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  1. #1
    Grandma broke her coccyx! Uncle Rico's Avatar
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    Coupon Site Success: PPC or Organic or Black Hat SEO
    Here is my thought and experience with coupon sites. Most coupon sites at the very least have hundreds of pages, the most typical are "<Store Name> Coupons". Now, if you want to make any money with your coupon site, you will need traffic. If you have been around long enough and you have SEO'd your "<Store Name> Coupons" pages, you will find yourself on the first page for that keyword search phrase for free. Yah!

    On the other hand, if your nowhere near the first page for those search phrases, things aren't so good for you. Your best bet to get traffic is to pay out your ears on PPC advertising. Ofcourse, if you have a limited to null PPC advertising budget, don't worry you still have one option left. You can optimize your pages for SEO, cross your fingers, cross your toes, and wait to see if your pages will ever get near the top of the SERPS while competing with similar sites that have been at the top for years.

    Woops, I actually thought of one more option. You can modify all your "<Store Name> Coupons" with some Black hat SEO tecniques used by many other coupon sites out there. And don't worry about a Google or Yahoo hand slap because most of the sites that use some form of mild Black Hat SEO techniques have been doing so for years and will continue to do so while maintaining top rankings.

    Am I wrong?

  2. #2
    Affiliate Manager Howard Gottlieb's Avatar
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    Seymour,

    I believe the best performing coupon sites have been around for a long time and are good at SEO, rely to a much smaller degree on PPC and count a lot on loyal shoppers using their site regularly.

    While we do not run a "coupon site" we have found strictly following best SEO practices, even though the process is time consuming, has served us well on our websites.

    We do, however, have a coupon site in development right now that we hope offers a slightly different twist than any other site we have seen. Hope to launch it by June, which will tell you how much time is going into SEO there.

    Don't know if that answers your questions ... or if your post was more rhetorical and not really looking for answers.
    Last edited by visitourmall; January 9th, 2008 at 09:07 AM.
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  3. #3
    Grandma broke her coccyx! Uncle Rico's Avatar
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    I agree with your first statement. If you have 11 coupons sites and 10 of them have been around longer that the 1, that 1 will most likely never get to the first page of the SERPS. And if your not doing PPC and not on the first page of the SERPS, there is no way you can succeed.

    Assuming all 11 sites are comparably SEO'd.

  4. #4
    Grandma broke her coccyx! Uncle Rico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by visitourmall
    We do, however, have a coupon site in development right now that we hope offers a slightly different twist than any other site we have seen. Hope to launch it by June, which will tell you how much time is going into SEO there.
    Good luck on that.

  5. #5
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    The most successful coupon sites don't rely on PPC or SEO (or black hat methods). They rely on community, building an authority site, and providing a good user experience. I know many people don't believe it, but those things work. Word of mouth is incredibly effective in generating traffic.
    Michael Coley
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  6. #6
    Grandma broke her coccyx! Uncle Rico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey
    They rely on community, building an authority site, and providing a good user experience.
    I guess I am confused on what a good user experience would be for a customer looking for a Dell Coupon, as an example.

  7. #7
    ABW Ambassador Daniel M. Clark's Avatar
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    Providing one that actually works? That, to me, is the biggest thing that contributes to a coupon site failure. If the coupons being offered don't work, you're sunk.

  8. #8
    Affiliate Manager guinness618's Avatar
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    As a newbie, may I ask your opinion/expertise on why [site name removed] is so successful? They definitely have a great site and wonderful customer service, but what is setting them apart?
    Last edited by MichaelColey; January 9th, 2008 at 12:18 PM. Reason: Let's not mention specific sites

  9. #9
    Affiliate Manager Howard Gottlieb's Avatar
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    It appears to be a well laid out site that is easily navigated. Appealing aesthetically. Ranks nicely according to Alexa.

