When working with affiliates, compliance begins with a well crafted and thought out agreement. Here are examples of restrictions that belong in an effective compliance strategy without putting a choke hold on your affiliates. This is not legal advice, and is intended as business advisement.
Direct linking a.k.a. URL hijacking. If you and your affiliates are both advertising in the same places—the same keywords on Google, Yahoo or Bing—you need to prohibit direct linking to your website. Links in ads from affiliates should point to their landing pages, not yours. This is because direct linked ads from affiliates will compete with your ads for placement and ad serving frequency. The exception to this is if you and your affiliates are advertising in different places. In these cases, you may want to allow direct linking to give your site exposure provided that you define specifically when this is allowed and spell out any ad copy restrictions that follow.
Competitive brand bidding. You should prohibit competitive brand bidding (affiliates bidding on your competitors’ trademarked terms) in these circumstances:
- If you allow your affiliates to direct link
- If your products are confusingly similar to your competitor’s products, either in look and feel and/or brand name
- If your affiliate promotes only your goods & services and not the competitor’s on their landing page.
Media & keyword restrictions. You should prohibit your affiliates from directly competing with you on specific media properties and keywords. Exceptions: if you are deploying a strategy with super-affiliates to box in a market or if you cannot get enough reach on your own. The list of restricted terms should include your brand names, typos of brand names and variations that include ‘.com’ or typos of that. You may also want to include your top performing keywords and/or brand phrases—phrases that contain your brand along with a generic word.
Negative keywords. If you are restricting specific keyword terms from paid search advertising, you should also require that those same terms be negatively matched to prevent the search engine(s) from accidentally auto-matching your affiliate’s ad to a restricted keyword.
Rank restrictions. If you do allow your affiliates to advertise on your brand name or top performing keywords on paid search, you may want to enforce rank restrictions on those specific terms so that your ads appear higher up in result listings than the affiliates’ ads.
Domain registration. You should prohibit your affiliates from registering domains that contain your brand and typos of your brand.
Link cloaking. Link cloaking can be used for good or for evasion purposes. If you have the technical know-how, you may consider providing your affiliates with a link cloaking tool so that you can easily decode the affiliate network and ID from cloaked links while still enabling your affiliates to cloak. The restriction needed in your affiliate agreement is to prohibit link cloaking if done through an unauthorized method or if done for the purpose of evading you.
Compliance with search engine rules. You should require that your affiliates follow the editorial guidelines of each search engine. For example, the landing page must match the display URL, and no redirects or jump pages that immediately redirect to your website.
Prohibit evasion. You should prohibit your affiliates from using evasion tactics to hide the affiliate link when the visits are from either you or from search engine editorial bots checking on paid ads.
Violation of laws, rules and regulations. If your industry has specific regulations (as is the case with certain verticals), you need to require the affiliate to remain in compliance with those regulations. If you allow email marketing, then you must require compliance with the “can spam” act. Your affiliates who operate editorial publications must also comply with new rules from the FTC when they are endorsing or recommending your products which require disclosure that the website is a compensated affiliate.
Ad copy and landing page copy. You need to prohibit things like:
- Use of your brand in ad copy text or in the display URL if you are prohibiting brand use False advertising or any claim that shows you or your competitors in a false or misleading light
- Promoting old invalid offers that have expired
- Using certain words such as “official” or “free”
- Copying your landing pages if you want your affiliates to have their own unique landing pages—in some cases, you may want to supply the ad copy/landing page language.
Press releases. You may want to include a restriction prohibiting press releases.
Fraudulent commissions. You will also want to prohibit fraudulent activities like cookie stuffing, link interception and falsifying orders. These may seem obvious, but you’re safest if you spell these things out in an agreement rather than just assuming your affiliate has enough common sense to avoid them.
These rules need to be applied to the affiliates with whom you have a direct relationship, and any sub-affiliates of your direct affiliates. Be sure that these rules are applicable to the affiliate and all websites and businesses owned and operated by the affiliate. It is not uncommon for an affiliate to sign up for your program using one web site address, then sign up for your competitor’s program using another and then brand bid on both of you.
Finally, it is important to communicate your rules effectively to your affiliates. Remember that your affiliate agreement is written in legalese and some of your affiliates will not read it. To ensure that your restrictions are communicated thoroughly, you may want to also publish an FAQ section, hold training sessions or provide an online video, and/or explain the restrictions via your affiliate newsletter.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.