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  1. #1
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    Handling PPC Affiliates who bid on your trademark
    One of my SAS merchants just wrote (in a newsletter to all affiliates):

    > "Our performance on SAS is just getting better and better and its all thanks to you guys! The only sad part is that I find it sad that most of the affiliates that sign up and use PPC still bid on (merchantname). This has resulted in quite a big reversal of sales this month. So tomorrow you will get to see a big jump in our reversal rate." <

    I replied privately to the merchant, but wanted to share my advice with other merchants:

    If you have affiliates who continue to bid on your trademark after you've warned them, then you should inform them that their commission rate is being dropped to zero and they should remove all links to your company. Then, within a few days, go ahead and set their commission rate to zero, to eliminate the need for "reversals" for transactions sent by that affiliate.

    Changing the commission rate to zero is preferable, because if you terminate the affiliate, they'll have non-working links (with your name on them) from their site until they remove them, and a few unethical affiliates won't remove links because they want customers to think there is something wrong with your company.

    (When I was running the affiliate program for QuoteProducts, one of the affiliates kept bidding on our company name, even after I sent multiple emails and changed the commission rate to zero. Even today, that affiliate is still bidding for the word "QuoteProducts" on AdWords, months after QuoteProducts ceased operations!)

    And be prepared for the possibility of some "revenge tactics" from one these jerks. Once they're not your affiliate, they can bid on your company name as a keyword and send traffic to your competitors, or even create a "(merchantname) sucks" web page.

    One caveat: have you instructed your affiliates to add "(merchantname)" as a negative keyword? If not, then they may just be bidding for "widgets" or "widget repair" and sending you traffic when someone searches for "(merchantname) widgets" or "(merchantname) widget repair" (for example).

  2. #2
    Outsourced Program Manager Brent E.'s Avatar
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    That is great info Mark. But I wonder, why do you give affiliates a warning. If they take the time out to geo-target your trademark away from the city you are in, they obviously know they are stealing from you. I do not have the time to deal with that kind of affiliate. My goal isn't to spend time dealing with these fraud's, it is to use my time supporting the affiliate's that do things the right way.

    I have had affiliates bid on my trademark and not hide it with geo-targetting. I appraoched them and there response was that they didn't check our affiliate merchant agreement to see if trademark bidding was allowed. I gave them the benefit of the doubt because they weren't geo-targetting and gave them a second chance. if they do it again they are cooked.
    Brent Elias
    Affiliate Manager/Acceleration-Partners
    Belias(AT)acceleration-partners.com
    "God Grant That Men Of Principle, Shall Be Our Principle Men" - Thomas Jefferson

  3. #3
    Kung Fu Master Eathan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by markwelch
    (When I was running the affiliate program for QuoteProducts, one of the affiliates kept bidding on our company name, even after I sent multiple emails and changed the commission rate to zero. Even today, that affiliate is still bidding for the word "QuoteProducts" on AdWords, months after QuoteProducts ceased operations!)
    That sounds oddly familiar. The only thing missing is the bounced emails...

    I fully agree with you on setting affiliates to 0% for PPC violations after attempting contact. Declining them, or even worse deleting them only leads to broken links pointing to your site and brand. Deleting is worse, because you can't then go back and approve them in order to stop the broken links like you can with a decline.

    This is one of the areas I think SaS can improve upon. CJ has a system to report abuse or suspicious activity. I wish SaS had something similar, so my work policing our program could benefit other programs as well and vice versa.

    I have a feeling we've both met the same affiliate, had problems with the same affiliate and complained about the same affiliate, but today their account still says:

    "Affiliates current status: OK.
    All is well, and there are no active suspected fraud reports on the account."

    A formal system of reporting abuse, that could potentially lead to removal from the network or a different status message might prevent future programs from going through the same headaches.

    $.02
    Eathan Mertz

    Black Cat Mining - Gold Prospecting & Rockhounding Equipment

  4. #4
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    Brent: I agree that if the affiliate were using geo-targetting to try to conceal the trademark bidding, there is no "doubt" to justify a warning.

