Digital marketing

Potential drawbacks of affiliate marketing

- April 6, 2011 3 MIN READ

My last article provided a compelling case for using affiliate marketing, however with unscrupulous types abounding online, there are some dodgy practices to look out for. I’ll explain what they are.

When you define your affiliate program you should make it clear to affiliates what you expect from them, that way you will protect yourself from any potential difficulties later on. Here are some common practices which you may be exposed to:

Buying back traffic

Some affiliates may employ Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising to bid on the search terms that your website may rank well for and/or your brand name and effectively sell that traffic back to you.  Some merchants are happy with this activity provided affiliates don’t bid on brand name keywords explicitly; a good PPC affiliate may be able to entice traffic away from your competitors and this is probably the type of traffic you’d like to get.

Cyber squatting

Affiliates may squat on misspellings or slight variations of your domain name and potentially capture traffic that was destined for you and again sell that back to you. These types of affiliates are called domainers, this is their business model, and as long as you’re happy with that then it is perfectly legitimate for them to do it, in fact generally you can’t do anything about them ( domains are slightly more protected than say .com domains) but you should ensure you’re not paying them to do it if you’re not happy with it.

Dodgy placements of ads

Your advert may appear on websites where you’d prefer they didn’t, say those with gambling or adult content.  This is why we recommend vetting all affiliates who request to join your program and making periodic checks to ensure their sites haven’t mysteriously changed. Good analytics can help you here so you can identify exactly where your affiliate traffic is coming from and check that it’s acceptable to you.

Unwarranted commissions

You may make sales that are never actually completed due to affiliates or their associates initiating a purchase on your site but never then completing the deal in the hope that you won’t cross check and will still pay the referral commission even though you never actually made the sale. You should implement a system that makes it easy for you to verify valid sales so you can cancel any invalid ones. Similarly if you’re paying for leads they may be of very low quality or obviously fraudulent, in which case you should “scrub” these leads and remove the affiliates sending them if there is evidence that it’s not just isolated incidences.

Changing your ad copy

Even though you may spend considerable time and effort on your advertising copy and creatives, it is still possible for affiliates to use their own copy or images on their sites, a quick periodic check of affiliate sites and the traffic sources identified by analytics should help you spot this.

Most activities detrimental to your business can be monitored by the use of good analytics software. Combined with an active affiliate management plan you can ensure that your program doesn’t suffer from the drawbacks of affiliate marketing.

In conclusion

With all the factors that you can control and with suitable affiliate management, affiliate marketing provides a fully controlled, highly tuned and adaptive marketing tool to help you grow your business. But when money and the Internet mix there are always going to be unscrupulous types abounding so ensure you manage your affiliate program well so that you don’t fall victim to some of these people.

Do you run a successful affiliate program or have you been besieged by poor leads or bogus sales from affiliates?

For more on the topic, have a read of my introduction to affiliate marketing and my piece on the positives of using affiliate marketing. Then you can make your mind up as to whether affiliate marketing is right for you.

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"