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Affiliate Fraud Detection Tips 1, 2 and 3

AFP Testing Highlights contain basic, less detailed information from our full testing and reporting. All content is original and supporting documentation is on file.

I thought I’d pass a couple of basic tips for detecting affiliate fraud to Affiliate Managers. We all know how hard it can be to monitor and police affiliate activities in your program. Here’s a couple of basic tips to help you catch those affiliates who may well be up to no good in your program. No high tech skills required.

Affiliate Fraud Detection Tip #1

If an affiliate is bringing you traffic and/or sales, but there are no affiliate links on the site then Lucy probably has some ‘splaining to do. Basic affiliate tracking….there actually has to be an affiliate link to track impressions, clicks and sales. Stop laughing. I’m being completely serious on this one. Case in point:


Front Site For Affiliate Fraud

A nice little niche affiliate site. They even have some products listed. They also have some site reviews for shoe merchants. There are links to several shoe merchants throughout the site. But take an actual look at any of those links to merchants. I dare you to find ONE affiliate link on the whole site (of course if they get wind of this post, they may go slap some up there quickly, but that’s ok I have it documented already). Go ahead I dare you…there’s not one affiliate link on the site. They are all direct links to the merchant’s web site.

I can already hear some folks. It could be a new site and the affiliate is just waiting for merchants approval to change the links to affiliate links. After all many merchants will not approve an application if a site is under construction. And all of that is true. But I know for a fact that affiliate traffic IS coming from that domain and I would imagine sales are too.

So where are the traffic and sales referred by this domain coming from? I can’t know all the ways they may drive traffic through that domain, but I know of one way. Zango. Yes this particular affiliate seems to be a great fan of driving affiliate traffic and sales by running campaigns through Zango. I have documented them using Zango for years now. Not this particular web site mind you. This site is one of their new sites. Yes one of their sites. Because they tend to run campaigns at any particular time from more than one web site. They are doing that right now. New sites because they tend to have their accounts terminated by at least some Networks, so they have to start all over under a different affiliate accounts with different web sites. I already have more than one report for this affiliate using multiple domains and numerous affiliate IDs. It doesn’t seem to take them too long to get things set back up again.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this affiliate not even bother to put up the dang affiliate links on the site they are using to front their adware campaigns. And they aren’t the only affiliate I’ve seen who hasn’t bothered to actually put up affiliate links. This is meant to be a serious tip for Affiliate Managers to take a moment to hover over the link or click through some links to make sure they really are affiliate links.

I can also hear some Managers reading this saying “Whew, I don’t have to worry about this affiliate at least because I don’t sell shoes” or shoe merchants saying “Whew, I don’t have to worry about this affiliate at least because my shoe program isn’t on that site.” Think again. And that brings us to……

Affiliate Fraud Detection Tip #2

If you are getting traffic and/or sales from a referring web site, but you can’t find your store listed anywhere on the site, then Lucy probably has some ‘splaining to do. There’s that pesky little fact once again that there has to be an affiliate link for tracking to occur. I have documented affiliate clicks being registered through this web site for shoe merchants who are not listed anywhere on the site. On other web sites used by this affiliate to run Zango campaigns, I’ve seen the same thing. Affiliate clicks to the merchant being recorded for merchants who are not on the web site at all. So merchants who aren’t even being promoted in any form at all on the web site are having clicks and sales tracked to this affiliate.

This is a not so uncommon practice by affiliates driving traffic and sales through adware. They will put up a small affiliate web site. Their ad URLs through the adware will be a web page on that domain, so they don’t throw up the red flag of no referrer traffic. But if you go back and look at the actual referring URLs, you will find that you can’t access those pages on the web site by manually navigating through their menu. If you are getting referring traffic and sales from URLs that you can’t access from their web site, then you probably have something going on that shouldn’t be. As an Affiliate Manager in those circumstances, you have every right to question the affiliate as to how traffic from those referring URLs is being driven to your program.

Affiliate Fraud Dection Tip #3

Referral logs are your friend as an Affiliate Manager. Please use them.

Is This Really Affiliate Fraud?

I’m sure there are some merchants asking that question. Is it really fraud if they are promoting my program through Zango instead of a web site? I’d have to say yes.

This is how they are running campaigns through Zango. They seem to really like targeting the merchant’s shopping cart page. They will use keywords in their campaigns so that their ‘ad’ pops up on the merchant’s shopping cart. In most of the cases I’ve seen with this affiliate, they will not pop up your web site, but will pop up some one else’s web site.

Problem #1, your site could well be popping up on your competitor’s shopping cart. Now I’m not so naive as to think that there aren’t some Merchants out there who reallly don’t have a problem with that happening. I see too many Merchants themselves popping up on competitor’s web sites. But as a Merchant, you may have some considerations about which competitor’s shopping cart this affiliate is popping your site on. It could lead to some touchy situations depending on who that competitor is.

But that’s not the only thing is particular affiliate is doing with the pop up. This affiliate has no qualms about popping an ad on the merchant’s web site they are partnered with. And if you think YOUR sale is still safe, as long as the end user doesn’t decide to shop through the competitor, then think again. The bonus of the pop up are all the hidden affiliate tracking codes that are also set through the pop up. Hidden means that they are simulating a click on an affiliate link, but they code things in such a way that your web site isn’t actually seen by the end user. I’ve seen this affiliate set their affiliate link and cookie for as few as four merchants through only on pop up by Zango. Through this particular shoe site, I’ve seen them attempt to track 10 different merchant affiliate links with one pop up. In all cases, there was only one actual pop up and only one merchant web site seen by the end user. In ALL cases, the Merchant whose shopping cart triggered the Zango delivered ‘ad’ had their affiliate tracking cookie set through hidden means. As a consumer, if I had continued and made a purchase on the merchant’s site, this affiliate would have been created with and paid a commission on the sale. And it doesn’t matter how I got to your site to begin with. It could have been through a SE listing, email link, another affiliate directed me, price comparion listing, paid search listing…it doesn’t matter. If this affiliate is targeting your shopping cart URL for an ad campaign through Zango, then the pop would happen.

So I do consider such behavior affiliate fraud. For any Manager who doesn’t have a problem with what this affiliate is doing (and I know there are some out there who don’t have a problem with this type of practice because it ‘inflates’ the revenue stats for their channel ), all I can say is that I certainly hope the Merchant you work for catches on and sends you packing before Q4 gets into full swing.

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