    Eathan: I think we are using the only "system" that ShareASale uses to help its merchants and affiliates share information; right here on ABW. My impression is that if SAS concludes that an affiliate practice is improper, it will either demand a change or terminate the affiliate from the whole system; and if SAS decides that a practice doesn't violate its rules, it doesn't see any reason to alert its merchants about the practice.

    However, there is definitely some resistance to "naming names" on ABW. (For example, last week I mentioned a particular site's practice that I considered inappropriate, and that entire thread was later edited to remove all references to the affiliate. I wasn't entirely comfortable about that, but I don't think it was "wrong" either.)

    I don't think anyone would have difficulty identifying the affiliate I referred to in the current thread -- unless they finally end that AdWords campaign for my former client's company-name as a keyword.
    Last edited by markwelch; September 11th, 2007 at 02:10 PM. Reason: correct typo

  5. #5
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    Setting them to zero will also affect your EPC. Fire the obvious ones, warn those once that you think are worthy of your time (most are not) and if an affiliate continues to abuse you, you must report them to the network for malicious abuse of your terms. The broken link situation is one I'm aware of, and I know the ashwipe you're speaking of. If it's reported to SAS more than once or twice, then SAS will have to find a way to deal with it - which I suspect is to fire the aff from the whole network (your leverage rests with the network) and/or the network creating a programmed work around to the broken link held hostage situation (and forward those customers properly to your domain with no affiliate tracking happening).

    Rest assured the pack of usual domain name poppers is well known among the network, OPMs/AMs, merchants and others - if you never make any noise about it and expect to solve this issue through your actions alone, the poachers will continue to snark every merchant they can including those with policies that are specifically and clearly to the contrary.

    Point is, at some point, the volume / level of certain affiliates maliciously abusing merchants terms does become a network problem.

  6. #6
    Kung Fu Master Eathan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donuts
    Setting them to zero will also affect your EPC.
    And not setting them to zero means either commissions paid to violators, dead links in the engines or jacked up reversal rates...

    It's a bit of a catch 22 with few good options for merchants. Attempting to contact the affiliate, setting commissions to 0% and contacting the network are among the few viable options available.

    Point is, at some point, the volume / level of certain affiliates maliciously abusing merchants terms does become a network problem.
    One would hope.

    Repeated violations of merchant terms by the same affiliates is on par with fraudulent leads, drive by installs, etc. Poaching hurts the network and the industry, not just the merchant.
    Eathan Mertz

    Black Cat Mining - Gold Prospecting & Rockhounding Equipment

  7. #7
    Member DoradoVista's Avatar
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    Hmmm...

    When these violations occur have you guys traced if the extra bids divert traffic from your trademark or actually raise bid prices or is there any real problem other than making sure they know they are violating the terms.

    I was just wondering if there was a real traffic issue or $ issue here?

    I know, It's just plain wrong! It's the principle, etc...

    It sounds like SAS needs to provide a means to eject the bad data if the terms are flagrantly violated like this. Should be easy too, even if the extra commissions go into a numbered Swiss escrow account until settled.

    AJ
    Gold Prospector just Prospecting Sales! :coolsmile

  8. #8
    Staril - Mad Cat Woman Sue's Avatar
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    AJ, I think the main issue is that if someone types in "widgets-r-us", or whatever, to the search engine then they already know about your company or product and are interesting in purchasing from you. They might use the search engine if unsure about your url or maybe to check for any reviews or comments on external sites. If they then purchase something, why should any affiliate commission be paid from that search? The affiliate didn't do anything to promote you to new clients especially if the merchant can see the url that delivers the client is a search engine.

    Oh, and I can provide the number of a Swiss bank account to look after those extra commissions


    Sue.

