Affiliate marketing is key to driving traffic, but can you know where that traffic comes from, how it was obtained and is it your problem if its not done totally legitimately? Paul Skeldon takes a look into the murky world of affiliates
Here in the internet age the way to drive traffic to sites and services has slowly moved towards using affiliate networks to drive traffic. Who wouldn’t want to employ someone who had hundreds of thousands of eyeballs and potential clicks just waiting to click on merchants or media services?
From the telemedia perspective affiliate marketing has been both a huge bonus but also, increasingly, something of a headache. Of course you want to drive traffic to merchant ads and affiliates can do that with ease. However, in the regulatory environment that the industry operates in, ceding control of this traffic to a third party has its risks.
What is more, many of the affiliate networks also use affiliate networks – and so as a telemedia company, a media company or a merchant you start to get in to the potentially dangerous position of not knowing what sorts of practices are being used to drive people to see your ads and click on your services.
This famously lead to a high court judicial review of premium rate regulator PhonePay Plus (PPP) in the UK in 2014. German PRS quiz company Ordanduu had long used affiliates to drive clicks to its quizzes. One affiliate used a complicated series of networks that eventually lead to a rogue company putting some malware behind one of Ordanduu’s ads.
Sadly, the only click this ad received was from PPP, which then effectively shut down Ordanduu in the UK while it conducted a length investigation.
The case can be seen at telemediaonline.co.uk and the resulting judgement, but it threw two things into sharp relief: Firstly, affiliates need to be very closely policed and secondly, if you don’t regulators are going to come for you – even though its not your fault.
While the upshot of the judicial review into this case was that PPP acted poorly and damages were granted against Ordanduu – and the regulator has been much more open to working with industry rather than against it and has rewritten its code of practice to reflect this – affiliate marketing is still a growing issue across the global telemedia industry.
“There’s almost a perfect storm: affiliate marketing companies that will do anything they can to drive traffic and an industry that is under ever increasing pressure to be compliant, MNOs that are increasingly wary of non-compliance and telemedia companies seeing what the affiliates – and affiliates’ affiliates – do as being ‘nothing to do with us’,” says Rob Weisz, head of Fonix.
This all contributes to the on-going problem that the telemedia industry is pray too: lack of trust. Consumer trust is always a problem with bill shock and services that aren’t what they purport to be. Add to this that ads could be pushed in all sorts of disreputable ways and this all adds up to one big issue.
Network operators too, poised as they are for mega-mergers and take overs, also want to keep themselves ‘clean’. The last thing they want is some sort of PR disaster off the back of an affiliate marketing issue.
And the problem is not just limited to UK companies. “Most countries have bizarre rules that are almost ‘there to be broken’ by affiliates,” warns Jeremy Flynn, co-founder of Empello, a company that can monitor and check affiliate networks and report problems. “In some countries adult can only be advertised as ‘glamour’, for example. This is really open to being mis-run.”
But the real issue centres around how affiliates will often do almost anything to get traffic. And they will also use their own set of other affiliates to achieve this. The longer the chain gets the less ‘rules’ driven the affiliates become.
“Often anti-virus software ads are dressed up as alerts that “you have a virus”; or competitions to win an iPad state “you have won and iPad”. This is all in contravention of most codes of practice in most countries and so is a massive problem,” explains Flynn.
But who’s problem is it? Many telemedia companies feel that its somewhat out of their control as to what rogue affiliates might do. They all do due diligence on networks they do use. They all draw up solid contracts that prohibit all the shady things that can happen and they can even stipulate that no third party affiliates are used. However, this isn’t any way to guarantee that it won’t go wrong.
Many affiliates will agree but will then do whatever it takes to generate clicks. This is where companies such as Empello and MCP come in: they can run checks on 1000s of ads and report any problems.
“And since the Judicial Review, PhonePay Plus has been more than happy with this way of handling things,” says Empello’s Flynn.
“The industry needs to come together to work on this,” says Alan Partington from Telecom 2. “Ideally we need a list of rogue affiliates, even though there are some data protection issues with that, so that we all know who to avoid. This is the only way to overcome trust issues. But we have to work together – something that we hope to see at World Telemedia in Marbella in October.”
However, while this all goes a long way to stemming the tide of rogue affiliates, there is a new danger on the horizon, warns Flynn. “To date most affiliates have paid to generate clicks from other lists and click suppliers. However, many are now turning to Facebook to create their own clicks and these often misleading Facebook profiles are very hard to track down,” he says.
So, with fake Facebook accounts generating clicks for the wrong reasons for legitimate ads for services run by telemedia companies the whole affiliate model looks to still be something that needs to be grasped properly.