Paul Cook is Managing Director of Positive Feedback, which owns the TagMan tag management product that was a recent winner of an Econsultancy Innovation Award.

TagMan makes it easier for companies to implement web analytics and can reduce de-duplication, which is a growing concern for many e-commerce and marketing teams.

We interviewed Paul to find out more about the thorny issue of de-duplication…

Is the de-duplication problem based around client-side ignorance? With the growth in e-commerce maybe the issue has been hidden?

Yes, client ignorance has been part of the problem although this seems to have changed over the last six months. I think there has been an assumption that figures were being de-duplicated when in reality de-duplication has only been across a limited number of channels.

Certainly the growth of e-commerce has meant that for many this has been seen as an acceptable problem in the greater scheme of things as there were other priorities. As budgets have tightened it is now rising up the agenda.

How big a problem is it?

Well in certain sectors it’s a massive issue. Our research showed that it is typically between 10% and 20% but can often be 30% or more. Where people are using a CPA model this translates to almost £400m in mis-attributed sales or the best part in £50m in mis-attributed commission payments.

However, given that such a substantial amount of money is spent on CPC advertising the true figure is a lot higher. Once you add this channel 40% of respondents to our survey admitted they were not de-duping paid search.

Why haven’t the networks dealt with the problem of de-duplication?
The networks do deal with the problem but only within the media they are responsible for. It is rare that a single provider will be responsible for affiliates, paid search and display and so duplication remains for any channel not being tracked by the primary marketing tracking solution, which is normally the third party ad server.

Why haven’t client companies (retailers, travel firms, banks) been quicker to react to the issue?

The resounding answer to this was that they look to their media agencies to address this issue for them, believing that the solutions in place were sufficient for the time being. Now that budgets are tight they are starting to look at things in more detail and are having to devote head-space to this issue in order to better account for their marketing spend.

I know of at least one major brand that has more conversions from their marketing figures than they have sales on their site so whilst it makes them look good it’s been an issue that has been on the bottom of their to-do list for a while. The current economic climate has meant this is now something they feel they need to dedicate time to.

What is the worst client case you have seen, in terms of duplicate payments, or downright shoddy tracking?

Well, clients are obviously coy about precise numbers but the above case is certainly the worst I’ve come across. Other retailers have said that marketing appears to account for over half their sales which they again suspect is down to the figures. It’s a difficult issue to tackle as to a certain extent you need to come clean on past figures, hence we find a greater appetite when people switch jobs as they want to make a fresh start and do not have responsibility for past inaccuracies when the numbers were reported in good faith.

Has the affiliate industry been overhyped due to some fundamental problems with tracking? Are firms counting sales via this channel that actually come from paid search, or other marketing channels?

This is not an affiliate marketing issue: duplication exists right across the online marketing spectrum. However because affiliates and other CPA channels are remunerated based on the numbers there is clearly an incentive to get these numbers right first.

In some instances affiliates may be underpaid because conversions are being incorrectly attributed to other channels when a simplistic last click wins approach is applied. We are seeing a number of clients go for a ‘first click wins’ approach.

From a commission payment perspective, it may be more a case that commission is not being given to the right affiliate and that there is a feeling that these things even themselves out over time. However, certain types of affiliate may be overpaid due to their popularity immediately prior to conversion so understanding the path to conversion is important. One particular area that springs to mind is voucher code sites.

Who is usually responsible for spotting de-duplication within a company?

Ultimately it should be the marketing director as they have a view across all channels. Traditionally we speak to the affiliate or performance marketing manager as they can see the direct savings that would pay to implement a solution like TagMan.

How does TagMan help deal with the de-duplication issue?

We provide a single solution that can track all channels, including display as well as both paid and natural search. We provide reports that show the precise path to conversion so that marketers can better understand what influence activity is having and when. Duplication is removed by only serving the conversion pixel for the channel that should be credited with the conversion so if multiple channels or networks cookie a person within the conversion window they will not both claim the commission.

We allow companies to track CPA payments, analyse duplication and assess the impact of activity that is in the path to conversion but did not achieve first/last click. The next step will be to allow the sale to be credited to multiple suppliers based on an attribution model with TagMan writing out the conversion pixels with the correct amount for each partner.

How can marketers figure out that they might have a problem? What are the telltale signs?
Marketers will generally have a good idea that the figures are a little flattering and be aware of discrepencies between their primary tracking system. Anyone that does not track all of their online marketing through one platform will have an issue and the greater their activity is accross the main channels the greater the problem will be.

Many marketers may be measuring the problem through their web analytics platform but are powerless to do anything about it because the conversion tags are not served conditionally.

To what degree do these issues arise from affiliate marketing fraud?

The short answer is not at all. With proper de-duplication in place affiliate marketing fraud will only effect the results within the affiliate channel and can not skew figures accross other channels.

A major benefit of our path-to-conversion datafeed is that you can see detailed information about each marketing event that could help identify fraudulent affiate marketing, if this is an issue. The companies we have spoken to are far more concerned about paying multiple affiliates more fairly than they are beating fraudsters.