Throughout the past six years, there has been a significant shift in the promotional methods used by affiliates to drive sales to merchants.

It is important to understand how and why this shift has occurred and ways advertisers can implement strategies to engage with all affiliate types.

Six years ago the vast majority of volume was driven by PPC affiliates, whether this was direct to merchant PPC or to send consumers to a landing page prior to clicking through to an advertiser. The shift in the past six years has seen a move away from PPC affiliates as the predominant type, with the channel moving towards loyalty/incentive sites.

As online marketing has developed, merchants have begun to carry out their PPC activity in-house, or enlisted a specialist search agency. This has been combined with advertisers having stricter terms and conditions in place with regards to their PPC policy as well as Google changes.

Despite PPC affiliates making up a smaller percentage of all sales that have been delivered through the affiliate channel, the volume of sales that they have generated remains steady. This is indicative of the overall value of the affiliate channel growing year on year.

With the development of the channel and consumer behaviours changing, the methods of promotion have also transformed.

The recession has seen the way that customers shop online change. Savvy shoppers know there is often a discount to be had by shopping online and will conduct searches geared towards finding these discounts.

The cashback model of paying part of or all of a commission back to the customer has seen the leading cashback sites experience phenomenal growth. Similarly there has been a significant rise in the number of vouchercode sites and the volume they are able to deliver.

The data below looks at the breakdown of affiliate type that we have seen across the Affiliate Window platform and how this has changed over time.

This focuses on the top 20 affiliates across the network, each of the affiliates categorising themselves by their primary method of promotion: 


In January 2005 13 of the top 20 affiliates were classified as PPC affiliates. By January 2011 only three affiliates listed in the top 20 stipulated their primary promotional method as PPC.

Conversely, vouchercode sites did not generate a significant amount of volume until 2006. By January 2007 three vouchercode affiliates were listed within the top 20 across the network. Similarly, the increase in the number of sales through cashback sites has seen the number of affiliates in the top 20 more than triple from two in Jan 2005 to seven in Jan 2011.

It is encouraging to note that despite incentivised traffic seeing a significant increase, content/other sites continue to have a strong presence within the top 20 affiliates, reiterating the fact ‘content is king’.

The last click model that is prevalent within the industry will favour business models which are geared towards being the last click. Cashback/Reward and vouchercode sites invariably receive the last click as consumers are primed to purchase when visiting these sites.

As more and more consumers become aware of the cashback concept these sites are likely to become their first port of call, with the ability to carry out a comparison when on the site.

Content/comparison sites add significant value within the purchase cycle but this is typically in the research phase, before a customer is ready to purchase. On a last click model, these sites are likely to miss out on a number of sales they have initiated.

A value attribution model can be developed to reward affiliates based on the value they provide. This can be based on advertiser KPIs which could include sales volume, split of new vs existing customers and their position within the purchase cycle/perceived influence on the sale. This would ensure that it is viable for content/comparison sites to continue to work on a CPA model.

Research carried out by Affiliate Window indicates that those most likely to lose out on the last click model are PPC and price comparison affiliates. These are considered to be ‘initiators’ rather than ‘closers’.

All affiliate types have demonstrated the ability to generate new customers and drive volume for merchants, but the popularity of incentive sites has shown that they are an effective lever to pull in order to increase sales demand. 

An incentive-based model allows for an increased commission to be used tactically in the short term to increase sales, with the typical member of these sites susceptible to an increase in cashback to stimulate their desire to purchase.

Throughout 2011 we can expect to see a further shift in affiliate types. The continued emergence of retargeting sitting within the affiliate channel as well as the development of mobile commerce could see entrants from these affiliate types in the top 20 this time next year.

It is important for advertisers to understand where their sales are coming from through affiliates and how this impacts upon sales through other online channels.

One of the most interesting developments will be advertisers who move beyond traditional affiliate segmentation and start to recognise that individual affiliates offer unique brand partnership opportunities. Only by doing so will they be well placed to capitalise on the variety of opportunities the channel presents.

Matt Swan

Published 2 February, 2011 by Matt Swan

Matt Swan is Client Strategist at Affiliate Window and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (14)

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I don't really consider this surge in couponing sites to be a unique brand partnership or providing value. Being an ecomm owner site I've seen these sites do one thing and only one thing, cannibalize our in-house marketing efforts.