  9. #9
    Member DoradoVista's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Staril
    AJ, I think the main issue is that if someone types in "widgets-r-us", or whatever, to the search engine then they already know about your company or product and are interesting in purchasing from you.
    ...
    Sue.
    I see what you mean, It is also possible they paid for an ad campaign with better ad copy and pitch as well. Just possible...

    I was thinking the response would be something legal like "I'm required to protect my trademark".

    So many "widget" based products are just invisible and therefore not really a popular trademark. Not that I advocate trademark mis-use.

    I'm just trying to figure out exactly how much loss is really involved here? Is it really worth the hassle or the risk of ticking off legit affiliates? Theoretically they are boosting the trademark's visibility for little added cost.

    I know, let's take 'em out back and hang 'em In Switzerland

    AJ
    Gold Prospector just Prospecting Sales! :coolsmile

  10. #10
    Outsourced Program Manager Brent E.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DoradoVista

    I'm just trying to figure out exactly how much loss is really involved here? Is it really worth the hassle or the risk of ticking off legit affiliates? Theoretically they are boosting the trademark's visibility for little added cost.
    The point here is that I only have to pay less than a percentage point of revenue when a customer searches for our trademark in Google. This customer is going to my store already because they typed the direct URL into the search box. When an affiliate bids on that term and oversteps my google ad, I end up paying that affiliate a 10% commission instead of just paying under 1% for that click thru. So it has a huge impact on my companies bottom line.
    Brent Elias
    Affiliate Manager/Acceleration-Partners
    Belias(AT)acceleration-partners.com
    "God Grant That Men Of Principle, Shall Be Our Principle Men" - Thomas Jefferson

  11. #11
    The Seal of Aproval rematt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DoradoVista
    I'm just trying to figure out exactly how much loss is really involved here? Is it really worth the hassle or the risk of ticking off legit affiliates? Theoretically they are boosting the trademark's visibility for little added cost.
    DoradoVista any time an affiliate receives a commission from tactics that are against the merchants TOS then they are in fact hurting "legit affiliates" as well as the merchant. Affiliates that break the rules have an unfair advantage over honest affiliates that follow the rules.

    One possible result of an affiliate bidding the merchant's name is when the customer in question visited your site yesterday and read a glowing review of "widgets-r-us" and was influenced to buy from them because of that review. Today the customer is ready to buy but can't remember the merchant's URL and searches for it and finds what they think is the merchant's site. They click the link and are taken to another affiliate site that bid the merchant's name. They see a link to the merchant and click through to the merchant site and complete their transaction.

    What just happened? The merchant will pay a commission to the LAST affiliate that the customer visited because they just overwrote your cookie even though they added no value to the process. Do you consider that fair? The same tactic wasn't available to you because you play by the rules.

    In this case the merchant would have paid a commission on this sale to you had they not been diverted to the trademark bidder's site. If the merchant is aware of the tactic that the affiliate used they can now recoup their cost by a simple reversal, you however have lost that commission forever. Hopefully the reversal will change the trademark bidders mind about using this tactic in the future or the merchant will remove them from their program, but there is no way for you to recoup your lost sale.

    -rematt
    "I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." - Richard Nixon

  12. #12
    Member DoradoVista's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rematt
    DoradoVista any time an affiliate receives a commission from tactics that are against the merchants TOS then they are in fact hurting "legit affiliates" as well as the merchant. Affiliates that break the rules have an unfair advantage over honest affiliates that follow the rules.

    One possible result of an affiliate bidding the merchant's name is when the customer in question visited your site yesterday and read a glowing review of "widgets-r-us" and was influenced to buy from them because of that review...

    What just happened?

    ... Hopefully the reversal will change the trademark bidders mind about using this tactic in the future or the merchant will remove them from their program, but there is no way for you to recoup your lost sale.

    -rematt

    Rematt, That's the answer I was looking for... Ouch!

    This is a bad practice for all of us. That also says SAS needs a better method of addressing it. A method that retains both the Merchant's rights and the last legitimate referring affiliate's if possible.

