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  1. #1
    ShareASale President/CEO and ABW Veteran Brian - ShareASale's Avatar
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    ShareASale Pledges and Expectations - Part 2
    I just got finished posting the second part in a series of blog posts that has to do with what we (ShareASale) pledge to our clients (that is you, affiliates and merchants) as well as what we expect from you.

    Part 2 - In Summary:

    -PPC with regards to restricted keywords is a problem that we all face

    -Merchants and Affiliates alike are frustrated with vague policies, difficult enforcement, and other challenges

    -ShareASale is instituting a 30-day cleanup period

    -Affiliates will be expected to clean up any ensure they are within all PPC rules

    -Merchants will be expected to remove any vague areas of their policies

    -After 30 days, a “test” period for a new “3 Strikes” system will follow for another 30 days

    -Affiliates who are found outside the rules will be removed from ShareASale after 3 Strikes

    -Affiliates who pledge to be good standing members can apply for and receive certification

    -If certified, Affiliates can have their referal information hidden so as to protect their valueable keyword assets

    -Please read the full post if this policy concerns you. The full post is located on the ShareASale Blog as well...

    Feel free to discuss this new policy here as I'll be here taking all suggestions, comments, critiques, and tomatoes. (non contaminated ones please)



    Part 2 of the ShareASale “Pledges and Expectations” thread concerns PPC (Paid search) through the main engines as well as the multitudes of secondary search engines. The issue of paid clicks was vaulted to the forefront of affiliate marketing when affiliates were able to find early success in the search arbitrage game which is to say buying targetted click traffic for a certain price, and then hoping to make more through the commission on those referals. The main clash has come when the merchant themselves has also wanted to utilize paid search - with the two campaigns possibly competing for the same eyeball. The following post is basically one large pledge while at the same time one large expectation…

    The Concerns

    Affiliates have been concerned that Merchants will copy their hard work generating keyword lists and conversion data….

    Merchants have been concerned about a high amount of channel conflict as well as paying commission on long time customers as opposed to new-to-file, etc…

    The 30 Day Plan

    Here is the plan…

    Regarding restricted keywords which often includes trademarked terms and the like: Historically, we have provided all keyword information (as it was available) to Merchants so that they were able to police their keyword restriction policies. We have displayed the URL where a click is coming from which has contained the information on what search term was used. We have also instituted a “Feedback” policy where Merchants are able to leave negative feedback for a specific affiliate in the case that the affiliate is in violation of those restricted keyword terms. In my opinion this combination of policies has worked well in helping Merchants police their policies, but there have still been a few affiliates who have basically been bad apples of the bunch.

    Starting right now - as of the time of this post, we are instituting a “30 day cleanup period” whereas we are offering all affiliates involved in PPC to make sure that they are within the rules. All the rules.

    This is not a “30 day poaching license” … if an Affiliate is outside the rules, an individual Merchant can still remove them and void commissions. It is a “30 day cleanup period” whereas ShareASale will not remove any accounts for minor violations (major violations as always will be dealt with as such).

    During this 30 day period - we will also be notifying Merchants that they should and are expected to use these 30 days to clean up and remove any vague portions of their own PPC policies. One of the most important areas of this will be specifically what “negatives” should be in place for PPC bids, as well as thinking about things such as allowing “example.org coupons” vs. “example.org” as a bid term. Not having a PPC policy is one of the worst things that a Merchant can do. It is always the responsibility of the Affiliate to operate within the rules, but it is the Merchant’s responsibility to set the rules in the first place. Merchants - again, if you need help, let us know.

    Again - it is always the Affiliate’s resposibility to ensure that they are within all rules of a Merchant program. Outside of a rare mistake, it is never a good enough excuse to have “too many programs” to keep up with, or “didn’t know the rules”, etc… We have implemented keyword lists, easy to subscribe RSS for individual merchants, and email notification on “Terms Changes” in order to help you all keep up to date with the ever-changing landscape that is out there… but we also have every expectation that you (the Affiliate) will do so. If you ever need help finding where the Terms are located, or getting signed up for an RSS version of Merchant news, etc… we will help you.

