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  1. #1
    Affiliate Manager KirkOair's Avatar
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    What should I do about this affiliate?
    Hey all,

    I'm fairly new to ABW as a poster, but I've been on here as a lurker for some time now.

    I have an affiliate on my in-house affiliate program (It's for travel, mostly airline bookings). This affiliate has a network of affiliates (roughly 10-15 affiliates) who promote exclusively through email marketing. Before we started with him he had claimed that he and his affiliates could drive a very good amount of tracks and conversions. He has said the affiliates are partnered with large hotel chains across America and they share the same email lists, in the hundreds of thousands of subs.

    From the day we started with him he has indeed driven a great amount of clicks and conversions. In roughly a week he was driving more clicks and conversions through our in-house program than both of our third party networks combined (CJ and LS).

    We have done our research to find out that all the bookings he has sent us are completely legitimate, but he seems to be the last click in on some sequences that email marketing generally wouldn't be thought of in.

    EX.)
    Kayak click 4:44 AM
    Kayak click 10:41 PM
    Questionable affiliate click leading to conversion 10:42 PM

    There have been no noticeable dips elsewhere, but we are still skeptical is the traffic and conversions are quite high. Any thoughts, comments, or help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Affiliate Network Rep JCrooks - AffiliateWindow's Avatar
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    I wonder if PPV is involved. We don't allow that on Affiliate Window.
    Jeannine Crooks - Always happy to share what I know! - Voted Best Network Rep 2013 & 2014
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  3. #3
    Affiliate Manager KirkOair's Avatar
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    Good suggestion - Do you know of anyway to catch whether or not that type of advertising is being done? We definitely wouldn't allow that either, it's like legal spyware.

  4. #4
    Beachy Bill's Avatar
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    Looking at the time frame in your example it surely appears to be some kind of "something going on."
    Bill / Marketing Blog @ 12PM - Current project: Resurrecting my "baby" at South Baltimore..
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  5. #5
    Affiliate Manager KirkOair's Avatar
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    Right. I may not have painted him in the best light as there are some clicks that come in that are not < 1 min from the last click. But there are more than a handful of clicks similar to this one.

  6. #6
    Affiliate Manager CreditFirm's Avatar
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    ---My 2 Cents--
    Sometimes the best action is to do nothing at all. Just keep a close eye on him and monitor his traffic/sales. If he hasn't done anything to violate your TOS I couldn't justify removing him from your program.
    Michael Abramsky :usaflag:
    Affiliate Manager for [URL="http://www.creditfirm.net"]CreditFirm.Net[/URL]
    Email: [email]Affiliate@CreditFirm.net[/email] | Phone: 800-750-1416 x 901 | [URL="http://www.creditfirm.net/affiliates"]Affiliate Program Info[/URL]

  7. #7
    Affiliate Manager KirkOair's Avatar
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    Oh no, I don't plan on removing him frivolously. After all, he is doing very well for me. I do plan to monitor the traffic and sales, I was just hoping maybe someone knew of something I didn't.

  8. #8
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    Well, he seems to be legitimate, and you seems to be okay with his advertising method.

    Since this seems to be concern, I would contact him directly and ask him about this sequence of event, he might have an explanation that satisfy you

  9. #9
    Beachy Bill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KirkOair View Post
    Oh no, I don't plan on removing him frivolously. After all, he is doing very well for me. I do plan to monitor the traffic and sales, I was just hoping maybe someone knew of something I didn't.
    Playing Devil's Advocate here, your statement brings another thought (or two) to mind. Where was he promoting "before" he came to work with you (he obviously didn't develop his record sales overnight)? Did he come to you or did you recruit him? if he approached you - did he, maybe, get caught with his hand in the cookie jar somewhere else? Or was your offer simply so much better than that of your competitors - that he was willing to stop what was successful elsewhere and move to your program?
    Bill / Marketing Blog @ 12PM - Current project: Resurrecting my "baby" at South Baltimore..
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  11. #10
    Affiliate Manager KirkOair's Avatar
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    Bill - I appreciate you weighing in and playing devils advocate in this situation. He had mentioned working with Expedia beforehand, but according to him they lowered commissions and he was looking elsewhere. My company does pay fairly higher in our vertical for travel commissions on airfare than other places. Which is something he mentioned before working with us. He did approach us.

