Affiliate Program Policies

By , November 8, 2007

This is a quick summary of the “program policies” that I frequently recommend that advertisers (merchants) consider when creating or updating their “affiliate program.”

  1. PPC & Trademark Bidding: Many merchants restrict the ability of affiliates to use “Pay-Per-Click Search” on Google AdWords and elsewhere to promote the merchants’ products or services.
    • Direct-to-Merchant PPC: Some merchants prohibit affiliates from engaging in “direct-to-merchant PPC” bidding, in which the affiliate creates text ads that send traffic directly to the merchant site (using an affiliate link). Since the affiliate’s ad has the same destination domain as the merchant’s ads, it’s possible that the affiliate ads will be shown instead of the merchant’s own ads. Normally, I recommend that merchants allow direct-to-merchant PPC. However, if you pay an outside firm to manager your PPC bidding, you should carefully evaluate whether to allow or prohibit affiliate “direct-to-merchant PPC” bidding.
    • Trademark Bidding: Nearly all merchants identify specific “trademark” keywords and phrases which affiliates are prohibited from bidding on; this information can be specially posted on ShareASale.
      • I would recommend that in addition to identifying specific trademark terms that cannot be bid, you should also require that affiliates engaged in PPC bidding add the keywords as “negative keywords” for all applicable campaigns. (Otherwise, an affiliate may honor your request not to bid on “MerchantName.com” but if the affiliate bids on the word “widgets” then their ad may still appear in a search for “MerchantName.com widgets.”)
      • Some merchants choose not to prohibit affiliate trademark bidding, because otherwise the merchant’s competitors can more easily and cheaply bid on those terms. Most merchants would prefer to have an affiliate site appear, instead of a competitor’s site.
      • Some merchants allow affiliates to bid on trademark keywords when promoting their own site, but not in “direct-to-merchant” PPC. Other merchants may have the opposite policy (allowing “direct-to-merchant PPC” trademark bidding, but no trademark bidding if traffic is sent to the affiliate site).
  2. Employees-As-Affiliates Policy: You should consider adding a specific policy regarding the enrollment of employees or contractors as affiliates. Your employees should not be allowed to “double-dip” by receiving compensation twice for generating transactions. In addition, your affiliates may be upset if they believe that your employees are unfairly competing or “poaching” affiliate commissions. Any policy (and possibly the affiliate agreement also) should specifically address the permissibility of an employees’ “friends or family” enrolling as an affiliate, as well as the use of “fake identities” to improperly accrue affiliate earnings.
  3. Affiliates With No Web Sites: Some “direct-to-merchant PPC” affiliates don’t have any active web sites; other affiliates may seek to join your affiliate program before creating a web site. Your affiliate manager must decide whether to accept or reject prospective affiliates who have no active web sites, or those who have no “relevant” web sites. My normal practice has been to routinely reject applications from affiliates who have no working web site, unless they identify some specific reason.


  1. Issues That Might Lead a Merchant to NOT Offer a Public Affiliate Program (Negatives)
  2. Public vs. Private Affiliate Programs
  3. What Factors Do Publishers (Affiliates) Consider When Selecting Advertisers (Merchants)?
  4. Affiliate Technology & Network Choice
  5. My Usual Recommendations (for Merchants planning an affiliate program)
  6. Affiliate Recruitment Strategies and Practices
  7. Captive and Stealth Affiliates
  8. Affiliate Program Policies
  9. Outsourced Program Management (OPM) for Affiliate Programs
  10. Selling the Affiliate Program
  11. Types of Affiliates (Web Publishers)

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