The affiliate channel is excellent for distributing coupons, especially when a merchant wants to cast a wide net. Affiliates bring incremental, fresh traffic that can build the merchant’s brand recognition and earn new customers.

After all, sometimes simply having a discount isn’t enough. The discount needs to be communicated to buyers in a way that’s relevant to them. Trusted sources, such as affiliate websites, are a great way to make those discounts relevant.

Coupons are also a great value to affiliates. Discounts often result in high conversion rates, making them a valuable source of commissions. Furthermore, since coupons are a very common search query, there can be an added SEO benefit to posting merchants’ codes.

But Sometimes This Relationship Isn’t Perfect

As we’ve noticed from hearing our clients’ coupon stories, there are many ways this relationship can become strained. Unauthorised affiliates can post the codes in search of higher conversion rates, fraudulent codes can be posted as click-bait, expired codes can remain up on websites for far too long—just to name a few.

In other cases, there may be some oversight on the merchant’s side. We recently reached out to Tricia Meyer, an affiliate who works with many merchants and runs, as well as her personal blog. Tricia described how a merchant’s coupon campaign went awry.

Apparently, the merchant’s coupon feed had the incorrect launch date for one particular code. To the merchant, a large group of affiliates seemed to be posting the code ahead of schedule. The result: a cancelled campaign, frustrated merchant and disappointed group of affiliates.

Distinguishing Between Legitimate and Black Hat Techniques

It’s in the merchant’s interest to understand which affiliates are contributors and which (if any) are detractors. Separating the two can help maintain a healthy, productive program. Warnings can be distributed to affiliates engaging in questionable practices. And at the same time, the merchant can reinforce good behaviour with recognition or rewards. Nuance is the key to making this work.

In the particular example above, the merchant identified all “early” posters of the code and lumped them together into one group. They were all seen as violators of the merchant’s policy. But with more data at their fingertips, the merchant may have seen a different story unfold.

What could have been revealed? Well, the coupon was originally set for release on a Sunday—which the coupon feed incorrectly listed as Saturday. Would posting the code on Saturday be just as bad as posting the code on Friday? Probably not. The Saturday posts (which Tricia and many others had made) were mostly honest mistakes, whereas the Friday posts could have been intentional efforts to game the system.

And then, there are also the affiliates who would have waited longer to post the code—or didn’t post it at all. Without any visibility into how affiliate are implementing their codes, there’s little merchants can do to remedy those cases.

What Merchants Can Do

By proactively monitoring the distribution of their codes, merchants can both cut out bad behaviour and encourage positive contributions. Even better, a well-managed program can inspire new affiliates to join. Ultimately, most affiliates want to participate in programmes that rewards them for their hard work.

There are many useful techniques for keeping your coupon channel running smoothly. We recommend that you:

1) Clarify Your Affiliate Policy Regarding Coupons

Should affiliates still receive commissions for sales in which non-affiliate channel coupons were used? Probably not. But it’s highly beneficial to plan for such scenarios.

What if the coupons were posted in a forum on the affiliate’s site? What penalties or other measures will prevent affiliates from violating your policy? How will you determine if there has been a violation? All of these questions and more may arise. Clear answers provide a simpler path to compliance.

2) Use Google Alerts and Twilerts to Monitor Your Codes

We recently posted about this and other monitoring tools on our blog. Both these services can send updates as content shows up, making them very useful for staying on top of how your codes are being distributed.

3) Create Unique Codes

It’s easier to make targeted searches for codes with original strings of text. There won’t be nearly as much noise returned by your search results. “BKDL2487JJ” is preferable to “BIKEDEAL” (however, we realise that certain novelty codes may be more memorable and therefore useful in marketing).

4) Set Up Monitoring Before You Hand Off Your Codes

By monitoring your codes before they ever see the light of day, you’ll know when your codes have leaked—and who leaked them.

5) Provide Your Codes Well in Advance

This ties in strongly with point #3 above. By combining these practices, you’ll be equipped to separate your compliant affiliates from the bad actors.

6) Keep Track of Your Expired Codes

Whether through manual search or alerts, keeping tabs on expiring or expired codes can ensure a better customer experience for people visiting your site. By reaching out to affiliates early on, you can eliminate the amount of time that an expired code stays in circulation.

7) Provide an Expiration Date in Your Coupon Feed

Merchants often avoid or forget to do this. But it’s a great way to ensure that affiliates use your coupons properly. After all, if they don’t know when to take a coupon down, they’re likely to simply leave it up.