:: By Matt Swan, Affiliate Window ::
Compliance is a function across the performance marketing channel that has become increasingly important. With a wide range of publisher promotional types typically making up an affiliate marketing program, continual monitoring of publishers is essential. From the first access point when signing up to the network through to the ongoing promotion of a program, activity across the publisher base must be closely monitored.
Additionally, the compliance functions role within a network is not just about removing unethical publishers from the network. It also ensures new publishers and technology partners can enter the channel without having a detrimental impact upon existing publishers. For example, with retargeting sitting within the affiliate channel it is possible to ensure existing publishers do not have their cookies overwritten. If this sat outside the channel, it would be difficult to monitor and enforce.
One of the primary roles of a compliance team is the prevention of unethical activity – to ensure advertisers are not paying out commission that has been earned by carrying out unscrupulous activity. Additionally it is important to monitor that publishers are conforming to individual advertiser’s terms and conditions, the networks overarching terms and conditions and the standards set by the wider industry.
Advertiser terms and conditions will include aspects such as whether brand bidding is permitted on a program. If this is not allowed and a publisher engages in this activity, they will not only be breaking the advertisers terms and conditions, but they will also be pushing up PPC costs while lowering the ad rankings due to unauthorized brand bidders.
Compliance first comes to the fore with the initial signup to the network. The ability to detect potential fraudulent activity from the first contact with a publisher reduces their chances of defrauding advertisers at a later stage. With this being a key area of compliance, networks should be heavily investing in this area to detect any potential issues at the earliest stage.
With an increasing volume of publishers attempting to join networks each day, there is a significant amount of scrutiny that goes into approving publishers. A number of parameters are cross checked to ensure publishers are suitable to promote advertisers across all networks in the performance marketing industry.
Publisher applications to individual programs are also checked extensively to provide an extra layer of compliance. Advertisers are able to set up their program on an approval basis to further check publishers wishing to promote them. This second phase of defense allows advertisers to ensure they fit in with the advertisers’ terms and conditions as well as any brand guidelines that may be in place.
Once publishers have been approved onto the network and the individual program, it is important that activity is closely monitored to provide a further layer of protection against any publisher attempting to defraud advertisers. This third stage of protection is the area that remains the most contentious, open to interpretation and, difficult to evaluate and monitor as well as demanding additional resource.
The types of activity typically being monitored include:
Duplicating: Clones of legitimate sites
Spamming: Sending mass emails/lack of opt-in permission
Domain Squatting: Creating misspelt sites
Diverting: Deceptive links, cookie stuffing
Faking: Inflating a program’s clicks
Stealing: Using stolen credit cards
Brand Bidding: Bidding on advertiser’s terms
Rule Breaking: Contravening network T&Cs and the IAB & PMAs codes of conduct
It is important for account managers and advertisers to understand the indicators of potential unethical activity before deeming that additional investigation is required. Metrics that should be taken into consideration include poor quality sites driving high sales volumes, high conversion rates, large volumes of sales occurring at abnormal hours (typically outside of working hours) and traffic redirects being put in place.
As more investment is made in the channel, the need for compliance will be further accelerated. It is essential advertisers are confident they will only be paying for legitimate transactions and other publishers are protected from any unscrupulous activity.
Matt Swan is a client strategist at global performance marketing network, Affiliate Window. He works with advertisers to offer strategic advice to optimize campaigns. He also contributes to new business pitches and is an active member of the IAB AMC.