    We also recognize that sometimes Merchants make exceptions for specific Affiliates. This is fine - we strongly encourage you to get these exceptions in writing, and to forward them to ShareASale. We can keep a paper-trail for you within our system so that both ShareASale Support and the Merchant can review these where necessary.

    During these 30 days, we encourage every PPC affiliate to make sure to 100% certainty that they are within the scope of the rules on all programs.

    After the 30 Days

    If, after these 30 days, we receive a complaint from a Merchant regarding paid search policy, trademarks, etc… we will be using a 3-strike system.

    Anyone and everyone can report a violation - the proper procedure will be to open a trouble ticket through the Support Department.

    We will notify an Affiliate upon each strike to let them know that there has been a problem, and to allow for reasonable explanations or corrections to be made.

    There will be instantaneous “2-strikes” at a time given out for things such as malicious geo-targetting, day-parting, and other tricks that are used by some Affiliates to try to hide from Affiliate Manager’s browsers. (Not all Geo-targetting is bad, but ShareASale will use our best judgment in determinging what “malicious” means).

    There will also be an instant “you’re out” if we feel the violation is worthy of that. Outside of those, we will be giving fair warning as well as opportunity to correct…

    At 3 strikes, an offending Affiliate will be removed from the ShareASale Network.

    Before anyone gets too worried, I can tell you all that we will be very fair in this process. There will be situations where Merchants make mistakes and report “false” violations due to the complexity not only of PPC policies but also of the PPC search engines who change things all the time. We will be fair, we will allow for dialogue, and we will allow for corrective action to supercede a “Strike” if we feel that it is in the best interest of both parties.

    Let me state again, we will be fair. We have enough experience to tell the difference between an honest mistake and a malicious use of PPC terms.

    Here is an important part.

    Between the timeframe of 30 and 60 days from right now, this new “system” will officially be in test mode. We will be assigning “Strikes”, reviewing disputes, helping Merchants clean up terms, etc… but any “Strikes” recorded will be wiped out at the 60 day mark. After that - we will begin anew with hopefully everyone familiar with the system and how we plan to run it.

    Essentially, this gives everyone 60 days - but please also note that any major violations, just like any other day, can get someone in trouble so it is not a 60-day license to do whatever you want…. it is a 60-day period to get used to a new system.

    Now … a Pledge to Affiliates as well…

    So that is part of the “Expectation” clause… and I know it is a big one … so we are also including some incentive on the “Pledge” side.

    We will be creating a certification process for PPC affiliates. Under this certification process, Affiliates will have the opportunity to pledge the following:

    -They will always work within the rules

    -They will not hide URL referal information through redirect tactics such as javascript, etc…

    -They will act in good faith with regards to “grey” areas that may not be specifically spelled out in Merchant policy - and will discuss marketing plans with Merchants that could be considered in that “grey” area

    -They will strive to maintain a flawless “Feedback” record on ShareASale with regards to PPC policy

    -They will act swiftly, and in accordance with Merchant terms should there be either a mistake (it happens), or a change in Merchant policy

    -They will maintain accurate and up to date contact information with ShareASale


    With these pledges made, in writing, to ShareASale and kept on file with us - we will (upon review) certify the Affiliate on ShareASale as a provider of PPC search.

    What will this mean? Upon certification - we will provide a seal on your account so that Merchants know that you are a valued affiliate. We will also filter your transaction referal information so that Merchants are unable to see the keywords that you use to market them. ShareASale will still have this information in order to maintain the integrity of the system - but Merchants will simply see that the transaction came through a search, and will no longer see keyword specific information.

    So - that is one pledge, and one expectation. We will protect your most valueable asset - as a search affiliate - in your keyword lists and conversion. In return, you help us clean up a problem that is causing a lot of Merchants to take a hard look at this valueable channel and at times question how it can be policed.

