A while ago I was about to write a post when a friend of mine beat me to it. Instead of writing something similar, I shared his (It was actually better than what I was going to write) and ended up letting the thought die. Luckily it came back to me and I started to think about what the job of an Affiliate Network is. Is the Affiliate Network supposed to recruit Affiliates for you? Are they supposed to protect you from theft? Is it their job to monitor and manage your Affiliates? These are all things that have been blurred over the years.
In my opinion, the job of the Affiliate Network is to provide a series of tracking solutions and tools to help you run a proper Affiliate Program in the way that is best for your company and your own personal interests. The network is not supposed to interfere. With that said, here are 10 things you should think about if you are an Affiliate or an Affiliate Manager. I’d love to hear what you think as well so please feel free to leave a comment below whether you are a competitor, an Affiliate, a Manager, a Network or a solution provider.
In my opinion, the job of the Affiliate Network is to provide a series of tracking solutions and tools to help you run a proper Affiliate Program in the way that is best for your company and your own personal interests.
- Is it the networks job to screen Affiliates?
- Is it the networks job to monitor Affiliates for compliance?
- Is it the networks job to educate Merchants on the hazards of Affiliates?
- Is it the affiliate networks job to let you know about nexus laws?
- Is it the affiliate networks job to educate merchants on and/or patrol for FTC disclosures?
- Is it the job of the affiliate network to manage programs?
- Is it the job of the affiliate network to participate as an Affiliate within their own network and other networks?
- Is it the job of the affiliate networks to alert you when there are duplicate sales showing up or pixels over firing?
- Is it ok for the affiliate network to interfere when you want to remove Affiliates?
- Is it the job of the affiliate network to recommend Affiliates who can steal from you and add little to no value?
1. Is it the networks job to screen Affiliates?
In my opinion no. Although I love the screening process because they do catch a bunch of people who use stolen credit cards, claim fake sites, etc… I don’t think it is technically their job. With that said, if they don’t do an initial screen process to make sure it isn’t someone using stolen credit cards, the Merchants’ will get pissed off and blame them so it is in their best interest. This doesn’t mean they screen or stop adware, trademark bidders, etc… This does mean that numerous networks do screen for people who don’t have an actual channel to promote or may be using stolen information to generate commissions and take money from Merchants. It is still the Affiliate Manager or OPMs job to screen and never auto approve anyone or anything.
2. Is it the networks job to monitor Affiliates for compliance?
Absolutely not. Although there have been numerous lawsuits in the past to make sure their partners are within compliance (Just for the record I am not a Lawyer or licensed professional, these are just my opinions and not legal advice) and the networks have gotten in trouble, it is up to the Merchant to know what their Affiliates are doing, what types of promotional methods they use and to help make sure they follow the guidelines the Merchant has put in place. Although it gives a false sense of security thinking that networks monitor Affiliates for compliance, it is not always reliable and some networks seem to turn the other way and ignore partners that may not be compliant. I have yet to come across a network that was 100% clean of Affiliates that don’t have a Merchant’s best interest in mind. Other times they have too many Affiliates in their network and it becomes nearly impossible to catch everything. This is why it is the Affiliate Manager’s job to know all of their partners, what they do and how they are driving traffic and sales. It is also the Affiliate Managers job to know attribution and be able to tell what adds value and what does not. You’ll be shocked when you finally find a real white hat Manager and how their programs look compared to what I would say 99% of the others look like.
3. Is it the networks job to educate Merchants on the hazards of Affiliates?
Absolutely not! Although it would be great if the Networks would let Merchants and other Affiliates know how everyone from Content sites to Adware Affiliates can damage your company or steal from you, it would not be in their best interest. Think about the revenue that is generated by having Affiliates rank for trademarks, trademark or URL + coupons or by using adware. It is probably an insane amount of money. By educating merchants on the dangers, they could potentially do serious damage to their revenue. It would be nice if they provided education on the negative sides, and the few times I have seen it provided, it was very vague and they didn’t actually teach anything that would benefit or protect the Merchant or other Affiliates. It was fluffy garbage that would still allow the Merchant to be stolen from, but the merchant would have fun terms and phrases to use as to why it’s ok to allow their partners to steal from them. The networks and non value adding Affiliates are experts at explaining why you should let them in your program. You have to be smart enough to realize what they are actually doing. I have rarely ever seen someone smart enough to not see through what they are pitching. The main reason is a lack of education from someone like me or Kellie Stevens from Affiliate Fair Play.
The networks and non value adding Affiliates are experts at explaining why you should let them in your program. You have to be smart enough to realize what they are actually doing.
4. Is it the affiliate networks job to let you know about nexus laws?
Yes. I think that they should definitely do this. If a Merchant gets hit with nexus laws, the Network can take a hit and a larger drop in revenue if the program shuts down 100%. By helping merchants with solutions and work arounds, the networks can help to retain their Merchants, build trust with them and keep more programs active. Remember, the Network is a technology provider. Without providing solutions for their Merchants and Affiliates, I think they are failing at their jobs as technology providers.
5. Is it the affiliate networks job to educate merchants on and/or patrol for FTC disclosures?
I’m going to say yes and no. The reason I say no is that it is up to the Managers to know who their partners are and where their ads or reviews are being displayed. At the same time Managers who inherit programs may have thousands of Affiliates that they don’t know, didn’t approve in or were left over and approved from other companies that didn’t manage the program properly. A new manager or management company coming in cannot possibly make it through all sites. I would say it is the job of the network to make sure there are FTC disclosures when the Affiliate applies to the network and as they find review sites, giveaway sites, social media Affiliates, etc… they have them sign an agreement making them agree to disclosure the relationships with examples how as they join each program. That is why this one is a yes and a no.
