At a recent affiliate conference, I attended several panels and presentations that raised the issue of lost revenue from broken links. While some of these panels were quite interesting, what I found shocking was the way the topic was being discussed – i.e. as though it were some kind of revelation that struck the affiliate industry out of the blue in 2019, rather than an ongoing issue that affiliates have been struggling with for years.
Link rot is one of affiliate marketing’s biggest challenges, costing the industry an estimated £3.3 million in commission every month. How can something that costs the industry so much revenue receive so little attention and more importantly, why aren’t businesses finding solutions and building strategies to help combat it?
What is link rot?
Link rot is when a deep-link decays to the point that it’s no longer earning money for a publisher. 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 circumstances create link rot.
Trackonomics estimated that £575k in affiliate revenue was lost on Black Friday 2018 in the UK alone. The problem has been around for years but companies responsible for tracking have seemed blind to its impact.
Who does it affect?
Content publishers are more susceptible to link rot than any other type. These publishers produce content that contains embedded affiliate links to monetise that content. Their articles often continue to receive traffic from organic search and referring links, long after writers have moved on to new projects.
This situation is a breeding ground for link-rot; content that is no longer updated but remains prominent in the SERPs. It’s easy in these circumstances for affiliate links to quickly become out of date.
Link rot isn’t new but the mindset has changed
Affiliate links have long been thought of as static, which means the idea that they decay over time has never worried an industry hyper-focused on short-term marketing tactics such as discounting.
But this doesn’t recognise how content strategies are evolving. Publishers, particularly lifestyle content publishers, are now producing evergreen content that retains long-term SEO value. Successfully monetising this type of long-lasting content with affiliate links means being able to keep those links relevant and up to date. Failure to do this will inevitably result in a significant loss of potential revenue for publishers.
While affiliate marketers have long been used to measuring performance in a campaign-oriented mindset, content publishers assess the value of their commerce content over long time periods. This is a totally new way of thinking in an industry accustomed to negotiating short-term, short-burst marketing strategies with publishers.
A risk to publisher-advertiser relations
While link rot can take many forms the most common issue is pages that are not found. In our study, these accounted for 27% of all link rot issues, significantly more than other problems like broken links and out of stock products. This is the result of affiliate links not being able to keep pace with the changing structure and content on advertiser sites.
The static nature of affiliate links has been a constant threat to the industry’s viability as a monetisation model for large content publishers. Where content is expected to generate high traffic and search results long after its publication date, the automated nature of other channels like programmatic display has tended to trump affiliate’s highly contextual but onerously manual link maintenance model.
So what does this mean for affiliate marketers? If affiliate marketing is going to keep up and continue to attract content publishers, it needs to find a solution that prevents its links from decaying to the point that user journeys are broken and advertising opportunities lost. Major publishers today are looking for monetisation strategies with ROI longevity. Affiliate marketers must find a way of delivering it.
A £3.3 million problem
Networks have traditionally left the management and updating of links to publishers. This is okay for incentive, cashback or comparison publishers with a limited number of links, and who usually use links that direct to the advertiser's homepage. But it doesn’t scale to the world’s largest content generators.
We recently carried out a study of over 7,000 web pages across 25 major publishing sites using Trackonomic’s AMBA system, which helps publishers automatically scan affiliate links and identify and avoid the lost revenue associated with link rot, The results were alarming:
- Link rot affects almost half of all pages that carry affiliate links
- Between 3% and 10% of live affiliate links are affected by link rot
- Each affiliate webpage has around 10 individual link rot issues
Trackonomics find a link rot issue on 4% of all affiliate links that they scan. In terms of affiliate URLs over 40% of those scanned contain a link rot issue of some kind, with content publishers by some distance the worst affected. Trackonomics now estimate that link rot issues are costing the industry at least £3.3 million every month.
Developing an actionable strategy for dealing with link rot
It’s clear that link rot is a problem that affiliate marketers can no longer afford to ignore. All parties have a stake in making sure link rot prevention doesn’t fall through the cracks.
Advertisers with out of date content are risking lost revenue, tracking providers are failing their clients if links don’t resolve, and publishers are creating a poor user experience for their visitors. To date, Trackonomics has focussed on helping publishers and I believe that all publishers should have a link rot strategy that enables them to:
- Report on the key link rot issues that are affecting their businesses
- Identify these by article/content generated
- Put a value against each issue to prioritise the revenue risk
- Fix the link rot issues to ensure the best possible user experience and maximum revenue opportunity
Seizing the revenue opportunity
In the US, affiliate marketing’s biggest content publishers are generating an excess of 25 million unique clicks on affiliate advertising in any given month. That’s a potential 2.5 million unique clicks every single month across the industry that resolve to dead links, incorrect pages or out of stock products. The opportunity this presents for affiliate marketers is huge.
It might have taken us a while to get here, but I’m glad we’re finally recognising link rot as an important issue in the affiliate marketing industry. Now is the time to take link rot seriously and ensure that our industry is a viable and attractive option for publishers in search of new revenue streams. If every cloud has a silver lining then link rot is no exception. Savvy marketers today would be wise to take note and stay a step ahead of the game – there are huge gains to be made for those who are ready and willing to make link rot prevention a key part of their affiliate marketing strategy.