Data aggregation and analytics platform Trackonomics has found that publishers are losing up to 10% of their sales in the UK this Black Friday due to bad affiliate links – adding up to £575k of commission that UK publishers could lose out during the global retail event, according to Trackonomics co-founder Hanan Maayan.

How does link rot occur?

A publisher writes a piece of content, adding product-specific affiliate links. Once the content is published it can remain onsite for months, even years. With good SEO, that piece of content will continue to generate traffic. However, from the moment the affiliate link is added to the content it is susceptible to decay. 

Product specific affiliate links are most commonly associated with link rot. Products can go out of stock, the advertiser could remove the product, the link itself could break if URL redirects or affiliate tracking is changed. All of these issues cause what we know as link rot. This represents a very real problem for all parties involved; the publisher risks a loss of commission and an association with poor content, for the advertiser the loss of that sale and most importantly for the end-user, a bad online shopping experience.

“Link rot is a challenge, particularly for content and media publishing sites that use affiliate links voraciously throughout their web properties,” said Maayan; “It’s one of the main reasons that large media partners have shied away from affiliate marketing in the past, unlike programmatic display or Google Adwords affiliate advertising can’t be updated dynamically.”

Static affiliate links threaten publisher revenue

Link rot isn’t just about the tracking health of those links. Content around the link isn’t dynamic either, so if a publisher writes about a specific topic, say 2018 Autumn Winter fashion trends, the actual content is frozen in time, and therefore updating the affiliate links within the article is nonsensical. 

The most common link rot issue is publishers linking to advertiser product pages that no longer exist or have moved location, accounting for 87% of all bad affiliate links. From their research Tracknomics found that outside of this other errors were caused by broken advertiser pages or server errors. Some advertisers display specific out of stock messages that seek to encourage further browsing, but the number is relatively minor, occurring on less than 6% of rotten links.

“Every publisher treats and views their content generation differently, so automating what should happen when a link rots is an individual decision; do you keep the page live because of its SEO value, because it’s valuable content? The preceding issue is that publishers do not have visibility on which links have decayed,” added Maayan.