6. Is it the job of the affiliate network to manage programs?
No! The network will always have the Network’s best interest in mind. From my experience in seeing this in the past, again it is just my opinion, they have their own interests in mind and the Merchant almost always looses. I have seen some network managed programs allow adware in that takes credit for other channels, enjoy coupon sites ranking for your trademark or url + coupons, sometimes trademark bidders, etc… and other things that add little to no value to your company. They have a ton of good sounding reasons to allow this to happen; but the reality is that your best interests are not being looked after, at least from the programs I have seen managed across numerous networks.
7. Is it the job of the affiliate network to participate as an Affiliate within their own network and other networks?
This is a confusing one. Many people don’t know that some of the networks parent companies, or the network themselves own sites like coupon sites, work as trademark bidding Affiliates and other things and run in their own managed programs. What this means is that they are getting commissions for sales they either did or did not earn, are also charging network fees for potentially stolen sales, some have renewal fees each year and they also know what they can and cannot get away with because they have access to all of your data, what you patrol and monitor. This makes it very easy to rip you off and adjust techniques so you cannot catch it. One other thing to think about are your other Affiliates and your own internal strategies and campaigns. Because they have access to a lot of tracking, they may also have access to all of the strategies and sites (sometimes they could possibly have all of the PPC keywords and terms from other Affiliates) so they can really take advantage of everything while hurting everyone but themselves. It can not only end up costing you a ton of money, but it could potentially harm and damage your other value adding partners to the point that they leave and will not come back.
8. Is it the job of the affiliate networks to alert you when there are duplicate sales showing up or pixels over firing?
Technically no. I think their only job is to provide you with a tracking software and solution. However, my opinion is yes because it creates trust for their Merchants in a positive way. If the network charges a network fee then they would make more money by not providing these reports or alerts and it would create more work for the merchant. However, they are a technology and solutions provider so they should provide these types of solutions. With that said, it is technically the Merchant’s job to know when pixels aren’t firing correctly and are giving duplicate sales, sales that weren’t earned because the pixel wasn’t installed properly, etc… However some of the networks like Share a Sale do provide these reports and in some cases will call the Manager when they see a problem big enough to catch their attention.
9. Is it ok for the affiliate network to interfere when you want to remove Affiliates?
This is a tricky one. I am going to say no. Many times when I kick an Affiliate out of a program it is because they use adware, rank for url + coupons, bid on trademarks, etc… Because of this they are adding little to no value to my clients and in some cases trying to overwrite other channels or other Affiliates’ cookies. The networks get pissed when I remove these because they are large revenue drivers (from what I consider pure theft) and try to get you to let them back in, give them an extra couple of weeks to shut down, etc… It is in the network’s best interest to allow these partners to stay so they get involved.
I can see the network reaching out if the Affiliate asks, but they should be willing to do it for every Affiliate and not just one. They should also understand your terms and conditions and goals and then if the Affiliate doesn’t meet them, they should explain to the Affiliate why they were removed and not bother the Merchant. Besides a one off case by case basis, I think the networks should stay out of it, unless the entire program goes down, they kick everyone out or there is a mass removal. At that point they are representing a large mix of partners that could potentially be adding value, that could possibly be stealing, or could be future partners that add value but haven’t had time to activate. If the merchant does remove everyone, it is not in the best interest of anyone, especially the network so they should get involved.
10. Is it the job of the affiliate network to recommend Affiliates who can steal from you and add little to no value?
Yes. The networks do this all of the time because they can make a ton of money off of it. I rarely get approached by a network with a new content site, blog or something that adds tons of value. Instead it is usually high traffic but low value sites like coupon sites whose traffic is also merchant url + coupons based, that never send new customers, and causes more damage than they do good. On the rare occasion that an Affiliate who has a value adding site needs to get a hold of the Merchant, the Network can help with this. Unfortunately it has never happened within my programs, but I have gotten into other programs and driven incremental value from my sites, so it does happen.
Again, it is up to the Manager to know who is in the program, what types of promotional methods they use and not the Networks job to educate them on it. The networks make more money when you are stolen from and by not educating you, recommending a low value high volume partner (i.e. no or very little incremental sales) or by turning their heads on specific sites for compliance, so yes it is in their best interest and their job. You may get a couple of high volume value adding sites or even low volume value adding sites, but from my past experience I have yet to have one recommended to me. It has always been giant coupon sites, adware sites, trademark bidders or a mix of these. The other reason this is a yes is that you represent one company or a few programs. The network has a ton of merchants across a giant range of products. By using their reach, they can reach larger shopping portals like BankofAmerica’s cash back shopping where a small OPM or in house Manager would not be able to make a solid case.
The way that Affiliate Networks interact with Merchants and Affiliates has become very blurred. Some Merchants make horrible mistakes and allow the Networks to manage their program, make recommendations or even approve theives in. Other programs that had a ton of potential end up shutting their programs down because they found the majority was theft and the networks didn’t educate them. I personally think that the only job of the network is to provide a software and tracking solution for a program, including payments and to educate on laws and regulations, but not to interfere with the management (whether it is positive or negative). Feel free to leave your comments below. I know certain people who read this site will disagree and I would love to hear your opinions whether you agree or not.