Affiliates can be life savers in a company by driving incremental sales on a revenue sharing basis with no risk to the Merchant. However, they can also be the biggest poachers of sales that other channels brought in, or from customers who were already on your site and shopping. It all depends on how well your program is managed and if your Manager knows about attribution, adware, coupon sites poaching your cart with SEO and if you outsource to a network or OPM firm, whose best interest they have in mind. If the person or company managing your Affiliate Program is a solid and ethical Manager, then your other departments don’t have to worry. If they are like many of the programs I come across, chances are you have sales that you earned through SEO and PPC being poached by the Affiliate Channel. By working more closely and learning more about Affiliates and how they work, you can prevent this theft and also help to grow your own PPC and SEO while improving your company’s bottom line across the board. Here are three ways that Affiliates can help and hurt your SEO and three ways they can help and hurt your PPC.
3 ways can Affiliates affect your SEO.
1. Toolbars and adware taking credit for your channel.
I find most toolbars on coupon and loyalty or cash back sites. In the image below you’ll see an example of one of the most popular and well known cash back and savings sites that uses a toolbar (also known as reminderware, loyaltyware, couponware, etc…) to modify Google and other search engine results to try and take credit for trademark searches, generic searches and the money you spend on PPC.
If you look at the image you’ll see the logo for the toolbar is injected next to the SERPs and the company’s own PPC ads. The logo is there to help entice a click which can be good if you’re in the 5th or 6th position. This can drive a sale that you wouldn’t have had (assuming the logo isn’t showing from another store higher above you). Unfortunately this is also probably happening on the top rankings which would have had the click, your trademark searches and on your paid PPC ads. This can in theory mean the value from those few sales from the 5th or 6th position is long gone compared to the theft from the other sales that are poached from the terms and your trademarks that you rank higher on and pay for with PPC.
With other similar toolbar, when I click on the result next to the logo, instead of going to the Merchant’s website I am redirected to the Affiliate’s site first. Because of this, even though your department worked hard to rank for these generic terms, the referral may look like it originated on the Affiliate’s website and the Affiliate channel is taking credit for the sale that SEO should have had. Your company also has to pay a commission, probably a network fee and if the Manager or Management company gets a bonus on net sales, you now pay a bonus to this person because they allowed your company to be stolen from. This is only one way that toolbars can act and one way that they can take credit from other channels. The sale will look like a normal sale, a referral from the site that would have been incremental value, but the reality is that it simply took credit from another channel and poached the customer that you would have had anyways. It also takes away from the bottom line of your SEO, PPC, Email, Comparison Engine or the actual referring channel. This means you are not properly allocating your budget. When you look at the amount of theft that occurs and commissions and network fees you are losing, it could be a very substantial number and cost you company a lot more in missed opportunities with other channels.
2. Boosting your backlinks.
A properly managed Affiliate program will have all top ten or twenty refers be content sites and blogs (or value adding PPC partners) that are within your niche or have a similar product line. Your Affiliate Manager should also have an open line of communication with these people. One thing that I have done in the past with programs I manage is cut a deal with these sites.
If they agree to use direct links and trust our tracking internally, I’ll increase their commission. Not only do I get relevant backlinks from this, but I know it can drive sales which is even better. The link quality is good and I can afford the higher commissions because I eliminate all of the network’s fees so it becomes a win win situation. The tricky part is to make sure your accounting department pays on time and that you also keep a 1099 on file and send a report to the Affiliate on a regular basis.
3. Taking over ORM SEO
Affiliates are amazing for helping with your Online Reputation Management SEO needs. They do have to put an FTC disclosure on any review they do, but with the age and authority that many older Review Affiliates have, by providing them with SEO advice for the page, helping to build a few backlinks to their site (not from your own site because you don’t want to send people already on your site to an Affiliate’s site so they can be tagged with a cookie, then send them back to you and make you pay a commission on someone you already had and distracted with a leak.) you can begin easily knocking out negative reviews from other sites. You do need to think about a few things though.
- When the customer sees an FTC disclosure, they could think the review is fake. This could make it unbelievable and they could create problems on social media sites for you if they are unhappy customers. However if they trust the site, then the disclosure won’t matter.
- Unlike sites that rank for your url or trademark + coupon, coupons, discounts, etc…and add zero value to you, ranking for reviews and knocking out the bad ones or fake bad ones can drive more sales that were only thinking about shopping with you because it can add trust to your site and products or services. (Quick anti-theft tip – If you have active Affiliates ranking for your url or store name + coupons, you should see how long the time to close the sale is compared to a regular shopper on the site. You’ll be surprised when you see how many of the sales are actually being poached from your shopping cart and coupon code box by the difference in time between these sales from when the cookie was set to confirmation and the normal time spent on your site for a shopper. Super high conversion rates are another indicator of this.)
