In the vast landscape of online marketing, affiliates play a crucial role in driving traffic and sales to businesses. However, there’s still an ongoing concern regarding nefarious affiliates’ brand-bidding activity on the SERP. Namely, that some affiliates exploit Google's tools as an excuse for dubious tactics.
Affiliate marketing, like paid search and SEO, should be included in a brand’s marketing mix not only to drive traffic and conversions but also to complement other channels, ensuring omnipresence across the consumer journey. However, when bad acting affiliates take part in paid search brand-bidding, it challenges a brand’s Terms and Conditions and even cannibalizes their own PPC campaigns, resulting in duplicitous ad spend and lack of brand control on the SERP. More specifically, it results in brands having to compete with affiliates for the same traffic, driving up their CPCs, decreasing their CTRs and paying affiliates commission that is arguably unnecessary as the brand could have earned the conversion on their own merit, through their own PPC efforts.
To the contrary, affiliates who engage in this activity stand to gain better SERP visibility and click-through rates. This is typically accomplished by intentionally targeting popular keywords, such as brand keywords and promotional terms, like ‘sales’, ‘deals’ or ‘coupons’, to attract unsuspecting users. Despite affiliate program T&Cs often advising against this activity, affiliates cite ‘unintentional keyword matching’ as an excuse to skirt by.
However, with Google’s new restriction tools, the excuses from bad-acting affiliates may no longer hold up.
Breaking Down the Practical Impact of Google’s Changes
Before Google's changes, it was difficult with Performance Max campaigns to negatively match branded keywords (you had to do it the account level), so when confronted about brand-bidding, affiliates would make the case that it was unintentional as there was no way to negatively match branded keywords with Performance Max.
While not actually true or entirely accurate, it seems the actions behind this argument were difficult enough that this could have been viewed as a "valid excuse".
But with Google's changes now in place, it should be simpler for affiliates to negatively match a brand's keywords, so they will no longer be able to use that as any kind of excuse–and advertisers should be able to better enforce the affiliate program's T&Cs regarding brand bidding.
At BrandVerity, we often see this when one of our clients confronts a publisher that is brand bidding and asks them to stop. A common response from an affiliate is “we weren’t targeting those keywords, it must have been broad matched”, or “Google won’t let me do negative keyword matching because of the way that Performance Max works”, etc. It’s exciting to see that Google is putting tools in place to take away those excuses and allow advertisers to hold their publishers accountable. If you are a BrandVerity customer and have questions on how to take advantage of this new capability, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Customer Success Manager.
For marketers, this welcome change stands to eliminate or at least reduce the wasted resources, in both time and money, that are lost with affiliate brand-bidding. In practicality, marketers on both the affiliate and search teams will no longer have to waste countless hours reconciling affiliate activity, contacting offenders and taking action by reversing conversions and associated commissions or even removing affiliates from the program.
Google's Brand Restriction Settings: A Game-Changer?
For Google’s part, they are attempting to contribute a potential remedy to the larger problem by rolling out their Brand Restriction settings that provide marketers with tools to safeguard their brand's reputation and align their ads with suitable content. While not a perfect solution, these settings aim to empower advertisers to define their brand values and preferences, allowing them to maintain some level of control over ad placements across Google's extensive network.
Taking Control of Affiliates and Paid Search: What Marketers Can Do
- Defining Terms and Conditions: Marketers should establish clear terms and conditions to inform affiliates regarding brand-bidding on the SERP. By setting specific policies, marketers set expectations around what is and is not permitted regarding affiliates’ use of paid search.
- Implement Automated Monitoring: It's essential for marketers to employ automated monitoring of affiliates across search engines to surface and evaluate violations regularly. By doing so, the brand can reduce instances of such activity, and maintain control over their identity and position on the SERP.
- Enforce T&Cs: Holding offending affiliates to the Terms and Conditions set forth is necessary. Affiliates who brand-bid need to be held accountable, through reversal of commissions, reduction in rates, and event removal from the program. When the brand establishes they are not willing to be taken advantage of, affiliates will take notice and adhere to the program policies.
The bottom line: Even with Google’s Brand Restriction Settings in place, you will still need a deeper assurance that your brand will be safeguarded from affiliate search activity and the only truly effective way to gain that assurance is by using a proven brand monitoring and compliance solution.
BrandVerity is committed to protecting and defending the world’s leading brands online with paid search monitoring, compliance monitoring, marketing compliance, PPC monitoring, and affiliate monitoring.
Through continuous monitoring, enforcement, and optimization, marketers can maintain brand integrity and enhance the effectiveness of their advertising efforts on Google's extensive platform all while safeguarding their return on investment (ROI).
Want to learn more about what BrandVerity can do to keep your brand protected online? Contact us right here.