Here's how it works: we pay to advertise our site. Customer sees ads, clicks, adds stuff to cart, goes to check out. Customer sees coupon box and a link next to it that says "see current coupons" (all our current offers are right there for them to see, right on our site). Customer believes they can find coupons elsewhere. Customer googles "[brand name] coupon" and finds affiliate site's list of bogus coupons with language that leads MY customer that I paid for to click a link in order to get a discount that doesn't exist. Customer returns to my site and completes order (or maybe doesn't since they are now pissed that they thought they'd get a nonexistent discount). Now affiliate thinks they should get paid.

As a result of this practice we have had to ban all couponing sites from our affiliate program and we now only allow content affiliates. Sorry, but trying to make money off of sales we rightfully earned through our own marketing is not providing us a valuable service.

over 7 years ago



MK - Don't agree. Your comments are inaccurate and show a lack of understanding about the current voucher code guidelines and of the affiliate sector as a whole.

Perhaps your efforts should go into embracing coupons and running your affiliate programme effectively.

over 7 years ago



That's not a very good response IMHO Matt. He's saying he's had issues, without seeing his data yourself you can't really say he's being "inaccurate". You can say that perhaps with a different approach he would get better results but there are plenty of merchants with similar concerns. I'm also guessing that he's from the USA due use of the word 'coupon' and as such the IAB AMC guidelines don't apply.

over 7 years ago

Matt Swan

Matt Swan, Head of Business Intelligence at Affiliate Window

Hi - I would just like to point out that the initial response was not from me.

I am putting together a reply which is a bit more constructive which I will hopefully be able to post soon.


over 7 years ago

Matt Swan

Matt Swan, Head of Business Intelligence at Affiliate Window

For me it’s about control. An advertiser will feel comfortable using different promotional methods if they feel they have control over the user journey. Many advertisers embrace voucher codes but don’t particularly scrutinise the channel – many still do but apply a lot more analysis. I would throw it back to you and say why does this user journey occur, what are you doing to minimise or remove completely the incidences of consumers following the journey you outline above whilst still recognising that affiliates using codes can drive both volume and value. There are solutions available.

I think many advertisers, affiliates and networks alike are aware of the user journey you describe above and have been working to find ways to guarantee advertisers don’t cannibalise their existing traffic. Some have taken control of the journey and implemented technical fixes. Others have worked far more strategically with preferred partners to ensure they take advantage of the full package of promotional methods available from the most respected affiliates using voucher codes.

Notice I’ve used the term ‘affiliates using voucher codes’, rather than ‘voucher code affiliates’. I think it’s important to recognise the difference as a huge number of affiliates can use codes in a constructive and incremental way that tends to be overlooked.

Obviously I’m bound to say this but voucher coding is more complex than simply banning all sites that use them. To do so effectively says every affiliate is the same. Voucher code strategies can be put in place which are in line with a merchants KP’s - whether this is delivering new customers or encouraging existing customers to spend more. As I mentioned in the initial article, it is important that merchants understand the quality of traffic that is coming from their affiliate base and reward them according to this.

over 7 years ago



ahhh, this old dog...voucher code sites again....blame the easy target.

yes customers use voucher codes, dont forget we're in a recession, and the customer will ALWAYS be price sensitive, even on highly branded premium products they'd still gravitate towards a lower price or a discount.

given this is the case, as Matt Swan said its about control. i'd add its about concise planned and strategic control, you can, in theory micromanage all voucher code sites, and us commission structures, terms and conditions and the codes and incentives themselves as means to control the activity coming from these sites.

Cutting them out complete, however, amounts to cutting off your nose to spite your face...and you'd simply be loosing out on a huge swathe of traffic as a result.

to answer MKs statement more specifically, Redletterdays put in place a really nice checkout coding that cloaked the voucher code box based on the source of the traffic, Zappos are beating affiliates at their own (SEO) game by having their own voucher code page. there are a dozon solutions that address your concerns about cannibalization, which won't mean you need to block out these comes down to knowing HOW to work with them.

over 7 years ago


Teresa Lawrence

I agree that there has been a clear change in how promotional methods are being used across client companies, both big and small. But the chosen method depends largely on how well established their online team infrastructure and tracking has been set up.

