An Invisible Thief: Affiliate Adware and Plugins

The best affiliates are highly motivated to make sales and use whatever tools available to interest potential customers, including ever-developing technologies and apps. Although this is generally a good thing for the merchant, affiliate managers must be discerning which promotional methods are acceptable and which are not.

Invisible thiefSeveral types of software and browser plugins can be counter-productive for merchant sales, and unethical as well. It is important that you put in the time to investigate how your affiliates accomplish their sales.

Affiliate adware, toolbars, and browser plugins are software that is installed on consumers’ computers. Most of it is knowingly installed by the user who is enticed by the promise of such software to display additional savings, coupons, cashback and rebate offers, as well as to make product-searching easier. For example, most of these browser plugins give users an indication in the browser status bar when they can receive a cashback or discount on a purchase from the current website. Adware applications usually monitor internet activity on the user’s computer and can trigger events—like ad windows—based on words on the web page the user is viewing, URLs the user visits or clicks, and many other things.

All of this activity seems pretty innocent and legit. However, in reality, shopping plugins and adware hurt everyone in the affiliate marketing channel (besides the software owner). The most significant problem is overriding clicks. Browser plugins send a tracking click whenever they notice that the browser has landed on a merchant site, and that click will overwrite a click that came from another affiliate. Adware works in a similar way—it sets an affiliate cookie which overrides the currently active affiliate cookie, so the cheater gets credit for that sale and receives the commission, while legitimate affiliates lose their rightfully earned payouts.

Another major issue is that this “parasiteware” sets an affiliate cookie even in the case that the customer was brought to the merchant’s site by other marketing channels, such as SEO, PPC, or email marketing. At the end of the day, merchants pay commissions to affiliates (and a fee to the network) for sales they would have earned themselves. Affiliate incentive apps leech even direct traffic, when the customer goes directly to the merchant’s website by typing it in the browser.

Unfortunately, most merchants and affiliate managers lack the necessary knowledge on the subject of affiliate adware and shopping plugins, and they may find it difficult to identify affiliates using such software. The first step in detecting them would be a thorough review of affiliate applications,and monitoring mentions about using specialized apps. Test the affiliate website as if you were a customer, searching particularly for offered apps. Next, monitor closely new performing affiliates and make sure to stay on top of their promotional methods. It is up to you as to how to best handle this: requesting the affiliate to abstain from such methods, or immediately dropping them as an affiliate.

Affiliate managers are busy people, and sometimes it can be tempting to — like an ostrich — bury one’s head in the sand if an affiliate seems to be performing well and bringing in sales for the merchant. However, it is worth the time and effort to investigate performing affiliates to ensure that they are not making these sales to the detriment of the merchant or other partners. Adware and similar apps or plugins can be an invisible drain on the entire affiliate marketing channel; stopping such methods translates into additional dollars for you and more deserving promoters.

2 thoughts on “An Invisible Thief: Affiliate Adware and Plugins”

  1. Pingback: Marketing Day: July 11, 2013

  2. So these things really exist? Thank you so much for the precautions. I was planning to add plug ins into my browser for the fast download and upload. Maybe I’ll not do it.

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