Possibly the Worst Affiliate Traffic Leak Ever

Yesterday, during my a4uexpo Europe presentation I said that the very first thing merchants should do to ensure that their websites are affiliate-friendly is to get rid of leaks. My definition was:

Leak is any external link within your website that may lead to a course of action for which your affiliates will receive no compensation.

I also mentioned that most leaks fall into one of the following 5 categories:

  1. Telephone number / Live chat
  2. AdSense units
  3. Amazon widgets (and other affiliate links)
  4. Links to “network” stores/sites
  5. Links to other merchants

Today I think I’ve found the worst leak ever, and it hasn’t been mentioned above. I’ve had affiliates approach me with similar suggestions before, but always declined them… This particular merchant (not mentioning their name because my main goal is to illustrate the point, not to scold a merchant) has obviously fell for it:

I love TheFind (actually believing them to be one of the exemplary affiliates) but dear merchants, when you’re linking to an affiliate site (their ranking of your site, some seal of approval, etc) you’re ruining your affiliate program! If I were an affiliate, I wouldn’t join your program. Why? Because the following scenario then becomes very real:

  1. Customer clicks on an affiliate link, affiliate’s cookie gets set on the customer’s machine to ensure that the commission is credited to the affiliate, should a sale happen;
  2. Upon landing on the merchant’s website, customer browses around, and seeing the “Upfront Merchant” seal, they click it;
  3. Then they land on TheFind.com’s page which features (i) Coupons from this merchant, and (ii) Popular Products from this merchant;
  4. Upon clicking any of these on TheFind’s website, the customer get back to the merchant’s website with the only (and major!!) difference being that the original affiliate’s cookie now gets replaced with TheFind’s cookie. So, if/when the sale happens, the original affiliate gets no commission.

Why would affiliates want to work with a merchant whose website has such leaks?

EDIT [of 6/11/11]: Per TheFind’s comment, it appears that the UpFront badge isn’t supposed to work the way it does in this particular case. It appears that the above situation is “the result of poorly implemented code”. More in this comment.

17 thoughts on “Possibly the Worst Affiliate Traffic Leak Ever”

  1. You know… a well-crafted search reveals the merchant 😉

    “1st navigation phrase” “2nd navigation phrase” “3rd navigation phrase” “4th navigation phrase”

    1. Of course, you’re right!! Thank you, Eric. Just removed/erased those.

      I don’t want this to become an against-a-particular-merchant type post (because it isn’t). So, thanks again.

  2. Trisha Lyn Fawver

    I’ve only started seeing these recently but you’re right – horrible leak. And probably the most avoidable.

  3. I refuse to promote any affiliate programs where the phone number is displayed on all pages of the website. Unfortunately, that eliminates most hardware & jewelry stores.

    The biggest downfall many of these sites face is that they fail to abide to “keep it simple, stupid” and add too many badges and other tempting things, rather than creating a hard path that customers have to follow without any distractions.

    1. Yes, phone number leaks are very common, but there are solutions that can fix this leak (from platforms like RingRevenue to network-offered solutions to merchant-coded ways of tracing the customer back to the referring affiliate).

    2. That’s unfortunate, what if the merchant does not accept orders over the phone and encourages customers to order via web? I know in our case phone number is listed to build trust and answer support questions NOT to encourage customers to place an order over the phone.

      1. Then it’s a different story, L. However, such merchants should be prepared that affiliates will test whether this really is so (or not). But if you’re being 100% transparent and honest, you have nothing to hide.

        1. Agreed, we are about to require customers to “complete their purchase online” – right now it is recommended. That is unless RinRevenue’s or network provided solutions make more sense.

  4. Hi Geno,

    I wanted to mention that you no longer have to worry about the telephone as a “leakage” channel if the advertiser is using a Pay-per-Call analytics solution.

    This would enable the advertiser to generate a unique local number on each loading of the landing page, so it could easily be tracked back and credited to the affiliate that sent the call. Then, the publisher could also use a unique number for each campaign.

    Google is already offering this in the USA, and I am working to head up the Berlin based office of Freespee, which also offers Pay-per-Call by integrating seamlessly via an API with any mobile or affiliate network.

    Many advertisers with high end or complex products (banks, cruises, mortgage leads) that would otherwise have a hard time justifying an affiliate program due to poor ROI and heavy leakage via phone closures, should now be able to have highly successful affiliate channels.

    I am looking forward to seeing how this Pay-per-Call capability changes the entire affiliate landscape over the next year.

    Here is a great short video produced by Google that also nicely explains what we are doing in 14 countries: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIJ36uUxJBw&feature=player_embedded

    Feel free to message me for more information or find me via LinkedIn

    [email protected]

    P.S. Great presentation at a4u expo in Munich

    1. Cecily, glad you have enjoyed my presentation in Munich. I had fun (as you could probably tell too). Yes, Pay-Per-Call solutions greatly enhance and compliment what online-only affiliate marketing campaigns can do, and I’m glad to see this developing in Europe too. Good luck with your platform.

