Gorilla Tribune #3 – Opinion/Editorial by Greg Hoffman
As an affiliate program manager, I struggle with keeping my programs clean everyday. If it’s not paid search trademark poachers, it’s toolbars, software, browser add-ons, cookie stuffers or rogue coupon affiliates. I hope some of you are aghast at my behavior in this post. It means I’m doing my job.
My programs are not perfect and depending on the products some might never be completely clean. But we try to find as much balance as possible and create a level playing field for every affiliate sending traffic. There is an argument that says killing 99.9% of the germs on your hand 10 times a day will ultimately break down your immune system. In this case, I believe the same to be true with affiliate marketing. Great affiliates are innovative and they will find a way to edge out the competition. I’m fine with that but the affiliates I have a problem with do not consider the effects on the merchant or the other affiliates in the program. They want to grab the customer at any cost and they stand above the fish pond with a shotgun.
After taking over programs managed by other managers, I guarantee I try much harder than many. Don’t get your panties in a wad if you are one of the good guys. What I’m saying is there is a vast amount of ignorance to this issue in the industry. I’m writing this post to vent and to educate that each affiliate needs to be evaluated and their promotions scrutinized. Just because they send sales doesn’t mean it’s a good value or sound strategy.
Let’s talk about some and see how much trouble I can get into.
They are a necessary evil in our industry. They are the big dog in the coupon space. With the money they have in the bank, they can probably buy a professional football team. I railed against them for many years but the truth is they actually bring in new customers. I’ve run my tests in affiliate programs and in many verticals, they have the traffic to show incremental growth. My strategy with Retailmenot for the last year is to monitor the coupons they post on their landing pages for my clients and give them vanity codes when possible. Will they take credit for existing customers and leads from other channels? Yes, but as one of my oldest clients says, “They closed the sale, leave them alone.” In general, we try to make sure old coupon codes are removed and non-affiliate marketing codes are not posted. It will never be perfect but since they rank #1 for every brand name plus the word coupon, I might as well keep a good relationship with them.
They are not in any of my programs and they will never be welcome. There is no option to be removed from their toolbar and they never respect paid search terms of service. When they were honored at a Commission Junction conference I attended a few years ago, I threw up a little bit. Every time I remove them from a program (EVERY TIME), conversions for other affiliates increase and within a month sales increase overall. ShopAtHome – save the postage on my Christmas card.
Just like Retailmenot, they are (sometimes) a necessary evil. They are the grandfather of toolbars but they at least have the technology and decency to “remove” merchants from the toolbar when requested. What this means is quoted directly from a rep at Ebates: “There is not an option to opt out fully, there will still be a reminder for possible cash back, but the member will have to choose to go back to Ebates if they want their cash back.” Now, out of all of my programs, I inherited them in two programs. In both of those programs, they accounted for such a high percentage of the sales that there was no way the merchant would have allowed me to remove them. I had no choice but to work around them. If you want to work with them and you aren’t a big brand, don’t waste the $750 slotting fee for integration. Build your program without them. (Update 5/15/14: I do not work with them at all)
When a program has more than 50% of its monthly sales coming from toolbars or software, there is something very very wrong with the program. The majority of the sales should be coming from niche content affiliates. These are the affiliates that work hard to build promotions and they put long hours of coding and writing into the brand. Toolbars and software take credit for the sale with zero effort. Eventually, the content affiliates give up because their conversion is too low. Therefore, I remove the bulk of the toolbar and software affiliates from my programs. Collectively, their sales do not equal Ebates and the losses are quickly covered up by higher conversion from good affiliates. I don’t have any ill feelings toward these affiliates, like I do for others further below, but I just don’t see them adding value to the program. I have never seen a drop in the affiliate programs I manage after I remove them and activate content affiliates. Here is a short list with their CJ ID numbers:
MyPoints.com, Inc. (593103)
Social Growth Technologies, Inc (3129257)
Savings.com Inc. (1528854)
Coupilia Apps (3863187)
Drop Down Deals, LLC Jeetyet Media, LLC (3110874)
Jutera Inc (3069199)
Cartwheel Inc. (3740095)
SHOP.COM Marketplace/marketamerica.com, inc. (917492)
If my programs allow direct linking paid search I still lock it down. I have my preferred and trusted affiliates that I work with personally to get the job done and they get exclusive rights. Anyone else that violates the terms gets the boot (thank you BrandVerity)- and they never complain or try to work a deal because all they want are the trademark keywords. Again, it’s the affiliates that only target low-hanging fruit that I have a problem with. Over the years, I have removed hundreds of ppc affiliates. It’s easy to find them in ShareASale. Just look for affiliates that have negative feedback ratings. Here are some of the worst/most recent offenders and their ShareASale ID:
Equinox SEM LLC, ID 402470 www.equinoxsem.com -10 negative feedback rating (means they don’t care)
HelmSpar Inc., ID 577825 www.graboodle.com/ -4
Espacios Digitales S.A., ID 358497 espacios-digitales.com -8
David C Brooks , ID 291621 mybakewareshop.com -5
totes inc, ID 669232 floppynote.com/ -4
jbizix, ID 399490 www.bajabuggs.com -5
Paid Search +
Coupon affiliates that buy trademark terms plus the words coupon, promo codes, discounts and deals are a problem in nearly every affiliate program in existence. These affiliates are hitting the customer mindset of finding the best deal and closing the sale at the last minute by occupying trademark space in paid search. The traffic is not direct linked but the landing pages are stripped bare of any valuable content and the customer has a choice of coupons that may or not work. The majority of them are old or fake codes, thus causing a bad customer experience. My strategy is to lock it down and control the landing pages. I work with a handful of couponers to make sure they get good vanity codes in exchange for keeping the page clean. When I say handful, I’m not kidding. I don’t make it easy for couponers to get vanity or exclusive codes and most of them ignore my correspondence. I could list dozens of coupon affiliates I will never work with again because of their practices or entitlement attitudes. My “handlers” have asked me to clean up what I really think of these coupon trade mark violators:
Greenwood Monkey Bars, LLC, ID 371505 www.thecouponscoop.com (0 – they learned to counter negative feedback)
brinGsaleS.com, LLC, ID 162921 www.promocodes2012.com -8
NextGen Shopping, LLC, ID 62420 www.secretprices.com -3
ITRIANGLES LLC, ID 323469 www.comcoupons.com -1
Ekam Technology Solutions, ID 447099 www.gotthecoupon.com -3
The White Unicorn Group, Inc., ID 437674 www.sayvings.com -1
IMEX Venture Partners, LLC, ID 663574 www.couponpaste.com -2
Farooq Khan, ID 505959 www.mypromotionalcode.com -2
Coupon Refund Inc, ID 241737 www.couponrefund.com (0 – they learned to counter negative feedback)
Got an opinion? Come at me bro. I’ve been holding this one in for a long time. I do listen to others opinions and my stance has evolved over the years so I would appreciate feedback.