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Merchant asks top affiliate to stop ranking for brand keywords
PPC keyword bidding terms imposed on organic search?

 9:27 am on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

I've been promoting a merchant for a while now and I do very well at it. I generate tens of thousands of pounds for them in sales every month.

I got an email from them today asking me to alter my SEO to stop ranking for brand name keywords (they said to stop showing up in the top 10 listings) as it's affecting their natural sales and it's "unfair on their other affiliates who drive sales through more pro-active methods" (their words, no clue what pro active means). They've given me until June 1st as deadline (that's 3 business days).

To clarify, we are not talking about PPC, we are talking about organic traffic. Their terms only cover "banned keywords" when referring to PPC.

One issue I have with this is fairness. How is how is imposing this restriction on their top affiliate fair in any way shape or form when their OTHER affiliates can still employ all SEO means to attract organic traffic?!

In all honesty, I don't know how to respond. They are an important revenue source for me and my bottom line will be seriously affected if this partnership ends but I will survive.

It is their business and their program so I don't have much leverage here. They will do what they want. Any suggestions on how to respond?



 10:35 am on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Is their brand trademarked or have any other legal sole rights to the brand names? If they don't, I wouldn't worry about it too much. In the meantime, get in touch with their competitors and see if they'd like the traffic and sales generated even if they don't have an affiliate program. You could always cut a deal.

If you do get a deal with another competitor, go back to original company and let them know that if they don't want your traffic, one of their competitors will.


 10:58 am on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Their brand is trademarked but does this mean they can impose restrictions on showing up in organic search for the terms? I'm not up to date with things but are there precedents for this?

And what they seem to be doing is that they want to impose this restriction on ME only, not on all of their affiliates (how is that fair?!). There is nothing in their terms and conditions which mentiones organic search, only PPC.

I am already an affiliate of their other competitor, it doesn't convert anywhere near as well but hey... I have options.


 11:05 am on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

First thing to tell them is to call Google - you don't rank your site, Google does. The fact that you're ranking is an unfortunate coincidence over which you have no control. Which is also true.

Then I'd rip their stuff off my site and go with a competitor. You're feeling the heat because one of their offline vendors has squeezed them and instead of telling those people to compete, they're going to kill your business.


 11:13 am on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Build a list from the traffic you receive and use it later to promote a competitors product.


 11:20 am on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the advice. Just finished the email (took me 2 hours to write!). I made all of these points, including Google, and how natural search works, including telling them I'll send this qualified traffic to their major competitor. All very tactful.

I do feel that they are not actually knowledgeable about how search engines work and some other affiliate complained (they only have online ticket sales). This is the result.

It all comes down to whether they're happy to lose £65k worth of monthly sales over this. But keep arguments and ideas coming as this is isn't over by far.

I'm particularly baffled by their comment that it's affecting their natural sales. How could they possibly determine that?!


 11:23 am on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Incidently 2 weeks ago I was rewarded for being their top affiliate for march/april. Now they're looking to shoot the same affiliate down.


 11:45 am on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Now they're looking to shoot the same affiliate down.

Be clear, this is what they're doing. And I suspect their mind is made up. You should be prepared, I doubt that your email will do anything. And if it does, best case it's going to delay the inevitable.

Losing your sales has already been decided and they're OK with it. Some people are like that.

I had a vendor that wouldn't let anyone sell online. Of course my competitors were selling them online, which left me at a competitive disadvantage. I've actually got an email from them stating that not only do they not do that, they had no plans to change that in the future. I finally convinced them just last month to let me sell their products online officially. I'm the only company in this country officially allowed to do so, and only because my processes are extremely compliant (companies in my niche use my model as the basis for their online sales guidelines). And that's in 2011 - first vendor ever allowed to sell their products online. That's what happens when you have people making decisions where the consequences don't affect their pay.