    The puzzling thing about that site to me is their choose the city function which has only 2 options. And I don't like the links buried so low on the home page they can not be there for anything other than Black Hat SEO.
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  10. #10
    ABW Ambassador meadowmufn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey
    The most successful coupon sites don't rely on PPC or SEO (or black hat methods). They rely on community, building an authority site, and providing a good user experience. I know many people don't believe it, but those things work. Word of mouth is incredibly effective in generating traffic.
    Exactly. If you can build a community of people that keep coming back to your site again and again because of the value and user experience your site provides, and those people tell other people, you won't have to rely so much on search engines or PPC.

    For example, our regular appliance repair guy came to fix our dishwasher the other day. Over the years, he has built a reputation as a great repairman with fair and decent pricing. His business has grown largely by word of mouth. He has so much business now that he told me he stopped all advertising months ago. He's still getting so many new clients that he's having to turn down work. He told me that next time I call, I should be sure to let him know I'm a repeat customer because he takes those jobs first.

    Don't underestimate the power of word of mouth.
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  11. #11
    Affiliate Manager Howard Gottlieb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SeymourButts
    I guess I am confused on what a good user experience would be for a customer looking for a Dell Coupon, as an example.
    Word of mouth is undeniably the most attractive method of advertising. But Seymour has a terrific point.
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  12. #12
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SeymourButts
    I guess I am confused on what a good user experience would be for a customer looking for a Dell Coupon, as an example.
    Some things that would provide a good customer experience:
    • Coupons listed actually work.
    • List of coupons is definitive - don't have to look other places.
    • Coupons have accurate and complete details - expiration dates (and times), restrictions, etc.
    • Suggested deals that combine with the coupons to get the best value.
    • Easily navigated site.
    • Well organized site.
    • Being able to sign up for an alert if a new Dell coupon is added.
    • Easily remembered and/or typed site name.
    • Ability to discuss a specific coupon or merchant.
    • Merchant ratings and reviews.
    • No annoying popups.
    • Registration not required.
    • Coupons aren't hidden.
    • Aren't tricked into clicking things.
    Michael Coley
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  13. #13
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    Michael is spot-on about building a "community" for a coupon site to succeed, and about the attributes of a good-quality coupon site.

    Try searching for coupons for nearly any merchant -- among the first ten organic search results:
    - five or more will not actually have a valid, working coupon for the merchant;
    - it's quite likely that at least one will try to download malware to your computer;
    - Several will generate pop-up or pop-under windows;
    - At least one will open the merchant's web site in a separate window (to stuff the cookie);

    The paid AdWords results will be even WORSE.

    It seems as if Google isn't doing a very good job at blocking bogus sites in this particular niche, nor at recognizing sites with quality. (In fairness, they probably do exclude several hundred, or several thousand, bogus coupon sites from the results.)

    And so long as their are crooks trying to exploit this space, I believe it will be difficult (and expensive) for legitimate coupon sites to compete and profit in this segment. That's why I've never launched a coupon site -- I've run the cost/benefit analysis and concluded that the effort required to do it "right" would be substantial, and the outcome would be uncertain.

    The result is that many consumers abandon their search for a coupon, and often abandon the merchant as well, out of frustration.

    My suggestion to merchants (copied straight from the advice on my site):

    > Create your own "coupon page" at your own site, so that it will appear first in an organic search for "MerchantName coupon" or "MerchantName promo code." Note that this is an important strategy even if you offer no coupons (if the page says "there are no currently valid coupon offers" [ideally in the page title], then fewer consumers will click to coupon sites.) <

  14. #14
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    Bad advice there Mark.

    As far as ranking. They have to rank just like any other site out there. Something else to consider. During the year and especially around the holidays, what affiliate sites do you see getting TV mentions, newspapers, online etc? More likely a coupon or deal site. Connie posted about her MSN mention, I posted screenshots of what a TV mention does to traffic etc. Those sites can build up greaty loyalty, the good ones.

  15. #15
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    Trust -- I think I understand why you think this is bad advice, but I think others would benefit from a more detailed explanation (from you).

    I would be especially curious to know whether you still think it's a bad idea for a merchant that has never offered any coupons?

