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  1. #1
    Analytics Dude Kevin's Avatar
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    Network Responsibility
    Mod Note Before I even begin this discussion, it is meant as a GENERAL discussion. While referencing specific shortcomings at specific networks is fine, or even abject failures, please use them to further the discussion, not to either promote your favorite network, or trash the ones you dislike.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. While affiliate marketing changes quickly, whether it be due to legislation, technology, or simply the world getting smaller, a lot of the core tenets remain the same.

    A lot of debate, discussion, and anger are thrown back and forth between merchants and affiliates, good and bad. It seems that less often we discuss the true role of the Network in the process. What do we as merchants and affiliates expect of them? What, if anything, do they owe us?

    I have a short list of what I believe to be a networks responsibilities, one for merchants, and one for affiliates. I'd like to discuss it, grow it, or if consensus is such, retract some of it.

    Top 5s

    Responsibilities to Affiliates:

    1.) Provide transaction tracking that is safe and reliable.
    2.) Provide tools that allow affiliates to effectively promote merchants of their choosing.
    3.) Provide mechanics that make it easy for affiliates to understand T&Cs, and recognize changes.
    4.) Provide timely payments.
    5.) Provide security of all personal and sensitive affiliate info they house.

    Responsibilities to Merchants:

    1.) Provide transaction tracking that is reliable, and near impossible to tamper with.
    2.) Provide mechanics to allow merchants to deliver modern creative for affiliate consumption.
    3.) Provide a way to CLEARLY and FAIRLY display terms and conditions.
    4.) Provide accurate reporting of sales sources.
    5.) Make it reasonably easy for a merchant to be found in the network by searching affiliates.

    Other Responsibilities

    I don't think any of the above are arguable. You might think there's another 1 or 2 that are MUST HAVES, but this is where it gets interesting in discussing what role the network plays, as opposed to the merchant or the affiliate.

    So the questions:

    What role should a network play in protecting affiliates from bad (or "clueless") merchants?

    How about protecting merchants from bad affiliates?

    What are the definitions that surround those 2 questions? "Common sense" isn't necessarily the correct answer. Each affiliate and merchant might have their own set of criteria.

    An example I'll throw out is "leaky".

    Many affiliates feel different ways about leaks. And with the advent of social networking, a lot of merchant pages now include "AddThis" type stuff that pushes the consumer out of the check out process for the sake of free marketing. Target runs AdSense ads on their product pages. Phone tracking has become easier... Live Chat is pretty popular.

    Is there a network responsibility to protect affiliates from these practices? Or is that the affiliates responsibility?

    I'm very interested to know how affiliates and merchants fall out on this stuff.

    Feel free to add your own scenarios, for the sake of discussion.
    Kevin Webster
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  2. #2
    The "other" left wing davidh's Avatar
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    I think networks should MONITOR AND TEST to ensure that tracking mechanisms are in place on merchant's sites, and suspend accounts of merchants who do not have them in place.

    If a network cannot perform this quality control measure, then what good are they? The whole idea of a "trusted third party" revolves around the concept of "making sure the affiliate gets credit for referrals and gets paid for them."
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  3. #3
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin
    An example I'll throw out is "leaky".

    Many affiliates feel different ways about leaks. And with the advent of social networking, a lot of merchant pages now include "AddThis" type stuff that pushes the consumer out of the check out process for the sake of free marketing. Target runs AdSense ads on their product pages. Phone tracking has become easier... Live Chat is pretty popular.

    Is there a network responsibility to protect affiliates from these practices? Or is that the affiliates responsibility?
    I don't know of any network that protects affiliates from these practices, but one thing I'm very surprised about is that merchants don't do a better job of educating merchants about best practices in this area (and others). Many of these things are just a matter of education. Merchants often don't realize, consider, or understand the impact that things can have on their affiliate channel. An educated merchant is usually a better partner, and education benefits the network as well as the affiliate.
    Michael Coley
    Amazing-Bargains.com
     Affiliate Tips | Merchant Best Practices | Affiliate Friendly? | Couponing | CPA Networks? | ABW Tips | Activating Affiliates
    "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela

  4. #4
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    Kevin- An example I'll throw out is "leaky"
    Is there a network responsibility to protect affiliates from these practices?
    What do you think of a merchant being an affiliate of their own network? The network can't ignore the merchant is taking advantage of their affiliates. Linkshare is paying their own merchants to steal our traffic.
    By example, look at Handango
    Handango at LinkShare. Up to 20% commission
    I'm an affiliate. I read carefully the agreement and I saw things I like as:
    http://cli.linksynergy.com/cli/publi...2_148888_3.txt
    "Contextual networks forbidden include but are not limited to Claria, WhenU, HotBar, Exact Advertising, 180 Solutions, MarketMaker, Best Offers, Zone Media, Tremor Network and Contextweb."
    Seems like a neat merchant not accepting crooked practices. Wrong!
    Well, we're supposed to be paid on everything sold on the Handango website. Nothing in the agreement stating we'll not be paid on some products.

