PPC account is crucial for getting a better understanding of how your advertising efforts have been performing, as well as how you could improve them.
You should aim to perform a PPC audit at least once every year.
You can use our 6-step process during your next audit:
- Start by checking if you’re tracking conversions properly.
- Review campaign settings, including geographical targeting, device targeting, and ad scheduling.
- Examine ad groups to ensure that you’re using the best sets of keywords that will allow you to create high-performing ads.
- Analyze the keywords you’re targeting with your ads by checking keyword match type and examining negative keyword lists.
- Review your landing pages to ensure that they’re relevant to your ads, as well as optimized for best performance on both desktop and mobile devices.
- Finally, check your account for any potential click fraud and take advantage of solutions such as CHEQ to protect your account from scammers and malicious competitors.
Marketers and analytics professionals are increasingly realizing the importance of protecting their campaigns and customer acquisition funnels from invalid traffic. Users that have no possibility of becoming real customers can clutter businesses’ websites and digital assets, effectively skewing data to the point where important company decisions are being made based on false information. These users are referred to as invalid users and regardless of intention, can be incredibly harmful to your marketing efforts.
This article covers the top three categories of threats as well as 18 specific threat types. By understanding exactly what types of invalid users are threatening the accuracy of your data, you can better protect your platforms. Since many issues can arise from invalid activity – from skewed optimization to polluted audiences and resource misuse – marketers who educate themselves on this topic can get ahead of the issue before it becomes detrimental to business.
Invalid Malicious Activity
This type of user creates invalid activity purposefully with harmful intentions. This category typically refers to human users, but the channels they utilize and their ultimate goal can vary. Sometimes malicious users are competitors who want to run your campaigns out of budget or give you misleading data. Malicious users could also be trying to steal information or hijack accounts. Maybe they have been hired by another entity to artificially increase traffic through repetitive clicks or repeated actions. Regardless of specifics, any malicious activity can be incredibly damaging to your acquisition efforts and should typically be blocked from all areas of your customer acquisition funnel.
Excessive Rate Limit
This type of action describes an excessive or unusually high number of submissions, actions, or clicks. Sometimes this is in the form of repeatedly hitting capacity for invalid actions (like incorrect login information). This is typically carried out by users who are posing as legitimate users but do not have any intention of following through and converting or working with your business.
This type of threat describes behavior that includes one or more attributes (e.g., IP, user cookie) associated with known irregular patterns. This includes non-disclosed auto-refresh traffic, duplicate clicks, and attribute mismatch. However, to be a network anomaly it must come from a network of devices rather than one individual or device.
Behavioral anomalies occur when individuals are found to have hostile intentions based on behaviors or actions towards digital assets that draw red flags. Different from network anomalies, these unusual actions are taken by one individual person on a device rather than a network of devices.
False Representation, also known as “user agent spoofing,” occurs when the user information is modified with the intention of being misleading about who they really are. Bots are frequently programmed to hide their tracks and mask their identity in this way, but sometimes users do this as well, which is where this type of malicious user fits in.
Malicious users frequently disable cookies so they cannot be tracked. This changes the way they interact with a site because some features might not be accessible without enabling cookies. For example, the way they move throughout a site and the pages they view or click on is not available to a business. This is sometimes purposely done so they can interact with your assets without becoming a lead or customer in your system.
This type of fraud organization is typically groups of workers readily available for hire. They are paid to rapidly click on content or ads in order to manipulate data. Click farms have people clicking on ads with no intent of converting.
Click hijacking occurs when a valid user clicks on an asset that appears to be legitimate, but it is actually a malicious element in disguise. This can cause users to unwittingly download malware, visit malicious web pages, provide credentials or sensitive information, transfer money, or purchase products online.
Invalid Suspicious Activity
Any activity that comes from a questionable or unidentifiable source, or activity that is abnormal and raises concerns, is typically categorized as suspicious. There are many reasons why someone might want to mask their identity online or submit an action multiple times. The intentions could be harmless, but if that user has no chance of converting because of the barriers in place, then you’ll probably want to either monitor or potentially block this traffic. It is also important to keep in mind that suspicious users are malicious some of the time. Even when someone is not trying to steal information or hijack an account, they still skew our data and provide misleading information if we don’t keep a close watch on them.
A proxy is a middle-man tool that masks a user’s identity and location, but is not exclusively used for malicious purposes. However, since proxies make it easier for users to be anonymous, these types of tools can enable someone to manipulate traffic counts or pass on invalid traffic that would have otherwise been filtered out.
