Gab GoldenbergCakester recently raised an important question Should Affiliate Managers Run Their Networks’ Campaigns? He goes on to suggest that it’s an “[…] extremely unlikely event that they will lose you as an affiliate if by some miracle you were to find out about it [them stealing your keywords/sharing with other affiliates].

Lucky for you guys, you don’t need to put up with getting your keywords ripped off by a punk affiliate manager – I’m going to show you how to figure out if your AM has a loud mouth that leaks secrets like my uncle Jimbob’s rusty old tugboat.

So maybe I have no uncle named Jimbob, and no uncles with rusty old tugboats. This technique is still pretty fun and the bigshots at Google definitely use it to mess with spammers, so you know it’s effective. Hat tip to 5ubliminal of Tellin Ya Blackhat SEO blog for teaching me that one (can’t find the post, unfortunately). So once you know they’re copying you, it’s up to you what you do with that info.

In short, you provide a dirty keyword dataset to your AM. By dirty, I mean including junk keywords that don’t convert (tested beforehand of course; you don’t want to accidentally give them something good). Ideally, give them something with only 1-2 other competitors.

When you see other people’s ads on these ridiculous keywords, you know that the affiliate manager’s got a big mouth. Then you can go to the network and complain, change networks or whatever.
Some additional, related tips to keeping your campaign keywords private from prying competitors:

For those of you whose attention can only be grabbed by ridiculous headlines, split up your PPC campaigns amongst multiple domains. For the rest of you, you’ll already know this tip from one of my Scratchpad columns.

Use fake whois information and/or private registrations (from the second the domain is registered), so that people can’t figure out your domains easily.

Split up the hosting amongst different servers, and perhaps different hosting companies (not reseller hosts, but original). That way, reverse IP lookups a la ‘my IP neighbors” won’t find all your sites in one fell swoop. Find out competitors’ keywords for free.

Gab Goldenberg offers SEO services for clients including this template based business card program and is actively involved in affiliate marketing.