Affiliate Management For Beginners: Attributing Credit For The Sale

  • 1
  • May 1, 2009
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

This is a guest post by Gab from SEO ROI

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.

When an affiliate marketing program is the sole marketing channel, this isn’t a problem. But throw in some search marketing, portal buys, banner network campaigns, public relations and an inhouse email newsletter (aka CRM), and life gets complicated! Here’s how to make sure that your marketing channel attribution gives out credit where it’s due! We’ll focus on affiliate related issues in particular.

My perspective is more that of an intermediate-level web analytics user and that of an affiliate; I’ve never been an affiliate manager. But the tips here are mostly about analytics, so I do still feel competent to talk about the subject.

Before I begin, I need to specify that my assumption throughout is that you have a holistic credit attribution scheme in place. For a primer on the topic, see this crediting post, ClearSaleing’s webinar-video via SMN, Mediapost’s article, and check out these conference blogging bits on it.

Problem A – Overlapping Time-Specific Portal Buy and SEO. If you’re buying traffic from a portal for a “One-Day Only Sale,” you can expect to see a spike in your type-in traffic and search referrals too, on brand keywords. And despite the sale being one day only, the spike in branded search referrals will often last 3-5 days.
Ad MSN Portal Buy Flowers 2

Portal Promotions on MSN Shopping

Do you give the portal buy or the direct traffic and search referrals credit for the sale? A better question would be, “how much credit should each be attributed?” In this case, the portal did most of the heavy lifting and type-ins/search just facilitated things. So it should get the majority of the credit.

However, you need to make sure that you’re only crediting the portal for the marginal sales that also came via type-ins and brand search. Presumably, you had a brand prior to buying portal traffic and were getting direct type-in traffic and branded search visitors. The sales generated from those traffic streams should be credited to your brand building work.

Only the additional traffic/sales beyond your average on brand traffic/sales should see any credit given to the portal.

Problem A1 – Overlapping Time-Specific Portal, SEO and Affiliate Coupon. Imagine you have the same problem, but now, the person has gotten to checkout.

At this point, your marketing has brought the visitor in, persuaded them to buy, and moved them so far along the purchase funnel they’re virtually at the exit.

But the visitor notices that you ask if they have a coupon. So they search Google for something like “Boots coupon code,” and a coupon affiliate page like this attracts the visitor! The type of coupon you have available to your affiliates at this stage is crucial, as I wrote in my guide to affiliate coupons for Search Engine Journal. Boots

Assuming you’ve created a valuable coupon that supports your business objectives, as per that SEJ post, the visitor will see that they can get 20% off orders over $ABC threshold or some similar volume discount. And they take you up on the offer, adding something to their cart to bring their total purchase order above the $ABC threshold.

Should you credit the affiliate with the sale? To what degree?

My answer is that you should attribute most of the marginal sales volume to the affiliate, since their coupon was mostly responsible for that. But you can’t give them 100% credit, because the sale wouldn’t happen to begin with if your other channels hadn’t attracted the visitor and persuaded them to buy. The affiliate commission you pay on these sales should reflect this reality.

That said, I’m sure there are other valid answers with fair arguments for them. If you take a different view on how to handle Problem A1, please say so in the comments!

If you come back later this week, I’ll address a new problem with affiliate and cross-channel crediting, namely overlap between email campaigns and affiliate campaigns. In the meantime, browse a site like if you’re interested in learning more about how this sector affiliate marketing works. Also, check out Geno Prussakov’s great blog for tips on affiliate management, like how to be a value-added coupon affiliate and what banner sizes you need.