- You can use this as a great opportunity to add counter remarks. Many of these review sites will welcome you to come on and comment and some will allow you to add promotional materials like new products that are available or upgrades to products and services. By doing this, you can not only respond (because you have a direct relationship with the site owner) but you can turn bad reviews into positive ones with responses that make sense or explain the issue and sell more product or increase your AOV.
Now that we’ve seen how Affiliates can help and harm your SEO, lets’ look at three ways that Affiliates can help and harm your PPC campaigns.
1. Trademark bidding.
The most obvious harmful tactic Affiliates use is trademark bidding. If you thought day parting, using just the content network or just blocking your city was tricky, think again. Some Affiliates actually bid on your trademarks and as you are directed to their sites or through their links, if it is one of your IPs or they can recognize you, they will give you a direct link to your site so you don’t even see that it was an Affiliate’s ad showing and will assume it was your own paid ad on your trademark. They have entire systems devised just to trick you out of catching it and without something sniffing through the site, urls and code, you’ll never be able to catch it.
Bidding on trademarks like your store name or url is basically giving an ATM machine away to these partners and adds zero value (except in one case which we’ll go over below) to your company. When they bid on your store name, url and other variations or misspellings, and add modifiers like coupons, discounts, vouchers, black Friday deals, etc… they are going after people who were in your shopping cart or already planned on shopping with you. By doing this they basically have an easy access money machine that adds zero value to you and costs you money instead of making you money. It is important to monitor for this because if you run your own PPC, this is taking away from your own ads and because it’s your trademark, the customer probably already knew about you and would have shopped anyways. If they are using extensions and modifiers like discount codes, the person is probably in the checkout process. Because of this you are out a lot more money. You paid to bring the person to your site through one channel, spent time getting them to the shopping cart and possibly a remarketing channel, and because they are checking out when the coupon code is found on the trademark bid or site, you now have to pay a commission and probably a network fee on someone who would have shopped anyways if you had the top rankings and didn’t allow the trademark bidders in your program.
2. Blocking competitors.
The only time that I can see Trademark Bidding being positive (excluding extensions like coupons, coupon codes, etc…) is when your company or store name is generic and tons of people are bidding on it. You can fairly easily clear url bids and ads from competitors by calling them, sending cease and desist letters or by bidding on theirs until they stop bidding on yours; but for the generic name, allowing your Affiliates to bid on this name (adding your url to their negative list) and driving the shopper to a landing page dedicated to your store while not featuring coupon codes can add a ton of value, but also cause harm.
- Good – You get more real estate on the generic term, which is also you, store name.
- Bad – If there are coupon codes on the page, you now have to pay a discount on the sale from your trademark, in addition to the commission and any network fees.
- Bad – If there is a newsletter sign up on the site and the shopper from your trademark signs up for it, there is no reason why the Affiliate won’t give your customer exposure via their newsletter to your competitors.
- Good – You can reinforce your brand and feature products via storefronts or data feeds and have another site recommending you. This can add trust and value for your store.
One other way you can benefit from PPC Affiliates blocking competitors is on product terms and phrases that convert high for you, but have lots of other companies bidding on these keyword phrases. Although adding Affiliates into the mix can potentially increase your CPC, it can also help to give you more space and drive sales that would have gone to competitors bidding on the terms. One thing to think about is that if you ever boot these partners, they could easily change out links for competitors which means you will lose out on the sales, so make sure you keep them happy.
3. Covering all long tail and misspellings of long tail.
Affiliates who are not bidding on your trademarks, extensions and misspellings, but do real PPC work and drive incremental sales are a huge value adding partner for your company. Most merchant’s and PPC managers cannot cover all long tail keywords, probably won’t find all of them and more than likely won’t create separate campaigns for all of the misspellings. It is way too much work. That’s why legit PPC Affiliates are great. They will spend their time bidding on these terms and creating these campaigns that will send customers who probably wouldn’t have shopped with you or heard about you without them finding the right long tail terms.
There are tons of other ways that Affiliates can help and hurt your SEO, but these are 6 of the most common. It’s important that the search team works close with the Affiliate Manager because the two of them can really grow your company by talking on a regular basis. If an Affiliate is running AdSense, the PPC manager can target that site because they know it can send a lot of sales and grow their channel just like the Affiliate Manager can approach some of the sites the PPC team targets and show them what they could be making in commissions as opposed to PPC ads.
By doing an analysis of the costs you’ll be able to figure out which is the better option for your company. Some terms have high CPA’s so it makes more sense to have the site go Affiliate and the opposite can be true as well. These three channels should work hand in hand and instead of hurting each other so that they can all help to grow your company even faster. If you have never talked to your Affiliate Manager or Outsourced Agency, you may want to schedule a meeting to make sure you are getting the most out of each other and also preventing theft from your other channels.