  16. #16
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    As far as a merchant creating a coupon page. Most don't want every shopper using a coupon. They're reaching out to a segment that uses them. Some will only shop with a coupon. They also realize a coupon can lure a customer to themselves from one of their competitors and want to be on those coupon sites. Sure could come up with more reaons.


    "I would be especially curious to know whether you still think it's a bad idea for a merchant that has never offered any coupons?"

    That's up to them. I have merchants on my site that have never had them, some all the time, some occasionally. I think there are some merchants that don't need them but there are times where they can be very useful.

    As far as:
    Try searching for coupons for nearly any merchant -- among the first ten organic search results:
    - five or more will not actually have a valid, working coupon for the merchant;
    - it's quite likely that at least one will try to download malware to your computer;
    - Several will generate pop-up or pop-under windows;
    - At least one will open the merchant's web site in a separate window (to stuff the cookie);

    I just picked on at random - Lane Bryant coupon and didn't see those results at all. Didn't get any adware and all the sites had coupons.

    The good sites that have working coupons are going to get more links in, so they tend to rank higher.

    "And don't worry about a Google or Yahoo hand slap because most of the sites that use some form of mild Black Hat SEO techniques have been doing so for years and will continue to do so while maintaining top rankings. "

    Just like any other kind of site out there. I knew a popular coupon site that was buying links left and right, was pretty obvious. They got buried. Doesn't matter what kind of site it is.

  17. #17
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    First, I think that if a merchant offers coupons, and doesn't want "everyone" to have access to them, then they shouldn't offer the coupons through affiliates who promote them via both organic and PPC searches for "merchantname coupon." But I understand your point, that most merchants prefer that consumers NOT use coupons unless they wouldn't purchase from the merchant otherwise, and thus it's often not a good idea to aggressively promote coupons on the merchant's web site.

    To clarify: when I recommend to clients that they post a "coupon page" on their own site, I do not recommend that they link to it from anywhere else on their site (except their sitemap for search engines). It is solely intended for indexing by search engines and subsequently by consumers who search for the key phrase "merchantname coupon."

    Second, if a merchant does not offer any coupons (I'm not arguing whether coupons are a good or bad idea, but only referring to those merchants who have never used coupons nor offered promo or discount codes), then to the extent that consumers do execute searches for "merchantname coupon," my advice would help reduce the potential diversion of customers to competitors. It would also reduce the opportunity for unscrupulous affiliates to improperly "earn" commissions merely by bidding on "merchantname coupon" when the merchant doesn't offer any coupons. (Of course, the merchant's PPC bidding policy should also address this.)

    Finally, I absolutely agree with you about the "slap" for "minor black hat" or "gray hat" techiques -- the fact that you "probably won't" or "might not" get caught doesn't make a practice acceptable or ethical. (I mention this since some folks might mistakenly think you were quoting me at the end of your post, when you were actually quoting someone else.)

  18. #18
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    Mark, most merchants offer coupons thru their own newsletters. So if affiliates didn't exist, coupons still would. People search on them, affiliates make pages to satisfy those searches.

    And your recommendation to merchants to have a coupon page. If they have them and put them on that page, customer will still find them. You also recommended if they don't have them to still have that page. Now you just tricked the customer right? Maybe now they'll go find one for the competitor to the merchant. When I was reading what you put together, there was a definite anti-coupon feel to it even tho most people in America use coupons and love them. Most merchants know this. Offline, online, coupons.

  19. #19
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    My advice was clear: if the merchant doesn't offer coupons, they will benefit from having a page at their web site that says so, and it's best to put that right in the page title (e.g. "MerchantName Coupons: There are currently no valid coupon codes for our store"), so that it appears in the results.

    That's not "tricking" the consumer. And of course, if a customer can't find a coupon and isn't willing to pay the stated price, they're likely to go to a competitor. But with my suggestion, they will do so without believing that the merchant has unethically promoted invalid or non-existent coupons. In contrast, consumers are likely to be angry at a merchant if they search for a coupon and are diverted through several scammy coupon sites but can never find a coupon code.