  5. “I refuse to promote any affiliate programs where the phone number is displayed on all pages of the website.”

    Some optimisers estimate that adding a phone number to a website can increase conversions by 30%. We’ve also had people ringing up just to confirm that we are real people. I’d love to get rid of our phone number (the very few orders we take over the phone take ages) but it’s just not feasible.

    1. Don’t know how we shifted to the phone number leak (which is a leak but a “fixable” one), but since we did, here’s my take:

      I never propose getting rid of the phone number altogether. In fact, when polling consumers for my Online Shopping Through Consumers’ Eyes book, I included a question about a phone number on site. I asked them “All factors being equal, are you more likely to shop with a website that has a toll-free phone number prominently displayed on top of each page?” 44% answered “not necessrily” while 56% said “yes”. My conclusion was: “Not a question 100% agreed on, but more people would like the toll free phone number present on every page of the website.”

      Yes, I do believe a phone number on every page of the site is necessary. It does instill confidence and facilitates conversion. However, when a merchant also runs an affiliate program, tracking phone transactions referred by affiliates is a must. No, you don’t have to delete the phone number. Thanks to solutions like RingRevenue and what Cecily has mentioned above, as well as solutions offered by some affiliate networks (e.g.: ShareASale, and ImpactRadius), it is possible to track phone transactions back to the affiliate that originally referred them.

      So, do keep that phone number on site, but track it. As straightforward as that.

    2. James, we were not able to sell products over $500 without tollfree phone number. In our case is not possible to place order on the phone, but I wanted to ensure you, that phone number for presales and technical questions is very important…

    3. An 800 number does call for alarm, but I believe the trust that the site receives by having it visible would cancel out the possible effect of a leak. Affiliate marketers want to promote sites that are well accepted and trustworthy. That’s what makes them so appealing.

      As far as onsite Link Leaks, it would behoove marketers to test out any sites they are interested in promoting and of course contact the website owner before working for them through affiliate marketing.

  6. I don’t think it was you who mentioned it as an absolute, to be fair.

    Just another point, some of these leaks wouldn’t be leaks if the affiliate program is set to give the first affiliate to send a referral precedence over subsequent visitors.

  7. Geno – Thanks for raising this concern. I am responsible for communications at TheFind and we take issue with your post as the scenario you’ve described is inaccurate. Namely, you say

    “2. Upon landing on the merchant’s website, customer browses around, and seeing the “Upfront Merchant” seal, they click it;

    “3. Then they land on TheFind.com’s page which features (i) Coupons from this merchant, and (ii) Popular Products from this merchant;”

    The code and instructions we supply to merchants for the UpFront badge will – on click – display a simple javascript pop-up (which keeps the shopper squarely within the merchant’s site). The purpose of the pop-up is to deliver to shoppers some basic store information, i.e. shipping and payment options, contact number, address, a link to follow the merchant on Twitter and Facebook, etc. For an example, I encourage you and your readers to go to http://www.poshtots.com, scroll to the bottom of the page and actually click on the UpFront badge. The scenario you described is likely the result of poorly implemented code or (possibly) because you were looking at the source code of the page.

    To be clear, we are not facilitating a leak in anyone’s affiliate program.

    Our goal as a site is to facilitate shoppers finding products and the merchants who sell them, particularly hard to find items. As such, we actually give away 60% or more of our monthly click volume and send traffic to more than 150,000 stores every month, most of it for free. We are interested in great shopping experiences, and our consumer interactions suggest that the information enclosed in our UpFront pop-up helps shoppers make informed decisions about quality merchants. Most of the sites enrolled in the UpFront program have no affiliate relationships and are simply the beneficiaries of our traffic largesse. In case you are interested, our business model works because shoppers come to trust our site and return to search for the more in-demand items we do monetize.

    Happy to address this topic (and any other you like) further on these pages or elsewhere.

    1. Usher, thank you for chiming in, and explaining how the badge is supposed to work. I appreciate the idea, and, especially, you taking the time to clarify things; but in this particular case it does seem that the code was improperly implemented, as on click no pop-up with store information appears, but the end-user simply gets carried over to http://www.thefind.com/store/about-%5Bmerchantname%5D (where if/when they click any product/link, the cookie does naturally get overwritten). I’ll email you the name and URL of this merchant; so that you can educate them on how to implement things properly. As it stands now, it is a bad leak, and you certainly don’t want it to appear like you’re “facilitating a leak in anyone’s affiliate program”.

      I’ll also make an edit to the original post, inserting a line about how it’s supposed to work, and linking to your above comment.

      Once again, thank you for monitoring things so closely. Just as your whole website, you’ve demonstrated in an exemplary way how to deal with things in a professional way.

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