Affiliate Marketing & Transparency – A Clear Path To Success

For years, advertisers, publishers and networks in the affiliate industry have been talking about the need to increase transparency to avoid black hat tactics and fraudulent transactions. While talk of transparency can quickly divide a room, let’s be clear about what we mean in the context of the affiliate channel.

Image via Shutterstock

Essentially, improving transparency in performance marketing is about protecting each stakeholder’s investment by ensuring visibility into traffic, conversions, commissions, and policies. Of course, confidential information can’t be compromised nor should trade secrets be revealed. Still, all participants in the affiliate circle should be fully aware of the process and related transactions.

The Benefits Of Transparency

When you establish specific parameters to increase the level of transparency in affiliate marketing, you foster stronger ties among advertisers, publishers and networks. This, in turn, results in more targeted leads, conversions, and commissions.

Further, transparency can also drive innovation. For example, many publishers today are investing in mobile capabilities to support advertisers’ efforts in this area.

Since many retailers don’t have the resources to execute all of the action items on their mobile marketing wish list, and mobile marketing is still a nascent field, publishers can step in and become an extension of the advertiser’s marketing team when it comes to trying new campaigns, new creative, social marketing, and mobile commerce testing.

The information and support they provide can improve and refine the advertiser’s mobile strategy. As both sides share what they bring to the table, the quality of affiliate partnerships will naturally improve. What’s more, you can easily see how this mobile example applies to different areas of marketing as well.

Considering all of the benefits of increased transparency in the affiliate channel, why is there still some resistance? Many times, it stems from an unwarranted fear of disclosing too much information with regard to commission structures and margins. In other instances, transparency forces the uncomfortable, albeit necessary, revealing of any affiliate business practices that may not be entirely above board. Therein lays the importance of transparency.

Yet, with so many affiliate networks, publishers and advertisers in the mix, and varying degrees of transparency, it can be hard to distinguish where to invest your resources to ensure you reap the most from your efforts. For these reasons, there need to be more consistent approaches to transparency.

Following are recommended requirements for advertisers, publishers and affiliate networks to consider when it comes to increasing transparency.

Transparency Requirements For Advertisers

From an advertiser’s perspective, having access to detailed data about the effectiveness of their campaigns at every stage is crucial. For example, if adjustments need to be made in the copy or nefarious tactics must be thwarted before they negatively impact the brand, advertisers should be able to see, at a minimum, who their publishers are, how they generate traffic, the volume and demographics of that traffic, and whether publishers are using downloadable software applications or toolbars.

Advertisers looking to recruit top publishers should consider improving their transparency by clearly providing:

  • Contact information/a live resource to answer questions
  • Commission structure
  • Return Days
  • Search Marketing policies
  • Countries commissioned/shipped to
  • Gift card policies in relation to commissions
  • Hot products
  • Seasonal news
  • Mobile commerce capabilities
  • International e-commerce capabilities (including language and currency)

Additionally, advertisers – especially the lesser-known brands — can make themselves attractive to leading publishers by working more closely with them, boosting incentives and educating them on the value of their brand as it relates to the publishers’ audience.

Transparency Requirements For Publishers

Since the affiliate marketing business is all about creating long-term profitable partnerships, publishers can endear themselves to advertisers by increasing their levels of transparency. This will help them improve conversions and payouts while ensuring their efforts are in sync with the advertiser’s brand. As they continue to deliver strong results, advertisers will invest more in them — including increased commissions, advance notice of upcoming promotions, and special offers and incentives.

Given the perks of this status, publishers should also view transparency as way to market themselves to advertisers. More specifically, publishers should discard any cloaked behaviors and provide detailed information when it comes to their business, their website and its visitors, including sources of traffic, country of origin, age, shopping habits, and other critical data that will reassure advertisers they are investing in the publishers that most closely align with their business goals.

Additionally, to further strengthen their relationships with advertisers, publishers should be sure that advertisers disclose everything they can about their brand, including hot-selling products, which promotions are most popular at certain times of the year, and other vital information that can impact their online performance.

Publishers looking to attract advertisers should consider improving their transparency in the following areas:

  • Contact information/a live resource to answer questions
  • Traffic sources (Paid Search, Organic, Email, Toolbars, etc.)
  • Customer reach (geographic)
  • Paid placements (e.g., additional fees for banner placed on home page)
  • User-generated content
  • Newsletter subscribers
  • Mobile traffic
  • Mobile application
  • Toolbars

Transparency Requirements For Affiliate Networks

As the glue between advertisers and publishers, affiliate networks that provide greater visibility reinforce the importance of transparency while holding advertisers and publishers to a higher standard. Further, they can proactively dismiss any claims of questionable behavior by making all activities available to network members through a few self-guided clicks on a screen.

Key to providing transparency is to ensure users can easily search and access detailed profile information. Also, innovative reporting tools should offer insight into specific account activities such as commission rates, account status, and other vital account data.

To help advertisers make sense of the information, the network should augment their data with seasoned account managers that can help strengthen the relationships among advertisers and publishers and also apply knowledge and creativity to improve campaign results.

As all of our online activities become more transparent through social media and increasingly sophisticated technologies, the affiliate channel should embrace the opportunity to provide greater visibility into activities. This will strengthen performance marketing as a whole, expose and eliminate bad practices, and demonstrate the value affiliates bring to online advertisers.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Affiliate Marketing | Affiliate Marketing Column | Channel: Content Marketing


About The Author: is LinkShare’s vice president of marketing. He has more than 15 years experience in corporate and product marketing with an expertise in the performance marketing channel.


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  • Affiliate Management

    Affiliate networks have never made much of an effort to prevent fraud, detect it, or report it to their advertisers. Fraudulent sales get paid out on all the time by unsuspecting advertisers. It starts when affiliates are let into the network, if the network isn’t screening them, the advertiser may not either, and fraud can result, especially in the lead generation industry. Networks have made tons of money on fraudulent leads and sales that advertisers haven’t detected until after the locking period, then it’s too late to get that money back. If the networks would truly detect fraud, like they should, and notify advertisers before they pay out, it might stop. If the advertiser doesn’t have a great process in place to detect fraud, they can easily and do get burned. Let alone the “incentive” affiliates and social currency derived sales and leads, don’t get me started on that.

  • Pat Grady

    I concur. And the power of (network) aggregated policing is large, but mostly going unused. A real shame.

  • Michelle McKinley

    As a lead gen company and a network we deal with fraud often. At Round Sky Inc we do lead generation. We take fraud seriously, so we screen all publishers who apply to the network and use fraud detection. Fraud still comes through from outside networks, so we set up a fraud alert. Any time a network sends 21% or more of leads with a fraud score we notify the network, and pull the publisher. That’s for in house offers, for outside offers we only put on pubs who have never sent fraud. Still we had a pub recently switch practices without letting us know. It can be hard to control publishers, but we notify them of the issue and pull them off an offer when we see the fraud.


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