Publisher finds advertiser. Publisher requests to join advertiser’s affiliate programme. Publisher is accepted and is provided with a default set of terms and commission rates. Publisher is never heard of again.

Does this sound familiar? It should because it happens on UK affiliate programmes every week.  

Counting the cost of default terms

Every affiliate programme has a default commission setting. Every affiliate programme has a default set of terms and conditions for payment and programme compliance. And every affiliate programme (with a couple of notable exceptions) operate deduplication rules that are programme wide. Such setups are the norm for affiliate marketing and are presented to publishers when they first partner with an advertiser.  

This approach of distilling a variety of publishers generating traffic in many different ways down to a default set of rules for everything from commission and payment to how their sales will track might seem efficient as far as programme management is concerned. But it’s also incredibly inhibiting, meaning affiliate programmes are frequently set up in standardised rule-sets that fail to recognise and adequately reward different publisher types.

The affiliate industry can count the cost in hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost channel spend because it operates a rigid system of commission terms and deduplication rules that make little to no allowance of publisher traffic generation or customer journey insight. 

Should last-click always win?

Last-click wins is an oldie, but a goodie to illustrate the problem. The industry has operated last-click wins across all publisher types with very few exceptions for more than a decade, and this model has dictated the natural order of things. Around three-quarters of commission paid on a typical UK affiliate programmes goes to incentive sites. 

The predominance of incentive sites has in-turn dictated the way the affiliate channel has accepted the carte blanche impact of cross-channel de-duplication. Affiliate marketing has shunned opportunities to push back on excessive deduplication rules because only crediting an affiliate for being the last-click in a multi-click chain plays into the hands of incentivised traffic. The basic rule of cross-channel deduplication in affiliate marketing is the further away a publisher is from the sale the more likely they are to be overwritten by either another affiliate or another channel.  

Affiliate marketing has inadvertently stacked the odds massively against any publisher not interacting with a customer who is in purchasing mode, which makes the channel’s on-off love affair with blogs, product comparison and influencers are mildly laughable when the model used to track affiliate sales actively avoids rewarding them. 

Affiliate marketing’s ‘why bite the hand that feeds’ mentality coupled with a desire for ‘defaultness’ when running affiliate programmes has closed off the channel to a large number of publisher types that advertisers would otherwise want to engage with.    

There’s nothing default about affiliate marketing, and it’s time we structured affiliate programmes to embrace that variety rather than cramming different types of traffic sources into the same ill-fitting bucket. 

Change the ‘default’ mentality when running affiliate programmes

This can be achieved by changing affiliate marketing’s ‘default’ approach to two key areas:

  • Commission
  • Deduplication

Instead of asking all publishers to fit a prescribed model for these vital programme components, what about structuring the components to fit the publisher type so an affiliate programme runs with a different set of payment and de-duplication rules per publisher type. Here’s what it might look like:

Publisher Type




Click-based CPA

All other affiliates. Allow cross-channel aside from Brand search, retargeting and email


Click-based CPA

All other affiliates. Allow cross-channel aside from Brand search, retargeting and email

Discount Code

Click-based CPA

All other affiliates. Allow cross-channel aside from Brand search, retargeting and email


Impression CPA

All other affiliates

Ad network arbitrage

Click-based CPA

All other affiliates. Allow cross-channel aside from Brand search, retargeting and email

Google Shopping

Click-based CPA

All other affiliates. Allow cross-channel aside from Brand search, retargeting and email

Link-based content

Click-based CPA and/or  contribution payment

No de-duplication

Creative based content

Impression CPA and/ or contribution payment

No de-duplication

Social Influencers

Click-based CPA and contribution payment

No de-duplication


And instead of different terms being the preserve of privately negotiated deals, what about making the above the new publicly facing ‘default’ commission and de-duplication settings for each publisher type. 

Not treating all affiliates equally is the key to growth

I’ll admit, this example is meant as a starting effort, rather than the finished product. But hopefully, I’ve outlined the idea. Not treating all affiliates equally (using a model that is the rule rather than the exception) is the key to long-term growth in affiliate marketing. Recognising publisher diversity will have benefits across the board:

  • Publishers of different types can co-exist in the affiliate channel and have their contribution fairly rewarded
  • Advertisers can take proper advantage of the channel’s diverse traffic sources while continuing to enjoy a relatively low-risk advertising model
  • The affiliate industry can finally deliver on its promises to reach across the internet

Let’s take the default out of affiliate marketing so we can truly harness the rich tapestry of traffic sources that make up our industry.