Affiliate marketing is on the rise. According to Web Market Support, more than 80% of marketers and publishers use the fast-growing form of online advertising.
Brands love it because it’s trackable and it works. But fraudsters have found ways to undermine affiliate marketing’s popularity.
Let’s take a look at how they do it, and the steps advertisers and publishers can take to avoid it.
What Is Affiliate Marketing Anyway?
Affiliate marketing happens when companies hire a website owner or blogger (the affiliate) and pay them a commission for promoting their brand to the affiliate’s audience.
An affiliate can own one website or many. They monetize their content by pitching to brands that have a natural association with the content of their site. They then offer to promote the product in return for a piece of the revenue from each sale they make.
Once they agree to represent a brand, the affiliate can advertise using banner ads, text ads, trackable links, or email marketing to subscribers. They use these tactics to redirect their readers or site visitors to a landing page provided by the advertiser.
Conversions like purchases, newsletter signups, and content downloads are typically captured using trackable links, allowing the advertiser to pay only when customers take a measurable step towards a sale. In some cases, the advertiser will pay the affiliate a smaller commission for achieving an agreed number of clicks or impressions.
Affiliate marketing exists because it helps advertisers connect with discreet, hard-to-reach audiences, and then increase conversions. Because it’s measurable and payment is based on quantifiable results, it looks like a win-win for both advertiser and the affiliate.
Sadly, cybercriminals are gaming the system.
Ad Fraudsters See Another Opportunity
Affiliate marketing is popular and winning a bigger piece of the marketing pie. It enables brands to pay only for those campaigns that actually perform.
But the rise of affiliate fraud – where criminals fake conversions like subscriptions to digital services, installs, and lead captures, threatens to undermine confidence and waste valuable budgets.
Fraud can cause marketers to squander time and money on ineffective strategies and make bad decisions based on falsified metrics. It can also lead to lost sales opportunities and damage brand perceptions by associating a company’s products with dodgy websites and content.
To avoid losing sales and handing over commissions based on erroneous KPIs, advertisers need to keep an eye out for suspicious affiliates.
7 Signs Your Affiliate Isn’t All They’re Cracked Up To Be
1. A large, sudden, and unexpected improvement
Anytime campaign sales performance takes a dip, marketers will immediately demand to know why – and may even suspect fraud. But when campaigns appear to be on the up, the temptation is to sit back and be thankful.
Ad fraud means marketers have to be always on the alert – even when things appear to be working. When an uptick in conversions appears in an affiliate campaign dashboard, ask yourself why it’s doing better than before:
- Is it the offer?
- Is it the creative approach?
- Is it a new affiliate delivering impressive results while others have remained the same?
If it’s option C, the affiliate may have sold you on an inventory that doesn’t actually exist.
2.There’s a disconnect between app downloads and in-app activity
When a campaign logs a large number of app downloads, but new app usage is minimal, it’s possible that non-human clicks triggered the downloads.
3. Loads of traffic but zero conversions
This can happen for a variety of reasons:
—Your landing page isn’t SEO optimized, or the offer isn’t clear
—The ad banner is misleading
—The CTA button isn’t working (e.g. a technical glitch)
Alternatively, you may be a victim of affiliate fraud. The traffic and clicks have been initiated by bots or click farms with no intention of seeing the purchase journey through to a sale.
4. User complaints are on the rise
If conversions have been obtained by fraudulent means, the users whose accounts have been used to make bogus purchases will eventually realize what’s happened and demand refunds. If you observe a sudden spike in users’ complaints, investigate.
5. A traffic jump from an unexpected geography
If your brand is a premium digital service targeting users in Argentina, a sudden upsurge in traffic from India or China wouldn’t make sense – and should be investigated.
6. Conversions peak at odd times
It’s essential to look at the time-of-day when conversions are occurring. An affiliate may be superficially logging healthy results, but with timing anomalies. For example:
—Most of the conversions they deliver happen during the night
—You typically average five conversions per minute, but conversions suddenly jump to 50 per minute at a specific time.
In both cases, fraud could be indicated. At the very least, you should contact the affiliate and ask why these patterns are happening.
7. Your affiliate network is unable name its publishers
Remember, an affiliate is a webmaster or blogger. A reputable affiliate network is supposed to group many webmasters and bloggers. But there are many so-called affiliate networks which have no direct relationships to webmasters at all and just resell bulk traffic to each other and to advertisers. If your affiliate can’t name it’s webmasters and bloggers, look out.
Ad Fraud Never Sleeps
Cybercriminals are working 24/7 to game advertising networks and corrupt otherwise healthy affiliate marketing relationships. To combat ad fraud and make sure performance metrics are real, advertisers and publishers need sophisticated solutions to fight back against sophisticated scams.
It’s never been more critical to have dedicated ad fraud monitoring solutions that can recognize the tell-tale signs of anomalous or false metrics.
It’s the only way to effectively ensure that only high-quality traffic and legitimate affiliate partners get through.