There are a ton of people who bash Affiliates. I think it is because they aren’t able to compete so they try to make their own industry look better. Affiliate Marketing is by far the best return on investment and a reliable stream of value adding sales if it is done the right way. Non Affiliate companies will say that Affiliates are just trademark bidders, coupon sites that poach your cart, adware, etc… The truth is that many times they are covering up their own tracks because they cannot perform well or they may be right because your affiliate program isn’t being managed properly so it doesn’t add value and other channels are being poached.
Try going to Google and typing in your url + coupons, if you have any active Affiliates showing up, the people who complain are talking about some of the partners in your affiliate program. Now before you blame the Affiliates, they may not be the only partners that may be capitalizing off of your trademarks and adding little to no value. It could be your media company, PPC and it is definitely your Affiliate Manager or OPMs fault for not managing your program properly. Here are 5 things that in my opinion are the same, equal to or worse for you than trademark bidding and can happen from your Affiliates, Social Media team or PPC partners.
1. Using your companies name to drive sales.
When you go to Twitter, you may find social media management companies, Affiliates and others using a hashtag and your company name when talking about a coupon, promotion or when trying to drive sales. Because they are using your name, this isn’t adding much if any value to you, especially if it is from your own in house account.
By using your hashtag or any of your trademarks they are going after people who are already searching for your company or who you would have had access to without them. If they want to add value to you, they can still tweet without your hashtags or without your own in house accounts. Their job is to get their own followers or users who are looking for generic hashtags to become fans and shop. The other option is to run ads that target your audience or if you allow it, your competitors to help bring in new sales, fans and likes.
One thing that is worse than using your company’s name or trademark with a hashtag is when they also use a hashtag or word like coupon. Although it can bring in sales, you can easily run the same tweet or share with the phrase coupon and not have to give credit or pay for this work. Instead of using your company name, they should use a product name or general hashtag with the hashtag or word coupon. i.e. instead of #YourCompany #Coupon they could do #BlueWidgets #Discounts which doesn’t go after your audience and hits a general one. Now people who find the product they are looking for and a coupon can come to your site and this can add value to you.
2. View through conversions.
This is a metric that many media buying, remarketing and some PPC agencies will try to push on you. A view through conversion means the person at some point may have seen your ad. The person did not have to click on it and there is no guarantee they actually saw it. The end user just landed on a page that you had an ad on or where a cookie was set.
The ad could have been below the fold and the person bounced or only read and clicked through somewhere else on the top. The ad could have been “Viewed” a week before hand and came back through a different channel. View through conversions aren’t a real statistic in my opinion, unless you can guarantee the person saw the ad and actually typed in the url directly afterwards and then purchased. You can argue (if the person saw the ad) that it was branding that reminded them and then they came back, but I don’t always give full credit to this. Look and see if there is another click in the sales funnel and that could be the one that actually caused the sale.
Branding can bring in sales, but don’t let view through be a main metric to look at. Think about seeing an ad for a restaurant or a food and then going and buying it, if the person actually saw the ad and purchased, your ad worked but you cannot track it making view through conversions a real thing. However, when using view through conversions, you cannot always guarantee they saw the ad so be careful when crediting them the sale.
3. Popups and Adware
Pop ups that you install on your own site like a light box for email sign ups and that you control are fine. I am referring to pop ups that media companies, PPC agencies and some Affiliates buy. They can be called PPV, CPV, toolbars, etc… Adware in this case or in the form of toolbars which Networks and Affiliates will call reminderware, couponware, loyaltyware, shopping windows or other names to hide the name adware are the ones that I am talking about.
Pop ups – Many of the pop up applications use urls, keywords in your content or specific actions on a website to activate the adware. Because you can bid on keywords to make the ad show up, some present themselves as a PPC network. These are not the same in my opinion because the person whose site (including your own if the person or company targets your site) doesn’t get credit and it is taking away from their ability to monetize their own traffic. Unless the person who owns the site installed it, gave permission to take their traffic or show ads over their site, then this is not a value adding sale and causes damage to someone else or yourself.
Your media companies, remarketing companies and some Affiliates will “buy ad space” from these vendors and use keywords like your company name, your url or buy a specific action on your site like click here to checkout for the adware to activate.
This can sometimes be a somewhat common practice for companies that know how to buy this space when they need to make up sales, improve conversion rates or if you know the merchant doesn’t have someone who tests adware in house by hiring an agency like mine or AffiliateFairPlay.com who will test and watch for you. By targeting your url, the person can fire the adware on an action, a keyword or even on the click before the person goes to a secure server on your shopping cart. By targeting the click to go to your shopping cart they can easily generate sales as well as make the conversion rate match other channels by serving ads in other places online. Because these are people already on your site, in my opinion it adds little to no value since they were already there and the adware is not sending a new visitor.