    Now look at this page:
    http://www.handango.com/content/iphone_apps
    Hover on all the products on this page: See the LinkShare affiliate links for iTunes. These people are just stealing their affiliates traffic.

    I agree with your listed top responsabilities. It would be great if affiliate marketing was perfect. It's not. The problem is in the detail. You can have a good agreement (like the one for Handango) but it's worth nothing if the merchant is a crook. You can use the most sophisticated network to track your commissions, it's worth nothing if the network is crooked.

    We can list more responsabilities but it will never replace the trust between two persons.
    Last edited by Zeus; February 24th, 2010 at 12:45 PM.

  5. #5
    Analytics Dude Kevin's Avatar
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    Zeus: I would agree that the practice you describe is VERY leaky. Should be suppressed for affiliate traffic, etc.

    In your opinion, is that Linkshare's job to police for you? IMHO, once it's brought to their attention, LS should in fact act on it. Problem is, where's the win for LS here? Clearly, Handango has an interest in driving revenue through those downloads. And we'll assume that LS is making money off of both the Handango transactions as a merchant AND as an affiliate. They might tick off a set of affiliates (and would) by allowing it to continue, but potentially tick off a merchant by asking them/forcing them to stop.

    The real challenge, in my eyes, is the strategic partnerships being formed by larger merchants that end up hurting affiliates in the long run. There's a lot of traffic passing going on, and websites aren't the "semi closed" systems they used to be.

    Which brings us to your point about trust. At the end of the day, it's all we have left I guess.
    Kevin Webster
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  6. #6
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    Kevin, I think you understand what I mean. To be safe, an affiliate should be able to check himself what's good for his own business and make the right decision. Should I continue to work with this merchant or not? It's our own decision, for that, we need to do some research. Do I trust LinkShare to act on this leak? Nope. They don't have the same interests. I can list many merchants doing the same thing at Linkshare (and worse). LinkShare will act only if its hurts them.

    I started affiliate marketing in 1994 with just an handshake. No agreement, no reporting, no network. And it worked. I'm still working for some merchants with basic reporting from Yahoo from their early days. No problem, I'm still paid like clockwork.

    Affiliate marketing is so complex now, it's heaven for the crooks. Too many conflicting agreements with too much details that can be easily circumvented by bad actors. Once something is written, you can find ways around. At least, it's my experience.
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  7. #7
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Addressing the general topic... Affiliate marketing is a BUSINESS, and we all need to do our own due diligence. We shouldn't rely on a network to do it for us. We should expect that some businesses are not good to work with. We may need to use legal means to collect what is due us, and some may never be collected. That's business.

    A network is an extra piece of the puzzle, and probably the least essential part of the affiliate networking equation (you HAVE to have affiliates and merchants, but not a network...). It's in THEIR best interest to protect affiliates from bad merchants and merchants from bad affiliates. It's not a RESPONSIBILITY, but it's a way they can make themselves more valuable and essential to merchants and affiliates.

    FWIW, I strongly prefer working with merchants on networks, even though I know the network is typically getting 10-30% of the money, because of the value they provide. With merchants in networks, I get consolidated reporting, consolidated payments, and varying degrees of transparency and trust that things are tracking properly and that I'll be paid. That's worth the 10-30% to me.

    Some networks provide MORE value for me than others, with quicker payments, escrow accounts (more assurance that I'll get paid), and lower fees to the merchants (which leaves more on the table for me to ask for). There is no perfect network. I think they can all do more to provide more value in these areas.
    Michael Coley
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    "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela

  8. #8
    OPM and Moderator Chuck Hamrick's Avatar
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    Kevin, although valid comments I doubt that any network is going to join this discussion on this level. You may be better served to put this in the private Network Rep forum. By all means use this thread to generate the questions.

  9. #9
    Analytics Dude Kevin's Avatar
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    Not sure I need the network reps involved in this particular thread, Chuck. They are welcome to read it, however.

    Edit to add: We could start another one there. Here, I'm really exploring what people's expectations have become in their "trusted third parties".
    Kevin Webster
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  10. #10
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    For networks you start with the foundation:

    Tracking
    Reporting
    Payment

    And then go from there.

