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  1. #1
    Affiliate Manager
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    Possible Fraud?
    Hi;

    this is a question for fellow Managers. I have an affiliate account at SAS and have had two affiliates with dramatically higher sales in July and August.

    Both affiliates have low-key, simple sites with no mention of our company or links. The sales are coming through pages that redirect to one of our product pages. I have a feeling they are running PPC or other advertising, but, I can't find any listings.

    Worse, at SAS, a detail screen shows the last IP log on and both accounts are the same, so I believe it is the same affiliate.

    I also happen to be running a monthly bonus for July & August and both accounts have earned it.

    Any ideas on what this affiliate might be doing to drive the sales? I'm concerned that they might not be legitimate.

    Thanks

  2. #2
    AM Navigator Geno Prussakov's Avatar
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    Could be PPC arbitrage, and more than likely PPC arbitrage only. If you should me an e-mail I'll be happy to let you know if I have seen any of the same behavior from them in any of the programs I manage.

    Geno

  3. #3
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    Edited because I wasn't clear the first time:

    You need to have a ppc policy in place that outlines what is and isn't allowed by your affiliates. Trademark poaching is a huge problem, legitimate ppc affiliates are a huge boost to any program.

    Write a clear ppc policy, enforce it, and there won't be questions of whether affiliate activity is fraudulent or not. You need to know what and how your affiliates are driving traffic, talk to them. If you find they are driving traffic in ways you don't like then educate them AND put a policy in place to prevent it from continuing.

    Hope that is clearer.
    Last edited by loxly; August 10th, 2007 at 11:50 AM.
    Deborah Carney
    TeamLoxly.com BookGoodies.com ABCsPlus.com

  4. #4
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    Lemme guess, it's a jewelry site?
    You have several people bidding your trademarks and pretending to be you. I guess you could call it arbitrage, some call it trademark poaching. Call it what you want, you are flushing money when you pay these affiliates because those customers were looking for you to begin with.

    Geno, this is happening in all of your programs. Are you aware of that?

  5. #5
    AM Navigator Geno Prussakov's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UncleScooter
    Geno, this is happening in all of your programs. Are you aware of that?
    Scott, I am. You know this as we have discussed it with you at the last affiliate summit. Whoever was doing this in violation of the merchant's affiliate program terms of service was terminated from the program(s).

    Geno

  6. #6
    Internet Cowboy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geno Prussakov
    Scott, I am. You know this as we have discussed it with you at the last affiliate summit. Whoever was doing this in violation of the merchant's affiliate program terms of service was terminated from the program(s).

    Geno
    FuntoCollect clearly does not allow trademark bidding but there is always someone camping out on their trademarks in Google, Geno. Summit was two months ago.

    You, being the authority on affiliate marketing that you are, certainly know this. Why don't you do anything about it?

  7. #7
    AM Navigator Geno Prussakov's Avatar
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    I am policing such affiliate behavior with FTC. You know that affiliates find ways around it (opening new accounts, etc), and we're fighting it. Analyzing FTC's referral URLs now. Thanks.

    Geno

  8. #8
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    All you have to do is go to Google and type in "FuntoCollect", then on the top PPC spot, right click and select "Copy Link Location", then open a notepad and paste the contents and you will see the affiliate who is doing this.

    Referral logs are useless because the affiliate is using a redirect from his own web site, so you do not see what he is bidding on. Every program you manage is a victim of this with the exception of GreatLakesNutrition.

    In cases where you have no terms posted for your merchants, if the merchant does not understand about protecting their pocketbook from trademark poachers, is it not the affiliate manager's job to educate them about this since this abuse comes from the affiliate channel?

    I have been told by some that merchants just don't care and I have a hard time believing that. They don't care because they don't understand. I have also been told by those same OPMs that this does make the affiliate program's numbers look good. To allow this in order to artificially inflate the numbers of an affiliate program is a shortcut by the AM or OPM and shows a complete lack of regard for their client or for other affiliates.

    Being parasite-free is great, but trademark poachers cost other affiliates as much or more than parasites. They cost the merchant probably more money than parasites do. I am growing more and more appalled at the number of affiliate managers who look the other way.

