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  1. #1
    Defender of Truth, Justice and the Affiliate Way
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    Branded Links Now On All 3 Major Networks
    Linkshare announced today the initiation of branded links on LS with Overstock to begin using the links.

    This now makes all three major networks offering branded links, all with major merchants. The ones I am aware of are: Ebay, Buy.com, B&N and Overstock.

    Some quotes from the Linkshare press release which may be of particular interest to affiliates (bolding added by me):

    LinkShare publishers are now able to change out their Overstock.com links that currently redirect through LinkShare's servers and link directly to Overstock.com.
    Steve Denton:
    Our plan is to introduce the new link structure we are testing with Overstock.com to clients worldwide in the fourth-quarter.
    "LinkShare is always testing new and different ways to enhance the advertising experience for users, advertisers, and publishers," said Steve Denton
    Someone please explain how this is a good thing (enhancement) for affiliates? Particularly SEO affiliates. And since when did LS start using "advertiser" and "publisher" instead of "merchant" and "affiliate"? Maybe I just haven't been paying attention to that one.

    This seems like purely a play by all 3 of the networks to make themselves more attractive to their advertisers/merchants. How are publishers/affiliates being compensated for providing SEO benefit to the merchants? A definite plus for the networks and merchants with affiliates being used (IMO).

    Networks, when was the last time you made changes or "upgrades" which benefited your affiliates/publishers? In your quest to nab advertisers, you shouldn't forget it's your affiliates/publishers who drive traffic.

    I can just picture Q4 on LS now. Oh my! How many LS merchant's may possibly go for this change in Q4? I saw no mention of legacy links and how that will be handled.

  2. #2
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    "This seems like purely a play by all 3 of the networks to make themselves more attractive to their advertisers/merchants."

    I didn't know getting zapped by Google was attractive to merchants/affiliate managers? They really need to take themselves over to the Webmaster Guidelines:

    http://www.google.com/support/webmas...y?answer=35769

    http://www.google.com/support/webmas...ge&topic=&type

    The angle networks are using to sell to this to merchants is one Google says right on their blog that they don't like. Using the affiliate program to game Google.

    "Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank.”

    "The best links are not paid, or exchanged after out-of-the-blue emails–the best links are earned and given by choice.”

    http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/text-links-and-pagerank/

    Most merchants already have great SERPS. This will also lead to new merchants signing up for the sole purpose of getting inbound links. I see zero benefit to affiliates. The argument I used to hear why this is good for affiliates is because of Norton or ad blocking, well -

    http://forum.abestweb.com/showthread...norton+default

    Norton doesn't do it anymore.

    So in a nutshell, it's using the affiliate program to game Google and the other search engines. I'm sure they'll like that. So at this point it's not too late since it's only a few merchants at this time. And I see this as an opportunity for a network to actually think for a change. Let the other networks go in that direction, you stay put with the affiliate links you already have and sell it to merchants that their SERPS won't get hurt like it possibly can in the other networks.
    Last edited by Trust; August 1st, 2007 at 10:45 AM.

  3. #3
    Member SLAPPA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kellie aka Ms. B
    Networks, when was the last time you made changes or "upgrades" which benefited your affiliates/publishers? In your quest to nab advertisers, you shouldn't forget it's your affiliates/publishers who drive traffic.
    On the flip side, if a merchant is purely after links, maybe they will beef up their offers? Wouldn't a better offer/commision encourage more affiliates to post links? Links are money and I could even see merchants willing to take a loss on affiliate payouts just to get more links.

    How does it work? Could a merchant offer say 5% to affiliates using the redirects and 10% to those who opt for the branded links?

  4. #4
    ABW Ambassador Snib's Avatar
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    I'm with Trust on this. They're just shooting themselves in the foot. Any merchant that employs this risks a very serious penalty in Google and other search engines. And I'm sure the networks aren't doing a thing to warn these merchants about these possible repercussions.

    - Scott
    Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions.

  5. #5
    15 years and counting
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    I believe also it's a potential disaster for the merchants using these direct links.
    Anyway, to introduce that as an improvement for affiliates is stupid.

  6. #6
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    Volare, where that thought goes next is for the merchant to pay more to those who can pass more PR... once you start thinking about the richness of affiliate techniques, you'll begin to see that focusing on seo benefits distracts from the main purpose of affiliate marketing, incremental sales through extended reach. In addition, this move by networks won't get idly indexed and organically valued by G, they will find a way to discount aff links, even if that means punishing the organic SEO / PR of anything that looks like an affiliate site. Black hat SEOs would become the highest valued affiliates. Merchants would be taking lots of unecessary risks in trying to game the SEs. I don't know of any AMs / OPMs who are true SEO experts - so there'd be turnover in many places.

