Click For Cookies Or Use Forced Clicks & IFrames?

I must be very old school affiliate marketing as I was always under the impression that the role of an affiliate was to direct traffic to the merchant site. On click, a cookie is set and if a sale made you got paid. Setting cookies via any other means (e.g. spyware or iframes) was not within the terms and conditions of the networks.

But that doesn’t seem to be true!

We’ve recently been promoting The Book People’s Lucky Dip promotion. A nice little promo that attracted a couple of my users to post that they also had a free delivery code. Being a good affiliate the code was deleted (this results in users getting upset and going off to use other sites btw, so merchants please manage your codes!), but I was intrigued to go and look for where the code was being advertised.

And then I discovered something that caught my eye… Iframes!

The following is a screen shot from a discount code website called pricedash.com! Not only do they show the free delivery code for The Book People but also open the site via an iframe. Now, I’m pretty certain that by opening the iframe a cookie is being set….

Spot the Iframe

.. but surely this isn’t right? Looking at the site there are programs from Buy.at, Affiliate Window, Webgains and Tradedoubler. Another popular site that also employs this is myvouchercodes. Here you select a merchant, and sure enough the window opens automatically.

Spot the Iframe

Let’s see what the network’s publisher agreements say about forced clicks:

Tradedoubler: “If a link is opened automatically on an affiliate site, regardless of the size of this window or the manner in which it is done, this is not defined as a valid click. Affiliates that generate illegal clicks, leads and sales will be denied and lose all commissions previously earned”

Paid On Results: “The Affiliate must not in any way generate or contribute to generating Artificial Traffic to Linked Websites”.

Unfortunately as far as publisher agreements go, that was it! I couldn’t find the publisher agreements on Affiliate Window or Buy.at!

So, is the use of an iframe a forced click? Well, it’s not even a click, and is something that networks should clamp down on if they’re to follow their own terms. Tradedoubler specify it’s not right so why are their affiliates allowed to use this method? At a guess if TD have this clause, the other networks also have it… so again why are some affiliates being allowed to employ (and get away with) this kind of linking?

Is there a valid case for it? Well, let’s say there is an argument (and if there is please can someone post it in comments) that the use of the iframe in the cases above are valid – well then based on absolutely any argument for, it must be therefore equally valid that when promoting any product, competition or promotion for a merchant an affiliate can show that product, competition or promotion in an iframe. If networks allow one affiliate to use this, they must allow all of them!

BUT, it is a forced click and any affiliate doing this activity should be stopped by the networks – without exception.

And what happens if networks don’t stop clamp down immediately on this activity?

Well, what it means is that as a rule abiding affiliate I go and change Discount Codes and Hot UK Offers into iframe instant cookie generating sites! Heck, let’s go a step further and replace all promotional text and affiliate links with mini iframes of the merchant sites and start setting cookies left right and centre.

But that would be cookie stuffing – and that’s not right either!

Note for Merchants: Most discount code affiliates will work with you within the rules of your program and the terms of the network. However, how can anyone expect affiliates to continually act appropriately when networks allow their terms to be run roughshod over through activity as outlined here?

32 Comments Click For Cookies Or Use Forced Clicks & IFrames?

  1. David Fiske August 14, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    I certainly agree with this and would be very interested on what the reaction is from the networks. It’s not fair that a minority are using unethical tactics and potentially making an awful lot of money.

    Having said that, Tradedoubler validates all applications. They’ve denied me from programs because my site content isn’t suited to the merchant. So why has no one picked this up before.

    Incidentally, I did wonder whether My Voucher Codes was run my a merchant, perhaps abusing their power with the networks. It’s owned by Roses by Design, which runs an inhouse affiliate scheme so no luck there.

    I’ve bumped this and urge other’s to do the same. We could do with some answers here!

    Reply
  2. hero August 14, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Just to clarify the Webgains stance on this: dropping impression cookies within iframes is not tolerated. Framing a merchant’s site is fine under specific circumstances (not a pop up/under, not a 1×1 pixel frame, etc), provided the merchant has also approved, but dropping an impression cookie is not.

    When we identify cases where this happens, we contact the affiliate and ask them to stop this activity immediately giving them a deadline; if they don’t comply they are suspended from the network.

    For myvouchercodes, we contacted the affiliate and he complied. For pricedash, we will be doing the same.

    This is something extremely difficult for networks to police and monitor. Whenever we have come across it, or we have been notified by other affiliates, we have immediately taken action. We very much appreciate our affiliates notifying us when they come across activity of such kind, as we are able to step in and resolve the situation efficiently.

    Reply
  3. 10k August 14, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    “it’s all too easy for affiliates to scam networks”

    I don’t think it’s the networks that are being scammed, they get their override whichever affiliate gets the commission. It’s mainly the merchants and other affiliates who have their hard earned cookies overwritten by ‘dropped’ cookies that really suffer. There’s good and bad though – I do know that some networks are proactive when it comes to fishing this sort of thing out, but I also know of one network specifically who actively encourage this sort of cookie dropping. (Not naming names obviously!)

