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Is This The End For Voucher Site Affiliates?

00:00 on Tue, 3 Mar 2009 | Industry Comment | 7 Comments

There's no doubt that voucher and coupon affiliate sites are pretty heavy players within the affiliate marketing industry. It's quite ingenious; shopping online, getting to the checkout and seeing that all too familiar "Voucher Code:" box.

Personally, those voucher code boxes slow down my transaction. Somebody is getting a better deal than me and I could save some money here. So, like millions of others, I head to Google and do a search for [website] voucher codes, in search of active voucher codes to save myself a few quid.

Well, I used to do that. I rarely bother nowadays because the amount of time it takes to find a "legit" voucher site normally outweighs whatever saving I would have made with the voucher.

The problem lies with affiliates creating (sometimes generating) sites with just about every possible web shop going, optimising them to pull in voucher-hungry punters. So the usual routine now is, you do your voucher code search, land on a page which says "click here to reveal voucher code" or "jump through this flaming hoop to receive voucher code" and before you know it, you've actually been punted off to the merchant website left only with a "sorry, no active vouchers" message.

Not particularly helpful for you, but great for the affiliate. You're still probably going to buy whatever it is you were after and most importantly; you have their tracking cookie on your computer so they get their "hard-earned" commission.

As a pet annoyance, I was quite intrigued when I received this e-mail from WebGains today:

"IAB'S AFFILIATE MARKETING COUNCIL REVISES CODE OF BEST PRACTICE

The best practice guidelines that were introduced by the AMC in December 2008 have ensured that the voucher sector is now effectively regulated. In response to some issues and concerns raised by the industry, the IAB has revised the code of practice, in order to provide further instructions and clearer guidelines:

The aim of the IAB's affiliate marketing council code of best practice for voucher code sites is to ensure that traffic from affiliate sites sent to merchants is not done in a misleading or confusing way and that consumers receive a good user experience. To this end all of the major UK networks are committed to enforcing the following guidelines:

1. Affiliates must not use a mechanism whereby users are encouraged to click to interact with content where it is unclear or confusing what the outcome will be. For example:

* Using "click to reveal code” and opening the site when no valid code is present or an offer/deal/sale is presented instead, without this being made clear before the click.

* Using "click to copy code” and opening the site when no valid code is available

* Opening the merchant's site without making it clear that this will occur


2. Voucher code affiliates must clearly detail the nature of the voucher or offer/deal/sale before a user clicks to interact with it (by revealing, copying, visiting the merchant site etc)

3. A valid code is defined as a code that has been legitimately issued by a merchant for your use online. This code will have an activation date and, where provided, a deactivation date. When a code has expired it must either be removed or the fact that it has expired must be clearly stated in writing, not simply by listing the expiry date.

4. Sites displaying voucher codes must contain clear categorization and separation between deals/offers/sales and voucher codes.

5. Any affiliate judged by one of the participating networks to be contravening the code will be referred to the IAB's Affiliate Marketing Council and all members will agree on a course of action. The discretion of the council will be used when determining what is judged as misleading or confusing and is not confined to the examples above.

Webgains is a signatory to the code of conduct and will monitor our affiliate sites to ensure they comply with the above guidelines.

Please ensure your websites comply with these guidelines. "

It's obviously come to crunch point. Sometimes (not all of them but sorry, it's true) affiliate networks turn a blind eye to dodgy merchants, as affiliates earning commissions means affiliate networks earning commission. However, when merchants are getting upset when dodgy cookie practise starts impacting on the bottom line, affiliate networks have to start slapping wrists or lose the merchant.

I'm not sure how much enforcement power the IAB will actually have to throw around, but if they get some of the major affiliate networks onboard and get them to actively enforce these guidelines, the next 6-12 months will be very interesting indeed.

Comments & Discussion

(7 Comments)

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frank

frank • Years ago

www.retailmenot.com seems to be very popular, and they dont use that 'click to reveal'

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Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith • Years ago

All good niche's come to an end, it's the pr0s thats keep them going. I don't for a second believe that 96% of affiliates are following the "rules".

As prior comments have stated that stat may reflect the number which have ticked the "i agree" box. But if that were true surely those which did not tick wouldn't have an account at all, so it would be 100%? Perhaps only 4% are caught breaking the rules.

But I too will vouch (pardon the pun) for Mark's observations. I often find myself on a wild goose chase trying to track down a code for a 2 pence saving (tight scotsman at heart) only to be stuffed with cookies galore.

Affiliate marketing is just like SEO...

60% WH = rulemakers
30% GH = rulebreakers
10% BH = lawbreakers

Ands thats because there will always be more n00bs than pr0s in this world. That's evolution.

Try being on the other end of a BIG affiliate system and you soon realize how oblivious people are to the holes in their systems....

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Mark

Mark • Years ago

@Darren,

Thanks for your comment, I agree affiliates can make an absolutely amazing contribution to a business. Having affiliates and merchants motivations in parallel and policed by networks does generally lead to great results.

As to cookie stuffing - I found 4 voucher sites on my initial investigation that were delivering cookies before any clicks, but I didn't think it right to start outing sites.

It's a tricky thing to catch affiliates out for - I personally know people that have cookie stuffed for periods in excess of a year without being caught.

Interestingly, I saw someone get caught for cookie stuffing on CJ and he just got a warning from them, which I found surprising. Somebody clearly and intentionally gone out of their way to break the rules and only get a slapped wrist. Personally, I think if you want to stop cookie stuffing (whole other discussion), I think networks will start having to try and claw the money back through legal action and dish out permanent bans

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Jamr0ck

Jamr0ck • Years ago

I can't help but assume that the initial comment on this article is right from the keyboard of someone that makes a living or at least some significant spending money from the practices you describe in this article - essentially tricking the consumer into clicking and stuffing cookies in exchange for a voucher code.

