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A Battle To Avoid: Search Team Vs. Affiliate Team

Lack of coordination between your search and affiliate marketing efforts can create internal revenue wars.

Keywords that contain your brand are extremely valuable both because conversion rates are typically higher due to the high relevance between queries using brand terms and search results, and costs-per-click are often less expensive than those for generic keywords. Your search team wants to own your brand terms, and will want to prohibit the affiliate channel from advertising on them. But from the affiliate channel’s perspective, the ability to advertise on brand terms or brand derivatives, like typos, can generate great revenue. The problem is when both teams vie for the same or similar keywords you run the risk of creating a revenue war between both teams.

You’ll likely find yourself facing this problem if you manage your affiliate program and your search program through separate and disparate teams—for example, if you use a search agency to manage your search program and an outsource program manager (OPM) to control your affiliate program. Each team wants to take credit for revenue derived from the search channel to propel the metrics that you should and are going to hold them accountable for achieving—e.g. ROI or CPA. Depending on your tracking system, credit for the sale will either go to the last cookie dropped, the first cookie dropped or to each cookie dropped—in which case you will be attributing the same revenue dollars to multiple channels. Flawed conversion metrics are then used by your search team, your affiliate team and yourself to measure performance of keywords, maximum CPC’s, budget allocation and overall performance benchmarks. Flaws in these stats cause mistakes—what if you fired your SEM agency due to a revenue attribution mistake?

Consumers do not always buy on the first click. This means that it is possible, and likely, that a consumer will run multiple searches and click on multiple ads before finally making a purchase. If during the shopping and researching phase the consumer clicks on your search team’s ad and also clicks on your affiliate team’s ad(s), and the credit for the sale is given to the affiliate team, there will be negative repercussions to your search team’s metrics, analysis and decision making or vice versa.

Both the affiliate and search teams seek to be credited for the ultimate sale. To maintain a healthy working relationship between these two channels, so that everyone ultimately benefits, you could consider the following practices:

Create affiliate rules. Create affiliate marketing rules so that the affiliate program enhances your search program and does not detract from it. For example, prohibit cookie stuffing, prohibit direct linking (unless you do not have a search campaign) and on top terms and even brand terms, make sure affiliates have an even playing field with the search team. Meaning, give your affiliates the opportunity to succeed so that they do not need to resort to underhanded tactics.

Monitor affiliates closely. Keep track of your affiliates to ensure that the rules are adhered to, which will ultimately curtail channel conflict.

Ensure proper sales attribution. Give credit for sales to both teams so that it is not all or nothing. Consider tracking sales so that you can watch the entire shopping path of a consumer over time. This will give you a greater understanding of the different contributions of your search and affiliate teams.

Unify management. If you can do it, you ought to consider common management for both channels, so that one agency or one group is responsible for both the paid and affiliate channels. It is also wise to consider bringing the SEO team into the process as well. A single source vendor who can handle all three components and operate the program in harmony will yield better results in the long run. In this scenario, management is credited for both the search and affiliate successes, and therefore has every reason to ensure that the playing field is balanced.

Be transparent in tracking or external monitoring. If you are going to manage search and affiliate teams separately, you ought to consider some transparency in tracking and/or external monitoring so that your SEM agency has a way to see which keywords have a strong affiliate presence. This will give the SEM agency a clearer picture when evaluating performance and in decision making. Otherwise, your agency will have a blind spot which puts the agency at a disadvantage.

Ultimately, channel wars between your search and affiliate teams can stunt your ability to maximize the search channel. You may be over or under spending, good search terms may appear less viable or you may wind up firing your agency or your affiliate team for metrics that they cannot control. As you think about this problem, keep in mind that great brand managers can use a group of super-affiliates to protect your brand. Affiliate programs can offer strong results in assisting with brand protection and expanding your keyword reach. However, if not carefully managed, revenue attribution from the affiliate program will “steal” dollars from your search team’s bottom line.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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