Educate your partners or arm your adversaries?

brandverity by on June 8, 2010 at 10:58 pm

We’ve been wrestling with a difficult decision for awhile at BrandVerity - how much information should we share about the techniques affiliates are using to hide from our customers?

Our company’s focus is on detecting affiliates that are violating their agreements with their merchants. These agreements typically disallow very specific activities (purchasing the merchant’s trademarked terms on paid search).

We certainly want to provide detailed insights to our customers but we also want to be careful of teaching would-be-abusers how to improve their techniques. This balancing act is a challenging one for us and up until now we’ve kept any discussion of the advanced techniques used mostly out of public discourse.

We decided to change that, and have posted our first detailed discussion of a technique used by affiliates to evade detection to BrandVerity’s blog. We also sent a more detailed version of this post to our customers before the post went live on our website.

Over time, we’ve seen the techniques used become more advanced and more widespread. We’ve seen deep and detailed discussions on blackhat forums, and even seen the launch of paid services that assist new abusers.

We haven’t seen a commensurate increase in industry awareness. The discussions on most whitehat forums continue to focus on the more basic techniques, and there is little to no discussion of them in educational resources available. Our intentions aren’t entirely selfless - we expect these posts to not only raise awareness of the techniques, but also to increase awareness of who we are and what we do. But that incentive has always been there and if anything is less impactful now than it might have been earlier in our growth. Ultimately, we felt that we have recently seen a shift in the balance of information too far in favor of the abuser.

Our intent is now to continue to discuss the tactics used in an open and transparent manner. This was not a decision we made lightly and we may reconsider it in the future.

Cohort Analysis & Churn

brandverity by on October 15, 2008 at 9:57 pm

Matt has an excellent post up on the blist blog on cohort analysis. I’ll post a teaser graph here to give you reason to click through and read the full post:

Cohort analysis and Churn at BrandVerity

We’ve been thinking through a lot of the points that Matt makes in his post as we try to understand a common signup pattern: A user sets up their trial account and then never returns.

Tire-kickers or Satisfied Customers?

All services have a signup drop-off, but it is particularly hard for us to write off those users as ‘tire-kickers’: their behavior is nearly identical to what our most satisfied customers do. We strive to provide only actionable information in our daily emails, so that people monitoring trademarks receive all the information (and only the information) they need to make a decision or take action. So satisfied customers rarely visit the interface and instead interact mostly with our emails.

I had a great conversation with Chris Sanderson at AMWSO earlier in the week that shed some light on a likely cause. He had been trialling the service, but hadn’t returned to the site since creating his account. As I walked him through the online interface, he helped me understand the gap between trial customers and paid accounts.

We provide a lot of depth in our emails, but that depth can be illusory. Chris had thought that the emails were the extent of the service and not only did he find the depth lacking, he also found the emails somewhat overwhelming.

Most of our paid customers had either received a walk-through of the online interface or had been with us as the interface has developed. They understand the depth of the service, and also have tweaked their settings to refine the alerts they receive.

So, what next?
Well, obviously we need to do a better job with our trial funnel. We need to introduce the service better over the trial period. We need more information on the service outside the signup page (we had assumed that since signup was so easy, sceenshots and product literature weren’t important). We also need to create a few bits of ‘feature candy’ that encourage deeper interaction in a fun way.

We’ve also given thought to increasing the barrier to signup (require a credit card, or a second step in the signup process). However, trials cost us very little and additional barriers don’t seem like the right step at this point - improving the conversion funnel does.

While we can’t do quantitative cohort analysis (not enough volume), we’ll definitely qualitatively evaluate each ‘feature cohort’ as we evolve the service.

BrandVerity is in Alpha

Business,Startups by on March 5, 2008 at 2:38 pm

I’m thrilled to announce that BrandVerity is now in closed alpha.

BrandVerity Trademark Monitoring

What is BrandVerity?

BrandVerity provides tools and services to identify and combat online trademark abuse.

The majority of the technology developed in this space has been developed by trademark abusers, while trademark owners typically resort to manual discovery techniques and are typically only engaging reactively.

Our first offering (still to be named) is a pay-per-click monitoring service that identifies trademark poaching by merchant affiliates.

What is Trademark Poaching?

If you’re a merchant with an affiliate program, you are probably already familiar with the practice of trademark poaching if not the name itself.

The most profitable search terms are those of a merchant’s own brand. Searchers that search for terms like ‘Macys’, ‘Amazon books’ and ‘Blue Nile coupons’ have already become familiar with the brand and are typically looking for the online store. The conversion rate of these visitors greatly exceeds that for generic searches.

Most e-commerce companies do not allow their affiliates to bid on these terms. The high conversion rates typically mean high bid prices and significantly higher cost of acquisition.

Grey and Black hat affiliates have found many ways to bid on these terms without the merchant noticing. They will day-part (run ads at night), reverse IP geotarget (run ads that target every city, but the one where merchant is based) and even copy the ads of merchant so that a visual scan of the search results won’t identify the poacher.

How does BrandVerity identify trademark poaching?

To put it simply, we know the tricks that the poachers use and our service uses technology that counters each of them. Some of the techniques are obvious and I’ll be talking about them later, but others aren’t and we’ll keep those private.

We understand that this is an arms race and are already working on the techniques we expect we’ll need when the poachers counter our techniques.

How do I get an alpha key?

I’m sure all of the readers of this blog have a burning need for trademark monitoring.

If by some chance you do have a need to monitor a few search terms on Google, and you’re willing to work with a bit of wet paint, drop me a note. The key bits of functionality are there but there is a lot that is still pretty rough. I’m watching load pretty closely so it may take a little bit before I send you the key.

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