    Sorry for sounding like an advocate for violator's rights. I do not advocate breaking rules or laws ever!

    I just want to make sure legitimate affiliates get a chance in this penalty discussion too. I'm still not exactly sure the violators "do nothing" to promote the Merchant, they did drive traffic for their $. They may or may not have driven the price up depending on where they bid and what the two ad copies say. SE Optimization is a bit more tricky than highest bidder wins.

    I also wanted to make a point that sometimes our ego is really at stake more than learning how to take advantage of the situation. I think of the situation as sort of the Internet meets Claude Hopkins, how would Claude turn the problem to his favor with data...

    All,

    I Agree with your concerns about being taken advantage of, but then again most Affiliates take unfair advantage of me with or without trademark infringement.

    Thanks again for all the clarifications!
    AJ
    Gold Prospector just Prospecting Sales! :coolsmile

  13. #13
    Member DoradoVista's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brent E.
    The point here is that I only have to pay less than a percentage point of revenue when a customer searches for our trademark in Google. This customer is going to my store already because they typed the direct URL into the search box. When an affiliate bids on that term and oversteps my google ad, I end up paying that affiliate a 10% commission instead of just paying under 1% for that click thru. So it has a huge impact on my companies bottom line.


    The light bulb just went on!
    Sorry guys, I just take a while to get the big picture some days.

    Because you have much a lower bid on your trademark than your commission you want to reserve the sales through the front door.

    What about organic search sources where no keyword bid is involved? That will have the same commission loss property won't it?

    Assuming the affiliate site is good enough and gets high enough content and relevance ratings to start showing on search results page 1, just below the paid searches, for free. That is, they love your product and have a lot of relevant things to say about your product or service and their site has a great following. Isn't that going to draw clicks from you using your trademark?

    AJ
    Gold Prospector just Prospecting Sales! :coolsmile

  14. #14
    The Seal of Aproval rematt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DoradoVista
    Sorry for sounding like an advocate for violator's rights. I do not advocate breaking rules or laws ever!
    I didn't take it that way. I'm still trying to get my head around all of these issues too. Posts like this one by Mark and others have helped gain insight into some of the less than obvious issues that we face. If you want more information you can also visit UncleScooter's site dedicated to trade mark poachers www.trademarkpoachers.com .

    I just want to make sure legitimate affiliates get a chance in this penalty discussion too. I'm still not exactly sure the violators "do nothing" to promote the Merchant, they did drive traffic for their $.
    But they drove the traffic in a way that was not sanctioned by the merchant. Merchants have very legitimate reasons for not allowing trademark bidding and when an affiliate breaks those rules they are not entitled to a commission (as long as the merchant has cleanly stated the rules in their TOS).

    I also wanted to make a point that sometimes our ego is really at stake more than learning how to take advantage of the situation. I think of the situation as sort of the Internet meets Claude Hopkins, how would Claude turn the problem to his favor with data...
    Egos? We ain't got no stinkin' egos. I like to believe that Claude was a gentleman and a gentlemen at that point in time considered fair play essential and wouldn't even consider breaking the rules.

    I Agree with your concerns about being taken advantage of, but then again most Affiliates take unfair advantage of me with or without trademark infringement.
    I know what you mean, but I'm learning.

    -rematt
    "I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." - Richard Nixon

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eathan
    I fully agree with you on setting affiliates to 0% for PPC violations after attempting contact. Declining them, or even worse deleting them only leads to broken links pointing to your site and brand. Deleting is worse, because you can't then go back and approve them in order to stop the broken links like you can with a decline.
    that can also lead to abuse, like a merchant sneaking past legit affiliates with zero commish.

    aside from emails (which come in by tons everyday and may not be read by the affiliate), the only way an affiliate may know that something is wrong is thru a broken link.

    a non-commisionable working link that can be sneaky is therefore a big big blow to the trust accorded to the network.

    if this scenario can happen in shareasale, then i'm out of here.