    You're not alone Geno. There are several affiliate managers here at ABW who tout squeeky clean reputations who allow this to happen and even one major OPM allows it when his merchant/client has clearly outlined rules against it. I used you as an example because you called this arbitrage. It is NOT arbitrage as we know the term in this business. It is an unethical act of monetizing the merchant's trademark while adding zero value to anyone in the affiliate marketing equation.

    To all affilaites reading this, go through the process above with your favorite merchant and see how your cookies are being overwritten, then contact the affiliate manager for that program and ask them why they allow it. It is YOUR money these other affiliates are taking.

    I am leaving for the weekend so I will not respond to this thread any further until Monday.

  9. #9
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    ContourLiving: You didn't mention whether you'd checked the referring-URL fields in the SAS interface. If traffic is coming from PPC, you can usually identify many of the referrers (sometimes the referrer is googlesyndication, other times google.com, other times you'll see various content-site URLs like about.com or myspace.com). Often, the referring-URL will also embed the search phrase that triggered the PPC ad.

    If you're finding that "nearly all" of these referring-URLs are blank, then that's probably a sign of something WORSE than PPC trademark bidding (probably parasite activity).

  10. #10
    Merchant & ABW Ambassador
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    OT, trademark poachers are like lemmings.

    2 weeks ago, I spent time contacting affiliates and asking them not to bid on trademarks (TM) terms. It was an accomplishment that everything was removed. Fast forward 3-4 days and you see different players move in. And the cycle goes on. Or some will have amnesia...

    Here are some tips:
    1) 1st Offence: Warning and remove TM bidding within 24 or 48 hrs, how ever you want it.
    2) 2nd offense. Warning + withold commission for 30 days.
    3) Suspension or termination.

    Don't forget to patrol Yahoo or MSN too as some people might think that those are not search engines.


    Quote Originally Posted by markwelch
    If you're finding that "nearly all" of these referring-URLs are blank, then that's probably a sign of something WORSE than PPC trademark bidding (probably parasite activity).
    Or it could be e-mails too. Either way, contact them if your gut feeling is telling you that somethign is wrong.

  11. #11
    Affiliate Marketing Consultant Andy Rodriguez's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UncleScooter
    ask them why they allow it.
    As an OPM, my job is to manage the program and present all sides of the marketing plans. PPC bidding being one of them. Here are a few reasons why merchants allow this:

    1) Merchant has a new program, domain or website and wants maximum exposure, traffic and has the margins to pay the commisison on those PPC Trademark generated sales. Merchant has not spent any time or money building the brand.

    2) Shelf space. Merchant is in a space where competitors are bidding on his trademark, he wants to maximize his "brand shelf space" on the first page of the SERPS. By allowing top PPC's affiliates, he now has the opportunity to try and control as much of the first page of search results and try to push other merchant competitors out of the first page maximizing his brand awareness.

    3) Merchant is inexperienced at the PPC game, has had a bad experience, has lost money, or has no budget to run his own campaign and wants to open it up to the affiliate channel. He is wiling and able to pay a commision for those sales, even if it is his trademarked term.

    4) Merchants who want to maximize their spend and allow one or several affiliates, using merchant's ppc budget, to run his PPC campaigns and optimize their ROI while bidding on their marks.

    5) Last thing to consider: http://news.com.com/2100-1030_3-6121483.html

    There are many sides to this discussion and I can be here for hours. For the record, ARC does not encourage or discourage this practice. We present all the pro's and con's to our merchants and they decide what is best for them at the present time.