    As far as stuffing, we have looked into that and not found anything that a novice stuffer would get caught by. Our thoughts are maybe that he knows something about stuffing that we don't. We have done some extensive search on him and his company and nothing has turned up online that he was doing anything illegal beforehand.

    My gut tells me something is wrong, but so far I cannot prove it.

  12. #11
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    Is there a referring url.. ?

    Sounds like toolbar/software..

  13. #12
    Affiliate Manager KirkOair's Avatar
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    We can see the referring URL when a click converts.

    How would one go about discovering if they were stuffing with a toolbar?

  14. #13
    ABW Ambassador isellstuff's Avatar
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    So bad affiliates can mask the true referrer by routing through several websites. They will also redirect to different places based on the referrer they receive, which makes them hard to spot. Some things to think about:

    1) Trademark bidding via PPC. So for instance, an adwords ad might look like it is coming through "Kayak", but in reality it is a PPC ad by your affiliate.

    2) Dropping your affiliate link on 3rd party sites such as retailmenot. Once again, keep in mind the redirects that go different places based on passed in criteria. A retailmenot employee might see a raw link and a retailmenot visitor might get your affiliate link. They might use mispellings or subdomains that look like the real deal. e.g. kayak.cn or kayak.travelz.com

    Just to be clear, the redirect chain might look like:

    Non Affiliate redirect (when referrer doesn't look like a real shopper) :
    kayak.travelz.com -> SomBogusRedirectDomain.info -> Kayak.com

    Affiliate cookie drop (for people in the late stages of buying):
    kayak.travelz.com -> SomBogusRedirectDomain.info -> MyTravelDealsAffiliate.com -> Kayak.com

    Some criteria that SomBogusRedirectDomain.info might use:
    IP Address -> Geographic Lookup Table (your company is headquartered in Chicago, so everyone in Chicago will see the naked link)
    Refferring Domain (The Kayak.travelz.com click was referred by a domain other than Google Adwords)
    Time Limit (First xx days its a raw link, after xx days its a cookie. Or after business hours it is a cookie)

    LOL, I feel like I just wrote a "how to" guide for every shady affiliate on this board...
    Last edited by isellstuff; November 4th, 2013 at 12:54 PM.


  15. #14
    ...and a Pirate's heart. Convergence's Avatar
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    Check timestamps as well, easy to do day-parting as well. As isellstuff mentioned, they know where the program is HQ'd, and by communicating with you they know you're located in NYC. So with PPC they simply don't show some ads until after business hours in Chicago/IL or NY...
    Salty kisses, Sandy toes, and a Pirate's heart...

  16. #15
    ABW Ambassador isellstuff's Avatar
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    A dishonest affiliate could also run flash ads on the merchant website. So, target site placements on Kayak.com via Adwords, running an innocuous looking banner ad for say, a popular vacation destination, but cookie stuff under certain circumstances.

    This would be like:

    Flash-Based Cookie-Stuffer Using Google AdSense to Claim Unearned Affiliate Commissions from Amazon

    An affiliate could really take the guesswork out of cookie stuffing if their ads appeared directly on the merchant website because that merchant was running 3rd party network banner ads.

  17. #16
    Affiliate Manager KirkOair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by isellstuff View Post
    They will also redirect to different places based on the referrer they receive, which makes them hard to spot.
    This stuck out strongly to me among other things you said. There are several redirects occurring before a user gets to our landing page. Something is definitely not kosher, I just can't find exactly what it is yet.

  18. #17
    ABW Ambassador isellstuff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KirkOair View Post
    This stuck out strongly to me among other things you said. There are several redirects occurring before a user gets to our landing page. Something is definitely not kosher, I just can't find exactly what it is yet.
    How do you know there are several redirects? Don't get confused with terminology. I was unclear how you knew the visitor went back and forth to Kayak several times, but to be clear, that is not the redirection I am talking about...

