Tips for increased transparency in affiliate marketing

For an industry that prides itself on a transparent payment model, it is very surprising to find that there is not always the level of transparency around affiliate promotions that you’d expect. Here I take a look at where improvements could be made and why these are important.

Publisher side…
There is some basic information that you would expect to be abundantly clear as part of a commercial relationship but surprisingly it isn’t always available. Here are some areas that publishers should strive to keep transparent and accurate as a bare minimum:

  • Contact details – vital for merchant confidence if changes need be made and also important, as companies grow and staff move on, that the marketing communications get through.
  • All active sites and promotional activity – these may be numerous but this still key to know where brands may feature.
  • Traffic sources for this activity – especially relevant if there is no natural search footprint but there is external activity that should be noted.

 

More specialised publishers will need more bespoke information, for example:

  • Email affiliates should give insight into database sizes, origins and level of segmenting.
  • Software applications require documentation as to how they work and at which part of the customer journey.
  • Sub-networks will need to offer up evidence of sites within their portfolio and avoid masking referring URLs so that we can track activity if needed.

As a general rule – the more information the better. Any other supporting PDFs or PowerPoints are always welcome and can be stored for reference.

It’s worth taking time to establish all this at the outset when you sign up to a network so that you can be profiled correctly which will only in turn help access the best programs for you. Besides the issue of security, there are actually a lot of positive uses for the detailed information about publishers. On the Publisher Team we’re charged with reviewing opportunities across our publisher base. This can only realistically be done if we know exactly who our publishers are, what models they operate and what verticals they’re in. We’d hope that we know our client list better than anyone – which means we are best positioned to identify partners for an opportunity. If I’m looking for Irish retail traffic, email publishers for an automotive lead campaign, or search affiliates for a closed group…there are defining characteristics that can flag suitable publishers.

I might add that interesting developments are afoot here at affilinet to tailor interfaces and communications to match the profile of the publisher (excuse the shameless plug); making this whole process a bit more effective and manageable.

Advertisers’ turn…
This works both ways though, as highlighted in the recent eConsultancy Affiliate Buyers Guide, since affiliates do not believe they’re getting enough transparency in return. The Ethical Merchant Charter was drawn up by the IAB to combat this and persuade merchants to offer up more information to their partners.

Affiliates arguably have the most to lose since small enterprises and sole traders may rely on their affiliate commissions and partnerships. It is thus paramount that they are clear on anything that may jeopardize this which doesn’t always appear to be the case. The Ethical Merchant Charter in turn therefore underlines the need to explain:

  • Reasons why commissions may be reversed or reduced (e.g. deduplication criteria, removal of extra charges from basket, returns, product and regional restrictions)
  • Clear rules to govern each program’s activity (thorough Terms & Conditions for all publisher types)
  • Fair warning around any changes to partnership terms so that publishers can react and remain compliant.

This move underpins the increasing professionalism of the industry, and the status of the partnerships that form it.

Intermediaries such as the IAB and its member networks will no doubt continue to push for this gap to be bridged and I look forward to this positive step.

Pete Berry

Pete Berry is Publisher Services Manager at affilinet. Originally from Manchester (Man Utd's No1 fan) when he's not watching football he's on the pitch attracting comparisons to Peter Crouch.

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