‘De-duplication’ is one of the industry’s most controversial topics. Some see it as a necessity to control budget and fairly reward sales. Others are critical of what they see as an attempt to remove sales that should be legitimately rewarded to the channel. 

As part of a deeper dive, we’ve decided to take a more detailed look at the one topic areas that is sure to get affiliate marketers talking.

What is ‘de-duplication’?

‘De-duplication’ is the practice of not allowing an affiliate marketing programme to track or be credited for a sale because of the presence of another marketing channel in the user’s journey.

It is commonplace in affiliate marketing that de-duplication between different affiliates is an accepted practice, and normally should happen on a last-click wins model. This means only one affiliate is credited for a sale, even if there is more than one affiliate involved in the sale. It’s the model used by the vast majority of affiliate programmes.

Cross-channel de-duplication is a much more contentious issue. Again, normally a last-click model, it is when the affiliate channel is conditionally credited for driving a sale based on the presence of other marketing channels in a customer’s journey. For example, if an advertiser de-duplicates against generic paid search, when a paid search click comes after an affiliate click, the affiliate channel will not be credited for that sale.

What’s the impact of de-duplication?

De-duplication practices are notoriously opaque, often controlled by advertisers and third-party tag management providers or networks. While some affiliate networks publish the de-duplication rules that apply to individual programmes, affiliate feedback points to these often being out of date. 

It’s estimated that 80% of active UK affiliate programmes de-duplicate affiliate sales against other channels. Some have said the impact on affiliate revenues could be as high as 15% of overall channel spend – which equates to roughly £82.5 million per year. 

“Most publisher models are in agreement that de-duplication of affiliate sales against other channels is a necessity in order for advertisers to get the most out of their marketing budgets and ultimately allowing a higher spend in the channel itself,” said Karl Wood, managing director, EMEA at Piggy.

“The lines can, however, become blurred when we discuss the topic of transparency. This can be a twofold complication as transparency applies both in the Advertiser to Publisher relationship and also the Publisher to User relationship,” Wood continued.

“Publishers simply want to ensure that the rules in place are clearly communicated and are justified. Without this initial step, it is near impossible for Publishers to keep their users in the loop. If you are a cashback publisher like us, explaining that “you are not due your cashback because you first visited another paid channel” simply isn’t going to be understood.”

Is there a standard practice for de-duplication?

No. Across the industry, advertisers are free to set their own cross-channel de-duplication rules. Networks and agencies may try to enforce rules or best practice guidelines about which channels can be de-duplicated against. There is a general industry consensus that the following channels should not be included in cross-channel de-duplication:

  • Brand paid and organic search
  • Re-targeted display
  • Email remarketing/abandonment 

But the reality is some advertisers almost certainly are including these channels in de-duplication strategies. The information about which do, and which don’t, is scarce. 

Speaking from a publisher perspective, Wood added: “It is important advertisers set de-duplication rules that take into account the wide range of publisher types and ensure the publisher is being rightfully rewarded and not penalised for steps of the consumer journey that were out of their control.”

Isn’t this an attribution question?

De-duplication is ultimately an attempt to ‘attribute’ affiliate sales against other channels using crude place-in-the-chain attribution thinking. 

Attribution technology has advanced significantly since the concept of de-duplication became commonplace in affiliate marketing. Better and more accessible customer journey insight could be the key to moving the affiliate channel away from cross-channel de-duplication on a last-click. 

“Attribution strategies are rarely driven from the affiliate channel. The ubiquitous use of Google Analytics as the single source of truth for online measurement, means affiliate marketing isn’t centre stage in attribution discussions,” explained Anthony Clements, managing partner at Adtraction.

How can the industry better handle de-duplication?

Cross-channel de-duplication on a last-click is currently the norm in the industry, certainly on larger programmes. Changing such an ingrained practice, if that is even the right thing to do, would take significant time and changes in mindset. 

Picking up from the recently formed Publisher Board’s guidelines on advertiser best practices, one of the keys to better managing de-duplication is visibility.

Here are some key tips on de-duplication transparency from across the industry, as highlighted by the Publisher Board:

  • All affiliate programmes should publish a simple yes/no list of channels that are de-duplicated against affiliates
  • It should be clearly stated what attribution model this is based on, e.g. last-click, first-click
  • De-duplication should happen at validation; not point of sale. This ensures affiliates can have full visibility on how de-duplication affects their earnings
  • De-duplication should be tested and audited at least annually by networks and tracking providers

Following these simple steps will ensure that the issue of de-duplication and its effect on the channel will be more clearly understood.