  16. #16
    Newbie Todendron's Avatar
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    Well if your worried about google and you really do have a REGISTERED trademark for your company you can go to https://services.google.com/inquiry/aw_tmcomplaint and file an official complaint. Then nobody can bid on your company trademarks without you giving them permission to do so. I have done this for all of our company trademarks and it took about 4 weeks to have them accept it and remove the bad affiliates.

  17. #17
    Member KirkMcD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Todendron
    Then nobody can bid on your company trademarks without you giving them permission to do so.
    They can still bid on the trademark. They just can't display it in the ad text.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by DoradoVista
    I'm just trying to figure out exactly how much loss is really involved here? Is it really worth the hassle or the risk of ticking off legit affiliates? Theoretically they are boosting the trademark's visibility for little added cost.
    An affiliate who bids on our trademark term, which is clearly spelled out as a no-no, is not a "legit affiliate", therefore, I am not worried about "ticking them off". They add nothing to our program.

    But since you brought up "ticking off legit affiliates", how about the impact on the REAL legit guys - the valued members of my program who have invested the time and money into building their sites, developing content, keeping them current, only to have a trademark poacher take a commission that doesn't belong to them? That's who I care about keeping happy - the ones who earn their % by adding value to the transaction!

  19. #19
    Kung Fu Master Eathan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by waytogo
    that can also lead to abuse, like a merchant sneaking past legit affiliates with zero commish.

    aside from emails (which come in by tons everyday and may not be read by the affiliate), the only way an affiliate may know that something is wrong is thru a broken link.

    a non-commisionable working link that can be sneaky is therefore a big big blow to the trust accorded to the network.

    if this scenario can happen in shareasale, then i'm out of here.
    waytogo,

    Consider the merchant's perspective for a second. Imagine finding that you've been paying commissions to an affiliate who is bidding on "www dot your site name dot com", something you've said was a no no. You make multiple attempts to contact the affiliate, but all your emails bounce. The affiliate's listed domain is registered privately, so you have no means of contacting them. You finally decline them from your program thinking they'll quickly pull the PPC ads, but instead you sit and stare at ads promoting your brand that continue to land on a dead link page - for weeks on end.

    It's an unpleasant experience, as well as a huge waste of time, energy and money.

    While non-commissionable links could be abused by rotten merchants, this thread is talking about legitimate means of dealing with trademark poaching in violation of a merchant's PPC policy, something the affiliate should have had no expectations of being paid for in the first place. For this type of abuse, 0% commissions are one of the few options a merchant has that does not continue to negatively impact their business.

    aside from emails (which come in by tons everyday and may not be read by the affiliate), the only way an affiliate may know that something is wrong is thru a broken link.
    Or the affiliate could've read the merchant's PPC policy in the first place and avoided the whole issue...

    I do agree to a point though. With email becoming increasingly unreliable, it would be nice to have some alternate, more direct way for merchants to alert affiliates to problems with the relationship.
    Eathan Mertz

    Black Cat Mining - Gold Prospecting & Rockhounding Equipment

  20. #20
    OPM and Moderator Chuck Hamrick's Avatar
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    Here's my 2 cents worth. Make sure your terms are clearly defined including whether affiliates can use terms like coupon, deal, promo. If affiliates are not allowed to bid on the trade mark clearly specify that they can not bid on the trigger terms either.

    When an offending affiliate violates your terms give them one warning that they must immediately remove the ad. If there is a second violation remove them from your program and handle the commissions as you see fit.

    Honest affiliates lose when a trade mark poacher violates your terms so you are protecting the channel by enforcing the rules. In fairness to all your affiliates update your terms, email all affiliates and then go through and enforce all.

    Use this tool to check for geo targeting: https://adwords.google.com/select/Ad...ingPreviewTool Check ads evenings and weekends too!

    Affiliates are there to add incremental sales to your programs. If they cost you more for your paid ads and lower your overall sales then they are not helping. If you have a heavily branded product then you have to spend more time protecting it. On the other hand, affiliates can help capture offline advertising and pickup long tail terms that you can not always capture.