    "I think networks should MONITOR AND TEST to ensure that tracking mechanisms are in place on merchant's sites, and suspend accounts of merchants who do not have them in place."

    Agree.

    As far as leaks on the merchant site, I don't think that's something a network should or can get into. That's something you as an affiliate have to check out, also:

    "Merchants often don't realize, consider, or understand the impact that things can have on their affiliate channel."

    With the leaks and what I just quoted. You have to consider the size of the merchant. With some big ones, the affiliate channel actually brings in very little overall, whereas with a smaller merchant, the affiliate channel might be their life blood. And many times, whoever is running the affiliate program, has no control over leaks and what the merchant does with their site. They just run the program, they don't code the site, make those type of major marketing decisions etc. You might see more of that with a smaller merchant or mom and pop type operation. But the affiliate managers for Best Buy, Sony, or Walmart aren't dictating what's on the site.

    And networks should make sure merchants aren't using their platform to screw over affiliates and vice versa. And I've seen that on even the "clean networks".

    Side note, and I might be the only one but I always thought it would be cool to have some sort of thread where each week we pick something specific about a network like:

    Payment
    Getting Links
    Communication
    Internal Mail
    Datafeeds
    Tools - banner rotation javascript, make a page........

    etc and let affiliates say what they like and dislike with the various networks, what they want to see.

    Kind of, if affiliates could build the network of their dreams, a blueprint.

    Build The Perfect Network
    this week's topic.......

    As far as network reps involved in this thread, why not? Don't see the harm and see no point in having discussions like this behind closed doors/private. We're all supposed to be partners in this and it's to everybody's benefit to try to get things to run as smooth as possible.

  11. #11
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Love the idea for the new series of threads, Trust. So, when are you going to start with those?
    Michael Coley
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    "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela

  12. #12
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    Trying to figure out how to set it up where it doesn't become all jumbled up.

    Can't be one thread or it will be very long and hard to find stuff.

    So it has to be one thread per topic but grouped together so it's easy to find.

    I don't know if a forum would be overdoing it? Have a sticky post, explaining what the forum is about. Then one thread per topic and start a new one each week.

    Like the tax nexus stuff, we have a thread for each state so it's easy to find.

  13. #13
    Analytics Dude Kevin's Avatar
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    I like that idea Trust.
    Kevin Webster
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  14. #14
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    I think just separate threads with a common beginning (like "Network Feedback: Payments") would be good. Once we have a few, we could create and maintain a "master" thread that points to all of them and summarizes some of the key feedback from each. It could be a great resource for the networks.
    Michael Coley
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     Affiliate Tips | Merchant Best Practices | Affiliate Friendly? | Couponing | CPA Networks? | ABW Tips | Activating Affiliates
    "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela

  15. #15
    OPM and Moderator Chuck Hamrick's Avatar
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    "I think networks should MONITOR AND TEST to ensure that tracking mechanisms are in place on merchant's sites, and suspend accounts of merchants who do not have them in place."
    Never have understood why this isn't bulletproof as the network loses as well as the affiliate if sales tracking is down. It would necessitate something on the thank you page echoing regularly. I work with my merchants to put a second redundant system for when this happens. Had two go down in Q4 because code was changed, took two days to narrow down and week to get supporting data to bonus back affiliates.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey
    I think just separate threads with a common beginning (like "Network Feedback: Payments") would be good. Once we have a few, we could create and maintain a "master" thread that points to all of them and summarizes some of the key feedback from each. It could be a great resource for the networks.
    Alright, let's give it a go. I will start one shortly.

  17. #17
    ABW Veteran Mr. Sal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trust
    ...And networks should make sure merchants aren't using their platform to screw over affiliates and vice versa. And I've seen that on even the "clean networks".

    Side note, and I might be the only one but I always thought it would be cool to have some sort of thread where each week we pick something specific about a network like:

    Payment
    Getting Links
    Communication
    Internal Mail
    Datafeeds
    Tools - banner rotation javascript, make a page........

    etc and let affiliates say what they like and dislike with the various networks, what they want to see.

    Kind of, if affiliates could build the network of their dreams, a blueprint.

    Build The Perfect Network
    this week's topic.......

    As far as network reps involved in this thread, why not? Don't see the harm and see no point in having discussions like this behind closed doors/private. We're all supposed to be partners in this and it's to everybody's benefit to try to get things to run as smooth as possible.
    Good Idea, Trust!



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