A VPN, or virtual private network, is a common type of proxy. The main distinction is that VPNs have the added security of encryption. This allows users to access websites that normally would have been out of reach, which skews data and manipulates traffic, which causes inaccuracies in location and user information that a company might try to analyze.
Data centers are physical locations where computer technology stores data for many different users. So this type of activity comes from those centers rather than an individual device like a laptop, smart phone, or desktop computer. This should be flagged because it is not able to convert the way a user on an individual device would be able to.
Abnormal Rate Limits
Abnormal rate limit occurs when a user performs an unusual number of actions or requests on a particular advertisement, website, or other asset. Abnormal rate limits do not necessarily equate to malicious activity, but they can sometimes come from users trying to imitate someone else and not succeeding, therefore raising a red flag on the website.
Invalid Bot Activity
Different from malicious and suspicious users, bots are not users at all. Instead, they are automated tools or systems that perform actions through preprogrammed technology. Some bots were created specifically to carry out malicious actions, while others perform mundane tasks and simply scan websites for information. However, regardless of why a specific bot was created, it is not a real user and therefore cannot turn into a customer and cannot contribute to your customer acquisition efforts in a meaningful way. Similar to the other categories of threats, bots should be monitored and typically removed from your analytics to provide more accurate and protected information on your platforms.
While there are many types of bots, and not all are bad-intentioned, malicious bots certainly are. Malicious bots are specifically designed to steal personal information, commit fraud, or commit some form of cyber crime. They can sometimes be referred to as “malware,” and can enact a variety of attack patterns.
These are tools that are used to perform automatic activity usually repetitively, fast and at scale. While automation tools are used for many purposes, since they are bots, they can not convert or complete real actions that a valid user could.
Scrapers typically scan your website looking for a specific target or piece of data. This frequently occurs on ecommerce websites with the intention to find prices to then sell items for slightly less and therefore gain more customers than the competition. Scrapers are looking for information and cannot become real users or customers.
Known Bots & Crawlers
These bots are sometimes considered “good bots” because they do not have malicious intent and are commonly found on the internet for innocent purposes including content indexing. However, since they share some characteristics with malicious bots, and cannot convert, it’s important to keep an eye on them when evaluating data and analytics.
These are bots that actively send out large quantities of messages to users, typically through email. Spam bots can create many accounts and send out these messages to the masses in a quick way but they are not real users and do not intent to convert in any way.
An account takeover occurs when one malicious user imitates the identity of another genuine user by using their account or profile. There are many types of accounts that could be taken over by a malicious user including: social media profiles, bank accounts, email accounts, television or streaming subscriptions, and more.
Now that we’ve identified the key types of threats to your customer acquisition funnel, it’s time to take action. One of the best ways to protect your platforms against invalid activity is to implement Customer Acquisition Security (or CAS) technology. CHEQ is a leader in the cyber security space and is the premier provider of CAS technology to businesses with various objectives. CHEQ has the capability to protect all major platforms through behavioral analysis, invalid user detection, and user identity validation. Many of our customers have seen revenue uplift, more accurate analytics, increases in conversion rates, and other major uplifts to their businesses. To learn more about how CHEQ works, schedule a demo with our team today.
Businesses today are taking a holistic approach to cybersecurity. An issue that was previously only handled by specific departments is becoming a strategic play across organizations. As recent reports have proven, bots and fake users impact nearly every goal and KPI that companies of all sizes hope to achieve. Cybersecurity for business means protecting websites, paid advertising, sales funnels, BI and analytics, business development campaigns, and more. It goes beyond preparation for data breaches and hacks and seeks to mitigate the risk of invalid traffic in all areas of business. Since 27% of direct and organic traffic comes from invalid sources, organizations are realizing that cybersecurity is critical 365 days a year. There are many ways to achieve holistic business cybersecurity, so let’s dive into some key areas where cybersecurity is highly applicable.
IT departments have historically benefited greatly from cybersecurity measures. Securing the technology a business uses means proactively fighting against data breaches, which helps both employees and customers feel protected and can increase overall organizational trustworthiness. Furthermore, having employees install cybersecurity tech can help prevent phishing attacks before they get to an inbox. In these senses, cybersecurity can be considered an insurance policy that both prevents attacks from becoming problematic, and helps identify and quickly stop attacks when they do happen. Furthermore, cybersecurity in IT departments can ensure compliance with industry and legal requirements.
