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Phantom Guarantees, Inaccuracies & Expired Offers - Tackling Issues with Affiliate Content
Image Credit  Steve Snodgrass Creative Commons license

Phantom Guarantees, Inaccuracies & Expired Offers - Tackling Issues with Affiliate Content

One of the major challenges for affiliate managers, OPMs and agencies is the scale of it all. Brands work with many affiliates. Brands sell many products and run many different promotions through their affiliate channels. Each affiliate promotes multiple merchants (usually) across numerous pieces of content on their sites.

If you start to multiply that out, you can see that there’s a whole lot of affiliate activity going on. The industry strives to develop more personal relationships with affiliates, but one can only process so much at a time. You can’t feasibly be up to date on all the details of each affiliate’s promotional methods at all times. Even if you tried to be, you’d end up spending every second of your time checking up on affiliates and have no time left to provide them with offers or recruit new ones.

At the same time, there are real considerations to make about the content that your affiliates are generating. It’s still performance marketing and you only pay for sales your affiliates generate, but that doesn’t account for the context in which you are promoted (discount language, inaccurate information, etc.). Plus, over in the US you can even be held accountable for affiliates’ misleading or deceptive practices.

So, what issues can come up with affiliates’ content? And what can brands do to stay ahead of them? In this post, we’ll discuss some of the major challenges in content compliance as well as the strategies and tools for maintaining it.

Potential issues with affiliate content

Inaccurate Details

What’s worse than being promised a great deal and then finding out it doesn’t actually exist? Whether intentionally or by accident, sometimes your offer details can be lost in translation. For example, your price or rate could be misquoted on affiliates’ pages. In other case cases, restrictions or limitations may get conveniently ignored. You might even see a phantom guarantee get invented in the copy.

This can certainly be a misleading and frustrating journey for the customer. Furthermore, in highly regulated verticals (credit and consumer finance), it may even pose risks for potential fines or other penalties.

Expired Offers or Promotions

We tend to always be looking ahead to our next big push, anticipating the sales around the corner. But sometimes the customer hasn’t quite caught up with us. For example, let’s say you ran a limited time CPA offer for a free trial through one of your affiliate networks. What happens when a prospective customer sees the offer still running on an affiliate’s blog—after the offer has expired? Much like with expired coupons, this can result in a poor customer experience.

Language that Harms Your Brand Image

How do you choose to portray your brand to customers? Does the messaging on your affiliates’ sites match up with that? Of course, affiliates have their own audience and style - so you’ll have to give them some room there. But there are certain impressions that may never want associated with your brand. For example: excessively mentioning discounts (cheapening the brand), over-reliance on pushy language (e.g. ‘Act Now!’), or other verbiage that would be inappropriate to associate with your brand.

Lack of Affiliate Disclosure

As rules and regulations for proper affiliate disclosure continue to develop, this will also become more of an issue. In cases where affiliates aren’t making the necessary disclosures, it will be incumbent on brands to guide them towards compliance.

Strategies & tools to maintain compliance

The issues we outlined are complex, so there isn’t exactly a silver bullet solution. Nonetheless, there are some ways to make it more feasible.

Concentrate Primarily on Your Top Affiliates

Sometimes it’s most practical to focus on the bulk of the problem instead of the minutia. While I would never advocate ignoring an aspect of compliance, the sheer scale of affiliate marketing may make it unrealistic for a single affiliate manager to check every last corner for potential compliance red flags.

By regularly checking in on content from your top 10-20 affiliates, you can probably stay ahead of the vast majority of issues. A long-tail affiliate can certainly still cause harm to your brand image - but the overall effects will probably be much lower.

Depending on what types of affiliates you have, you might even be able to deploy this strategy by simply partitioning off your top affiliates in a special section of your RSS reader.

Conduct Periodic Audits that Go into Greater Depth

If you’re still concerned about affiliates outside of your top tier, it may help to supplement your regular check-ins with a set of more comprehensive audits. In these audits, you could examine several relevant posts from each affiliate.

Using Google’s site operator ( along with your brand name, you can identify relevant affiliate content rather quickly. Furthermore, by adding in key phrases that might be of concern, you can start to flag content issues that matter to you. For example, searching for {[your brand] AND guarantee AND} could reveal false guarantees promised by a particular affiliate.

Set Up Alerts

Google Alerts is the most basic option that comes to mind. However, considering the recent problems that some users have been experiencing, it may not be the most effective. If you’re keen on a similar service, TalkWalker Alerts seems to have gained some traction of late. By combining the site operator with the OR operator, you can filter to only be alerted about known affiliate sites.

Alternatively, you might also consider writing and bookmarking some more complex Google queries, writing some rules with Yahoo Pipes, or even using IFTTT to splice together your Feedly with an alerting mechanism.

Sam Engel

Sam Engel

Sam hopes to educate, inform and promote economic health within the affiliate marketing space. Sa

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