    Reply
  4. jason August 14, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Thanks for outlining Webgains’ stance on this Hero 🙂

    10k – any chance of naming names? The only way things get changed is if affiliates bring these issues out into the open.

    Reply
  5. hero August 14, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    “I don’t think it’s the networks that are being scammed, they get their override whichever affiliate gets the commission”

    10k – there is nothing good from getting override on unscrupulous sales – it only creates bad precedence and destroys the reputation of the industry.
    Networks are here to help affiliates and merchants make money in the correct way, which will ensure fruitious long term partnerships for all parties involved.

    Reply
  6. Dan Morley August 14, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Hi Jason,

    Great article and im 100% behind you. It’s a cheap way of setting a lot of cookies and wiping out genuine cookies set by traffic driven by affiliates working within the rules.

    Alpharooms are involved with these sites but it has not previously been brought to my attention. I will be issuing their warning first thing tomorrow and if action is not taken sales will be reversed in line with our terms and conditions. Im fairly confident that the sales made would have otherwise been accredited to another affiliate who worked for the click.

    On another note: do you know the site owner of myvouchercodes? Have a dig, that makes interesting reading…

    Reply
  7. Raymond Theakston August 15, 2007 at 12:23 am

    The same myvouchercodes currently has one code for Samantha Lingerie. It is instantly recognisable to me as it’s branded SHOPCODES. Come on Mark, if you’re going to frame merchants and get all that cookie juice, at least put some work in and get your own codes.
    This is why I’d prefer commissions to be paid to the affiliate the code was sourced too rather than using cookies, particularly in this multi platform age.

    Reply
  8. Fraser Edwards August 15, 2007 at 8:32 am

    Great post Jason and a really important issue to draw attention to. Some of them must make a decent earning from advertising vouchers that don’t exist.

    The consumer might visit a merchant through a genuine affiliate link, they get to the checkout stage with everything in the basket and then see a text box for a voucher code so they hope over to google and run a quick search to see if they can find one and make a saving. Click on one of these pages which at times advertise coupons that don’t exist and then the sale is in effect stolen from the genuine affiliate just seconds before it’s completed.

    Reply
  9. David Fiske August 15, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    It’s good to see Dan from alpharooms taking an interest. It’ll be interesting to see how many merchants jump on board and start taking action against sites like these.

    Incidentally, my voucher codes is still displaying their ads so perhaps it’ll take a few warnings.

    On another note, what can merchants do to highlight this problem? Can they go to the network involved and ‘report’ this incident? Given that my voucher codes has quite a few hundred retailers on there, surely the only way to eradicate their foul play is to give them a kick up the bum from the networks?

    On the flip side, will networks take any involvement as essentially, don’t they make more money as sales increase? For all we know, sites like my voucher codes could be making an awful lot of (unjustified) revenue.

    Reply
  10. jason August 15, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Affiliate Future have been in touch re: this post and hopefully they’ll also be taking action to stop this kind of thing.

    Who know’s what stance Buy.at, Tradedoubler, and Affiliate Window will take, but as above, any argument for this kind of linking means that they have to allow every affiliate to do it…. interestingly those three networks are the bulk of the iframe generating code sites I’ve looked at.

    Jason

    Reply
  11. Steve August 15, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    I’m still seething over Tour de France this year. So what’s that got to do with anything?

    If you let the cheats in consistently because they get great results and everyone around them are impressed, it lasts a while, then the whole house of cards comes crashing down and everyone gets tarred with the same brush.

    Good post Jason, and well done for naming names. Dan, go on, lift the curtain!

    Sod it, check my blog later, I’m in there.

    Reply
  12. hero August 16, 2007 at 9:05 am

    thanks David, I’ll investigate further and speak with the affiliate again

    Reply
  13. jason August 16, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Good spot there – the code is right at the bottom – that is plain wrong and should be stamped out.

    But will it? I had a discussion with a network this morning where they claimed use of iframes wasn’t all black and white and it’s 50-50 whether it’s ok or not. They got told in no uncertain terms what I thought of that nonsense.

    They based this “50-50” on “well they have links to the merchants on the side” – er, surely that means every affiliate is then entitled to this – makes a mockery of that networks’ ts&cs if they can even consider the use of iframes/forced clicks as valid in anyway.

    They have since gone away to look into this in more detail.

    Reply
  14. David Fiske August 16, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    Just had an email from Wulfric Light-Wilkinson of Tradedoubler:

    “I have looked into their site. The user has to select a merchant they wants to view before the merchant site is loaded in the IFRAME. As the user has to makes a conscious decision to view the merchant, we don’t deem this as unfair practice.”

    Reply
  15. jason August 16, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    The user is making a conscious decision to view the codes for that site… not visit that site! Typical TD – provide terms and conditions for good affiliates to work within and then flannel around when they’re broken.

    By that reckoning as I list competitions for TD merchants, if my user makes a concious decision to view information about the competitions on offer… I can open up sites via iframes or pop ups regardless?

    Similarly, if as many affiliates do have reviews of merchants, if a user has conciously chosen to read a review… the affiliate can thrust open a forced click window?