    It is your industry - lets make it the best we can.

    I would like to thank the group of Affiliates, Managers, and others who helped me out with this. They were instrumental in helping me see additional angles that I may not have seen on my own. As always, if anyone has any input that they would like to provide - you can email me anytime at brian /@/ shareasale
    Thanks,

    Brian Littleton
    President/CEO - ShareASale.com, Inc.

  2. #2
    Best New ABW Member 2007 sfcom's Avatar
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    Great terms. Just one question:

    "We will be creating a certification process for PPC affiliates."

    Interested to know when that will be taking place. After the 60 day period is when the first ones can be certified? Just wondering because I didn't see any details as to how to submit the written pledge.

    -sfcom


  3. #3
    ShareASale President/CEO and ABW Veteran Brian - ShareASale's Avatar
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    A fair point. Sometime between now and 60 days from now we will be announcing the process for how to apply... Historical data, in addition to the pledge, will be used in determining who is accepted - and merchants will be made aware of the process as well.

    Thanks for reading.
    Thanks,

    Brian Littleton
    President/CEO - ShareASale.com, Inc.

  4. #4
    Affiliate Marketing Consultant Andy Rodriguez's Avatar
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    The bar has been raised again for affiliate networks .... WTG B - Man..
    Andy Rodriguez Consulting, Affiliate Program Management and Consulting Services, Since 2001
    www.andyrodriguez.com | E: abw@andyrodriguez.com | P: (888) 931-ANDY (2639) | Skype: affiliatedoctor | AIM & MSN: AffiliateDoctor | Subscribe To Our ABW Forum Posts | Follow me on Twitter | Join Our Affiliate Programs

  5. #5
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    This looks like an excellent initiative. Nice work!

  6. #6
    ABW Ambassador Rehan's Avatar
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    Great to see this. Kudos for your leadership and initiative on this issue, Brian.
    --

  7. #7
    Affiliate Network Rep Kim Salvino's Avatar
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    Brian,

    I am continually impressed with SAS. This is one more (huge, BTW) thing to add to the list of reasons why.
    Kim Salvino, Client Services Director, Performance Horizon Group
    Reach me at kim.salvino(at)performancehorizon.com or on (443) 617-4036

  8. #8
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    Excellent move, I love it. Merchants looking for value in their affiliate network partnership will too.

  9. #9
    ABW Ambassador Greg Rice's Avatar
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    Awesome Brian, thank you for taking a proactive stance on something so important.
    Greg Rice Affiliate Program Management
    www.gocmc.com info(AT)gocmc.com | 330-259-1223

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  10. #10
    Affiliate Manager Howard Gottlieb's Avatar
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    Brian is the assumption that everyone is good and gets certified assuming there have been no prior complaints and their 3 strike rule begins?
    I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die
    to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there
    isn't and die to find out there is.

  11. #11
    ShareASale President/CEO and ABW Veteran Brian - ShareASale's Avatar
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    RE: certification....

    It will be an application process, that takes place later (i.e., not immediately) ...

    Affiliates with a poor history prior to now will have to create a positive history in order to have an application accepted. Affiliates with a clean history and a willingness to sign the pledge will be accepted sooner, etc...

    We will be using our judgement.
    Thanks,

    Brian Littleton
    President/CEO - ShareASale.com, Inc.

  12. #12
    Member KirkMcD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian - ShareASale
    or a change in Merchant policy
    They also need to tell us about the change. Don't assume we go back and reread every policy every once in a while looking for changes.

    And it would be easier if the changes were pointed out and not just the entire new terms being sent out.

  13. #13
    ShareASale President/CEO and ABW Veteran Brian - ShareASale's Avatar
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    KirkMcD,

    That is in fact how it works now.... I think it was at last year's ShareASale Think Tank event where the idea surfaced...but we implemented sometime in the early part of this year a method whereas when a Merchant posted a change to their policy - they provide a "Summary" pointing out critical changes as well as the full text of the policy.