    Who does this idea benefit? It's very short term thinking and is counter productive in so many ways. Merchants should work on SEO and Affiliate Channel distinctly, mixing them waters down both efforts.

  7. #7
    Outsourced Program Manager Jorge - SHOPiMAR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by VolareMedia
    How does it work? Could a merchant offer say 5% to affiliates using the redirects and 10% to those who opt for the branded links?
    I dought it, if you see some top brand merchants want to or have reduced their commission payouts lately. Could it be that its costing them more on those networks and they have no choice to lower commissions.

    and agree with Trust

    This will only hurt the merchants now through these networks too as G will say, you want to trick us that is ok, I will already be the top G network with other affiliate offers making it more attractive and will put our own offers above yours easily.

  8. #8
    ShareASale President/CEO and ABW Veteran Brian - ShareASale's Avatar
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    Trust,

    One of the best posts I've read all year... thanks for that as I'll have some more weapons to use when I am trying to convince merchants that "direct linking" is a bad idea.
    Thanks,

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

  9. #9
    ABW Veteran Mr. Sal's Avatar
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    Most merchants already have great SERPS. This will also lead to new merchants signing up for the sole purpose of getting inbound links. I see zero benefit to affiliates.
    I don't know but........

    I'm with Trust on this. They're just shooting themselves in the foot. Any merchant that employs this risks a very serious penalty in Google and other search engines. And I'm sure the networks aren't doing a thing to warn these merchants about these possible repercussions.
    Maybe by next year we will see a lot of those merchants on supplemental results, listed below the affiliate sites already there now.

  10. #10
    Defender of Truth, Justice and the Affiliate Way
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    Most merchants already have great SERPS.
    I think the carrot that merchant's are biting on is improved SERPs on their individual product pages.

    But I totally agree that's it's risky SEO. But is the risk just to the merchant? Will the SE's also possibly penalize the affiliate site for being part of the equation on the link scheme? It's also interesting in the context of Google acquiring Performincs and Performics now also offering branded links. That seems a bit of a conflict.

    you'll begin to see that focusing on seo benefits distracts from the main purpose of affiliate marketing, incremental sales through extended reach.
    Exactly. But the major networks seem to have been distracted from the main purpose of affiliate marketing for a while now. Any tools, etc coming from them to grow the actual pay-per-performance affiliate channel? Things that actually increase incremental sales? Those types of things seem to be coming from third parties and the smaller networks like SAS and AvantLink. It seems they are interested in almost everything but the core of affiliate marketing.

  11. #11
    Yup, Sure ... now let me check ... Cagles Mill's Avatar
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    How about if affiliates insert the "no follow" command into their links? Wouldn't that solve many of the problems being discussed here, or would it just create a bunch of new problems? But then of course, who wants to bother having to insert a special command into all of their links?!
    Rick M.
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  12. #12
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    It appears to me that this could be the networks' attempt at making the merchant more and more dependent on them. If the merchant's SERPs take a dive, they might consider allowing the BHOs the networks push on them aboard in a desperate attempt to regain the sales numbers. Nice "partnership" huh?

  13. #13
    Influencer Marketing GravityFed's Avatar
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    I also want to thank Trust for great info.

    I'm with Brian! This is the perfect post to point merchants to...who want to use their Affiliate channel to improve link pop. Affiliate marketing is not the channel for merchants to build page rank. Killing two birds with one stone (increased sales through Affiliate partners & higher link popularity) isn't going to happen.

    Merchants should take note to Sal's comment..
    Maybe by next year we will see a lot of those merchants on supplemental results, listed below the affiliate sites already there now.

  14. #14
    Affiliate Manager 1av8r's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donuts
    ...Merchants should work on SEO and Affiliate Channel distinctly, mixing them waters down both efforts.
    Makes sense to me.

  15. #15
    The slot machine that IS paid! Billy Kay's Avatar
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    There was a brand new merchant - a first timer no one ever heard of

    They offered me - and a handful of others - who ranked well on their preferred keywords a special deal...

    Basically, double commissions if we used a branded link instead of the usual Network link

    A year later...

    They went from nowhere, to consistently ranking number 1 or 2, while our sites are nowhere to be found for those keywords

    Don't do it.

  16. #16
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    What network was that?

  17. #17
    The slot machine that IS paid! Billy Kay's Avatar
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    Oh Shoooooot

    A Kolimbo merchant that gave me branded links (I guess I was the only aff that promoted products) sent an email 2 weeks ago saying they're leaving Kolimbo on 7/31

    They'll let us know where they go

    Never got another email, and Kolimbo says they're gone, I should drop the program

    So I clicked a link to see what kind of error message a visitor gets...

