If you’ve had your ears to the ground recently, you’ve probably heard quite a bit of discussion on the murky business of shaving and scrubbing. No, I’m not talking personal hygiene but rather the constant struggle for transparency between affiliates, networks and advertisers.
People will bitch and moan about these issues until they’re blue in the face. But you’ve gotta know what you’re dealing with before you throw the toys out of the pram. And most publishers refuse to see both sides of the story.
No affiliate likes being scrubbed, and no affiliate likes getting the shave-o treatment. But it happens and it’s probably happening to you right now.
Scrubbing is a widely used tactic by both networks and advertisers. You might never know that your leads are getting scrubbed until it reaches such a point that your profits are turning in to losses. On the network side, this works by simply scrubbing out some of your leads. You might be pushing through 100 leads a day, but only 95 are showing up in your stats because there’s a 5% scrub going on behind the scenes.
The network will usually only resort to scrubbing if it’s concerned that the quality of the leads you’re sending is low. I’ve heard of advertisers striking up contractual agreements that a scrub is applied across the boards to every affiliate on that network for a particular offer. This is generally a precaution taken to compensate for the poor leads that a certain set of publishers might be sending.
Zip submits and short email submits are the widely used example of a vertical which has been brought to it’s knees by excessive scrubbing. If you push a lead through which is already registered on the system, you’re going to get scrubbed. If your leads don’t meet the quality criteria that the advertiser has in place to make a tidy profit, they’ll scrub you until the margins add up.
As for shaving, this is a much darker area. Once again, it happens with both advertisers and networks. While most of us affiliates who’ve been doing this for a while have come to expect advertisers shaving leads, you can bet that there’s gonna be a backlash if it’s discovered on the network side.
Shaving is where the advertiser simply doesn’t report a certain percentage of leads. It can get even murkier when you start having networks taking a cut to go along with the shaving – and yes, ultimately it’s the affiliate who gets fucked over.
It’s long been suggested that Direct Track – one of the most popular systems used for lead tracking – has a built-in function which can automatically shave leads to a set percentage. I can’t speak on the subject for sure because I’ve never had access to the software and I’ve heard mixed reports on that being the case. Don’t be fooled though. Many advertisers will REFUSE to run an offer with a network unless there’s a percentage of leads shaved from the final payout.
More recently, some of the lesser known networks have gotten real aggressive when it comes to using the scrub and shave tactics. But they do it in such a way that you’ll barely notice a difference in your profit margins. They do it by simply offering higher payouts.
What’s the number one way to bait a fresh inexperienced affiliate? It’s probably something along the lines of “Oh hey dude, we offer the same Acai berries, but with a few extra bucks thrown on top.”
The affiliate thinks he’s getting a stellar deal and switches network. Now the network has to balance the books and actually sustain it’s own margins. So what you’ll normally see is a small but significant scrub. The affiliate won’t notice a massive change because although the conversion percentages are down, the higher payout keeps everything even. The network wins because that’s one more affiliate working for them that would have been working for somebody else.
Network issues like this are generally pretty straight forward to resolve. You should be actively split testing your offers to see how they perform when funneled by different networks. You could spend a whole year promoting Offer X and making $2.50 EPC, only to switch to a different network and see it bumped by 30 or 40 cents. Those margins add up over time.
It’s also important to network and stay in touch with affiliates who are working the same verticals. Believe me, put a bunch of guys making $xx,xxx/day in the same chat window and they’ll soon smell a rat when a network starts getting dirty.
I try to avoid the issue by only working with networks where I know the guys at the top are just as serious as the affiliates when it comes to these type of issues. I recommend Convert2Media on the simple basis that Ruck will fuck any advertiser that tries to put a foot out of line straight up it’s ass.
So what can we actually do about the bigger picture as affiliates?
Step one – look at things from the advertiser’s perspective.
This entire system is not designed to fit in with an affiliate’s ROI. We are the tiny fish in a massive pond. While it’s feasible that lawsuits could be bounced around where proof is had, you’ve gotta understand that the affiliate is much lower in the food chain than the network and the advertiser.
The only real way we can negotiate the scrub and shave is by providing what the advertiser really wants. What the advertiser is paying your ass to bring in the first place…quality leads.
You’re never going to weed out the shadiest advertisers who scrub for the sake of greed, and shave for the sake of upgrading a yacht. But in many cases, the advertisers are resorting to underhanded tactics because affiliates are providing low quality leads.
Low quality leads? How do we know what we’re sending? It’s all just sales and clicks right? No, it all goes back to the presell. How honest have you been in promoting an offer?
I was promoting an offer which was converting around 14% just a month or so ago. Without any warning, that dropped to under 5% overnight. I wasn’t the only one. Wickedfire members caught on pretty quick and it soon became apparent that one particular advertiser had decided to pull the shave-o trigger. This royally decimated the EPC’s for a lot of high flying affiliates. It happened on a reputable network so I think we can say for sure that the advertiser was acting on it’s own accord.
Of course, this just so happened to coincide with a warning that was sent out to all networks about promoting more than one offer on a page. To use the Google bizopps as an example, many affiliates decided to upsell an eBay work at home opportunity. Worse yet, some idiots decided to promote TWO Google bizopps on the same page in a way that suggested that the customer somehow needed both products to get maximum value.
Now, issuing a rebill on a Google offer is pretty unnecessary in itself. The information is all there once you make the purchase. You’re not getting anything new at the end of every month. Misleading customers in to signing up for two of the same thing…it’s kamikaze marketing if you give a shit about the quality of your leads.
Can you imagine how pissed off that customer is going to be when he discovers that he’s being charged $150 or so monthly for two products when they’re essentially the same and he’s getting nothing extra for his subscription in the first place?
Naturally, that customer is going to be on the phone canceling his order faster than you can refresh stats.
Cancellations and poor quality leads might seem pretty irrelevant to you. It doesn’t matter if a customer cancels if you get your $36, right?
That’s a completely destructive attitude to have as an affiliate. Can you blame the advertiser for wanting to shave the hair off your ass if you’re sending them leads that are not only going to cancel, but are going to be ranting expletives on the phone while they do so?
No, the advertiser is soon going to catch on. That’s exactly what happened recently when my conversions fell from 14% to 5%.
The advertiser looked over their financial sheets for the last few months and did some high school maths. They obviously decided that a little shaving was necessary to boost profit margins and that’s exactly what they did. A few affiliates taking a completely destructive approach to acquiring leads via any means necessary completed raped the rest of us out of the market.
Widespread shaving on that level is quite rare. But if you don’t want to be target number one when the advertiser points at a subid to shave in to the ground, take a little more pride and care over the leads that you’re sending. If they’re not good for the advertiser’s business, believe you me, they’re not good for YOUR business. And we’ll all feel the consequences as a result.