I had another company a year or two ago that agreed to let me sell their product. I sold a few thousand, then prior to shipping they changed their mind about online sales. Not only would they not take any new orders, they refused to ship the sales I'd already made. Imagine the happy customers. Then six months later they approach me as they've reconsidered and would like me to offer their products. I'm getting cranky again just writing about it.

And I've had other incidents like that. None of them end well.

Personally, as I already stated, when a company starts talking about online vs offline, you should move on - cut all ties with them as fast as you can. You stand to get screwed otherwise - they're clearly not in your corner.

[edited by: wheel at 11:54 am (utc) on May 26, 2011]


 11:46 am on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Well, you're in their radar one way or another, so I feel it would benefit you to start working on your backup plan for the site. Someone, somewhere, has taken the time to figure out why you are the top affiliate, and in their eyes, it's because you outrank the company itself!

In their eyes... they are using the eBay Partner network philosophy, that they are paying you for affiliate sales they would naturally get on their own, if you didn't exist. (We ALL know this is not true, you worked to get where you are)

Interestingly enough, you might consider a different tact on it and sell them seo services, for 100% more than you earn as an affiliate! If they are a "brand" and you outrank them with an affiliate website, it sounds like they may need some seo and site work anyhow!


 11:57 am on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Nah, don't offer them SEO services. Take your top ranking pages for their products and rebuild them with a comparison page that shows a side by side of their products with the new product you're offering from their competitor. Don't lose the traffic you've got, just redirect it.


 12:05 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Another great idea for sure Wheel. One thing I've not seen mentioned...

Is there any possible way that your website could be mistaken for their brand itself? Is there any reference to their brand in the domain name?

Assuming they are Foo Shoes for instance, you aren't using a domain like cheapfooshoes+com, or ANYTHING at all with the word "foo" in it are you?


 12:25 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Nope, no chance of my domain name being mistaken for their brand name.

There is a distinct difference between them and their main competitor -- they sell low-cost tickets, whereas the competitor sells regular tickets so it's not like-for-like by any means as customers are driven primarily by cost and not service when buying this particular service.

Also not planning to offer SEO, my time is better spent diversifying and going for new programs to make up for this drop in revenue which will then generate passive income.

I'm fortunate to have always operated from a mindset of uncertainty -- "everything can go downhill tomorrow so save, save, save!". My costs are very low and I have no employees. I also have a nice savings cushion and even with this important revenue stream gone I will still do reasonably well (though clearly not as well).

In some ways I welcome this new challenge as I was getting too comfortable and "blah I don't care", and the better I did the less motivated I felt.


 12:49 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Sorry I don't have anything better to offer. But I wouldn't let the stream dry up - just find some other way to monetize the traffic.

Maybe even call the competitor, tell them the other company is getting stupid (be open) and ask them if they'd like to buy your site :). Let the competitor figure out what they want to do with it.

Because the position you're in is you've got a website that ranks for someone's products where you have no ties to that company or their products (and perhaps even a bit of animosity towards them). So now how do you monetize?


 7:26 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Just to update everyone that this merchant has replied saying they will update their terms and conditions

"we also request that your site does not list within the first 10 search results as a product of the use of the term ‘brand name’ our associated brand names, competitor brand names or any other permutations of this including, but not limited to, the attached list. This extends to the use of our brand name in your URL."

I'm speechless.

How much do you want to bet I will be the only affiliate they enforce this with?


 7:33 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

You already know one of the answers

All things come to an end, it would appear that they have competition , ergo a path beckons


 7:43 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

I know... I'm fighting a losing battle here. Their mind is made up.


 8:25 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Isn't it nice that they updated their TOS just for you?YOu can bet they won't use that for anyone else.


 8:51 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

if you're really going to lose a lot of money, and you're making pots of money for them, maybe you could renegotiate the rate?

the only reason they are doing this is because they think they are paying you too much money in sales. so if you offer to drop from 10% to 5%, or whatever, maybe they'll be satisfied.

if they refuse then i would quit their program and keep the page anyway. there's no point wasting the traffic. and who knows, maybe the visitors who drop by will end up buying something else.