    None!

    My links go to the right products - only difference is I get no commission.

    I'll be busy tonight!!!

  18. #18
    Affiliate Manager cbsturg's Avatar
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    Scary, Billy Kay, and downright deceptive. I'm glad you caught this before you gave away too much more free advertising...

    I can understand wanting to get more for the same price (give me the SEO and the affiliate growth at the same time), though the positions outlined here by the ABW members is quite reasonable. As a merchant, I don't expect my affiliates to provide me with free SEO work - I just want them to promote my program.

    And if I'm not going to pay them, I certainly don't expect to get qualified traffic (or any traffic, for that matter...).
    Chris Sturgill
    "All my life I've had one dream, to achieve my many goals." - H. Simpson

  19. #19
    Full Member ske9963's Avatar
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    That is a good angle Billy.

    What happens when the merchant says BYE BYE to the network? Will the link work?

    Question: I am wondering how successful Amazon is when it comes to their aff program as they have branded links too..
    Ma, where the beer? :escape:

  20. #20
    The slot machine that IS paid! Billy Kay's Avatar
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    Even when they close down the program, the branded link will work

    it looks like this:

    merchantname.com/productpage.htm?aid=4444

    the link will still work, except no one's tracking the aid=4444 part - the part that sends you money

  21. #21
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    Unhappy Bad for Affiliates and the Networks
    I just read the same press release and wanted to post that this new structure will be bad for both the affiliates and will eventually be bad for the networks.

    Let's say that an affiliate web site has the top position in Google for keyword XXX. They decide to monetize their site by having a an ad to a relevant page on Overstock. If the linkshare product works as planned, the affiliate would lose their top position for the keyword. This cuts both Linkshare and the affiliate out of the loop.

    I wish the affiliate networks would realize that the things they do to intentionally undermine their affiliates also undermines their own business.

    Anyway, affiliates need to start protecting themselves by pushing all of their affiliate links through redirects. Of coiurse, the merchants engaged in a business war against their affiliates are likely to start rejecting websites that use redirects.

    In the long run, the best bet for affiliates is to reject the big networks and merchants seeking to cheat the system and to promote those companies looking to play fair.

  22. #22
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    I just came up with an analogy that might help mechants understand why affiliates don't like branded links...

    It's kind of like if a company who sends out a memo to announce a new benefit for their employees. The benefit is that they are now required to show up an hour early to work every day, put on a chicken costume, and walk up and down the sidewalk promoting their company off the clock.

    First, providing SEO benefits to you is not our job. Second, we get absolutely no benefit from providing free SEO benefits to you. Third, it's insulting that you try to spin this as a benefit for affiliates.
    Michael Coley
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  23. #23
    Affiliate Manager rhkocatas's Avatar
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    We have an in-house program with direct links...
    As many of you are aware, we left beFree and created an in-house program over a year ago. So a few questions...
    1) Do you view our direct links as a problem?
    2) Would you rather we set up a "fake" tracking domain to re-direct through? Like www.random-tracking-domain-that-will-not-help-seo.com
    3) Couldn't you do this (#2) on your own?
    4) What about using no-follow tags?
    5) Did you ever care about the SEO benefit you have been giving to the networks?

    From a merchants perspective direct links allow us to
    1) Offer more variety in inbound links that can better cater to the offer or product.
    2) Not be held hostage by our networks if we want to change. This lesson learned by the shuttering of reporting.net.
    Reha Kocatas - MagazineAgent.com
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  24. #24
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    From a merchants perspective direct links allow us to
    1) Offer more variety in inbound links that can better cater to the offer or product.
    That's something you should be paying your SEO for. It's called "paying for link development services."

  25. #25
    Affiliate Manager rhkocatas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by webworker
    That's something you should be paying your SEO for. It's called "paying for link development services."
    I think my comment may be misunderstood. In our experience affiliates have asked to link to a variety of places on our site for the same SKU. For example some affiliates wanted to link to the general product page, others to the magazine cover page, and then others to the various ordering forms. Multiple options for the same SKU were very difficult to manage (if even availalbe) through the major networks. I would also add that by being direct we have been able to increase our commissions due to not having to pay a network fee.

    To be honest, I had never considered the direct links issue to be a concern. No one voiced this during the transition and had I not come accross this thread I would continue to be ignorant.

    So now my question is do we open a program with CJ to allow affilaites opposed to direct linking an alternative way to be involved with our program? The unfortunate thing is that such a program would have to have a much lower commission then our in-house program due to fees.
    Reha Kocatas - MagazineAgent.com
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