  20. #20
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    > "When I was reading what you put together, there was a definite anti-coupon feel to it even tho most people in America use coupons and love them. Most merchants know this. Offline, online, coupons." <

    I'm not opposed to coupons. I use coupons, both offline and online. Several times in the past year, the existence of a coupon clearly persuaded me to make a purchase that I otherwise would not have made. When I'm making an online purchase, I often search for coupons. Coupon sites provide a great service to consumers and merchants.

    I am opposed to unethical practices by certain coupon affiliates. I also believe that many merchants create problems by having a "coupon prompt" on their web site when there are, in fact, no coupons.

    Why Do I Sound "Anti-Coupon"?

    Here's the story. This past year, a merchant contacted me because they were trying to decide "what to do about their affiliate program." After several months, the program had generated some affiliate commissions (to simplify the example and protect the merchant, let's pretend that it was about $10,000 total in affiliate commissions), but the merchant had paid an OPM more than that, and was considering whether to hire a different OPM or an in-house employee to run the program, or perhaps even terminate the affiliate program completely.

    As part of my consulting services, I reviewed the merchant's data for the affiliate program, and also checked the merchant's log-analysis reports, and on a hunch, I actually downloaded the merchant's complete log files and manually looked at the commissioned transactions.

    What I found was that out of the $10,000 in commissions, about $5,000 was paid to unethical coupon affiliates -- and that those unethical affiliates had almost certainly "driven away" more customers than they "retained."

    In each case, a consumer had found the merchant site through some method (such as organic Google/Froogle results, the merchant's own paid search, or other non-affiliate sources). The consumer added one or more items to the shopping cart, and then clicked to "check out." On the checkout page was a prompt for a "promo code," although the merchant had never offered any coupons.

    Naturally, some consumers searched for coupon codes. And naturally, since the merchant had never offered any coupon codes, a search for "merchantname coupon" didn't turn up any results from legitimate coupon sites. Instead, these consumers found a number of bogus coupon sites that pretended to offer coupon codes for this merchant. When consumers clicked from Google to those sites, they were always told that there was a coupon, and it would be applied if they clicked on a link (some sites also stuffed the cookie immediately by opening a merchant window on entry).

    Of course, when the consumer clicked, the coupon site was credited as the referring affiliate, and the consumer was upset and annoyed to find that no discount had been applied to their cart.

    The result: an significant increase in "cart abandonment" compared to the period before the affiliate program was launched, and a drop in overall conversions "from all sources."

    The unethical coupon affiliates had actually driven away customers who were otherwise ready to buy. (Of course, the merchant played a role by having a coupon prompt on its web site.)

    This was a huge shock to the merchant: half of the affiliate commissions had been paid to crooks, and those sales should have been attributed to other sources. And these same affiliates had driven away customers, which meant that the "net effect" of offering the affiliate program was that the merchant lost transactions and profits.

    [I searched diligently, and spent time that I couldn't charge to the merchant, to try to identify even a single transaction in which another affiliate had referred a customer, but then the transaction was "poached" by an unethical coupon affiliate. I could not find any.]

    As you'd expect, my advice to the merchant was to continue the program, but manage the program properly. And from that day forward, I've warned merchants about the impact of a coupon prompt and unethical coupon affiliates on their bottom lines.

    And I'll repeat:

    I'm not opposed to coupons. I use coupons, both offline and online. When I'm making an online purchase, I often search for coupons. Coupon sites provide a great service to consumers and merchants.

    I am opposed to unethical practices by certain coupon affiliates. I also believe that many merchants create problems by having a "coupon prompt" on their web site when there are, in fact, no coupons.

  21. #21
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    First, I'm against the unethical coupon sites, tricks etc. many good couponers are.

    "The consumer added one or more items to the shopping cart, and then clicked to "check out." On the checkout page was a prompt for a "promo code," although the merchant had never offered any coupons."

    Look at that. They never have coupons but have a prompt for one? That doesn't add up. That's what needs to be handled, what you touched on. But sometimes they do and that's how affiliates make pages. Of course the customer shouldn't get a cookie by merely visiting the page. When we had that long thread recently about a site using deceptive measures to set that cookie, Kellie did a study on how often that occurs and it suprised even me how much that dropped, doesn't mean it's stopped completely.