    You might want to read this:

    URL redirection - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  19. #18
    ABW Ambassador isellstuff's Avatar
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    The point is, from the traffic pattern you outlined, the person was shopping around for deals. As they got closer to the end of their purchase cycle, they were intercepted and a cookie was dropped. The question is, how did the affiliate intercept the traffic at such an opportune moment?

    This typically happens when:

    1) A user is looking for a coupon
    2) A user is using Google for navigation, enters the domain name and is intercepted by an affiliate PPC ad
    3) toolbars & BHO's
    4) cookie stuffing on the target website

    Imagine the user going back and forth between several sites as they make a purchasing decision and getting intercepted by an affiliate during this operation.

    Of course, it also could be legit if the affiliate was helping to make a buying decision. (ha, like by providing an informative newsletter that causes the user to swap between two pages)

    My redirect examples illustrate how an affiliate would cover their tracks and mask their true activity.

  20. #19
    Affiliate Manager KirkOair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by isellstuff View Post
    How do you know there are several redirects? Don't get confused with terminology.
    We have been given their email newsletter, and when we click their call to action in the newsletter, we are directed through 2-4 URLs before making it to our landing page.

    Quote Originally Posted by isellstuff View Post
    I was unclear how you knew the visitor went back and forth to Kayak several times, but to be clear, that is not the redirection I am talking about...
    We can see the hit sequence of what they went to up to the 3 most recent places of ours.

  21. #20
    ...and a Pirate's heart. Convergence's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KirkOair View Post
    We have been given their email newsletter, and when we click their call to action in the newsletter, we are directed through 2-4 URLs before making it to our landing page.
    Pop in their URL from the newsletter here:

    WhereGoes? - A tool for tracing the redirect path of URLs
    Salty kisses, Sandy toes, and a Pirate's heart...

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  23. #21
    ABW Ambassador isellstuff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KirkOair View Post
    We have been given their email newsletter, and when we click their call to action in the newsletter, we are directed through 2-4 URLs before making it to our landing page.
    When I setup social media links, my redirects are bit.ly -> my own tracking page -> affiliate network -> merchant page

  24. #22
    Affiliate Manager KirkOair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Convergence View Post
    Pop in their URL from the newsletter here:

    WhereGoes? - A tool for tracing the redirect path of URLs

    Thanks Convergence. I don't know if this helps but I'm posting the findings from wheregoes.com below
    Last edited by KirkOair; November 5th, 2013 at 10:57 AM.

  25. #23
    ABW Ambassador isellstuff's Avatar
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    I'm pretty sure they are not legit and are using some of those domains to mask and route. Personally, I'd drop them like a rock. The final URL was registered less than a month ago privately.


    You could ask them why they are routing through so many domains, doesn't make any sense to me. The first three are tracking urls, but not sure why they use three...
    Last edited by isellstuff; November 5th, 2013 at 11:00 AM.

  26. #24
    ...and a Pirate's heart. Convergence's Avatar
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    First domain is a login page for self-hosting apps site, the other two are private registrations. last domain isn't even "active".

    Looks fishy as hell.

    Oh, BTW, you shouldn't post affiliate info/links in public
    Salty kisses, Sandy toes, and a Pirate's heart...

  27. #25
    ABW Ambassador isellstuff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Convergence View Post
    Looks fishy as hell.
    Agreed... But I guess I should ask how your in-house tracking works? Was that last domain part of your inhouse tracking? I forgot about that... If your in-house tracking doesn't use a different domain, then six redirects is incredibly incompetent (or black hat): I saw:

    tracking -> tracking -> tracking -> parked domain -> parked domain -> travel site

    That's six hops and if your in-house affiliate program works on your domain, is very, very suspect.
    Last edited by isellstuff; November 5th, 2013 at 11:08 AM.

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