Yahoo’s partnership with a toolbar provider has led to questionable affiliate links showing up in the latest version of the Yahoo Toolbar for both Firefox and IE.
How questionable? In one case, an affiliate was redirecting traffic from Ticketmaster.com to a competing online ticket seller. In other cases, it’s unclear if the websites that a user visits are aware that Yahoo is showing affiliate coupons when the page loads.
The coupons are visible to all U.S. users of the Yahoo toolbar that have installed or upgraded to the current toolbar version. The Coupons app is currently turned on by default when the toolbar is installed or upgraded, but it can be turned off in the toolbar settings.
The affiliate coupons are showing on major websites like Kohls, Office Depot, Sears, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others.
I’ve had the Firefox toolbar installed for about a week and have seen coupons pop-up on probably 15 different websites.
BrandVerity has covered the story in two separate articles that are worth reading:
- March 15: Affiliates Redistributing Coupons through the Yahoo Toolbar
- March 19: Yahoo Toolbar Redirecting to Merchant’s Competitor
In the second article, BrandVerity points out that a coupon showing when users visited Ticketmaster.com would — if the user clicked to redeem the coupon — redirect the user through an affiliate link to a competing ticket site, TickCo.com. That’s shown in this video created by BrandVerity:
Yahoo didn’t respond to our request for comment about this affiliate coupon hijacking, but within a day after we asked about it, the coupon stopped showing up when visiting Ticketmaster’s website.
Update: We received the following quote from Yahoo shortly after this article was published:
“We are deeply committed to providing a good coupon experience to our users. Our partner Visicom aggregates coupons that are served on our coupon app in Yahoo! Toolbar for Firefox and Yahoo! Toolbar for IE. Upon learning of an invalid coupon being served, we immediately worked with Visicom to remove the coupon, which was done within a few hours. We are working with Visicom to put processes in place to help prevent issues like these from occurring in the future.”
Where Do The Affiliate Coupons Come From?
Yahoo isn’t the source of the coupon affiliate links that show up in its toolbar.
The company explained to us that they come from a Yahoo partner, Visicom Media, a company whose software products include toolbars offered by Yahoo and others (like Comcast, Verizon, Miniclip and more).
BrandVerity raised a number of concerns with how the toolbar’s coupons might be troublesome both to the merchants whose websites are prompting the coupons to load, and to other affiliate marketers:
Here’s a troubling sign: the affiliates involved have not disclosed their relationships with the Yahoo Toolbar. So, any merchants working with the affiliates have no idea that these affiliate links are being distributed by Yahoo.
Furthermore, the affiliates are laundering the traffic. The clicks generated by the Yahoo toolbar are being modified to appear as though they originated from one of a collection of coupon sites. We would assume the sites are related, although they operate using different IDs within the same network.
It’s also nearly certain that other affiliates would be frustrated by this. Due to last click attribution, many hard-working affiliates may be losing commissions on account of the practice.
On the last point — about how affiliate commissions are tracked — Yahoo told us that this is the responsibility of the affiliate networks.
Merchants partner with third parties to distribute the merchants’ coupons and reach users through various channels. Visicom works with coupon providers who, through affiliate networks, ensure that the coupons being served come from participating merchants. The affiliate networks are responsible for tracking and attributing traffic to the appropriate partner.
Yahoo’s statement shows how complicated the relationship is between the various parties involved in serving affiliate coupons on merchant websites via the Yahoo Toolbar.
But complicated relationship or not, ultimate responsibility for how the Yahoo Toolbar works still rests with Yahoo. Questionable affiliate links — including at least one example where the link redirected users to a competing website — don’t make Yahoo, or its toolbar, look good.
Postscript: The headline and article were both updated from the original version to reflect that the Coupons app is available on Yahoo Toolbar for both Firefox and IE, not just the Firefox version.