One of the teams that have adopted cybersecurity the most quickly has been the marketing department. When marketers launch advertising campaigns, they rely heavily on pre-selected audience segments. However, when those segments become polluted with bots and fake users, campaigns can accidentally target lookalikes that are also invalid. Eventually, these campaigns become completely unusable. Furthermore, when pay-per-click budgets are wasted on invalid clicks, businesses can miss out on key revenue opportunities. In fact, it is estimated that $42 billion is lost each year in revenue opportunities because of Invalid Traffic (IVT). For this reason, business web security techniques have become critical for maintaining a functioning marketing department. Antivirus measures and overall fake user protection in these areas can help not only marketing but a business’s security as a whole.
Growth & Business Development Departments
Another department that can help in achieving holistic business cybersecurity by protecting its efforts is the business development team. When business development professionals generate leads and prospect for new customers, it is critical that those individuals fit within a given ideal customer profile. Unfortunately, leads frequently slip through the cracks that are not only viable customers but in many cases are not even real users. All types of IVT can make their way to company websites, fill out forms, and imitate legitimate users. This can cause a serious issue of wasted time, budget, and resources. Additionally, since many CRMs and marketing platforms charge on a per-contact basis, bills can become inflated by leads that have no chance of converting.
Sales departments can also benefit from taking on cybersecurity measures. After a lead reaches the sales team, a lot of activity occurs to try to see if that lead is a good fit for the company’s offering. Nurture campaigns are put in place, follow-up emails are sent, and many types of A/B testing on messaging is employed to figure out how best to resonate with these potential customers. However, if even a small portion of these so-called opportunities are invalid, teams may make changes to content and frequency of outreach only to realize their adjustments are informed by fake users, not real human activity. By protecting lead databases from invalid traffic, sales teams can stop bots at the source, making things easier for the company as a whole as deals progress.
Business cybersecurity is also incredibly helpful within analytics departments. By protecting a business’s source of truth, companies can ensure all critical decisions are being made based on accurate data. When organizations look to grow their offering, expand to a new office, make changes to headcount, update pricing, or project yearly revenue, all of those decisions rely on data. While BI platforms can provide robust insights, they cannot always identify the specific types of IVT that may be present, how they are affecting your source of truth, and how to mitigate the risks associated with them. In fact, it is estimated that $697 billion is wasted globally on skewed data due to IVT each year. That is why layering cybersecurity on top of existing analytics tools can be so beneficial.
Nearly every area of business can benefit from cybersecurity, and it is important to take a holistic approach. Since IVT pollutes all initiatives, all initiatives can be protected. Rather than looking at cybersecurity in siloes, it can be beneficial to look at cybersecurity as a company-wide strategic initiative. To learn more about how cybersecurity can protect all areas of business, reach out to our team.
Invalid Traffic (IVT) is a prominent issue for businesses of all sizes. As bots and fake users continue to infiltrate the internet, various teams are recognizing that IVT impacts them in their day-to-day initiatives, and is much more than just a problem for the CISO. It follows that go-to-market organizations are hopping on board with the concept of protecting their digital initiatives from bots and fake users, and are implementing cybersecurity technology. This trend is largely motivated by the realization that IVT poisons everything they do and is the antithesis to operational efficiency. In this article, we describe 10 key ways IVT can impact go-to-market initiatives.
1. CDP and DMP Segments
Outside of intent targeting, audience segments are one of the most central ways marketers get in front of their ideal customers. However, when IVT is present, these audience segments become polluted. This can cause marketers to unknowingly optimize toward bots over and over and retarget invalid users that have no chance of converting.
2. Go-to-Market Funnels
IVT also disrupts conversion efforts by entering the marketing funnel. This can cause marketers and go-to-market teams to spend valuable time and resources trying to better optimize their funnel, conduct A/B tests, and change verbiage without first eliminating the Invalid Traffic that is poisoning these efforts in the first place.
Websites are oftentimes the primary place where prospects and visitors convert into leads and eventually real paying customers. However, IVT can flood websites and cause a variety of issues. This includes, but is not limited to, interacting with chat support messengers, slowing website performance, and hurting SEO by exhausting your website server.
