Affiliate Theft On Rise?

Forbes has recently published an article titled, “Affiliate Theft Could be Costing You Millions” where the author discussed just how common digital theft is, in the affiliate marketing industry.  When I read these types of posts, my first inclination is that the author doesn’t really understand performance marketing, and especially online affiliate marketing.  Most articles that try to bash the industry take a very biased approach, and can be easily dismissed, if not objected to.

While this article talked openly about the problems associated  with affiliate theft, and how it is affecting both big and small businesses, it was also careful to point out that affiliate programs are an essential part of marketing.  The author clearly understands how affiliate marketing works, and seemed to be very positive on the concept as a whole.  He was (as we all should be) just concerned with the growing problem of affiliate theft.

In the post, he discussed how many unscrupulous marketers are using browser toolbars to force their cookies onto computers.  When someone types in ebay.com on their browsers, for example, it will direct them to an affiliate page for a fraction of a second.  In that time, a cookie will be downloaded onto the computer, and in almost all cases, the user doesn’t even realize it was done. When they go on to buy something off of eBay, the affiliate gets a commission.

He also commented on other techniques used by affiliate marketers to overwrite the cookies of other affiliates, use adware to over-write pay-per-click ads, and many others.  What was perhaps most concerning to me, however, was the fact that at the end of the article, he commented on how many people who are running affiliate programs for their companies, don’t want to put in the effort to fix the problem.

These individuals, he suggests, are getting paid based on the success of their affiliate program.  This means that since the affiliate programs appear to be generating high returns (even though many of the sales generated would have occurred without the affiliate program), the affiliate manager is getting praised by the company. 

These ‘bad eggs’ in the affiliate marketing world are also giving ethical marketers a bad name, and often stealing the commission that good affiliates have legitimately earned.  With this in mind, all of us in the affiliate marketing industry need to take these types of things very seriously.  There are places where dishonest affiliates can be reported, and we should all be doing our part to keep this industry clean. 

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Michael Levanduski

Michael Levanduski is the assistant editor of Performance Marketing Insider, and an experienced freelance writer. He writes content for a wide range of sites in virtually every niche, though he specializes in technical writing as well as creating content for the performance and internet marketing industry. Michael was born in Grand Rapids, MI where he still lives with his wife and three children.

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  1. In our experience so far the majority of interest in anti-fraud solutions for affiliate programs is coming from smaller online businesses where the affiliate manager is also the business owner, or at least has both profit AND loss responsibility.

    Affiliate managers come in all flavours and some are very happy to save $ for their clients – the advertisers. Others not so much: in some cases they are just too busy to care but in other cases we suspect they are either typosquatting themselves or simply not financially motivated to reduce theft.

    Business owners and CFO’s that compensate an affiliate manager solely on revenue probably assume that all revenue is good, when the article shows that’s not the case. A portion of that revenue could be achieved without those bad affiliates, thus increasing profits.

    1. I agree. In the future, companies will need to not only incentivize affiliate sales, but also avoiding affiliate related losses. Whether this will start happening in 2014 or not, we’ll have to see.


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