    Affiliates are emailed the changed policy as well as the effective date which can be at a minimum 7 days in the future.
    Thanks,

    Brian Littleton
    President/CEO - ShareASale.com, Inc.

  14. #14
    ABW Ambassador 2busy's Avatar
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    The concept is great, but the execution misses the mark as far as summaries. The most recent one I got showed a summary of:
    Affiliate-driven request to change our terms and conditions.

    and then a humongously long unbroken paragraph in legalese that I had to totally edit the layout of it just to read it; It gave no clue as to what was new in the agreement.
    Did not mean to lead this thread astray, and I did have one question regarding the policy:
    For those of us who seldom use PPC there is no pledge/certification? If PPC is used only occasionally we are not part of the group discussed here? I seldom use PPC but do occasionally run campaigns would not consider myself to be a PPC affiliate. I show coupons, but I am not a coupon affiliate per se.

  15. #15
    Outsourced Program Manager Jorge - SHOPiMAR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian - ShareASale
    Affiliates with a poor history prior to now will have to create a positive history in order to have an application accepted. Affiliates with a clean history and a willingness to sign the pledge will be accepted sooner, etc
    The reasons never stop coming for merchants to join SAS. Those are two new great ones

    Good work Brian and SAS team.


  16. #16
    ShareASale President/CEO and ABW Veteran Brian - ShareASale's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2busy
    The concept is great, but the execution misses the mark as far as summaries. The most recent one I got showed a summary of:
    Affiliate-driven request to change our terms and conditions.

    and then a humongously long unbroken paragraph in legalese that I had to totally edit the layout of it just to read it; It gave no clue as to what was new in the agreement.
    Did not mean to lead this thread astray, and I did have one question regarding the policy:
    For those of us who seldom use PPC there is no pledge/certification? If PPC is used only occasionally we are not part of the group discussed here? I seldom use PPC but do occasionally run campaigns would not consider myself to be a PPC affiliate. I show coupons, but I am not a coupon affiliate per se.
    Unfortunately not all merchants use that portion the way that we would like...but I think it is a small portion from what I've seen, and I think the system overall has greatly improved the process of Merchants changing terms and notifying Affiliates. I can't force them to type in summaries that will make sense to everyone, but will continue to try to educate Merchants as to the importance of solid PPC policies.

    Anyone using PPC needs to follow the PPC rules that a merchant puts forth - no matter how big or small. However, for the most part, this is dealing with those affiliates who engage in Direct-to-Merchant PPC on (often) branded terms.
    Thanks,

    Brian Littleton
    President/CEO - ShareASale.com, Inc.

  17. #17
    OPM Queen Kristin Kinsey's Avatar
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    YAY Brian, and the whole SAS team!
    KK

  18. #18
    Outsourced Program Manager Brent E.'s Avatar
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    Thank You!
    Thank You SAS for not being afraid of sticking your kneck out there for the greater good of our industry. I have been waiting for a network to take the lead on this issue since I started in this industry. It doesn't surprise me one bit that you are once again leading the way. You really care about the reputable affiliates trying to do it the right way.

    thank you thank you thank you. I really can't say it enough.

    Brent
    Brent Elias
    Affiliate Manager/Acceleration-Partners
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  19. #19
    Beachy Bill's Avatar
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    This is just one more reason why we are building our business with a focus on ShareASale...ethical people working together toward a common goal. Bravo, Brian and crew.
    Bill / Marketing Blog @ 12PM - Current project: Resurrecting my "baby" at South Baltimore..
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  20. #20
    The slot machine that IS paid! Billy Kay's Avatar
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    Wow! That's loong.

    Must have been a really slow foursome in front of him on the back nine!!!

    As always, kudos.

  21. #21
    Affiliate Manager PetsWarehouse.com's Avatar
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    Looks like a great plan.