 9:07 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

I have an idea but I can't talk about it. But I never would have come up for it without the WebmasterWorld training experience ;)


 9:17 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

legal or not, they can cut you off as an affiliate.


 9:25 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

I know walkman. As it is, I won't be an affiliate of theirs anyway. Whether they cut me off or not makes little difference. I intend to comply to their terms to the letter.


 9:34 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Do you have an affiliate manager or other contact you can talk to directly (forget e-mail)? Depending on the size of the company, you're e-mail might not be going above the lowest level peon who only knows how to blindly follow rules and has no vested interest in keeping you around to continue to make money for the company.

However, if you get the same attitude from the top, then most definitely take your traffic elsewhere.


 9:58 pm on May 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks LifeinAsia. This has come straight from the top.

Redirecting traffic to competitor is my plan for now. Their competitor will definitely appreciate the traffic.


 9:29 am on May 27, 2011 (gmt 0)

Nice one. Channel traffic to a competitor. That's what I would advise.

Perhaps be blunt about it too! Tell them "Thank you for our past co-operation. However, we feel that we have no alternative but to end our relationship given your new T&Cs. We have decided to work with alternative suppliers who will be more responsive to our work."

Whatever you do don't say we'll take a cut. You're the one who should be negotiating an increase! Not the other way round. You hold the cards and make sure they know it!


 10:33 am on May 27, 2011 (gmt 0)

I'm also refer traffic to this affiliate and I have received the same updated 'SEO Policy' this morning.

I only refer a very small amount of traffic to this affiliate and I don't rank particularly well for their branded terms, so it's not really going to affect me. However, I do worry about the precedent that this sets. There are plenty of other affiliate programmes that, if they adopted this same policy, would affect me greatly.

As a general question - is anyone else aware of similar terms being imposed on organic SERPs by any other affiliate programme?

hairycoo - I hope things work out for you and that you manage to utilise the traffic to gain sales elsewhere. I think your mantra of "everything can go downhill tomorrow so save, save, save!" is a very sensible approach in the world of affiliate marketing. Nobody knows what's around the corner. Best of luck!


 11:04 am on May 27, 2011 (gmt 0)

mattya I wouldn't worry, they won't impose this across the board :). I also worry about this setting a precedent but I trust that the market will regulate itself. Any affiliate program with such a SEO policy has its days numbered.


 11:44 am on May 27, 2011 (gmt 0)

So basically it sounds like they only want affiliates who are willing to BUY the traffic that they're too cheap to buy themselves?

Sounds like you're taking the smart way out of this - best of luck to you!


 5:38 pm on May 29, 2011 (gmt 0)

i differ with many here... if your seo is aimed at exploiting their brand name, you don't represent value to them. if you're not exploiting their name, then i see this as a bad, self-injuring move on their part. so i can see times when you'd be rightfully upset, and times when that would apply to them. you are their partner - they see your seo skills out maneuvering them, you might align your interests and theirs, and offer to talk about doing some seo consulting with them, just a thought.


 10:28 pm on Jun 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

First thing to tell them is to call Google - you don't rank your site, Google does. The fact that you're ranking is an unfortunate coincidence over which you have no control. Which is also true.

I ran into an example around this a while back with a corporation that engaged attorney's to prevent organic and bidding on their brand name. The results were better than theirs and it disrupted their distribution franchises. They didn't want the onpage / meta content to include their brand name, so ranking and bidding became a partial consequence of this.

It was a juicy dispute, but in the end wasn't commercially worth the distraction , so money talked and the branding was removed.


 7:18 pm on Jun 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

I intend to comply to their terms to the letter.
If you are going to sever your ties with them which is the reasonable thing to do, why on earth would you "comply with their terms"?

If you are not an affiliate of theirs and they have already pretty much made it clear they don't want you, then there is no legal reason to comply with anything that pertains to their affiliate terms.

Remove all their links, and send that traffic elsewhere.

Why should you lose a good source of income just because they suddenly became greedy?

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