With performance marketing encompassing a wide range of promotional types, one of the key challenges faced by an affiliate network is to ensure publishers are operating on a level playing field. There is no one size fits all model for an affiliate campaign and invariably each advertiser will have different make up of publishers spanning a wide range of promotional types operating on their programme.

The Role of the Network

Each affiliate network has a responsibility to both its advertisers and publishers to focus on incremental sales – sales the advertiser would not have received had it not been for the involvement of the affiliate channel, either in assisting or ultimately converting the sale. This has been a primary focus for us as a network and has formed the basis of numerous pieces of research we have conducted on behalf of our advertisers. By understanding how each publisher fits into the promotional mix, networks are better placed to inform their advertisers and ensure they are benefiting from running their affiliate campaign.

Changing Landscape

The performance marketing landscape is constantly evolving with new promotional types entering the mix. We have seen cashback and voucher code sites emerge and grow, flourishing into some of the most highly trafficked sites with a significant volume of members. The top incentivised sites are now even bigger than a number of the advertisers they promote.

A more recent and significant shift in the past few years has seen aspects of re-marketing entering into the acquisition space. These large publishers are targeting consumers who have previously visited a retailer’s site, interacting with it but leaving without having purchased.

The Role of Re-Targeting

There is no doubt advertisers are asking marketing companies to aide their quest in converting their visitors, but what place do these publishers have within the performance channel and how do they impact upon other publisher types? This is a debate getting considerable airtime within the industry and rightly so.

Behavioural retargeting and email abandonment remarketing can have a huge impact upon other publishers – it could have been affiliate traffic that got the visitor to the advertiser’s site in the first place. Without rules in place, a publisher could have driven the customer to the point of transaction only for that customer to abandon their basket and be targeted by the remarketing or retargeting company who is then credited for the sale.

Soft Click Cookies

The expression ‘low hanging fruit’ could easily describe what these companies do. While they can offer sophisticated technology and provide value to advertisers, it is important for networks to protect their publisher base negatively impacted by this activity. This is where the concept of the ‘soft click’ cookie and the importance of cookie hierarchies come into play.

Soft click essentially means any cookie coming from remarketing or retargeting activity cannot overwrite another publisher’s cookies if these already exist. It is possible to switch this technology on for publishers based on their promotional activity. This ensures other publishers marketing efforts are not going unrewarded and could in fact help improve their conversion rates. If an affiliate cookie is already present before the remarketer has assisted the conversion, the sale will be awarded to the initial publisher.

Role of the IAB Affiliate Marketing Council

The IAB Affiliate Marketing Council has been behind the move towards cookie hierarchies. Essentially this is something each network that is a member of the council should be adhering to. In 2011, it was agreed there should be universally accepted cookie hierarchies.  Having said that, there are still some IAB members not ensuring these cookie hierarchies are in place across their network. It is important for advertisers and publishers to challenge their networks on how they are working with these traffic sources and the implications this has upon other publishers.

With the constantly changing landscape, there will always be new promotional types with various business models entering the performance channel. It is essential these models and their impact upon other publishers are carefully considered. Cookie hierarchies and soft click technology are sure to play an ever more important role in the coming years.

Matt Swan

Matt Swan


Matt Swan is a Client Strategist at Affiliate Window.