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Caution - Leak DetectedIf I were to choose one most commonly recurring problem with websites that run affiliate programs it would be leaks. In brief, a leak is a path to an untrackable action that the end user may make bypassing the route that provides for an affiliate remuneration.

Affiliates are in this business to make money. They are also being remunerated for their marketing efforts only if an action (a sale, a lead submission, etc) takes place.

Every e-business that starts an affiliate program must become extremely sensitive to the fact that once the program goes live some of the traffic will be sent to the business' website by marketers who are paid on performance basis only. This should get translated into becoming respectful of affiliate marketers' efforts, and removing any possibilities for the visitors they refer to "leak" without completing the desired action.

There are 5 main types of leaks that merchants are prone to:

1. Telephone Numbers

This is by far the most frequently recurring leak. Unless the merchant offers a solution to track phone orders, every affiliate-referred customer that places the order over the phone means lost commissions for affiliates. Here are two examples:

Phone Leak 1

and

Phone Leak 2

Both of the above merchants run their affiliate program on ShareASale, the network that does offer merchants a phone tracking solution. The solution has not been implemented, but the phone numbers are prominently displayed in highly visible spots, even when the visitors arrive to these websites through affiliate links.


2. AdSense Units

Vast numbers of merchants are running these on their websites not realizing that by monetizing the affiliate traffic in this way, they are cashing in on affiliate efforts that are really geared at marketing their main product/service. Here is just one example (I've picked this one because of the prominence of Google Ads on this merchant's website):

AdSense Leak


3. Amazon Widgets

Quite a few merchants also have Amazon's widgets on their websites. Yes, I do understand that these books are directly related to what you're selling, and with your target audience you're probably registering an excellent conversion rate, but are affiliates who are referring visitors to your website benefiting from this at all?

Here's an example of a merchant that has an Amazon widget on their website:

Amazon widgets leak


4. Links to "Network" Stores

Some merchants list other websites that they own, but overlook the fact that once the affiliate-referred visitor "leaks" to those websites, there is no chance the affiliate could earn any commission on his/her purchase in that other store. Same applies to Amazon stores and eBay stores that merchants may run. While in the example with the sister companies it is possible to make the tracking of all orders across "network" stores possible, neither Amazon, nor eBay sales can be tracked (they won't implement your tracking pixel on their "thank you" pages).

Here's an example:

Network stores leak


5. Affiliate Links & Links to Other Merchants

Finally (believe it or not), there are merchants that also wear an affiliate hat, displaying affiliate links on their websites. Here's one:

Affiliate link leak

If a visitor that an affiliate sends to the above website, books a limo, this merchant will get their commision, while the affiliate will get nothing.

Another variation of the same type of leak is direct linking to another merchant's website.


Many of the above leaks are caused by the merchants' ignorance of the consequences. Hence, this post.

Respect and reward the work that your affiliates are doing for you, and they will respect and reward you in return.

Geno Prussakov

Published 1 June, 2009 by Geno Prussakov

Geno Prussakov is the Founder & Chair of Affiliate Management Days conference, Founder & CEO at AM Navigator, author, internationally known speaker, and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can find Geno on Google+

27 more posts from this author

Comments (14)

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AffiliateTrust

Great article on merchant leaks Geno.  This is a big problem plaguing affiliate marketing.  There are even a couple more types of leaks that weren't mentioned; merchant website chat, and incentive schemes.

At Affiliate Trust, there's a growing sub-forum dedicated to addressing leaks and exposing leaky merchants. There's also a merchant notification/communication mechanism in place to initiate dialog with leaky merchants.  Click the link on the name of this comment to view it.  You need not register to use the service, but registration is free and reaps benefits.

Ed Byerly
Affiliate Trust Admin

over 7 years ago

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5starAffiliatePrograms

Great article Geno. I love that you include screenshots with each example since a pic is worth a thousand words.

I'm going to reblog this and link to it for my 5 Star readers. 

Thanks for the post!

Linda Buquet

over 7 years ago

Geno Prussakov

Geno Prussakov, Founder at AM Navigator LLC

@Ed: Thank you for chiming in. Merchant chat is akin to telephone number mention (can be listed as a sub-type of the phone leak), whereas incentive schemes is an entirely different animal (more of a hybrid of a leak with a planned cheat-affiliate-out-of-their-commission scheme).

@Linda: Glad you have enjoyed the post. Thank you.

over 7 years ago

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Jeff James, Bridaluxe

Hi Geno: When merchant sites are leaky, the networks lose, too. Why do you think networks don't make a bigger deal out of leaky merchants?

over 7 years ago

Geno Prussakov

Geno Prussakov, Founder at AM Navigator LLC

Jeff,

When the merchant is leaky everyone loses (serious affiliates don't promote them; they don't make as much as they could have made through the affiliate channel; affiliate networks and OPMs consequently lose as well). Why aren't affiliate networks doing something about it? Good question. I wonder the same.