4. BI Systems
Business Intelligence systems are often seen as an organization’s source of truth. Since every important business decision is made based on data, it is incredibly important that it is accurate and reliable. Unfortunately, IVT can stand in the way by showing inaccurate traffic metrics and conversion metrics, which can lead to poor projections and decision-making.
5. CRM Databases
Whether your go-to-market team is collecting leads through third-party platforms, prospecting tools, or inbound strategies, it is essential that all leads fit your ideal customer profile and that they have an opportunity to turn into real paying customers. When IVT enters your CRM, however, this primary goal can become much more difficult to achieve. BDRs and sales reps can end up spending valuable time and energy reaching out to leads that are actually just bots and fake users.
6. Marketing Automation
When IVT is present within your marketing automation platforms, it can contaminate your workflows, email marketing campaigns, and other important initiatives. This can cause open rates and other important metrics to be skewed. Furthermore, since many of these platforms are priced on a per-contact basis, companies can end up spending thousands on leads that are not real users and are just taking up space.
7. Go-to-Market Campaigns
When launching go-to-market campaigns to acquire new users, it is important to optimize them so that you are getting the most for your budget and bringing in the highest volume of quality leads possible. However, bots and fake users can frequently interact with advertisements, which can then cause those ads to be optimized toward additional invalid users. Not to mention IVT also eats up your budget, which can be detrimental to reaching those ideal customers that the campaigns aim to target.
8. eCommerce Initiatives
eCommerce sites are great for converting many users quickly, and all in one place. But while IVT cannot convert into legitimate paying customers, that doesn’t stop bots and fake users from filling out contact forms, booking reservations, or scheduling travel plans. This can skew information and distort customer interest.
9. Security Compliance
When IVT makes its way to go-to-market assets online, it exposes your business to a variety of potential threats. This can take the form of data leaks of both company information and customer data and can be incredibly risky for any business with secure information. This is incredibly counterproductive to establishing trust with your customer base.
10. Customer Payments
IVT can also lead to immense amounts of fraudulent payments on a given website or invalid carding attacks. This can be devastating to businesses that are relying on their website as a source of revenue. Not to mention, it can skew projections and seriously harm overall pipeline expectations for years to come.
Overall, IVT can poison virtually every go-to-market initiative imaginable. The good news is that there is now sophisticated go-to-market security technology that can help protect organizations against bots and fake users so that they can focus on running their business. For more information, reach out to our team today.
BrandShield (LSE: BRSD) is a leading cybersecurity company protecting the world’s largest brands and consumers from online fraud, counterfeit sales, social media impersonation and more. Through its AI/ML platform, BrandShield identifies, tracks, and eliminates online threats for global brands and organizations.
It’s no secret that building a successful business is hard work that requires a lot of time and effort. So, as a brand owner, you’ve undoubtedly invested time, effort, and other resources into building your products or services and your customer base. This, combined with your name, logos, and trademarks forms the foundations of your brand.
Your brand, in turn, is what your customers identify with and how they identify your business or refer your products or services to others. In simple terms, your brand forms the cornerstone of your reputation and how you grow your business over time.
The problem is, however, that, as your reputation and business grow, your brand becomes more valuable. As a result, counterfeiters have much to gain and profit by selling counterfeit products. Likewise, vendors can capitalize on your reputation by offering grey products for sale and scammers are increasingly motivated to exploit your brand for their gain.
These all have the potential to damage your reputation and dilute your brand which could, ultimately, lead to a loss of revenue. It’s therefore understandable why implementing the right brand protection strategies is crucial for any business with a strong brand. Here, social media presents a major challenge mainly because of the ease of spreading information on it, but also due to the sheer number of users on various social media platforms.
Quite simply, these platforms make it easy to spread misinformation and scam unsuspecting buyers. In turn, these buyers can, when buying a product under the misapprehension that it’s yours, just as easily damage your reputation if they end up unhappy about their purchase.
In this article, we’ll look at the major infringements on social media and what you, as a brand owner, can do to protect your brand.
The Challenge with Social Media
While social media can be a great way for you to create awareness around your brand, it can, as mentioned earlier, make it challenging to protect it. This is simply a result of the ease with which information is spread on these platforms. For any scammer, vendor, or counterfeiter, it’s as easy as clicking a button and making false information available to thousands, if not millions of people.
To understand the extent of the problem, it’s necessary to look at the usage statistics for various popular social media platforms. As of April 2021:
- Facebook had about 2.7 billion active users.
