A Change at Commission Junction Raises Affiliate Ire

If the Web forums are any indication, Commission Junction dropped a bomb on the affiliate publishers in its network Wednesday. And all it took was for the affiliate network to announce to its publisher clients that it would be switching from using HTML links to advertiser sites to using JavaScript links.

That means when the ValueClick-owned company implements the shift, the search lights illuminating countless Web pages in its network — pages that link to e-commerce retailer sites — will go dark if affiliates haven’t made the change. And the prospect of either swapping all those links or losing the revenue they generate has some affiliates stressed.

This Wednesday the online message boards frequented by affiliate marketers began to light up after Commission Junction sent out an email missive regarding its Link Management Initiative, the initial phase of a multi-pronged effort. Visitors to the ABestWeb Affiliate Marketing Forum were less than pleased with the news, anticipating a lot of drudgery when exchanging all the links on all their sites. One wrote, “I don’t even want to think about the work involved in switching out thousands of legacy links across all our websites.” Another put it more bluntly: “good bye CJ, it’s been fun.”

“Every time there’s a change, it’s going to cause a little bit of noise… We anticipated that,” commented Frank Gerstenderger, director of product management at Commission Junction. Gerstenderger stressed that those legacy links won’t be disabled for months. In fact, he said the company will notify clients six months in advance before the links go dead; that announcement will come “sometime in near future.”

The JavaScript links will be introduced on June 23. According to Gerstenderger, affiliates that link to advertiser offers through emails or search marketing will continue to use HTML links since email clients and search engines don’t support JavaScript. Also, affiliates will be divided into email, search or site segments so advertisers can better market particular programs to particular consumers. Gerstenderger noted that affiliates can be included in any and all of the segments. As for the potential loss of affiliates due to the switch, he estimated, “I don’t think we’ll lose anything significant.”

Those old HTML links provided by Commission Junction track traffic from affiliate sites to retailer sites, creating revenue for affiliates when consumers click on them or make purchases as a result. By disabling those links and creating new JavaScript links, Commission Junction is taking the reins to an advertising vehicle that has spun out of control as more and more affiliates have created sites almost exclusively with the intent of creating affiliate ad revenue. Because JavaScript links are dynamic, Commission Junction can alter them to feature new advertiser offers or turn them on and off if an affiliate doesn’t drive enough traffic or misbehaves.

Griping like what’s taking place in the ABestWeb forum “is exactly what Commission Junction wants to happen and exactly what advertisers that work with Commission Junction want to happen,” Jeff Molander, CEO of affiliate marketing consulting firm Molander and Associates, told ClickZ News. In other words, affiliates that have started so-called “link farms” or sites with little content beyond revenue-generating links, are of questionable value to advertisers who would rather not be affiliated with such low-quality sites.

“Now we’re seeing affiliate networks breaking away and saying, ‘No, affiliate marketing isn’t about mom and pop sites anymore…Advertisers have found that working with mom and pop sites has been problematic,” observed Molander.

Advertisers are not pleased to find poorly-designed affiliate sites listing incorrect information appearing in search engine results for their brand name goods. Indeed, some believe Commission Junction has put forth this effort to help search engines rid results pages of low quality affiliate site clutter, the kind of thing that isn’t necessarily valuable to consumers either.

“I think this is a big win for Commission Junction,” opined Molander. “Commission Junction is eliminating the poorly executed affiliate sites, and at the same time they’re pleasing Google.” Pacifying advertisers and search engines by eliminating link farms is “not what’s driving [the Link Management Initiative] at all,” countered Gerstenderger. Instead, he insisted, because the JavaScript links will enable dynamic alterations, the changeover will lessen the number of future changes for affiliates. “We’re trying to give more value for our clients,” he continued. “At the end of the day our success is tied to the success of our publishers and advertisers.”

The company plans on providing affiliates with more information, technical details and training, said Gerstenderger, adding, “We don’t want it to be too disruptive to their businesses.”

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