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Forced Clicks and Coupon Sites

There’s been quite a bit of discussion over the last few months about forced clicks (or cookie stuffing) and coupon sites. It’s a feeling of deja vu. This was an issue “discussed” at length several years ago. The discussions were pretty heated then and seem to be generating a bit of flurry once again.

The amount of discussion happening now may be related to a couple of things. First, there are many new faces in Affiliate Marketing that weren’t here when all the discussion was happening three or so years ago. Second, a couple of high profile affiliates with a reputation for advocating fair industry practices were “outed” for using what some considered forced clicks on their coupon site. That’s pretty much tantamount to striking a match in a shed full of gun powder. I’ve gotten quite a few emails, IMs, PMs, and twitters on the issue of coupon sites using forced clicks the last couple of months. The amount of discussion in the community isn’t always the same as how prevalent the practice is however. So I decided to do a little study determine if the degree of discussion is proportional to the degree of coupon sites using forced clicks today. Is the rate of incidents more, less or the same as in the past? I did some testing over the last week and published my results in The Prevalence of Forced Clicks on Coupon Sites.

The short version is the degree to which coupon affiliates are engaging in this practice is significantly less than in the past. The practice can still be found but to a much lower degree. That’s the good news. And I personally feel, very strongly, that there are other practices being engaged in that can impact negatively on merchants, other affiliates and the affiliate channel in general. That is not to say the practice of forced clicks or deceptive links on coupon sites should be ignored. Only that some perspective of how big of a potential problem the practice is should be kept in mind.

This is AffiliateFairPlay’s official stance on the subject, since we’ve had several people ask. We think it’s a pretty simple view. We view coupon codes as a form of marketing creative merchants provide affiliates for promotion. They are not too terribly different from banners, product links, videos, datafeeds, etc. Affiliate marketing is a pay-for-performance model. Affiliates are compensated for consumers they send to the merchant who then make a purchase. Under a pay-for-performance model, affiliates are not being compensated for consumers only viewing the promotion of the merchant. As such, any affiliate tracking link being invoked when the consumer is navigating the affiliate’s site or attempting to view the merchant’s creative (e.g. coupon code) is not a legitimate click to the merchant eligible for a commission. If affiliates are going to be compensated for only displaying promotions of a merchant, they should be compensated under a CPM or probably more aptly a CPV model. It has now become media display advertising and not pay-for-performance marketing.

You can call the illegitimate click whatever you like: forced click, cookie stuffing, deceptive click, misleading clicks or tricks for clicks. Regardless of the name put to it, AFP’s stance is that it should not be commissionable traffic to the merchant. Such practices undermine the foundation of the affiliate marketing channel. Furthermore allowing coupon affiliates to receive compensation for only displaying marketing content for the merchant and not allowing such for all affiliates is not a level playing field. Fundamentally, AFP’s contentions with most adware applications aren’t very different from coupon affiliate’s automatically sending consumers to merchants. The primary difference is only where the behavior is happening. Hopefully there isn’t going to be a trend again of affiliate using these practices as we had in the past. I think there are some very good reasons the prevalence of the practice has declined.

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