- Instagram had about 1.3 billion active users.
- TikTok had about 730 million active users.
- Pinterest had about 450 million active users.
- Twitter had about 400 million active users.
Considering these figures, it’s easy to see how bad actors can easily profit from selling counterfeit or grey products in a relatively short period of time. What makes it even easier, is that these platforms often make it simple to find users with specific interests. As such, it’s easier to find users who are more likely to buy a product.
Major Infringements on Social Media
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the major infringements on social media that can have a devastating effect on your brand.
Brand impersonation is a massive problem on social media, especially when you consider that some estimates are that 25% to 35% off all Facebook accounts are fake. In fact, Facebook alone removed about 2.8 million fake accounts globally.
This is possible because social media platforms typically have extremely low barriers to entry. As such, they typically don’t require any form of identity verification and basically anyone with an internet connection and an email address can open an account. While this makes it easy for users to use the platform, it also makes it easier for cybercriminals to create fake accounts that impersonate a brand.
When they do this, they’ll often do everything possible to make the account seem legitimate and pass it off as the official account of the brand. This includes everything from using official branding and imagery copied from the official account’s social media accounts to using messaging, slogans, and hashtags associated with the brand.
In some cases, they’ll even take part in conversations and comment on the real brand’s posts, often answering customer questions and giving advice. Keep in mind, though, that how they operate will often depend on the specific social media platform.
So, for example, on platforms like Twitter or Instagram, they may create an account that impersonates the official account. On a platform like Facebook, they’ll impersonate the real account through pages or in groups or profiles.
The problem with this, irrespective of the strategy the impersonators use, is that social media platforms are typically based on instant gratification where users want to consume the content as quickly as possible. Because of this, users are simply not able to distinguish between real and fake accounts.
Here, a bigger problem emerges because social media has a significant impact on the way people shop. In fact, according to an ODM Group study, 74% of consumers use social media to make buying decisions. Also, a report from analytics company Aimia indicates that 31% of online shoppers use social media to look for new items to buy.
As a result, brand impersonation can have a significant impact on any company’s bottom line.
Brand Employees’ Impersonation
Similar to impersonating a brand, scammers may often turn to impersonating brand executives or employees. This is often most prevalent through platforms like LinkedIn. Apart from this, it’s also common for them to impersonate the customer service or support teams of an official account.
In these cases, they’ll often use messaging and information in their posts that add credibility to their posts. In this way, they’re then able to pass off the products they sell as the real products of the brand. This then, ultimately, has the potential to damage the reputation of the brand.
Similar to brand impersonation in general, users don’t take the time to verify the authenticity of posts which, in turn, makes them easier to target.
Counterfeit and Grey Products
When presented with a cheap imitation of a product, the lack of quality is often immediately apparent. Sure, in some cases it’s difficult to distinguish between real and fake, but in most cases, people won’t buy knock-off merchandise in the real world.
On social media, the situation is a bit more complicated. Here, it’s easy for criminals to sell counterfeit goods by using official product imagery and users simply won’t know they bought a fake product until they receive it. In most cases, once they receive the product, it’s also too late for any recourse.
Unfortunately, many shoppers believe that it’s the brand’s responsibility to remove counterfeits before they’re sold, but this isn’t always possible. So, this has the potential to affect customer loyalty and harm a brand’s reputation, which, in turn, could lead to a loss of revenue.
And the sale of counterfeit goods is a massive problem, especially considering that about 40% of branded products sold online are fake. For example, according to Ghost Data, there are over 160 merchants on Instagram alone selling counterfeit Apple merchandise.
Grey market products and parallel imports are another significant challenge for brands and manufacturers. These products, although genuine, are sold through unauthorized channels. Because these products aren’t officially tracked, it’s challenging to estimate the size of the market and the extent of the problem.
Despite this challenge, the sale of these products creates serious issues for brands. For one, because these products aren’t sold through official sales channels, they don’t carry warranties and don’t have official support. Also, these products often don’t meet the regulatory standards for a specific country or jurisdiction.
Lastly, vendors generally sell grey market products or parallel imports at prices far lower than the official product. This could create the perception that the official product is overpriced and can have severe consequences that sell the official product.
No matter what issue you look at, the sale of these products can affect the perception of your brand and damage your reputation.
Linking to Unauthorized Sales
Although the products above can be effectively sold through social media platforms, it’s certainly also possible and common that they’re sold through external websites or platforms. In this case, scammers will link to these external sites from social media platforms to sell these products to unsuspecting users.