    But this part is still off:

    Try searching for coupons for nearly any merchant -- among the first ten organic search results:
    - five or more will not actually have a valid, working coupon for the merchant;
    - it's quite likely that at least one will try to download malware to your computer;
    - Several will generate pop-up or pop-under windows;
    - At least one will open the merchant's web site in a separate window (to stuff the cookie);

    I've tried a few more and not seeing that at all. I've never had a coupon site try to dl malware by visiting it unless you're talking about one of the rebate sites that have a toolbar? With that, the person has to dl that on their own, might have been worse back in the day. But I've never encountered a coupon site trying to download something on my computer from just visiting it. I'm not seeing 5 or more with non working coupons. Several generating pops up and windows? Maybe one here and there. And I do see some of them opening a separate window to set a cookie but are you talking about automatically by merely visiting the page (cookie stuffing) or after someone has clicked? Which would be something different.

    Now if you read all of that as a merchant, you probably just freaked them out with what I would say is not very accurate information. Like I said, I just tried a few, didn't see it. Give me a search where I would see what you posted.
    Last edited by Trust; January 9th, 2008 at 02:04 PM.

  22. #22
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    > "Look at that. They never have coupons but have a prompt for one? That doesn't add up." <

    As I said, the merchant contributed to the problem by having a coupon prompt. For the unethical coupon affiliates, this was like finding a car with the keys in the ignition.

    Unfortunately, some shopping-cart technologies automatically include a coupon prompt, and don't provide an easy way to remove it. At the top of this list is Yahoo Stores (Yahoo Merchant Services), which makes it very difficult (and expensive) to remove the coupon prompt (I learned this last year while working with QuoteProducts.com -- my only now-defunct client; they did offer coupons but never saw a single coupon used, except by me).

  23. #23
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    I must agree that my description of the bad stuff you'll see when searching for coupons doesn't seem to be accurate.

    Like Trust, I just did a series of searches (including searches that in the past gave results like I described).

    I'm still seeing lots of pages with titles like "merchantname coupon" but which don't have any coupons. I didn't click on links on most of the coupon sites, but just loading the coupon site pages did not trigger any attempts to download malware (usually, this happens when a site generates a pop-up ad disguised as an error-message box, where clicking "cancel" actually allows a script to be loaded) or script-authorization box). I also didn't see any pop-ups, but I do have at least two pop-up-blocker programs running, and of course there have been a bunch of Windows security updates.

  24. #24
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    This is Kellie's study I was talking about which, like I said, surprised even me:

    "The following rates of incidents of forced clicks were documented in our testing.

    On click-throughs from Google's top ten SERP listings, we documented an overall incidence of forced clicks of two (2) positives out of two hundred forty-five tests or 0.8%.

    On click-throughs from Google AdWord listings, we documented a total an overall incidence of forced clicks of three (3) positives out of one hundred eighty tests or 1.7%.

    With direct type-ins to the affiliates site and navigating to their merchant specific pages for coupon codes, we documented four (4) incidents of forced clicks out of ninety-one (91) tests or 4.4%. We also documented six (6) incidents of what we would classify as deceptive/misleading links or 6.6%.

    The conclusion was:

    "We found the incident of forced clicks to range from 0.8% - 4.4% on coupon sites. We found the incident of what could be considered a deceptive link on the merchant specific page listing the coupons to be slightly higher at 6.6%."

    http://www.affiliatefairplay.com/cou...ed_clicks.html


    Compared to what was happening in the past -
    "Historically, the incident of forced clicks on coupons sites was upward to 60% of affiliate sites listed in Google's Top 20 SERPs when searching "MerchantX coupons".



    "I'm still seeing lots of pages with titles like "merchantname coupon" but which don't have any coupons."

