Since I attended affiliate summit in Boston, I’ve come to truly appreciate how big this industry is. It’s an interesting beast, with many many more people in it than I would’ve expected(and from what I’ve heard ASE is one of the smaller conferences). The other thing that really changed is I started to take a look at the industry as a whole in regards to it’s sustainability and purpose of the various people in it.
So here’s what I’m going to cover today.
A Rant About Affiliate Networks: Trust Issues and their Purpose
Is True Regulation Coming to Our Industry?
Internet Explorer 8: Give me Back my Cookies!
A Rant About Affiliate Networks: Remembering their Purpose (and some trust issues)
Now I hate to write this section. Really I do. There’s some networks(and especially AMs) that I have tremendous loyalty towards. But it’s something that’s been in the back(and occasionally front) of my mind for awhile.
Networks can do 2 things that a lone affiliate can’t (or won’t due to substantial effort being required).
- They can gather up the offers for us to promote easily (Biz Dev Department)
- They have the legal teams and power to make sure we get paid. Essentially we trust the network so we don’t have to trust the merchant.
I definitely can’t speak for everyone in the industry, but the primary reason I run through affiliate networks is #2: so I don’t have to trust the merchants. I play largely in the online diet product space, and let me tell you guys, those are the dirtiest merchants on the planet. So essentially the I end up surrendering probably 10-25% of my total commission(depending on the product) to the network so that if that merchant runs away or refuses to pay or has tracking problems, the network can hopefully use their influence and legal teams to do that which I cannot.
Unfortunately at some point this concept completely disappeared. Most networks are nothing but slaves to the merchants. If there’s an issue, most will not pony up the cash even if you’re within the TOS. The question then arises “What do you want us to do about it? He didn’t pay.” This makes me beat my head against the wall. I give the compulsary ~20% of my commission to the network just in case this stuff ends up happening once or twice. What happened to the legal teams? The financial backing and stability? If I wanted to deal with the merchant and worry about trusting the merchant, I’d just be going direct.
I’m sorry networks, but this is your job. Give us a reason to not just go direct. You’re not protecting (or even acknowledging or reporting) us against scrubbing, the least you can do is make sure we get paid for our scrubbed leads. No, I really do not care about tracking issues. I do not care about credit card processing issues. I don’t care if the merchant gets stranded on a friggin desert island for months at a time. I’m putting my own money into these campaigns, and I fully expect to get paid come hell or high water.
Let’s Talk Law Suits and Government Regulation
The unregulated nature of affiliate marketing has always been a blessing and a curse. We have a lot more latitude in regards to promotion methods, but at the same time have to deal with payment issues that don’t really exist elsewhere (If Walmart buys 300,000 pens from Bic, they can’t say “Well, this wasn’t profitable. We’ll pay you for 100,000 of them though). It appears we’re getting cracked down on though.
- Ringtones – Going to hell in a handbasket. Not impossible to run, but getting more difficult. Once it was “don’t say free”. Now it’s pricing on the carrier select page, pricing on the page where you enter your phone number, and pricing in the text they recieve. And it has to be prominent everywhere. You can’t even survive a carrier audit if you don’t spell out “monthly subscription”. Apparently $9.99/month is too difficult to comprehend. In addition to the networks auditing landing pages, the carriers are now auditing. And Google is getting restrictive on the landing page as well. Ringtones aren’t dead, but let’s say that catastrophic killer meteor is flirting with the atmosphere.
- Crush Offers – Ok, nothing has happened here yet. But are we really pretending it won’t? These ones explicitly are targeted to those under 18. Considering the fate of flavored cigarettes (which was much less targetted to those under 18), I’d say it’s only a matter of time until the lawsuits start coming down here.
- A Certain Asshole Merchant – Is getting sued in the UK. Karma is a bitch isn’t it Jordan?
More on this later. It’s a very interesting story, with a truly bulletproof business setup(to survive law suits). I can’t wait to see if he comes out on top, or if he successfully implemented the patented Scott Richter “getting sued is fine if it’s still profitable” business model.
Either way, I’ve got some wicked documents on his business registration and various LLCs he runs that really paint a picture.
- Shaun Hogan of Digital Point Sued for Cookie Stuffing – No merchant likes cookie stuffing. Apparently EBay(by far one of the hardest hit) is doing something about it. Hogan apparently got millions from cookie stuffing eBay, and they want it back.
- MySpace Mania – CPAEmpire has emerged from the MySpace spam lawsuit(ok ok this is really old) and is not looking too shabby. They’re rebranding as Affiliate.com, ditching direct track, and I would put a heavy bet on the fact that they made more from the MySpace spam than they lost in the law suit.
Internet Explorer 8: The only Real Benefit is Maybe it will Kill DirectTrack
So the next incarnation of the shiite that is Internet Explorer is currently in Beta 2. What does this mean? The entire affiliate industry is about to get a massive update. It has a “privacy mode” that opens up a new window, and removes ALL traces of you once that window is closed. Including cookies.
So what are the implications/possible results for this?
- Content Network Circle Jerk – Since no major PPC program has the ability to block by browser, we’re probably going to see a lot of people transforming a normal landing page into an MFA site if the user can’t accept cookies. Gotta make money off those clicks somehow, eh? If enough people start doing this, I think the quality of the content network is about to drop significantly.
- Ads on Live Search Will Be Worthless – Advertising on MSN has always yielded clicks that are nearly 100% Internet Explorer users who couldn’t change their default search engine. So let’s imagine for a second even 10% can’t accept cookies. Wow, that’s a traffic quality drop.
- New Tracking Systems – 95%+ of the networks I’ve used use cookie based tracking. The other 5% use click ID based tracking. Hopefully soon we can see a combination of those appearing to fill the void of DirectTrack(which is 100% cookie based).
PS: If anyone has anything in particular they’d like to hear about in the future, drop a comment here. I’m having trouble finding new entries because my reader demographic is split amongst professional SEOs, affiliate marketers, and some MMO people. So leave a comment about what you want, and I’ll try and find a way to work it into all those niches.