As is the case with brand impersonation, scammers will do everything possible to make these links appear official when they’re not. As a result, users who don’t take the time to verify the authenticity of these links will be more likely to buy these products.
Consequently, because these products are counterfeit, grey, or parallel import, it can damage your reputation.
Facing These Challenges Head On
Considering the above infringements and the effects they could have on your brand, it’s easy to see why you need to implement the right strategies to combat them. Your first step to protect your brand would be to register your intellectual property. Here, it’s also important to not only register your intellectual property locally but also abroad, especially if you sell to a global audience.
Although taking this first step can go a long way in making protecting your brand easier, it’s crucial to understand that this step alone will not prevent it. It will, however, make it simpler to remove infringing accounts and posts when you discover them. So, ultimately, you need other tools and strategies that will help you take a more proactive approach to brand protection.
Considering the sheer number of users on social media and the vast number of posts, it’s simply impossible that you’ll find infringing posts and accounts easily. For example, according to analytics firm Ghost Data, Instagram alone may have as many as 95 million bots posing as legitimate accounts. Also, it estimates that about 20% of posts about top fashion brands featured counterfeit content products.
As a result, you need a monitoring tool that detects and identifies cases of trademark infringement, brand impersonation, counterfeit sales, or other cases of brand abuse. Here, the ideal platform will alert you and give you all the information you need about possible infringements that could damage your reputation, irrespective of whether these infringements are found on pages, in groups, posts, or advertisements.
By using a platform like this, you’ll be able to consistently monitor several social media platforms which, in turn, helps you take a proactive approach to brand protection.
Monitoring is only one part of the equation, though. The other crucial part is enforcement. Think of it like this, it’s of little use if you monitor several social media platforms but you don’t do anything to remove the infringing posts or accounts.
So, ultimately, when you become aware of an infringing account or post, you need to take immediate action to remove it. One way to do this is by using the built-in reporting tools all major social platforms have. These tools allow you to request the platforms to remove infringing posts and accounts and they’re often the best tools to use.
A bonus with these reporting tools is that, if you make the reports you submit as accurate as possible, you’ll start to build trust with the platform. As a result, once you’re seen as a credible source of reports, your takedown requests will be processed quicker and more consistently.
Another option would be to send cease and desist letters to the offending account holders when you discover them. This will, in all probability, lead to the removal of the infringing posts fairly quickly. If not, you’ll be able to take further enforcement steps.
The Right Relationships
Apart from your monitoring and enforcement processes mentioned above, it’s also important that you build and maintain excellent relationships with strategic employees at the major social media platforms. As mentioned, a perfect way to start building these relationships is by using the reporting tools on these platforms to make 100% accurate reports.
In addition, you could also consider becoming a brand partner on social media platforms that will make it easier for you to use your power and influence which makes it easier to enforce your rights.
Finally, another option is to go through the verification process on the platform that will show your customers that your account is authentic. This is, for example, indicated with a blue tick on a platform like Twitter, while Facebook allows you to become a Business Partner which is confirmed by a Business Partner badge on your page. This, in turn, shows that you meet the highest standards in service and quality.
Think Creatively and Enforce Creatively
In addition to the above strategies that will help you to proactively protect your brand, there are also some creative ways in which you can do this.
You could, for instance, create awareness among your customers through your official channels about the danger and prevalence of brand impersonation, counterfeit goods, and other scams. You could even consider providing your customers with the necessary reporting tools to report any infringements.
In this way, you’ll equip and empower your customers to identify possible infringements and report them to you. As a result, you might be able to pick up on these infringements in cases where you, with the tools you use, might miss them.
Another option is to create undercover social media profiles. So, just like it’s easy for criminals and scammers to create social media accounts, it’s just as easy for you to create accounts to infiltrate groups where counterfeit goods are commonly sold. In this way, you can use the anonymity provided by social media against these scammers or sellers and use it as a valuable tool to protect your brand.
The Bottom Line
With its sheer number of users and the wealth of opportunities it creates for you as a brand owner, social media can be a very effective tool to market your business, products, or services.
Unfortunately, social media also has a dark side where the sale of counterfeit goods, brand impersonation, and other infringements can have a devastating effect on your reputation and your bottom line.
As a result, it’s vital that you implement the right strategies to combat and prevent these infringements before they spiral out of control.