What’s an Affiliate Hunter you ask? It’s just one of the many hats I wear here at the Surplus. While overseeing our affiliate program, there are certain responsibilities of that job which has led us to come up with the term “Affiliate Hunter” (thanks Zach!). An affiliate hunter is someone who I picture wearing khaki colored safari shorts and carrying standard hunting equipment; except instead of binoculars you have IP addresses, urls, and search engines, instead of shorts and a hat you are dressed to meet your company’s dress code policy, and finally instead of a high powered rifle you have the power to terminate publishers and deny commissions with the click of a mouse.
If you are a merchant or advertiser running an affiliate program on ShareASale, Commission Junction, or elsewhere, there are a few activities to keep an eye out for when dealing with publishers. Affiliate’s can hijack your tracking code, bid on keywords you don’t allow, or buy domains that are similar to yours. One type of resource I often reference is affiliate forums, like ABestWeb. If your affiliate program has been around for any length of time you’ve probably experienced some if not all of these tactics used by publishers, but for those who are new to the game you’ll at least become a junior affiliate hunter by the end of this post. So put on your safari hat and lace up those chukka boots, we’re going affiliate hunting!
Please remember that these tips are never intended to be used maliciously or to prevent hard working publishers from receiving their earnings for valid conversions. Unfortunately it only takes a few bad publishers to tarnish the reputation of affiliates overall, and that goes for the merchants as well. The majority of your affiliates should not be involved in any of the aforementioned activities, and if you are catching several offenders, you may want to check with your affiliate network provider about the quality of their publishers. Remember to stop and think for a second “If I was a publisher…” before you pull the trigger. More often that not, these violations can be corrected with a polite email, clearly outlining the violation(s), the steps to correct the problem, and any repercussions that they may face if not resolved.
- Keyword Bidding: Part I- Do you allow affiliates in your program to bid on keywords? If you do, do you have terms that affiliate publishers are not allowed to bid on, like your company name? One of the most productive ways publishers generate traffic is through keyword bidding on the search engine advertising platforms. If you do have a list of terms that are off-limits to publishers, you need to share it with them. Add the blocked list-o-keywords to your program details, include it in your approval emails, and remind them to check the list frequently. If you’ve already done all of this, or are having an epiphany right now, open a browser, go to a search engine and search your blocked terms. If you see ads for your name that aren’t yours, they could be a competitor’s but it’s most likely they are an affiliate’s. One method you can use to find out who the affiliate publisher is, is to click on the ad and see if the url redirects or forwards through with any kind of affiliate tracking. Within that url you can find the publisher id number, which then lets you check your approved publisher list.
- Keyword Bidding: Part II- Other tricks publishers might use with keywords includes scheduling them to run during the night time when you aren’t at work looking for them, and geo-targeting the ads to show everywhere but your region. Ask a friend or relative on the opposite coast to run some searches for you.
- Domain Stockpiling- Do you own all the common variations, misspellings or extensions of your domain name? If not, someone may have already purchased yourdomain.info or yourdomain.extensionofchoice. This tactic is referred to as typosquatting. We have seen strikingly similar variations of our domain being utilized by publishers. While we do own several domain extensions of our domain and misspellings we saw a publisher using the combination of our domain misspelled at a non .com extension which we did not have. We were able to politely email the publisher and offer then a little bit of money (to cover their domain purchase cost and transfer fees) and they accepted. If you aren’t sure who owns the domain in question, simply run a check through the whois database and then cross reference the registered user’s name in your list of approved publishers.
- Promoting Coupons- Many affiliate sites excel by offering merchant coupon codes and discounts. Some of these coupons are exclusive for select publishers; others are widely available to all. Keep track of who coupon codes are shared with, some affiliates may steal codes that are only for select affiliates and repost them on their site. This is a rather unfavorable thing to do, and the violating affiliate can quickly rack up many sales or leads by piggybacking off the popular merchant’s coupon code.
- Dropping EPC- On occasion publishers will send you tons of leads and traffic but it will not convert. Depending on how that affiliate is generating the traffic, it may not be very qualified for your site or offer. Lots of traffic and low conversions spells LOW EPC for a merchant. Find the publishers with low EPC rates and email them asking if they need any help, and give them some pointers for what works well in your program. They may realize they cannot generate sales for you and stop sending high volumes of non converting traffic, but if they continue and your EPC is sinking faster than the Titanic, send another email and let them know you may have to let them go.
- Automate Approvals- As I mentioned in my last post, some networks provide tools to automate the approvals of applications. It’s pleasant to know that as I lay my head down to sleep, I am approving qualified affiliates to join my program. With these automated rules, you can prevent publishers from certain countries, low performance levels, or by particular categories their website is listed in from ever entering your program. I’ve been told it’s more time efficient to let everyone in, then weed out the undesirable publishers as you come across them. Imagine throwing a black tie event, you wouldn’t let people in the door wearing Wranglers would you?
- BONUS- I would also like to recommend two tools that have been very helpful in hunting down affiliates using redirects and encoded links. Rex Swain’s HTTP Viewer is a free tool available online. I have also found a FireFox extension called LiveHTTPHeaders.