We have seen Vouchercode and Cashback affiliates double some client’s percentage contribution within the affiliate channel. Client side, it is important to set up a vouchercode strategy to ensure that you can track performance across all affiliates. For example, setting up unique codes for Top affiliates and generic codes for the longtail gives a clear indication of their contribution. Vouchercode and Cashback affiliates can drive serious revenue but it depends on how well you manage the strategy and track offers. Many companies cannot track individual codes or set up unique codes for every affiliate every time they have an offer, so it is important to have built a relationship with your affiliate and have a plan in place.

Vouchercode affiliates do not only drive incremental sales for clients, they also provide additional brand exposure through their social media platforms and loyal customer base. In essence, they become brand ambassadors.

over 7 years ago



Hi Matt. Another good article. When you mention that comparison sites typically lose out on a last click wins model has that research included a travel client (e.g. one selling flights) or was it primarily retail?

over 7 years ago


Christopher Maltby, Head of Online at

Hi guys, I use two affiliate networks to promote my business and they do deliver a lot of click through voucher code sites. And... it does not bother me a jot! My account handlers do a great job selecting the voucher sites we use and i set the commission levels myself to ensure that we maintain a comfortable profit margin though this channel.

Trying to change customer behaviour is like trying to push water up a hill. More people are using voucher code sites these days and so we need to ensure that when they do a search we are listed on them. I want our brand in front of consumers everywhere they turn.

over 7 years ago

Matt Swan

Matt Swan, Head of Business Intelligence at Affiliate Window

Thanks Andy. This research is based on clients across the network - so predominantly retail.
It would be interesting to do a piece of research which is travel focussed to see how consumer behaviour changes in this sector.

over 7 years ago

Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey, Commercial Director at Performance Horizon Group Ltd

Swanny, interesting article but I think it must be viewed in context.

Firstly, Affiliate Window have grown exponentially over this time and have grown from what was, 6 years ago, a predominantly retail driven network to the one we see now operating in all verticals. The radical change in the mix of brands will undoubtedly skew these results.

Secondly, there is no explanation of how affiliates are categorised. I don't think that it's realistic to say that an affiliate is "a PPC affiliate" or "a voucher code affiliate" as the methods that they use to attract traffic is a mixture of many methods. A site such as will attract a significant percentage of their traffic through PPC, yet they have reams and reams of highly targeted and relevant content on their site. As you rightly point out, there is a big difference between a voucher code site and a site that features voucher codes, but how does this affect the classification? Incidentally, voucher code sites will procure the vast majority of their traffic through PPC also, yet another crossover.

What this article does indicate is something that I've been pushing for a few years now. There is no "affiliate channel". Affiliate marketing is an umbrella term for any activity that occurs through an affiliate network on a CPA basis. The partners with whom you work on this basis use a myriad of different marketing methods to drive traffic to the brand site, and therefore as a brand you need to understand this in detail and develop bespoke strategies for types of partners, or even for individual partners.

over 7 years ago



I am running Affiliate program for top 3 travel brands. Coupon sites are the prime traffic & sales generators. Yeahs their are few coupon sites who keep using old coupons and don't update coupon and landing pages but putting a generalize comments is not good. You can choose best coupon sites within the network and offer your cash back and coupons through them. You need to dedicate time to develop your network of good affiliate. Always go for manual acceptance for your program. This will help you to know who is applying to your program and whom to accept.

over 7 years ago


Helen Southgate

Hi Matt

Great article and really great to see some good content about affiliate marketing being published and creating some great debate.

I don't necessarily agree that the channel is shifting towards more loyalty / incentive sites. I think the key point that you raise above is that the percentage of sales coming from PPC affiliates has remained steady, total affiliate channel sales are growing and I think loyalty / incentive sites have had a significant impact on this. We need to view this in context though. In general online sales are growing year on year and the "reward" market has seen huge growth in the past few years, so the impact is not just on affiliate marketing, I see this more as a general trend which is reflected in the affiliate space.

The beauty of the affiliate channel is that it is a microcosm of the entire online space, consisting of search, display, social media, email, reward and mobile affiliates. None of the affiliates in these groups however can be viewed and managed in the same way and no client will have the same affiliate programme trends. The key to success is understanding the intricacies of affiliates and working to leverage those affiliates that you consider add value to your marketing activities.


over 7 years ago



Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further
write ups thanks once again.

almost 6 years ago

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