Attributing Credit When Email and Affiliates Overlap – Affiliate Management for Beginners Part 2

As an affiliate manager, one of your roles is to ensure that your channel gets credit for all the sales that it makes – and that there is no attribution to it of sales generated by other channels.

Today, we’ll think of solutions to attribute credit fairly between email and affiliate marketing programs, when the two overlap.

Before I begin, I just want to make 3 fast points:

  • Background: Check out how to attribute credit where portal ads, brand traffic and affiliate marketing overlap – where both are responsible for generating the sale to a given visitor.
  • [Non-]Expertise: I’m not an affiliate manager, nor have I ever been. I am an affiliate however, and an intermediate web analytics user. So just take this with a grain of salt.
  • Assumption: Your web analytics guys can handle the tracking tasks I describe below.

Situation 1 – Non-sale email newsletter combines with affiliate review

ebay email newsletter

Your company has an inhouse email list, featuring a double opt-in procedure.

You send an email and promote a selection of your products. There’s no coupon, voucher or other sale.

It’s not April Fools and no one’s using you to spam their friends. So you have no spam-related delivery issues and your normal percentage of recipients click through directly.

Others type in your domain name and still more search for you and visit via a search engine. Being a savvy Blogstorm subscriber, you already know to only count the marginal increase in type-ins and branded-searchers above your average.

Some of this traffic browses products, and maybe even add a few to cart. But they’re still anxious, so they leave to read some reviews.

After reading reviews on an affiliate site, they click an affiliate link and purchase.

To review, your email marketing team:

  • Earned the email subscription
  • Squeezed the newsletter past spam filters and sent you traffic
  • Generated a fair amount of interest, but not enough to convert

The affiliate marketer:

  • Attracted the visitor looking for reviews (often via SEO, e.g. by ranking for “product X review”)
  • Provided content that informed and convinced the prospective customer to buy
  • Sent the visitor back to your site

Your brand helped get the affiliate click, and your site then beat out competitors – who the review affiliate may also have sent the visitor to – and completed the conversion.

So your marketing generated the interest, but it was the affiliate who substantially closed the sale.

My Credit Attribution Solution:

  1. You can partly avoid this problem with inhouse reviews. But because of some unscrupulous types like Amazon.com, third-party reviews will likely be more trusted than first-party reviews, in the future. So there’s still a role for review affiliates to play.
  2. Because both generating traffic and using LIFT to convert visitors is significant work, I would share the credit 50 – 50 here.
  3. Some other factors you might consider to modify the 50 – 50 split:
  • Prominence the affiliate gave the link to your site vs the prominence given to competitor merchants. More prominence should mean slightly more affiliate credit.
  • Whether the product is exclusive to you. Obviously, this heavily tilts the credit attribution to your inhouse channels.
  • If several affiliate review sites had banner views before this visitor converted, you may want to credit those. Robin Neifield has explained viewthroughs’ value, and Kevin Lee has covered viewthrough caveats.

Situation 2 – Email coupon is shared by wannabe-coupon affiliates

We’re in a similar situation as above, but here, your email did offer visitors a coupon. Often it’s a “1-day only 20% off sale” or a volume discount.

This traffic either buys or doesn’t, but since they have a coupon code, they won’t leave at checkout to search for “Merchant name coupon.”

The problem is with your other traffic.

Some affiliates, who subscribe to your newsletter, will copy the coupon code from your email newsletter and put it on their site.

This creates two problems:

  1. Your web analytics break. The coupon that was supposed to track email sales is now also mixed into the affiliate channel. This leads to erroneously low payouts to affiliates, messes up your budgeting for the next quarter, and can cause a double-counting problem.
  2. Where the coupon is limited (to a time-frame, to email-tagged links etc.), your affiliates end up angering customers. The coupon won’t work for the visitors, but your web analytics will think the affiliate deserves credit for the sales that happen regardless.IMHO, these fake/non-existent coupons hurt your brand with bad usability. The bait-n-switched marginal sales aren’t worth it. Also, any future promotions you run will suffer from credibility issues and be less effective.

My Affiliate Management Solution:

A. You first need to prevent your web analytics from breaking. That breakage causes a lot of follow-up problems.

-> So if it were up to me, I’d give affiliates a warning after the first time, and then boot them from the program.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in online marketing, it’s that an opportunity “lost” is just another opportunity “saved.” I’ve turned down awesome job offers from Microsoft headhunters only to end up later doing work for the Canadian government that I’d have missed by moving to Redmond.

The same goes for affiliate marketing. One affiliate dropped is just an opportunity in your schedule to work with someone else.

You can generate the same revenue by working with other affiliates, AND save yourself the headaches by cutting loose the current bad apples. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Of course, this isn’t black-and-white. Big affiliate companies may have had some bad apples in their organization, whom they’ve disciplined. Other affiliates may have a great relationship with you, so you might be a little more lenient.

But the CORE of any company is analytics. Where online marketing is involved, that means web analytics. If the analytics are broken, you’re flying blind and are in an unsustainable position.

Functional analytics are ultimately more valuable than a few more sales from an unruly affiliate.

B. Second, you need to protect your brand and the credibility of future voucher sales you may create.

For one thing, I’d first seek to identify this bait-and-switched traffic. Then, you can:

1. Offer this traffic a new, inhouse coupon code – if they join your email newsletter. They’re obviously good prospects – they’re looking for coupons and your email newsletter offers voucher codes.

At the same time, make it clear that the affiliate site who referred them had an expired coupon, and that the code being given comes from you, not the affiliate.

This both (i) protects the user experience and the brand associations related to that; and (ii) builds your inhouse email list.

2. Avoid crediting the affiliate with any resulting sales, since the affiliate’s bad work almost damaged your brand. That will dissuade the affiliate from sending you this type of traffic in the future.

apple ipod free shipping coupon from Promotional Codes .ork.uk3. Finally, as an alternative to booting these affiliates, speak to them and see whether they might like to get paid for legitimate newsletter signups they generate. Tracking those and avoiding fraudulent signups is a huge issue in itself, though, so be careful which affiliates you offer this option to.

This post was guest-written by Gab Goldenberg

By Patrick Altoft. at 1:30PM on Tuesday, 05 May 2009

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events. Follow Patrick Altoft on Twitter.

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8 Responses to “Attributing Credit When Email and Affiliates Overlap – Affiliate Management for Beginners Part 2”

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  6. Interesting post. Out of interest as you’re from a discount code site what would you say to people who say that discount code sites are just as bad as those affiliates that share coupon codes which were only intended for newsletter subscribers?

    In one instance you have affiliates offering discounts to non-email subscribers, and in the other instance you have affiliates offering discounts to people who have already decided to buy by ranking highly for ‘Merchant Name coupon’ in Google. To take your Boots page linked to above as an example, no promotional codes are actually mentioned on the page (but this is what the page ranks for) – instead offers are just listed, but those offers can actually be viewed at the Boots website.

    In both situations you have merchant margins being cut (whether it’s through a discount being applied and/or Boots having to pay out an affiliate commission) and little (if any) value being added by the affiliate.

    Apologies if it sounds like an attack on discount code sites (it’s not intended to be) but I’d just be interested to hear your take on above as you do appear to be one of the more reputable discount sites.

  7. Maggie says:

    Great tips for beginners! This has all the info needed to start an affiliate business.

  8. I have looked at many sites and not come across such a site as yours that tells you what you really need to know about affiliate marketing.

    I’ve added your feed to my reader, are there any other good blogs you’d suggest I read on the subject?

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