Back in February in my Merchant Naïvete or Common Problems of Affiliate Programs post I wrote about merchants who live with a presupposition "that it is the affiliate network's responsibility to manage" their affiliate program. The above-described problem is somewhat different, but the root is the same -- lack of basic merchant education.

I don't believe the leak problem could be fully eliminated, but it could certainly be reduced by affiliate networks (a) carefully reviewing merchant websites prior to accepting them into the network, and (b) providing merchants with the basic education on the subject.

over 7 years ago

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Kevin Edwards

I'm sympathetic to merchants who display telephone numbers as I know there are often compelling reasons to do so, however even if a merchant does not want to (or is not able to) reward for a sale that originated online completing offline there is an additional solution for affiliate traffic.

Most networks should be able to offer the ability for the telephone number not to be displayed for affiliate traffic. Therefore the merchant can still display a phone number generally via non-affiliate traffic yet can acknowledge the affiliate traffic by choosing not to. This can also work for sales that complete out of the first session.

Whilst this is certainly not a complete solution and will still result in an element of leakage it often marks a halfway house approach that shows willing by a merchant who is possibly constrained by their multi-channel proposition.

over 7 years ago

Geno Prussakov

Geno Prussakov, Founder at AM Navigator LLC

Any leak can be hidden from the end-user's eye when he/she arrives at the merchant's website through an affiliate link, but the big question is: do these merchants care enough about their affiliates to go that extra mile and take care of the problem?

over 7 years ago

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Durk Price

Geno, Cable Organizer, shown in the first screen capture of your post, is an affiliate program I manage through ShareASale. Cable Organizer does provides an “800” number as can plainly be seen. Cable Organizer’s product line is targeted to the tech crowd and in many instances requires highly trained internal resources to configure correctly prior to ordering. In virtually every case after a discussion has ensued the consumer is directed back to the website to complete the transaction. Only if the order is of a custom nature would other order methods be utilized.

Likewise, Cable Organizer is pursuing the phone tracking solution mentioned in your post. We think this is a great idea and applaud ShareASale for making this available.

Most of my retail oriented clients do display an “800” number on their sites. This has become common place for most ecommerce sites and is almost expected to be visible by consumers. In essence the “800” number validates the site not unlike a BBB or Verisign logo does. True it is a leak of sorts, but most of my customers have seen overall conversion rates climb as much as 40% when the consumer is provided an “800” number option. This improved conversion rate is also applied to the affiliate sales and conversions as well.

Lastly, most merchants who have call centers will tell you that it is the least effective and most expensive way to convert visitors to purchasers. The “800” numbers are truly to make the consumer feel better about the company he is doing business with and is only utilized as a last resort by the merchant.

over 7 years ago

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Durk Price

Geno, Great followup infomration. And let me add a clarification. Cable Organizer has not installed the click to call feature but hope to soon, it is a really cool idea and with high average order sizes like they have we don't want affiliates to miss any sales opportunities.

over 7 years ago

Geno Prussakov

Geno Prussakov, Founder at AM Navigator LLC

No prob, Durk, and thank you again for chiming in. To me it shows an exemplary affiliate program management. This is precisely the way an OPM company should be taking care of their clients.

Best of luck installing the phone tracking. I hope CJ (and other affiliate networks that aren't yet offering it) will start offering something like this soon too.

over 7 years ago

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Deca101

You forgot to mention the most obvious leak "Contact Us", whereas the customer fills out the on-line form and the merchant gets in contact with the customer directly, you think the "Affiliate" will every see anything out of that ?, of course not !

about 7 years ago

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Calvin Yu

We are a merchant that just started an affiliate program and are actively working on a solution to stop leakage from our 800#. In our case, we intend to:
1. drop a cookie on the visitor with the affiliate network name and affiliate id (if it exists)
2. Implement a button on the bottom of our page that says something like "Caller Code". When the user clicks the button a unique and incremented id is displayed, it also logs to a table behind the scenes the cookie data (affiliate network and affiliate id) + Caller Code.
3. Anytime someone calls in to our 800# and our reps are completing an order over the phone, they will be required to enter a caller code. When the order is saved, it looks up the affiliate network and affiliate id based on the unique caller code.

We can now map called in orders to a specific affiliate network and affiliate id.

Has anyone figured out how to stop leakage from faxed in orders?

over 5 years ago

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Dan

Geno Prussakov: "Any leak can be hidden from the end-user's eye when he/she arrives at the merchant's website through an affiliate link, but the big question is: do these merchants care enough about their affiliates to go that extra mile and take care of the problem?"

Geno You summed it up right there. I too believe that any type of affiliate leakage can be stooped IF a merchant cared enough to take precautionary measures. Some leakage issues may come out of sheer ignorance on behalf of the merchant -- but many issues comes from them just trying to cheat the affiliate!

about 4 years ago

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Geno Prussakov

Exactly, Dan. Just like with that phone number -- if you don't/can't track it, just don't display it to affiliate-referred traffic.

about 4 years ago

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