Affiliate Program Best Practices
Wed, Sep 05, 2012 by Andrew Conway
Not all spam is about Viagra, Nigerian gold, or naked coeds. We see a lot of spam, both in email and SMS, which is aimed at getting victims to sign up for surveys, product trials, mailing lists, credit reports and so on. The spammer may tell you there is a free iPad at the end of the rainbow, but in fact they just want to collect a few cents on you from various affiliate programs run by legitimate businesses. This is not good for the companies running these affiliate programs. Not only is their brand being associated with spam, but the quality of the sales leads they get from people who are tricked into filling out web forms is not going to be very high.
We also see spam for legitimate brands that does lead to the real site, but was sent to a huge email list where the spammer did not have permission of the recipients to send the email. While these may result in real leads for which the spammer will be paid through affiliate accounts, the cost to the brand is that the overwhelming majority of people to whom the email was sent did not want the email and did not sign up for it. This causes the recipients to have a more negative view of the brand. In order to try and bypass spam filters the message often contain strange elements and the email messages usually lack the professional image that many brands would like to maintain.
Clearly it is in the interests of affiliate programs not to fund spammers. But how to prevent that? Here’s some advice for affiliate programs to make them a harder target for spammers to exploit.
- Be aware that what you pay for is what the cyber criminals will fake for you. If you pay for clicks, you will get click fraud. If you pay for names and addresses you will get names and addresses (though probably entered to ship that elusive free iPad to), and if you pay for sales, then the spammers will be spamming review sites and forums dealing with your product, so they are sending you contact information for people who were going to buy your product anyway.
- It is not enough to cancel accounts when you catch them spamming. Just as the spammer may use thousands of email addresses and web sites to make spam less obvious, so they may have set up hundreds or even thousands of affiliate accounts on your network so that their profits don’t stand out.
- To prevent this you have to make sure that each affiliate is a real person or business with working contact information. A good way to do this is to make the first affiliate payment for any account using a paper check sent through the postal service, and marked for deposit to the payee’s account only. That way you are confirming the postal address and they they own a bank account. Of course, this can be circumvented by the spammer using confederates (“mules”) to open accounts for them, but that adds to the cost and difficulty.
- Obtain a phone number and Social Security Number or Employer ID from all your affiliates. Call the phone number and make sure the right person answers, and validate the SSN or EIN with the IRS.
- Make sure that all the email addresses, phone numbers, SSNs and postal addresses in your affiliate are unique. (Run postal addresses through a CASS Certified mailing program to normalize them.) If you ever cancel an account, put that information on a black list, so if anyone ever tries to sign up again with any of the blacklisted fields, refuse to accept them.
- Monitor the quality of the traffic you are getting from each affiliate. If it is in the bottom ten or twenty percent, close those accounts. Even if it is not coming from spam, there is no point in paying for low quality traffic.
- Check your server logs carefully and make sure you look at high volume referring pages to be sure they are genuine. If the affiliate is blocking referring pages in the traffic they send you that is a big red flag. Plot a graph of traffic against time of day for each affiliate. Natural traffic will have a smooth twenty four hour cycle to it, but synthetic traffic often comes in bursts when a large spam mailing goes out.
And remember, if the traffic you are getting from a new affiliate seems too good to be true, then it isn’t!