Affiliate Leak Worse Than the Worst Leak

Remember my last week’s Possibly the Worst Affiliate Traffic Leak Ever post? Well, reviewing one affiliate program (on obvious reasons, their name and domain name have to remain discreet), I’ve discovered a situation that was even worse — “for tracking purposes” the merchant was linking some of his internal banners and links through affiliate URLs, going through an affiliate account they owned. And even though I believe that this particular merchant wasn’t fully aware of what they were actually doing (or did it with wrong intentions), that is plain terrible. Why? Because here’s what happens with the traffic that affiliates refer to such a merchant:

1. Customer clicks on an affiliate link, an affiliate’s cookie (Cookie #1) gets set on the customer’s machine to ensure that the commission is credited to the referring affiliate, should a sale happen;

2. Then while browsing the merchant’s website, they click an internally-linked banner (i.e. a graphic that links from one page of the website to another page within the same website) that goes through the merchant’s own affiliate link, and Cookie #1 gets overwritten by a new “affiliate” cookie (Cookie #2).

3. Even if the merchant set their “commission” at 0% — as was the case with this particular brand — that Cookie #2 will make it impossible for the actual referring affiliate to get their compensation.

Apparently, this isn’t a unique situation. I’ve seen Eric Nagel tweet the following just yesterday:

C’mon, merchants, that won’t go down well with any (smart) affiliate who has already joined your affiliate program!

In fact, I doubt that many will keep promoting you beyond the point of spotting such a terrible “leak”. Affiliates are investing their time, effort and often money into marketing your brand and product/service, and do so purely on performance basis. Make that their work is duly appreciated, performance is honored, and don’t hurt your own affiliate marketing campaign by committing silly mistakes like this one.

11 thoughts on “Affiliate Leak Worse Than the Worst Leak”

  1. I knew what the merchant I found was trying to do, and it was working, but it was working too well, hurting other (legitimate) affiliates. After reaching out to the merchant, they removed the link.

    What if the program was set-up with a first-click / last-click commission? Then, this would be OK with me. If the merchant’s affiliate account was set to 0%, the first click gets paid for the referral, and the last click (the merchant, in this case) gets $0, but tracks.

    However, if you just need tracking, learn Google Analytics & funnels.

    Affiliates should always be looking at the merchants’ sites that they’re promoting, spotting leaks, and educating the merchant (or reporting back to the OPM).

  2. Just to clarify the internal banners that the merchant was linking through their own affiliate links, were their own banners? Was their intention to purposely override the original affiliate cookie?

    1. Yes, Olga, those internal banners were essentially images that would carry you from page to page. Those were linked through affiliate links. “Was their intention to purposely override the original affiliate cookie?” It didn’t look like it was. They seemed genuinely surprised that this is affiliate-unfriendly and that, more than likely, it was one of the (main) reasons for the “stagnation” of their affiliate program.

  3. Thanks for the shout out Geno.

    There is plenty of gaming that happens from both sides of the table. Advertisers trying to get out of affiliate payments and affiliates scamming for illegitimate earnings.

    Ultimately, this is the problem with cookie based tracking or even basic server response. Current tracking technologies don’t provide information about multiple influences and is thus very easy to fraud. Once the user’s path is exposed across publisher domains and across advertiser pages it is much more difficult for this type of fraud to take place. It is also very important to have a tracking platform that remains objective to both parties.

    Can’t wait to show you how we’re tackling this stuff with Adtribution 🙂

    1. Peter, what does applying for the beta version entail? Registration? Installation?

      It seems like a very interesting venture with a lot of potential in the industry!

    2. But wouldn’t exposure of “the user’s path… across publisher domains” be only available to the merchant? So, ultimately, if it is the merchant who isn’t playing it fair, no solution (unless there’s a mediator, like an affiliate network, in-between) will help.

  4. Hi Olga –
    Applying for a beta invite puts you on the list of people interested in trying out (beta launching this summer). There will be a cap to the number of people we let in, and certainly there is a quality threshold. The purpose of the beta period is certainly to fix bugs, get massive feedback, and get ready to launch publicly. Thanks for your interest!

  5. Hi Geno,
    This “leak” certainly is a scary subject for affiliates! I have heard of this before. Not easy to detect.
    Thanks for bringing this up.

    I have added your site to my outbound links. Thanks.

    1. Nowadays savvy (read: burnt-in-the-past) affiliates conduct thorough audits of merchant’s website (all the way through the checkout process to the order confirmation page) prior to starting to promote (read: read invest into) any merchant. Yes, it takes time. But it is time worth spent, as detection (and correction, when possible) of problems like the above one have immediate effect on affiliate’s income.

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