    More to come im sure ...
    Andy Rodriguez Consulting, Affiliate Program Management and Consulting Services, Since 2001
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  12. #12
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    1) Merchant has a new program, domain or website and wants maximum exposure, traffic and has the margins to pay the commisison on those PPC Trademark generated sales. Merchant has not spent any time or money building the brand.
    Great. The merchant wants maximum exposure. That includes SEO affiliates, PPC affiliates who promote products, couponers and ppc affiliates who bid on the merchant's trademark. The only problem with this is that there is only one spot for an affiliate to bid on their trademark direct-to-merchant. Allow other affiliates to bid on your trademark and send the customer to their own site, I am all about that. But letting one affilaite bid on the trademark and send them directly to the merchant's site is allowing one person to overwrite other affiliate cookies.
    If an affiliate sends a customer to PianoWizard today, then the customer goes back tomorrow and Googles PianoWizard and clicks what looks like PianoWizard's own PPC spot, the affiliate who is pretending to be the merchant will get that sale.
    In your scenario the merchant is working to NOT get maximum exposure because a real, value-add affiliate will see this and will avoid the program all together, or not promote it as vigorously as they would otherwise.
    This scenario shoots the merchant in the foot.
    For $100 a month they can bid merchantname and merchantname.com and forbid others from bidding on it and using their trademark in the Display URL in Adwords and others. Let them bid their trademark and send the traffic to their own site until the cows come home, but not the other way.
    2) Shelf space. Merchant is in a space where competitors are bidding on his trademark, he wants to maximize his "brand shelf space" on the first page of the SERPS. By allowing top PPC's affiliates, he now has the opportunity to try and control as much of the first page of search results and try to push other merchant competitors out of the first page maximizing his brand awareness.
    I called Loxly this morning for making a post confusing real PPC affilaites with trademark poachers. Please do not confuse someone who uses PPC to sell products with someone who uses PPC to camp out on the merchant's trademark. You can allow affiliates to bid the trademarks, but, again, allowing them to use the trademark in the Display URL allows for unfair overwriting of other's affiliates cookies and results in many unneccesary commissions for them to pay.

    3) Merchant is inexperienced at the PPC game, has had a bad experience, has lost money, or has no budget to run his own campaign and wants to open it up to the affiliate channel. He is wiling and able to pay a commision for those sales, even if it is his trademarked term.
    A Merchant can open an Adwords account and bid exact match on merchantname and merchantname.com. Most of the small to medium sized merchants we are talking about here can cover these for less than $100 a month. They can also control how their brand is represented by doing this. Ask Emilio to show you the example of this I sent him via email. If they don't know how to set up the account, you should help them. It takes 5 minutes, is not a drain on funds and will save them thousands of dollars over time. This is something, that in my opinion, the OPM should offer, but only if they want to be able to recruit good product-based affiliates who don't worry about their commissions being stolen.

    4) Merchants who want to maximize their spend and allow one or several affiliates, using merchant's ppc budget, to run his PPC campaigns and optimize their ROI while bidding on their marks.
    Great. Unfortunately this is not the case 95% of the time.

    I don't think that judge has ever had part of his paycheck taken away by someone who is circumventing the rules.

    Andy, you are the Parasite Terminator!!!! Do you not see how this has the same effect as a parasite on other affiliates? I do. I am willing to bet it costs one of your merchants as much money as the parasites you kicked out of their program did. A percentage of that money is also at the cost of the other affiliates in the program.

    What happens when these merchants come to understand that this has been going on and costing them so much money? I think they will be turned off to the affiliate channel all together, or will move to another network where they have slick-talking "reps" to help guide the merchant and introduce them to a new breed of "productive affiliates". We all know that the rest is downhill for that merchant from there.

  13. #13
    Classic Rocker Mack's Avatar
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    Something else to consider. When I did the search you suggested, I got no ads at all. So there are some other possibilities:

    1. The poacher reads ABW and pauses the ad so nobody can figure out who it is after they just got caught.

    2. They use geo-targeting and exclude the areas they know the merchant, SAS, and the OPM are located to reduce the risk of getting caught.

    Either way there needs to be a way to stop the scum from doing it.

  14. #14
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    Mack,
    Google now has a tool you can use to pretend that you are viewing the ad landscape for a given keyword or phrase as if you were in Cincinnati, or San Francisco, or anywhere on earth really. It shows you the ads that show and those who geo target are no longer able to hide from a good affiliate manager.
    I forget the URL. Maybe someone else can post it.

  15. #15
    Defender of Truth, Justice and the Affiliate Way
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    No way to say for sure what may be going on with the accounts ContourLiving mentions. There isn't enough information. However, more specific discussion is probably best suited in the AM Only forum. Any merchant who ever has questions regarding suspicious traffic patterns on SAS should contact SAS so they can assist in investigating.