    Similarly, if I write a review of a product, and that product just so happens to be available via a TD merchant… and it just so happens they’re the only merchant I’m promoting … as the user has conciously clicked to read about the product… i can open the window?

    Would TD like to clarify which of those scenarios is fair and unfair?

    Is the practice of iframe cookie setting something they’re ok with – even though their own terms spouts forth “If a link is opened automatically on an affiliate site, regardless of the size of this window or the manner in which it is done, this is not defined as a valid click. Affiliates that generate illegal clicks, leads and sales will be denied and lose all commissions previously earned”

    Shocking!

    Reply
  16. jason August 16, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    “It also makes it so users cannot just nip to the site and copy and paste the code and nip off”

    That does happen – except I then see users come back with codes they shouldn’t be finding on affiliate sites. So not only are they setting a cookie without knowing, and picking up a code I can’t tell them about, but then getting miffed at me for doing as I’m meant too.

    I can understand why the iframe is used… but the mechanics of the site are wrong (and any others using the same format) as a cookie shouldn’t be set until the user has clicked on the affiliate link.

    Reply
  17. jason August 17, 2007 at 10:48 am

    Have spoken to TD and am happy to say that they’ve now looked into this a bit more and won’t allow this kind of linking.

    So good news there.

    Reply
  18. Raymond Theakston August 17, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Barry is right regarding search engine traffic. For example a search for “the gift experience voucher code” in Google returns MYVC as the number one result.

    As soon as you click the link, the MYVC page opens with the merchants page.

    TIP: If you want to find the ‘sneaky’ iframes (on any website), I recommend using the Firefox browser and installing the “Web Developer” plugin.

    Then you can visit any web page and click “View Source” and then “View Frame Source”. And if it’s got a merchants site or network url listed then you know there is an iframe being used no matter how small.

    Reply
  19. Brett August 20, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    There is a case for IFRAMES for discount code sites. I have discussed my approach with Kier at WG and he was ok with it.

    The benefit to the end user is they don’t have to start writing down codes because they are visible alongside or above the merchant site. But it needs to be done right…..

    Basically in my directory it clearly states “Choose a voucher to see the code and the retailers website” (which other sites also do)

    Which means the user has chosen to see the site and the voucher code above it.

    The offer.php page then opens with the details at the top and the website in an iframe below.

    However……if a user arrives at offer.php via google or another method which means they didn’t choose to see the website then they will only see details of the voucher code and not the iframe containing the merchant site.

    The iframe is substituted with a link saying – click here if you’d like to see the ‘Dixons’ website.

    Brett

    Reply
  20. Adam Ross August 21, 2007 at 11:08 pm

    Hi Jason

    Excellent article. Allow me to take this opportunity to clarify Affiliate Window’s position on this issue.

    Our terms and conditions , available from our affiliate signup page clearly state in clause 4.4 that

    “Any
    Link placed must not mislead any Visitor and be placed with the Intention of
    delivering Valid Clicks to the related Merchant for that Link.”

    We do not advocate the use of any post impression cookie dropping and affiliates found promoting this way are asked to change to a method compliant with our terms and conditions or have commissions withheld.

    We do our utmost to police this sort of activity as part of our ongoing effort to protect legitimate affiliate earnings and our commitment to merchants to deliver incremental growth through affiliate marketing.

    For the time being, we rely on affiliates to inform us when they see this happening and this has achieved positive results so far. We are working on an adaptation of our Spyware monitoring tool, which will help us to automatically detect this in the future.

    Thank you for bringing these sites to my attention. One has already been spoken to and committed to a change, the other will be contacted on my return to the office.

    If anyone wishes to report similar activity, give me a shout using my details below and we will investigate immediately.

    Adam Ross
    Client Services Director
    Affiliate Window

    Tel: 020 8269 4852
    Email: adam@affiliatewindow.com
    MSN: adam_ross31@hotmail.com

    Reply
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  23. Bill September 23, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Still a very bad offender..

    Using iframes to force clicks on EVERY retailer on this site. Needs to be stopped!

    Jiemin Gu at http://www.everydaysale.co.uk

    COME ON MERCHANTS and NETWORKS – Sort it!
    Do we need to do all this work for you?

    Jiemin Gu, founder, Everydaysale Tel: 07876 335 918 / 01926 311 239

    Email: jiemin@everydaysale.co.uk

    Reply
  24. uvme December 15, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    It is poor form to cover the codes with ads and ad publishers should take a much closer look at how their ads are displayed on websites and dealing with obvious offenders appropriately.

    Reply
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  26. Affiliate Marketing Tips For Beginners April 8, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    This just makes me worry about the future of this business. If this practice of forced clicks via i frames continues, enough surfers will start to notice and complain. That will just result in government bodies jumping in with their big regulations boots on.

    Cookie stuffing, via iframes or whatever else, shows evidence of desperation on the affiliate marketers side. There are those who are in affiliate marketing to build a business, and then there are those who just want to make a quick buck

    In the long run, black hat just does not work

    Reply
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  28. Carl April 17, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    It’s good to see that 6 months on this post has had an definate effect on forced click behaviour by affiliates as the more responsible ones look to take an ethical approach.

    Reply
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