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Business Marketing

Tackling the dark side of affiliate marketing

  • Written by Kalen Bushe, VP- Affiliate Marketing, TrafficGuard

Affiliate marketing has been around for a while and is continuing to grow in popularity. In fact, 80% of brands today practice affiliate marketing. The industry is expected to grow from $13 billion in 2022 to $15.7 billion by 2024, and is slated to be a US$36.9 billion market by 2030. The straightforward, simple nature of affiliate marketing that allows multiple layers of profit makes it an appealing way for brands to grow their reach more organically, in ways other forms of marketing cannot do. Essentially, affiliate marketing allows a third-party publisher to earn a commission for promoting the products or services of others. This benefits the brand by generating new leads, even boosting sales with third-party support. 

However, it’s also a double-edged sword, as the appeal of affiliate marketing makes it one of the most attractive targets for fraudsters due to its high value. Alongside the economic upheaval that’s putting more companies in tighter positions with budget constraints, watching advertising money go into the wrong pockets in bright daylight is something that brands cannot and should not continue to tolerate. 

There are many tactics used by non-compliant affiliates that can be detrimental to a brand, beyond the bottom line. While revenue and lost budgets are often the most obvious result of affiliate fraud and are a primary cause for concern, the effects of affiliate marketing fraud can go much further. Issues like having a brand’s products appear alongside offensive or illegal content, for example, is one way brand reputation can be harmed. Every time a brand opens itself to affiliate marketing, they are taking a brand risk that goes beyond a single campaign. This is why marketers need to make ad fraud prevention a business priority the moment they decide to jump on the affiliate marketing bandwagon. 

The evolution of affiliate fraud 

Over the years, fraudsters have tried and tested different ways they can cash in on affiliate programmes, and not surprisingly, have been successful in doing so. Some of the common tactics that have existed for years are methods like cookie stuffing, click fraud, even fake products. But as marketers become smarter and technology evolves to implement more sophisticated methods for affiliate marketing, fraudsters too, are upgrading their capabilities, finding new ways to hack into seemingly well-protected systems.

The question marketers should ask now is: how have these methods evolved, and how can brands combat this issue? According to Forbes, the first thing marketers need to understand is that everyone now operates in the “fake web,” where automation tools are becoming more and more sophisticated. With bots crawling the web and headless browsers that can do sophisticated tasks previously done by humans, such as filling out forms or completing purchases at scale, it can be difficult to detect fraud as there are less humans involved in the process. Furthermore, as more brands are undergoing digital transformation and building an online presence post-pandemic, they become easy targets for experienced scammers looking for their next victim.

Safeguarding your brand from ad fraud

For effective fraud prevention in affiliate marketing, brands need to have a proper and effective system to evaluate affiliates when they join the programme. Setting up the right channels for potential affiliates and having them go through the process may seem cumbersome, but is a necessary and an important first step to preventing fraud. Set clear expectations and guidelines on how affiliates should represent the brand. This will ensure consistency as the network grows, weeding out unethical behaviour from the start. Having clear compliance policies also means there are less loopholes for potential scammers.

On the tech side, cloaking your affiliate links with shortened URLs can ease tracking and protect your affiliates at the same time, as it conceals their unique affiliate identity. At the same time, consider monitoring the IP addresses of affiliates from time to time to ensure they are not involved in any suspicious activity. Of course, staying on top of the latest updates is also necessary to ensure that brands can continue to implement the right tools to safeguard their platform.

Amidst other day-to-day tasks and challenges, it can be difficult to monitor the constantly evolving technological landscape, and a growing affiliate programme. This is where having the right partnerships with experts in the field can support. Research and invest in sophisticated ad fraud protection and optimization tools that can provide a multi-point prevention strategy across the ad journey, from impression to click, and conversion. With the right tools in place, brands can ensure that fraudulent conversions are identified at the first click so that fraudsters are put to a stop before draining ad spend and importantly, tarnishing the brand’s reputation. This way, brands are not just protecting themselves, but also the affiliate community around them to build a trusted marketing ecosystem.

Kalen Bushe Bio:

Kalen Bushe is the Vice President of Growth at TrafficGuard, an international ad fraud detection and protection software provider, where he leads the global affiliate protection business.

Before assuming his role at TrafficGuard, he was the Director of Business Development APAC at Stoneshot, where he led the APAC office and was responsible for their growth across the region. Prior to that, Kalen was a Sales Manager for the SEA region at Fortune 200 firm, JLL Technologies, and has also worked across multiple tech startups such as Talkwalker and Pointsbet.

With a proven track record of scaling revenue and introducing organisations into new markets across various regions like Europe, SEA and Australia, Kalen is now based in Singapore and brings over his 8+ years of experience into his new role as Vice President of Growth at TrafficGuard.

About TrafficGuard:

TrafficGuard is a global advertising verification company that helps advertisers to avoid wasted spend and unlock the best outcomes. TrafficGuard drives superior advertising performance by verifying advertising engagement as they occur, proactively blocking invalid traffic from infiltrating marketing campaigns – helping ad spend to reach more real users and protecting the integrity of data that marketers, agencies, designers, and developers rely on day in, day out to drive performance improvements.

TrafficGuard is based in Australia and headquartered in Perth. The company also has offices in Singapore, and has a staff presence also across the UK, Brazil India, and the US, serving over 4000 customers globally.

For more information, find us at www.trafficguard.ai

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