There are a number of things that might impede the performance of your affiliate program. I have distilled some of the the more deadly ones into a New Year’s checklist which you can apply to your own affiliate program, improving its long-term performance. Here are the seven key areas to which you should pay special attention in 2014:
1. Channel Cannibalization
I’m sure you’ve heard how affiliate marketing is sometimes being called a “marketing channel.” But it is dangerous to treat it just as one of the many marketing channels that you use. In reality, the nature of affiliate marketing is such that it encompasses all online and even certain offline marketing channels. So, in order for your affiliate program to coexist with your own marketing efforts, complementing what you
are doing and adding value, it is imperative to understand it as a marketing context which embraces the array of marketing methods that your affiliates use. At times their efforts will be in direct competition with what you yourself are doing. To ensure a healthy co-existence of the affiliate marketing program with your own marketing, avoid channel cannibalization and partner with those affiliates who can complement what you’re doing, helping you in the fight with your competition.
2. Brand Misrepresentation
When accepting a new publisher into your affiliate program you are entrusting them with your most valuable asset – your brand. Do you know how exactly they are promoting you? You should! The last thing you want to happen is to have an affiliate misrepresent your business, your product, your brand. In fact, this is one of the major reasons why I always recommend against automatic approvals of affiliate applications.
3. Paid Search-Related Violations
Whether you run your own PPC campaigns or not, safeguard yourself against trademark-related violations in paid search, clarify your policies regarding “TM+ bidding” (e.g. “brand name coupon” or “brandname review”), display URLs or direct linking of affiliate paid search ads to your website via their affiliate links. While some advertisers resort to “closed PPC policies” (i.e. disallowing affiliate paid search altogether), I do not believe this to be the best solution. There are plenty of quality paid search affiliates out there. Just choose your partners
wisely, and police all.
4. Domain Name Violations
Just as with paid search, ensure you have clear domainrelated policies in place. And once you do, fight cybersquatters and typosquatters using such tools as CitizenHawk and TypoAssassin.com.
5. Traffic Hijacking
Much has been written lately about “software” that prompts end users to perform a click, setting the affiliate’s cookie on their machine. Toolbars, add-ons, “browser helper objects,” shopping helpers, reminders of all sorts… whatever you call them, affiliate adware is notorious for hijacking direct address bar URL type-ins, organic traffic, email traffic, other affiliates’ referrals, and more. If you have such affiliates aboard your program, take time to analyze how exactly their software works, and determine if their activity add value.
6. Coupon-Related Violations
What is your policy regarding coupons? Do you allow affiliates to use them? If so, may they harvest coupons from your customer-oriented email campaigns, your social media efforts, or just use the ones intended for affiliates specifically? Are you policing pseudo-couponing (affiliates claiming to have your coupon(s) when in reality you do not offer them)? What about affiliates using the “click-to-reveal” technique? Some “couponers” can truly add value. However, there are many more than do not.
7. Federal Trade Commission’s Rules
Lastly but nonetheless extremely importantly, pay a special attention to the FTC’s rules regarding endorsements and testimonials. Are your affiliates disclosing their relationship with you on their websites? In the Federal Trade Commission’s eyes, they are your “endorsers” while you are their “sponsor.” The FTC is clear on their expectations of both you and them. In 2011 we witnessed an advertiser facing a fine of “$250,000 for deceptively representing endorsements … that were posted on blogs or other websites created by affiliates.” You may read more about this case and how to comply at http://bit.ly/ FTCGuides
The first step is to cover all of the above in your affiliate program’s policies. However, having affiliate policies in place won’t safeguard you against violations. Your Policies and Terms of Service give you the grounds to police and enforce compliance. Make it your affiliate manager’s daily routine to do so!