Toolbars, etc… – These are found on numerous Affiliate sites and some non Affiliate sites. Media companies will buy space through these sites and in their plans but may not know they are buying adware space. The way that many of these toolbars and browser helper objects or add ons work is that when the person gets to your website, the toolbar recognizes it and activates by showing an ad for a discount and when the ad or drop down is clicked and then the tracking cookie is set. Other times it can force a click before or when the user gets to your site. Sometimes, even from SEO or PPC or your newsletter, the adware recognizes the website it is about to go to and brings the end user to the website that owns the adware and then either lets you click on a deal there or does another redirect with the tracking set to drive you to the merchant’s website.
If it is through an Affiliate relationship with you, they may sometimes force a click, show an ad to click here and find a coupon or stop the person from getting to your site and take the person to their own site first where coupons are available or where the user can log in to get cash back or donate to a charity. This way the partner that owns the adware can set their tracking code and take credit for a sale that actually belonged to another channel.
If it is through a media company, they will try to do the same, except the adware may set the Media Buying Company’s tracking instead. This is a lot more rare and I haven’t seen it happen for a long time. The adware activates once the person hits your site so it doesn’t matter if the person came to your site through a PPC ad you paid for, your emails from your internal list that you send out to your customers or any other channel that drives traffic to your site. The adware only recognizes your site and activates when it is going to or is already on your site. Not all toolbars, etc… act like this, but a majority of the ones that are built for monetization, showing coupons or deals, or are used to drive sales that I have come across do because their goal is to make money and not always to add value to the merchant.
4. Ranking for URL + Coupon code
This is one that scare many Affiliate Managers and Agencies when smart ecommerce sites are going through their attribution lines. If you don’t allow people to bid on your trademarks because the customer already knows about you, why would you let them bid on or rank for the trademark + coupons and take credit as the sale is closing? This causes even more damage than the initial regular trademark bid without the word coupon in my opinion.
By allowing Affiliates or Media Partners to buy space as the person is checking out on your site, they are poaching the work you did to bring the person to your site and on your sales funnel. Anyone can rank for these terms and drive high conversion rates and in my opinion rip you off by taking credit for the sale at the last minute.
An easy solution to this is to first require robots.txt and no index tags for all sites with dedicated pages or that are specifically trying to rank for your trademarks. Once this is in place it tells the search engines to not index these pages and they will start to disappear. In the meantime, you should have your SEO team work on taking the top ten positions for these terms and you’ll start to see that as the sales drop from the Affiliate Channel on the sites ranking for or bidding on url + coupons, you’ll see these same sales coming from your own efforts and not have to pay commissions, network fees and lose more margin. Your Affiliate Manager will get scared as their channel drops, but your partners that send new traffic and your other channels will be excited since they will be getting credit for the sales they actually referred to you. There is another downside to allowing partners to rank for url + coupons.
Allowing your partners to rank for your trademark + coupons chases away content and other value adding partners. If they don’t promote you and go with a competitor that does not work with partners ranking for url + coupons, you lose the traffic and sales to competitors helping them grow and you have missing revenue that could have been yours. If value adding partners see active links on a search for url + coupons, they may be worried that their tracking cookie can be replaced when the customer clicks on the trademark bidding or site ranking for url + coupon’s link.
The sites that rank for your URL + coupons usually have high conversion rates because they are taking credit for sales from people who are already in your shopping cart and checking out. This is an easy way to find them, but not always accurate.
If you have a high converting product and an Affiliate ranks for the product name or can sell a lot of that product, they can have a high conversion rate as well, so make sure you know where the sale is coming from, when the click occurred and how much time was spent on your site from the click to close and compare it to normal shopping times on your site. You can also check to see if the sales are from the product they rank for to make sure they are matching up with your own internal conversion rates for the product.
5. Targeting your audience on social media sites.
Allowing partners to post affiliate links or social media tracking links to your own Facebook pages or other social media accounts doesn’t add value in my opinion because that is your audience that already knows about you. Having partners create Fanpages or sites similar to yours or that pretend to be you is also bad because it can confuse users. However, the trickier one is finding the people who run Facebook ads that use your company name or site as a target.
If you sell blue widgets and are having a sale, make sure you require that their targets don’t include your company name or your company’s fan page likes as someone to show the ad to. Instead make it more generic.
Example 1. Targets – blue widgets, your store name or fanpage, ages x-y This is the bad one because it is people who know about you or your page and may already like it and know you have blue widgets and can see your ads, posts and links.
Example 2. Targets – Blue widgets, crafting, interested in XYZ celebrity and are between the ages of x-y. This one is great because it doesn’t target your current fan base but does go after the demographic with an interest in the actual product or people who endorse the product.
Make sure you are very clear in your terms and conditions about who your partners are allowed to target and make sure that they do not target your own audience or customer base.
There are a ton of ways to drive sales online by targeting an ecommerce store, but ecommerce stores don’t always think about it or realize they could have had these sales anyways. It is important for you to make sure that the sales coming in add value to you and that they are helping to grow your business, not take credit from people who already know about you, are shopping on your site or are fans of your company on social media sites. There are a ton of tools out there to find this or you can hire a company like mine or Kellie’s to help you find it. If you have other tricks you know that Media Buyers, PPC Agencies or Affiliates are using that add little to no value, please feel free to share them below.
*Photos purchased from DepositPhotos.com.