    As far as trademark bidding in general goes. When I really start to shudder is when trademark bidding (direct-to-merchant or otherwise) is happening on 2nd tier search engines. Because you can almost be guaranteed other unpleasantness is going to start happening as well.

    For those merchant who don't allow trademark bidding, AdGooroo has a trademark monitoring service for the major SEs which also covers the geo-targeting issues (dayparting as well I believe). I've never used them myself. Looks comprehensive though. Pricing seems to be $499/month for one license.

  16. #16
    Classic Rocker Mack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UncleScooter
    Mack,
    Google now has a tool you can use to pretend that you are viewing the ad landscape for a given keyword or phrase as if you were in Cincinnati, or San Francisco, or anywhere on earth really. It shows you the ads that show and those who geo target are no longer able to hide from a good affiliate manager.
    I forget the URL. Maybe someone else can post it.
    https://adwords.google.com/select/Ad...ingPreviewTool

  17. #17
    Affiliate Manager
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    Hi Guys and thanks for all of the feedback.

    To answer a few of the questions:
    - Yes, one is a Jewelry Site - How did you know? (UncleScooter)
    - I do have a trademark policy restricting PPC bids on certain Trademarked terms, and an OK for some product Trademarkes, but only at search engine minimums.
    - Referals are all blank, so I don't have good info. on where the traffic is coming from. (Mark Welch)
    - I checked a few terms in the major PPC engines and couldn't find any listings for this affiliate

    Thanks,

    Jeff

  18. #18
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    Jeff,
    Email sent.
    Scott


  19. #19
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    he knows the jewelry site because we can see the ad at G.

    on purpose, they look like they are you, but they are using a redirect to fool the SAS monitoring system (that detects affs breaking banned keywords rules) and to fool you as well.

    right click on the ad, copy shortcut, paste into a text editor and view the url there...

    reverse all of their "orders", set their comm rate to the minimum the sas system allows, then fire them and report them to the sas network.

    you have "contour living" in your banned words within the sas ppc guidelines, add "contourliving" and "contourliving.com"

    your "no" list should be:
    contour living
    contourliving
    contourliving.com

    and drop the variations clause that you think is covering you, you've got that part wrong.

    and tell your in-house ppc guys or agency that they should keep an eye on the volume of clicks from their tm campaign (if you have one) and trend it to detect the presence of poachers.

  20. #20
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    This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I've granted a series of warnings to affiliates and expired several after they later resumed the practice of buying on my domain name and using my company name in the ad. WyndhamVacationR-EricEwe's recommendations were good but I have less patience for those making use of this practice.
    Make sure your program terms mention that you don't allow bidding on your trademark expressions (and say which ones they are) and continue to mention it in regular correspondence to your affiliates as a footnote.
    Hope you're able to get to the bottom of the situation and save your affiliate relationship.

  21. #21
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    ContourLiving, I think your question was answered when you noticed that the referrer fields are blank for all of the many transactions referred by these affiliates. I can think of NO legitimate affiliate activity which would result in blank referring-URL information for all transactions. Certainly you should contact the affiliates to request an explanation, but I can't think of any legitimate reason this would happen.

  22. #22
    Analytics Dude Kevin's Avatar
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    Donuts, thank you. I picked up a tidbit in your post up there.
    Kevin Webster
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  23. #23
    Affiliate Manager
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    Donuts - Thanks, good advice.

    However - help me out - I can't find any adds for this affiliate, on a handful of terms in Google and Yahoo. I tried the above link in Google (https://adwords.google.com/select/Ad...ingPreviewTool) for several US regions and nada.

    Please advise keyword and region you saw the ad.

    Thanks.

  24. #24
    Affiliate Manager
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    Scratch that request - I cleared my cookies and was finally able to see the offending ad in Google. Had I seen the PPC ad originally, I would have a clearer picture of what was happening.

    Many thanks to those of you who provided great advice.

    A special shout out to Uncle Scooter - he was a fantastis resource on this topic, and took the time to talk with me personally. I really appreciate it.

    Jeff

  25. #25
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    Glad to help, Jeff. I am glad to see a merchant who is concerned about this and knows and understands the perils of it. ContourLiving is now a program where affiliates can work and not be concerned about poachers stealing their commissions. Good for you!


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