    With that, I would have a problem in cases where you get a cookie from merely visiting the page, cookie stuffing. Or when you got there, they have a link that says click here for coupons and when you do, there aren't any but they picked up a cookie. That's just deceptive. But if someone gets to that page, there are no coupons, they don't pick up a cookie (unless they click over to the merchant) then most likely they'll just go off looking for a site that does have a coupon or least try to find one.
    Last edited by Trust; January 9th, 2008 at 02:35 PM.

  25. #25
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    Mark, like you, I've helped merchants recover their sanity and their ROI, and it does leave a bad taste. But these problems are most often (though not always) created by the merchant's policies and practices themselves. If they don't issue coupons, they need to ditch the prompt. If the ROI of coupons in their channel is disruptive, they need to alter how they pay or track or recruit or police that activity. If their cart doesn't allow customization, frankly, they need to change that - in today's world, it's too easy to make changes or find cheap alternatives. If the presence of a prompt costs what you say it does, the justification is right there for them.

    As Kellie's study seemed to me to show, there are less bad-acting coupon sites today, a good trend. From the amount being discussed here and elsewhere, I'd say merchants and affiliates and others are "seeing" more about which ones are bad and which are completely legit and are helping close sales. I still see many who hide the coupon details and make people click to "see" the deals - I think that's one last area where people are now focusing attention. A while ago, the unethical practices were so much worse that most hardly cared about those "lesser" tricks. So I think we're seeing behavior change, though it's plain to me there's still a long ways to go.

    The one thing I still don't like about coupons is that the majority of visitors are already on the merchant's site, and many will buy (though certainly not all) whether they find a coupon or not - which is easily proved by testing. So there is some value to couponing, but there's the rub for me. Since the couponing is at the end of the sales process and since "last-in" is the rightful way today to determine which affiliate gets paid, non-coupon affiliates should consider couponing a leak.

    Some couponers like to say that's just a whining complaint from someone who can't compete, but again, this isn't an issue of competing (both are contributing something to the sale and neither solely caused the sale), it's an issue of merchant behavior. Paying "last-in" is the logical way to go, but it dismisses other affiliates (who, by the way, also have their share of unethical behavior) who happen to refer people earlier in the process.

    Merchants are beginning to see that this isn't the optimum for their own ROI. To maximize your affiliate channel, you can't have people who bring you new prospects be disregarded financially because that same consumer used a coupon (especially where the merchant has a prompt). It's not that couponing is bad or evil or wrong, it's that it can be over valued because it most often occurs so late in the buying process, masking what other affiliates volumes look like and disproportionately making the couponer "last-in".

    There are a few merchants, and I mean very few, who are looking at this puzzle and trying to solve it. Some get rid of coupons altogether, which doesn't really solve the problem. If testing shows you that coupons in the affiliate channel do have some value to the merchant, then getting rid of them leaves you at less than optimal performance again.

    I think a hybrid approach works best today. CSN Stores is doing this and I think it's one main reason they were nominated as one of three exceptional merchant programs:
    http://forum.abestweb.com/showthread.php?t=97254
    (see post #4 there for nominations list)

    If you get a chance to discuss this issue with Brent Elias (Affiliate Manager at CSN Stores), you'll see he's not just trying to please everyone, or trying to inflate his programs statistics and his own value (as some other AMs/OPMs do), rather he always comes back to discussing ROI for his company and the value of what his individual affiliates and affiliate types bring to his company as their partners. He doesn't pay for unethical behavior and he doesn't dismiss those that mechanically happened to be "first-in" when a coupon is used. He monitors affiliates behavior and he knows what percentage of the time affiliates hand-offs are occurring to people who are already sitting on their website.

    I hope he wins the award. But, as a relatively small program, and one that's at ShareASale (ethics!), and as one that's thinking and behaving with their valued affiliates in mind, his nomination tells me that a lot of folks already know what he's doing and why it's working so well -- not only for CSN Stores, but for CSN Store's affiliates -- and his nomination shows that other industry members are obviously watching his type of value measurement and award recognition tactics, as they rise to the top.

    For these reasons, if you're a non-couponer, CSN Stores is a terrific merchant to consider and test. They've got a few hundred websites in their quiver, so there's also an abundance of sites / products / pages to promote.

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