Eliminate Affiliate Fraud and Protect your Brand

Apr 5, 2023

As we bid farewell to 2023, we have been reflecting on a year filled with remarkable achievements and unprecedented growth at SYYCO. It has been a journey marked by milestones, a testament to our unwavering commitment to excellence in the dynamic world of affiliate marketing.

Brand protection and fraud prevention are vitally important to any successful affiliate programme, with threats like Ad Hijacking becoming ever more sophisticated and hard to detect.

We spoke with, AdPolice, on how to mitigate this risk, as well as SYYCO’s own compliance expert, Sarah Webb, who shared her seven top tips, to help brands along the way.

We may all gravitate towards looking for ways to increase revenue, or drive efficiencies, but if compliance is ignored, all that good work can be undone. It’s widely accepted that the overall rate of fraud in affiliate marketing is 9%. This figure is far lower than ad fraud rates in other channels, but according to online brand protection specialists, AdPolice, it is a very conservative estimate.

They reference a study by the University of Illinois, which estimated that 38% of partners in the Amazon Associates programme had engaged in fraud at one time or another.

Bad actors that violate terms and conditions can gain an average increase of 10-50% in commissions, as well as negatively affecting brands’ own marketing activities, like paid search. So crime does pay – unless you take steps to prevent it.

For Ad Police, one of the main threats is Ad Hijacking. This is where affiliates impersonate the brand by running paid search ads that look identical to the brand’s own ads. As AdPolice put it, “Customers have no idea that they have clicked on an affiliate ad, and the affiliate is paid commission for conversions that the brand would have got anyway.”

Ad Hijacking, like a lot of fraudulent activity is hard to identify, due to savvy fraudsters masking their referral through a series of redirects. Without the help of specialists like AdPolice, or support from an agency or network partner, it can be a massive problem for brands.

To find out more about how brands can protect themselves from affiliate fraud, we spoke with SYYCO’s resident compliance expert, Sarah Webb.

Sarah Webb, Publisher Manager, SYYCO

Partner compliance covers a wide range of unwelcome activity, including (but not limited to) brand bidding, cookie stuffing, ad hijacking, cloaking, bots and inappropriate content.

Sarah Webb, SYYCO

The good news is that as an industry, we have come on leaps and bounds at detecting and eradicating unacceptable promotional methods.

Back in 2009, I worked in the Network Quality department of a large international affiliate network, and discovered a wide range of infringements and foul play. As an industry we were too reactive. Low quality sites built up momentum before compliance issues were discovered and action taken.

These days, the performance marketing industry has really upped its game, and compliance is taken very seriously, alongside growing revenue for clients.

Providing an affiliate programme is well managed, by an agency or performance marketing expert, most compliance issues can be easily dealt with.

Having said that, as the affiliate industry has matured and become more sophisticated, so have the fraudsters.

Here are my seven top tips to ensure your affiliate programme stays fraud-free and squeaky clean:


Set Clear Programme Terms
Take the time to ensure your programme terms are up to date, clearly defined and visible in your affiliate network.
When a publisher joins your programme, they are agreeing to these terms, so you are fully protected if you ever need to cancel commissions or take corrective action. Clear terms also act as a good deterrent to avoid unwanted activity. Show any would-be fraudsters that you mean business.


Know your numbers
It goes without saying that any good account manager will know their clients numbers and top performers in detail. This knowledge means that any unusual activity or spikes in key metrics are investigated and corrective action taken.


Monitor the Search Space
Trademark bidding, in its many forms, is one of the most common types of affiliate fraud. Regularly search for your brand’s keywords, particular brand + voucher terms, and see which ads appear.

Try to monitor this outside of office hours too and use a VPN or Google’s Ad Preview tool to see ads showing in different locations or languages, or on specific devices.


Don’t rush your approvals
Another benefit of having an expert manage your affiliate programme is that publisher applications will be scrutinised carefully, on a regular basis.

Unfortunately some “problem” publishers manage to bypass network compliance checks, and it’s important to ensure that they don’t gain access to your programme.

If your are suspicious of a particular publisher, decline their application, or reach out to them for more information before accepting.


Trust your judgment
If something looks odd, for example, the numbers don’t make sense or the publisher is evasive about showing you how they generate traffic for your brand, then something is most likely amiss.

In these cases, you are well within your rights to stop working with them, and focus on publishers that are bringing incremental value to your brand.


Look out for red flags
There are certain patterns and types of publisher which we should be extra vigilant for. In particular look out for weak looking content sites that don’t match the publisher’s details e.g. name and address in the network.

Be wary of low quality coupon/voucher sites, which look poorly put together or with strange sounding URL’s. Also ask sub networks for detailed reports on which partners are driving the traffic. Transparency is key!


Utilise tools
Remember that just because a publisher has registered a certain URL there is nothing to stop them hosting your links elsewhere. As well as SEM monitoring, make use of some of the fantastic reporting and insights tools we now have access to as an industry. E.g. referral reports, AdPolice, BrandVerity.

As a specialist affiliate and partnership management agency, we are in regular contact with the top networks, to constantly improve network quality, including raising awareness of any larger scale infringements, so action can be taken swiftly.

I would like to see more open and frequent communication between compliance teams at networks and agencies/clients. Prevention is better than cure and networks (and SaaS platforms) should continually improve the vetting and registration process of new publishers so that less bad eggs get into the system in the first place.

Providing an affiliate programme is managed ethically and meticulously, advertisers can rest assured that any non-compliant partners are dealt with before they become an issue.

One thing is certain, the longer fraud is allowed to go on, the bigger an issue it becomes.

To find out more about how working with an agency could help protect your brand, click HERE or email info@syyco.co.uk.

We are delighted to have welcomed these new members to the SYYCO team in 2023 to support our onboarding of new clients – it’s a true testament to how much our agency has grown in such a short time.

Attending Affiliate Industry Events

Throughout the year, we actively engaged with the affiliate industry, attending key events to stay ahead of emerging trends. Notable events we attended include PI LIve, Performance Marketing Awards, Affiliate Huddle, Awin’s Think Tank, Intently Live and The Salesfire conference. 

Unveiling Our Revamped Website

In the fast-paced world of affiliate marketing, staying ahead of the curve is not just a goal but a necessity. Which is why we unveiled our brand-new website in August 2023. Our website was well overdue an overhaul and now looks much more sleek and modern (if we do say so ourselves!). This new website allows our clients and partners to explore our services seamlessly and stay on top of the latest industry trends.

We think that our website now reflects our brand identity but also facilitates a more user-friendly interface for our clients, partners, and industry enthusiasts.

As we reflect on the journey of 2023, we’re filled with gratitude for the support of our clients, the dedication of our team, and the opportunities that lie ahead. Stay tuned as we continue to help our clients achieve their affiliate marketing marketing goals.

Cheers to a year of triumphs and the exciting adventures that await us in the years ahead!

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