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?