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How counterfeiters manipulate keywords to evade brand protection

Posted by Gordon Mcconnell on Thursday, Apr 12, 2018

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Red Points' brand protection analysts have been researching how and why the problem of counterfeiting on ecommerce sites remains. Our findings demonstrate the ability of counterfeiters to manipulate keywords and othet text to avoid detection on ecommerce sites.

To do this, our analysts looked at how counterfeit items are described on ecommerce sites, and how this description changes over time. They compiled data from the first 6 months of a brand becoming protected. The results show that, despite it becoming more difficult to sell a protected brand via ecommerce platforms, counterfeiters do not give up on a sales channel lightly.

Download full keyword report here

The research looks at keywords and their application on marketplace listings; in other words how the item is described on an ecommerce site. The document shows that counterfeits change their tactics after they become aware that the keyword is being protected. Let's take a look at one commonly-employed method.

From brand names to generic descriptions 

Counterfeiters are aware of keyword monitoring used by services that protect brands' intellectual property (IP), and have started to utilise generic text, instead of brand names, to describe their phony listings, in an attempt to beat the system.

Let's use San Diego sunglass designers, Knockaround as a hypothetical example. Counterfeiters who target this company would naturally start by listing the item as "Knockaround". Once a brand protection service is in place, the knock-offs would be removed from online marketplaces, once they are found. The counterfeiters would continue to re-list their knock-offs under the same name, and they would continue to be taken down. 


Knockaround's classic Moonshine sunglasses design


After approximately 1 month of constant removals, the frequency at which the real brand name is used to describe counterfeits would decrease. So the counterfeiters would turn to a generic description. This time, the new listing wouldn't be called "Knockaround", but rather "San Diego sunglasses", or possibly "California sunglasses" or something similar.

Common misspellings are also used in listings for the same reasons. So while "Knockaround" is protected, counterfeiters might opt to call their own listings "Knockabouts", or  or something similar. 

In these examples, the physical product wouldn't change, but the text listing would be modified in an attempt to stop their copies being taken down from online marketplaces.

The graph below is an exerpt from our full report, in which we use data from a Spanish brand protected by Red Points, referred to as "Whitebrand t-shirt" for anonymity. As the term "Whitebrand t-shirt" becomes protected, we can see a spike in the use of generic descriptions, as well as a more gradual increase in the use of common misspellings. Once the new descriptions are accounted for, they too are removed, and then the counterfeiters give up on those list after another month.


A graph showing the effectiveness of description term adjustment, used by brand protection services

Most brands take their IP very seriously, and they are right to do so. It is the lifeblood of many companies, who would collapse if not properly protected. The threat of counterfeiting has never been higher, both in terms of prevalence and of the damage it can cause. As a result, the majority of brands use some type of brand protection. This can take many forms, such as an external service, in-house staff or a software solution. But all of these work on the premise of finding the brand's products online and removing listings that are not genuine.

Not long ago, Knockaround really were suffering from counterfeiters, but since the application of brand protection, their company and their brand are now protected from counterfeiters on online marketplaces.

In recent years, previously notorious markets, such as Aliexpress, have improved their reporting and removal tools for brands. This, combined with greater cooperation with the brands, has resulted in a noticeably safer shopping experience for both customers and brands. However, the problem persists in new ways.

This study goes into detail to describe the different tactics employed by counterfeiters, and the life cycles of certain keywords. Counterfeiters continue to react to improved protection tools by diversifying their own sales methods. Utilising generic search terms in place of brand names is just one of the stretegies that they employ. With this in mind, brand protection services must remain at the cutting edge in order to maintain an advantage over those who sell illegal knock-offs and replicas.

Red Points ebook - Brand protection evasion techniques and keyword cycles


About the author

Gordon Mcconnell

Post Written by Gordon Mcconnell

Gordon leads our content team as editor but considers himself a data journalist, who probably has a high midichlorian count. Gordon loves all things inbound-marketing and enjoys talking about the latest tools or changes in the SEO world, much to the irritation of his team.