There are few topics in search engine marketing with such varying, vehement opinions as affiliates and PPC marketing. Allow affiliates to bid on brand terms? Allow them to buy search engine marketing at all? In-house search engine marketing and affiliate program managers should debate the issues and benefits below and define search engine marketing policies that are appropriate for their organization.
Allow all search engine marketing
The least restrictive policy for affiliates is to permit all search engine marketing. As you might expect, this broad allowance can lead to some serious issues for in-house search engine marketers.
The gravest problems stem from direct linking affiliates. A non-restrictive search engine marketing policy for affiliates means affiliates can bid on keywords and directly link to the merchant’s (in this case your organization’s) website. Search engine marketing providers, like Google, will only show one result listing per website, so an affiliate could usurp the actual merchant site’s search engine marketing. Essentially, an organization may start to lose significant impression (and revenue) share to their affiliate. At the very least, CPCs will rise as the merchant competes against the affiliate.
Additionally, negative brand associations may occur as affiliates who direct link may write ad copy representing themselves directly as the merchant’s organization, and that copy might not reflect the brand intentions or approved marketing messages of the organization.
Unless an organization undertakes no search engine marketing of their own, its unlikely that a unrestricted affiliate SEM policy is the best approach.
Allow all non-direct linking
A less cannibalistic approach is to permit non-direct linking search engine marketing. Affiliates must link all search ads to their own website. This policy resolves the problems of ad text confusion and impression share losses, though there are still issues for in-house marketers to consider.
CPCs may rise as merchants and affiliates compete in the same search engine marketing space, and immature merchants may lose share to savvier SEM affiliates who outrank them in Quality Score. Also, as consumers shop around via search engine listings, clicking on both a merchant’s and an affiliate’s listing, an organization may be double paying to acquire customers.
However, for savvier in-house search engine marketing organizations, SEM affiliates without direct linking may provide a welcome incremental revenue stream. If the merchant has a strong, actively managed SEM program with good Quality Scores, an affiliate is unlikely to unseat their SEM rankings. And, an affiliate can provide additional search engine marketing listings that promote the organization, possibly pushing down competitors in the same space and helping the merchant grow their overall SEM share.
Restrictions on trademark or brand name bidding
Many organizations limit the search engine marketing use by affiliates of trademarked or brand names, preferring to drive all brand searches to their own site. While in general it is a good idea for merchants to control the messaging and use of their trademarks and brand names and ban affiliate use in SEM, there are cases where affiliate bidding on trademarks or brand names may be helpful.
If there are already competitors actively bidding on an organization’s trademarks or brand, the addition of some trusted affiliates as bidders may help the merchant take back SEM share and better control their brand messages.
Restrictions on trademarks and brand names require active policing to check that affiliates are obeying the policy and strict enforcement of penalties if the terms are violated. Often organizations will issue a warning to cease, and upon a second violation, terminate affiliates from their program.
Do not permit any search engine narketing
At the extreme end of the spectrum, some organizations do not permit any affiliate search engine marketing. While banning affiliate SEM greatly decreases the amount of monitoring hassles (though still a little monitoring is required as new affiliates may not be aware of, or choose to ignore, the policy), this tactic also limits the marketing strategies of your affiliates. Basically you’ve removed a great marketing channel from their toolbox. Affiliate marketers will need to provide additional support with creative assets and advice on other successful marketing strategies. Additionally, your organization may be missing out on the incremental sales that additional affiliate search engine marketing could have produced.
Which policy to adopt?
There’s no blanket right or wrong answer on which affiliate search engine marketing policy is right for an organization. Depending on the robustness of in-house search engine marketing, the trustworthiness (and commission) of the affiliates, the competitiveness of the search space in the industry and the trademarks or brand names in question, one policy is likely more suitable and advantageous for an organization than another.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.