MoreNiche Ltd., a UK affiliate network, just launched a split commissions feature that enables merchants to remunerate not only the last referring affiliate, but also the first, or any other affiliates involved in the presale process. The idea was called “revolutionary.”

The feature was announced by Shawn Collins a few days before the launch in his blog. He wrote:

The typical affiliate program pays out commission to the last referrer and nobody else. While this is great for the last site to touch the customer, it doesn’t account for any previous affiliates that played a role in closing the sale. But what if there were a way to spread the commission across some or all affiliates that played some role in the ultimate transaction?

As far as I know, this hasn’t been an option to date, but that is changing with the launch of a split commissions feature by UK affiliate network MoreNiche on June 14. MoreNiche will enable merchants to pay on first referrer, last referrer, everyone in the middle or a combination of all three.

Yesterday, the split commission feature went live. It was announced by MoreNiche in a video and in a press release.

The idea is simple: enable merchants to compensate not only the last affiliate whose link the end consumer clicked before performing a qualified action (a purchase, a subscription, filling out a lead form, etc), but also any other affiliates who, in the merchant’s opinion, added value into the presale process by influencing the customer’s final decision.

MoreNiche illustrates the process with the following graph:

Split commission illustration

The press release reads:

MoreNiche are trialling a revolutionary new split commission scheme which if successful, will blow all other affiliate networks out of the water. Leading with Proactol, who are piloting the scheme for the initial trials, affiliates who first refer the buyer to the product will earn a flat fee of £3.50/$5.00, and the last referrer that actually achieves the sale will still get full commission.

A feature like this is an excellent addition to any affiliate network’s (or individual merchant’s program) proposition, but I wouldn’t exactly call it “revolutionary.” PostAffiliatePro has been offering the feature of split commissions for quite some time already.  While we haven’t seen other affiliate networks implement this yet, the idea really isn’t new.

The question of conversion attribution is as old as the existence of referral traffic, and the global consensus on the subject is far from being reached. The current “last click wins” model has been widely adopted by affiliate networks and in-house affiliate programs, but apparently not all affiliates are happy with it. Looking at Econsultancy’s 2009 Affiliate Census reports, we see the following distribution(s) of affiliate preferences:

U.K. Affiliates:

UK affiliates on last click wins model

U.S. Affiliates:

US affiliates on last click wins model

It seems the idea of remunerating both the last-referring affiliate, and the affiliate who introduced the end user to the brand is a very good one, but numerous questions linger. For instance, (a) how do we know who really introduced the customer to the brand whe the real introduction could’ve happened beyond the affiliate program’s cookie life? or (b) on what grounds are we assuming that the first and the last affiliates played the most significant roles in the consumer’s decision-making process? or (c) if we want to pay the affiliates who played their roles between the first and the last ones, how can we effectively measure the value of their participation in the pre-selling?

I’d love to hear what other affiliate marketers think. It’s not an easy topic.