The Ethical Advertiser Charter is a best practice document for Advertisers that offers guidance on strengthening their relationships with affiliates and running a successful affiliate program.
Affiliate marketing is a relationship channel and transparency is fundamental to a successful program. Providing transparency helps affiliates work more closely with an advertiser. If the affiliate is given more insight into e.g. the advertisers’ most popular products, they know what to focus their marketing efforts on and can help drive more sales.
Affiliate marketing is a partnership and transparency is fundamental to it being a professional and ethical one. Providing this can only improve the appeal and effectiveness of affiliate marketing, furthermore, it will avoid misunderstanding and subsequent infringements of program terms and industry standards.
The underlying goal is to protect and professionalise all parties involved; the commissions and
the partnership that affiliates rely on, the advertisers' brand and customers and the overall reputation of the industry.
This article outlines some of the key areas and details that advertisers should consider and make
available to affiliates. The Terms & Conditions (normally displayed on the network or program sign- up page) offer an ideal platform to outline the parameters for affiliate activity; it is essential that these are clear, comprehensive and regularly maintained.
Please bear in mind that not all of these categories will be relevant to every merchant, so guidance from an agency or network is recommended if in doubt.
Transparency in the following areas is considered critical to any affiliate program
What are affiliates paid for?
It is crucial to establish exactly what affiliates will and won’t be rewarded for. This means defining what valid actions are, any costs that are excluded from the basket before commission is calculated (e.g. GST and delivery), any products that are not included within the program and any reasons why sales may be cancelled.
Advertisers should provide reasons for every cancellation so that the affiliate can adapt their campaign accordingly. Some common examples:
- Failed credit check
- Sale cancelled by customer
- Item returned
- Item out of stock
- Duplicated order
- Breach of campaign terms and conditions
If there are products that are not offered commission on or that take customers to a separate site that doesn't carry the necessary tracking, then this should be apparent when affiliates sign up. It’s best practice to consider the value of the traffic to the affiliate and avoid chances for leakage where possible.
The most common cause of leakage is online traffic that converts offline so it is preferable to suppress prominent phone numbers for affiliate traffic or look into a call-tracking solution so that affiliates are rewarded for sales generated via this route.
Where additional/third-party payment systems exist (such as Buy Now Pay Later providers or Paypal) the same steps should ensure tracking is in place. The best results will come when you advise affiliates on the optimum landing pages to send their traffic to so that it converts.
Affiliates work hard to qualify the traffic on their own sites but this could be jeopardised if there is
confusing/distracting content or outbound links.
Validation periods should be stated so that affiliates know the expected timeframe for their returns and can optimise their activity accordingly. Prompt validations will naturally attract more affiliates and allow them to invest in further promotion.
Another reason for orders not being attributed to an affiliate is the de-duplication between marketing channels.
Many advertisers will de-duplicate between affiliate networks but not all programs de-duplicate between other online channels. It is important to consider which channels, what logic (e.g. ‘last click wins’) and what impact there might be before introducing such a setup.
Advertisers should include networks and agencies (where applicable) in these discussions to ensure that the solution best fits the specific online strategy and investment while understanding the roles of each channel in this process.
Finally, it should be evident whether the de-duplication occurs automatically by overriding cookies or manually at the time of validation (thus qualifying that some registered sales may later be deleted for that reason). Automated solutions are always recommended as they provide greater visibility to affiliates on which sales are actually theirs.
What type of affiliates will you work with?
Affiliates are adaptive and promote brands in a variety of ways so it is vital to consider all of these and whether you have restrictions on your own program.
Some of the main affiliate types that we’d advise acknowledging in the Ts&Cs are listed below. Those listed are not exhaustive as the situation may differ by merchant and sector, so consult your network/agency to cover everything off:
- Paid Search – What search terms and URLs are restricted? It’s advised that you state the presence of brand partners or groups since they may overwrite other affiliate cookies.
- Coupon code sites – Any bespoke terms for coupon and deal sites? Ensure that you provide full information, terms and expiry dates for offers. (see Coupon Code, code of conduct).
- Loyalty/Cashback – Any bespoke terms for loyalty and cashback sites? Commitment to dealing with any untracked transactions that occur should be considered. Again reasons for rejections are necessary so these can be fed back to customers.
- Retargeting – If you work with retargeting affiliates via display or email then this should be
acknowledged with some reference to the cookie hierarchy if other affiliates stand to lose out.
- Software applications – Do you allow your campaign to be promoted by affiliates using consumer downloaded software applications? (see Software Application, code of conduct).
- Email affiliates – Are affiliates allowed to send solus emails to their databases as part of your program?
- Mobile – Indicate whether you operate a special mobile site and whether the necessary tracking is in place.
- Social Media – Are affiliates allowed to promote your brand via social media platforms? Are they subject to any bespoke restrictions? This should distinguish between affiliates’ own social media and affiliates operating within the advertiser’s social space. If advertisers actively promote themselves on affiliates’ social media then they should gain consent first and make sure the necessary terms and timelines are provided as usual.
Affiliate marketing is such a fast-moving channel that new promotional avenues are constantly coming to market and merchants, with the assistance of their networks/agencies, need to be ready to factor this in.
If there are any other rules that govern the approval of affiliates onto your program try to mention these.
Affiliates have a proven reputation in their flexibility but they should still receive fair warning of any
changes that may alter the terms or status of their partnership.
Where possible, merchants should provide affiliates with reasonable notice on changes to any of the above terms that they agreed to upon sign-up. If anything could carry more severe and immediate ramifications then these should be flagged (when possible), as soon as possible.
With the rapid growth in traffic and sales through mobile devices, it is imperative affiliate tracking is added to any dedicated advertiser mobile optimised or responsive sites. If you also have a dedicated eCommerce app available on the iTunes Store or the Google Play Store, this must be disclosed so that tracking and attribution can also be applied here. Often this is not a consideration, a consequence being that affiliate sales won’t track through mobile handsets or tablets.
Speak to your network about adding your existing tracking to any new mobile platform you may have. If you do not, affiliates may choose not to promote you over competitors who have.
The best practice guidance in this document is not intended as restrictive or exhaustive; instead, it’s an opportunity to set a program up in the right way.
For new entrants into the market, it is vital that advertisers take the time to understand the channel in order to reap its benefits. Meanwhile, existing advertisers have most likely developed so much, both in their affiliate and wider digital landscape, that some of this may need readdressing.
This should help establish the boundaries of an affiliate program so that affiliates can focus on what they do best – driving traffic and conversions.
Affiliates will only ever be able to achieve their potential if they are offered a healthy level of visibility and a respectful approach to building partnerships. Remember to consult with networks and/or agencies and third parties if any assistance is required to achieve this.