    Question, can a valid contact email be required for the affiliate be included as well?
    Bob Pets Warehouse
    Worlds Largest Pet Supply DataBase
    Join our Share-A-Sale Program [since 2003] Twitter



  22. #22
    Life is Supposed to be Fun! Rexanne's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy Rodriguez
    The bar has been raised again for affiliate networks
    Absolutely!
    Peace,

    Rexanne

    Rexanne.com
    Loving Everyone's Child Creates Magic


  23. #23
    Kung Fu Master Eathan's Avatar
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    Brian,

    First, let me say that I am glad to see some action being taken on cleaning up and clarifying PPC marketing at Shareasale. I hope other networks follow suit.

    For the most part I applaud the plan as stated, but there are a few areas where I think it could be improved.

    We also recognize that sometimes Merchants make exceptions for specific Affiliates. This is fine - we strongly encourage you to get these exceptions in writing, and to forward them to ShareASale. We can keep a paper-trail for you within our system so that both ShareASale Support and the Merchant can review these where necessary.
    I agree with this statement, but feel you could strengthen how policy exceptions work within SAS with a requirement (or at least strong encouragement) that merchants who do make exceptions to specific policies include a line that says as much within their affiliate agreements. Something as simple as "Exceptions may be granted on a case by case basis" (taken my own program's agreement) could save time and energy that otherwise might be wasted on false reports, etc.

    There will be instantaneous “2-strikes” at a time given out for things such as malicious geo-targetting, day-parting, and other tricks that are used by some Affiliates to try to hide from Affiliate Manager’s browsers.
    If the geo-targeting, etc is, after careful review, determined to be malicious, why only two strikes? This seems a little soft.

    Upon certification - we will provide a seal on your account so that Merchants know that you are a valued affiliate. We will also filter your transaction referal information so that Merchants are unable to see the keywords that you use to market them.
    I appreciate the idea here, but Shareasale makes so little information available to merchants as it is that this feels like a step backwards.

    Merchants can now see only the single most recent referring URL for a given affiliate, plus whatever comes in on a sale. Confound that with SE spiders stomping through with blank referers, JS and 302 redirects, etc and it's nearly impossible to monitor for and investigate potential policy violations. Our ability to monitor and police our programs is hobbled enough.

    Now the plan is for SAS to determine if we need even the small scraps of information we get. If you're going to implement something like this, please balance it with another tool that helps us monitor our programs. Don't take without also giving.

    My suggestion would be a tool that allows merchants to perform audits of the 30 most recent referring URLs from a selected affiliate, even a certified affiliate. If DB space is an issue with logging referrer info, instead let merchants run an audit that captures the next 30 URLs. I can honestly say that a tool like this would've saved me countless hours over the last year.

    Ex: I see a referer coming from a web based email URL and I'd like to quickly determine if it was a bulk send or just a one-off note to a friend. Short of sitting on the affiliate's account details page and hitting refresh all day, I am completely in the dark. Letting me run a quick audit of the affiliate's 30 most recent or even next 30 referrers would help clear up the mystery in a single click.

    Again, I'm glad to see you taking this initiative, and hope you can appreciate the feedback. It's meant to be constructive, not critical.

    Cheers!
    Eathan Mertz

    Black Cat Mining - Gold Prospecting & Rockhounding Equipment

  24. #24
    Outsourced Program Manager Chris -  AMWSO's Avatar
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    Great initiatives Brian! I look forwards to seeing them roll out, will their be guidelines in place to help merchants set up solid T&C to help work within this iniative?

    Cheers

    Chris
    Affiliate Marketing by AMWSO. Skype - chrissanderson ::: TEL 1-720-336-1784 ::: www.amwso.net
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  25. #25
    Moderator leeann's Avatar
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    Stupid question time... What happens to Affiliates that do not do PPC marketing? Will not having a "certification" make it appear that they are lacking somehow?
    leeann


    Shoppers determine what has value and they like coupons. Stop manipulating who set the cookie just because you do not like coupon and promotional sites.

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