  21. #21
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    Trademark poaching is ok if you take them to your site first. According to that site. I keep seeing that site brought up as a reference and I can tell from the responses over there, that not everybody is actually reading thru the site. He's talking about direct to merchant TM bidding not ok, TM bidding to site first ok, which really doesn't make much sense to me since when it's products, it's ok for both. And remember this is one affiliates opinion on the subject. And some people's opinions are based around their business model. You can have other trusted affiliates with different opinions:

    http://forum.abestweb.com/showthread...ighlight=whenu

    That was based on their business model. They didn't like any direct to merchant PPC, even products, because they mainly did products, feed sites and didn't like that other affiliates (their competition) could just setup a PPC ad.

    As far as the issue, it seems it's getting made to be more difficult than it is. Set the rules. Decide if it's ok for your affiliates to bid on your TM or not and any restrictions and then follow thru. If you give them a warning first or not that's up to you but if you do send them a warning and they don't comply, just boot them.
    Last edited by Trust; September 17th, 2007 at 09:01 PM.

  22. #22
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    Eathan

    i agree that trademark poaching is a problem.

    i don't agree with the solution you're suggesting.

    it will open up a whole pandora's box of merchants sneaking thru legit affiliates with non-noticeable non-commisionable affiliate links.

    remember that in this business, trust is a big issue.

    as a merchant, you might want to take up the issue instead with the PPC network, so they can pull the links or at least alert the accountholder of the problem. If I'm not mistaken, Google even addresses the issue of trademark poaching.

    CJ (and LS to some extent) has a way of showing affiliates that invalid links are being clicked. that is, if you kick the affiliate out of your program, which to me is a better way of tackling this.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trust
    if you do send them a warning and they don't comply, just boot them.
    got to agree with Trust on this one.

  24. #24
    Member DoradoVista's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eathan
    waytogo,
    Or the affiliate could've read the merchant's PPC policy in the first place and avoided the whole issue...

    I do agree to a point though. With email becoming increasingly unreliable, it would be nice to have some alternate, more direct way for merchants to alert affiliates to problems with the relationship.
    Eathan,

    My point was really a thought around your last paragraph above,

    email is not reliable enough (spam & spam filters, etc.) to count on as the main feed for resolving this critical a problem. Don't most affiliate programs even merchant operated ones have a phone or email to the affiliates? TOS issues should be CC'd to the Affiliate program too. You guys are right, there is no easy solution here. We Merchants and Affiliates need some technology aid here.

    A policy of 'Boot first, ask later' looks very Merchant-In vs. Affiliate-Out even if it really protects us legitimate affiliates too.

    A banner heading in TOS saying "AFFILIATE WARNING: blah, blah" will only work if the system is tested to make sure it passes email through the 'Anti-email Spam filter' gauntlet. My wife is seeing this vanishing email a lot with her communications.

    Your first point is correct, read the TOS. If you can't understand all of it, ask. Sign up to agree to follow it, then Obey. Hint for merchants: Simple clear rules are really much better.

    If the TOS changes, then we have something different to communicate and agree upon. See other threads on that issue.

    AJ
    Gold Prospector just Prospecting Sales! :coolsmile

  25. #25
    Outsourced Program Manager Brent E.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DoradoVista



    A policy of 'Boot first, ask later' looks very Merchant-In vs. Affiliate-Out even if it really protects us legitimate affiliates too.
    The only time that I 'boot first, ask later', is when I catch an affiliate geo-targetting my trademark. Otherwise I send them an email and let them know that trademark bidding is not allowed. If they don't get back to me in a weeks time, then I take action.
    Brent Elias
    Affiliate Manager/Acceleration-Partners
    Belias(AT)acceleration-partners.com
    "God Grant That Men Of Principle, Shall Be Our Principle Men" - Thomas Jefferson

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