Are your advertising links being hijacked

Over the years I have had a concern that my advertising links are being hijacked. In some cases I have been able to explain the increase in clicks do to certain articles being popular with readers. At other times I haven’t felt fully comfortable calling all the clicks legitimate.

The past few days I have seen a very large increase in advertising clicks. This isn’t unusual considering I just did an article linking money saving offers. But my traffic stats have me concerned that I haven’t seen enough readers to support the increased click rate. Today with one affiliate program I’m seeing an unusually high rate of clicks but the impressions number isn’t anywhere equal to reported clicks.

Reading various online references many people would have you up in arms that your affiliate account has been hijacked. The particular affiliate program I’m most concerned about has the account password changed often. So I’m not to worried that a compromise has taken place.

Of course rogue code within WordPress plugins is a concern. I use a very limited amount of plugins and download them from the WordPress Plugins Directory – which reduces the chance of installing a compromised plugin. For your average user tracking down malicious code is not something they are capable of. The best way to avoid installing exploited themes or plugins is to download them directly from WordPress. I’d venture a guess that security scanning plugins exist. I’ve not done enough research on this.

I haven’t dug deeply enough into server logs to find any patterns that might be of concern. I’m not seeing anything unusual within my server stats or Google Analytics. From what I can see there isn’t any heavy bot traffic. So how any hijack would be taking place is beyond my knowledge. It’s not hard for the average cyber criminal to hide traces of their presence if they make a small effort.

It’s been over a week now of high advertising clicks. For most of this the impressions total hasn’t been near the number of clicks. What is also suspect is with a very large number – 10,000+ daily clicks for over a week – there have been no sales recorded. That to me is a big concern for multiple reasons. The first being I can’t understand how you’d have a large number of ad clicks but not even a small amount of sales. I highly doubt there are that many people just browsing and not purchasing. Another concern is that this easily upsets advertisers who can and will drop you from their program. This then reduces the number of products and services I can offer my readers. As much as advertisers are unhappy I’m extremely frustrated seeing high click rates with no sales – because I’m not earning any commissions. There is also the concern of being accused of doing something unethical. Why that would be I’m not sure – since it is clear I’m not receiving any benefit from the “activity”.

Over the years I’ve only seen this situation occur with one affiliate program – Commission Junction. I’m not seeing this with any other affiliate programs. Granted I use CJ advertisers more than those from other providers. There are several thoughts that come to mind. Are these all legitimate clicks and I’m not being given proper credit for any sales that have taken place? Is this a reporting error taking place within Commission Junction? Is there some type of security compromise that has taken place?

There has been some discussion about GoDaddy hijacking customers advertising. I’ve seen no widespread reports of this from news sites. I’m not sure what processes I’d have to undertake to even explore this possibility. Doing various online searches I’ve not come across anyone reporting a situation similar to mine. I have seen this occur several other times over the years. As I stated above some of that behavior could be confirmed by an increase in readers to certain articles. Most recently I’m not 100% comfortable saying that this is what I am seeing this time around.

If there is something compromised, hijacked, bot activity or some other malicious process taking place I’d like to identify the source and take steps to put a stop to the activity. It is of no benefit to me to allow such behavior to occur. Even if there was a benefit I wouldn’t want to be a part of any cyber criminal activities.

Today’s results so far as an example = Clicks 13,404 Impressions 1,292

Month up to today’s date Clicks 82,101 Impressions 15,664 Only 1 sale recorded. That is an absolutely horrible return.

On Friday November 4 2011 this site was almost completely unreachable for me the majority of the day. That incident along with the recent large increase in advertising clicks has me rightfully concerned that I’ve missed some type of malicious behavior.

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