The (Ecommerce) Corner Office

Is Affiliate Marketing Dead?

This is going to be a short blog post and for that I will apologize up front.

But, I intended for this to be more of a comment-driven exploration than a “this is how you do this” type of blog post.

Recently, we switched affiliate network providers (to one of the most respected in the space) and were absolutely stunned to find that over 80% of the applications to our program are from “deal”, “coupon” or “virtual mall” websites. To me, these sites are total parasites that should be eliminated from the web.

Side note: As I think back upon the sales pitch that was made to me to get me to join, I’ve become more furious. Their questions all centered around whether or not I had a lot of existing traffic. Basically, they wanted to ensure that their filthy coupon sites would have enough built-in traffic from which to leach. Stupidly, I didn’t realize this at the time.

Back to the coupon affiliates. Let’s break down their so-called value. A customer is already on my site and ready to make a purchase. They see a “coupon code” box, open up a new browser tab, and search for my company name + “coupon code”. Google returns a bunch of slimy websites that purport to offer HUGE SAVINGS! on all things related to my site. The user clicks through to “activate” the offer, proceeds to make their purchase, and the affiliate gets their cut of a sale that would have taken place regardless of their existence. They did not send us a lead or a sale. They interrupted the flow of the sale. They’re a useless middle man. It’s almost antithetical to the entire premise of the Internet.

Affiliates, by definition, are supposed to be providing enormous value. This is why they get a cut of the action! Coupon and deal websites provide zero value. Sorry, but broadcasting the free shipping offer that is already plastered across my website is of zero value. And posting a coupon code that a visitor could just as easily receive by signing up for a free email newsletter is not providing value. You are not sending new customers to me. You are hijacking my existing customers!

Coupon sites are a pure SEO play. And I understand why they’re so enticing to create. You have a built-in audience. There are coupon feeds to automate content on your site. Simply put, it’s far easier than carving out your own audience.

Because these types of affiliates are essentially stealing sales that a merchant would otherwise get, my suggestion to merchants would be to start your own “coupon” or “deal” section on your website. You should rank very well for your company name + “coupon”, “promo” or “discount code”. Funnel that organic traffic right back to your site and forget those inane coupon sites! Secondly, I wouldn’t suggest allowing any coupon sites into your program. We have denied every single one… which has left very few other sites to choose from.

So, let’s return to my original question. Are true affiliates (the ones that own a niche and send their dedicated readers to your store) a dying breed? And why should they bother competing against the parasitical coupon stores? I would argue that they shouldn’t… especially since their link could be overrode at the last instant by the consumer who searches for a coupon immediately prior to placing their order.

So, logic would dictate that merchants, realizing that there is no inherent value in coupon sites, will stop offering commissions to them. Eventually, with no revenue stream, will the coupon sites disappear? Will this allow “true” affiliates to return?

What are you feelings on the matter? Let me know in the comment section!

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