From my perspective, I’m surprised it's lasted as long as it has done - The practise was against most affiliate network rules, but not enforced, presumably as it increases network revenues. Unlike organic search, which is a minefield of un-controllable content and publishers, Affiliate marketing has a certain degree of control over who can and can't be an affiliate, and the practises they can use to achieve sales or conversions.

From the perspective of those running affiliate programs, they ideally look to capture sales in markets that their traditional marketing efforts may not reach (or that they aren't exploiting to their maximum potential), and to encourage additional sales that wouldn't have occurred otherwise.

This kind of voucher code cookie stuffing simply means that commission is being paid on a sale that wasn't initially instigated by the affiliate. If that visit arrived via a PPC ad, the cookie stuffing voucher site essentially takes the commission for the sale. The vendor is paying for the traffic via PPC, and then paying an affiliate for no additional benefit to themselves - vouchers are added after the basket total has been calculated, so the shopper won't even add extra products to the basket to make up for the saving made.

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Darren

Darren • Years ago

Mark this is an interesting post. I've made a similar one recently based around my gripes with discount code affiliates.

It seems a shame to me that the IAB even had to step in here.

Most affiliates are keen to clear there name and prove that they are an amazing sales force (which is a reputation they absolutely deserve!) but it's the odd few who ruin it for everyone else and keeps that dark cloud hanging over the affiliate industry.

Lets face it, "click to reveal" is little (if anything) short of cookie stuffing, which is frowned upon across the industry and would see you kicked off of all major networks in a flash.

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Mark

Mark • Years ago

Hi, thanks for the comments, you certainly raise some interesting points. I'll try and tackle them in order.

In regard to my research on this piece, I was purchasing a domain which offered a voucher code, to which the top Google result gave me a site with "reveal voucher code" - much to my annoyance, one did not exist. This experience was quickly followed up with the updated guidelines, which caught my interest as they specifically mention the reveal voucher codes which I had just encountered.

As for research, the post was mainly based around personal experience from running affiliate sites (and enjoying the highest bracket for top performing affiliates on Amazon Associates), as well as perspective from running campaigns from both merchant and agency sides.

The post was certainly not meant to be negative in regard to affiliate networks or the IAB, simply some observations from my personal experience and those of fellow affiliate marketers. Which are you from by the way? It is a shame that you decided to post anonymously, as it would be interesting to get different opinions from various sectors.

I would though have trouble believing that 96% of affiliates, over all major networks are actively sticking to these rules. Especially when it comes down to how these affiliates are split between the commission they earn. While I certainly do not want to tarnish all affiliates or affiliate networks with the same brush, there is a hardcore of "career" blackhat affiliate marketers who are generating vast quantities of money through various techniques outside of these guidelines.

Perhaps 96% of affiliates "say" they are following guidelines, keeping in mind even a blackhat who knows they are going to break terms of service, still check the box and sign up anyway. You only need to talk to experienced affiliate marketers, or some of the guys on a4u to find out about affiliate networks turning a blind eye to cookie stuffing or merchants scrubbing affiliate cookies to see what a lot of people have hands in each others' pockets.

I would disagree with the days of "reveal code" voucher sites being long gone. A quick Google search for voucher code sites turns up:

vouchercodepicker.co.uk
myvouchercodes.co.uk

or a whole host of massive sites, which still all actively use the "reveal code" system with their vouchers.

If you keep a close eye on your cookies while browsing these sites, you will see it is not uncommon for you to be delivered the affiliate cookie *before* you have visited the merchant's website. It's a blackhat tactic that has been around for quite a few years. Shawn Hogan, owner of Digital Point is currently in a legal battle with ebay are allegedly running a cookie stuffing system that was bringing him in excess of $1,000,000 a month revenue from ebay.

Some of these sites are quite clever, delivering cookies via images or Flash, which can make them very difficult to detect. This technique is so widespread you can see people posting images that drop cookies on forums and other websites (even the ebay forum) to grab commissions.

Yes, these affiliates will only be paid if the user then buys, but don't forget these cookies have a life of 30, 60 or 100 days, combining with the fact someone is looking for a voucher code, suggests they are in the final basket stages and very likely to buy.

While personally, I fully support the IAB guidelines and think it's great affiliate networks are cracking down on rogue affiliates, it simply isn't happening on a big enough scale to impact career blackhats. For instance, you've said there was an affiliate banned from all major networks. It's likely you've banned one account, but when you're making four or five figures a day from commission setting up another company name / bank account / paypal isn't much trouble.

As I mentioned earlier, it would be good if you could let us know who you are and get some more feedback from your side of the fence.

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anon

anon • Years ago

I would strongly suggest that you do a bit of background reading before writing such a negative piece.

The IAB guidelines have been in place for 2 full months and 96% of affiliates generating revenue are now compliant with these rules.

The piece you've listed above is simply an extension of existing rules. With regards to how much enforcement the IAB has, one affiliates has already been suspended from all major networks until compliant. Every major network in the UK is signed up to the IAB and enforces these regulations on their affiliates.

Long gone are the days of searching for codes that don't exist. It's also worth pointing out that no cookie has been dropped on to your computer until you click on an affiliate link - these links are refined to valid codes and consequently the voucher code sites are not making money unless you interact with their site.

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