Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Not So Stealthy Thief

There are few things in this world more terrifying than facing an inexplicable loss of profit. Rectal surgery is one of these things. However, that is not the intended point of discussion for this article. But loss of profit is.

If you’re familiar with the world of affiliate marketing, then you’ll of course know the basis for the industry, and it is you that this article is indeed geared towards. For completeness and to dispel any confusion for the casual reader let me briefly explain the concept of affiliate marketing.

An affiliate network is group of companies, groups, and occasionally individuals who desire greater exposure. An affiliate networking site will post the ads that these companies (groups, individuals, etc) want posted for advertisers to view. These advertisers (known as affiliate marketers) in turn post these advertisements where the public is likely to see and click on them. When a consumer clicks on an affiliate marketer’s link, they are directed to the website advertised and the advertising website is sent the information that they received this traffic from a particular affiliate marketer. The marketer then receives a commission of that consumer’s purchases.

Obviously, most everyone reading this will find that paragraph extremely rudimentary, but I felt it crucial. Now, what many, or even most of you may be unfamiliar with are the concepts of affiliate link hijacking and affiliate link bypassing. Some definitions are in order.

Assume you are an affiliate marketer. Affiliate link hijacking is when another marketer finds a link of yours to a product or service, and replaces your affiliate ID with his own, thus stealing your commission with his own.

Okay, say you advertise for a website that sells shoes. www.shoejunkandwhatnot.com When you advertise it, the actual link that consumers click looks something like www.shoejunkandwhatnot.com/?YourID, which passes YourID as the referring affiliate. An affiliate link hijacker copies your link and changes it to www.shoejunkandwhatnot.com/?HisID, which passes HisID as the referring affiliate, thus stealing your commission and putting it in his own pocket as a discount. This is a dirty, rotten, mean trick.

Affiliate link bypassing is just as bad for you, but doesn’t make a lot of sense. This is when a consumer sees your ad, and copies the link, and pastes it back into his address bar, and sees that there is that “?YourID” at the end of it. Either because he is concerned for security reasons, is afraid of CGI scripts, or is just a really mean person who doesn’t want you to get a commission, he deletes your ID, and just types in www.shoejunkandwhatnot.com, robbing you of your commission and putting back into Shoe Junk and Whatnot’s pocket. This isn’t usually malicious, but it is still detrimental to you, and most of the time, it’s born out of unnecessary paranoia.

So, basically, this is an obnoxious set of problems that is probably jacking you of a significant amount in commissions, whether you’re aware of it or not. It’s usually between 5% and 30% of your total commission that is lost to affiliate link hijacking and bypassing.

Okay, so now you’re ticked off and you want your money back. Yeah, so did me when I found out about this whole racket. I did some research and now you guys get to reap the benefits of my labor.

As it turns out, there are several software options that secure your ad links against both greedy hijackers and paranoid bypassers. They do this by cloaking and encrypting your link, so it no longer looks like www.shoejunkandwhatnot.com/?YourID, but rather like http://url.com/adfs. And that’s pretty handy, because you can neither extrapolate from that the original link, nor substitute another ID, as you can’t SEE the ID.

Well, the software works, and well, but… How does buying expensive software rectify my losing money problem? Okay, screw that game. I’ll admit it, I’m cheap, and I like free alternatives.

And there are, indeed, very simple and easy to use alternatives that cost a whole lot of nothing. (Though, there are many more that pretend to be free and add a percentage fee or some nonsense. One of these really got me angry.) They are web-based, and do the same thing as the software, except without installing unnecessary software or paying money.

You simply type in your affiliate link, www.shoejunkandwhatnot.com/?YourID, and get back liapsdjg.freealternativesite.com, or www.otherfreesite.com/itoahefajsdaalg, depending on the way the site works.

If you’re a tech nerd, you’re probably wondering about how these work, I was. If you’re not, you can skip down to the bottom of the article now, for a link to the best of these free services that I’ve found.

Now, all these things do is create a small, small webpage with a random address that redirects to your affiliate link automatically. It just hides your link inside another page, so people can’t figure out how to change it for their benefit, or your loss. It’s a simple, effective, and clever solution that costs very little to implement, and therefore can be easily presented free of charge.

Now, I assume most of you are bored with this and want to know where to find one of these link-maker-thingies. Well, I’ve gone through pretty much all of them, and the absolute best I have found, or at least the one that I MUCH prefer, is http://www.urlfreeze.com/. Part of the reason I like it so much is because it’s so easy to remember. Besides that, however, this site gets right to the point and makes it simple to change all your links quickly and effectively. So, you see no hassles!

Okay, that’s pretty much all I have to say. I just felt that it was important to inform those of you that didn’t know of the threat of link bypassing and hijacking, and tell you about the solution. Cheers!

Chris Morris has been in affiliate marketing for over 2 years and online sales for more than 8 years. He's dedicated to helping others and offers free resources and articles on his blog at http://www.chrismorris.ws

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