Are Affiliate Toolbars and Browser Extensions Helping or Hurting Your Cause?

Whether you love or loathe them, it’s clear that toolbars and browser extensions are here to stay, and as affiliates discover new and innovative ways to capitalize on this evolving technology, affiliate marketing managers and networks will continue to evaluate the best ways to effectively utilize and incorporate them into their programs.

The Performance Marketing Association hosted its second roundtable discussion on LinkedIn to tackle this hot button issue. In the session, LinkConnector Co-Founder Choots Humphries, and performance marketing veterans Mayrena Tavarez and Scott Wanamaker traded insights around the benefits and drawbacks of working with affiliate toolbars and browsers extensions. Here are a few of the questions that the group covered:

Should you work with affiliate toolbars and browser extensions?

Scott acknowledged that this is not a simple, cut-and-dry question. On a high level, he is willing to work with these affiliates, but he takes it on a case-by-case basis, both with his clients and with the affiliates themselves. Ultimately it comes down to value. Specifically, he asks “what is the value that the partner brings, beyond just the toolbar.”

May agreed with Scott’s assessment, adding that she uses the launch process as an opportunity to fully understand and evaluate each merchant’s specific needs, which in turn helps to determine if browser and toolbar affiliates would be an appropriate fit. When these affiliates first appeared several years ago, May initially declined to work with them until she could fully recognize their value. Now that she has a complete understanding of the value adds, she can pick and choose which of these affiliates are worth working with and which would benefit her clients the most.

Choots added that a key responsibility for networks is to educate advertisers on the various available affiliate model opportunities, and this certainly includes affiliate toolbars and extensions. Like May, he was unwilling to work with these affiliates in the early days due to their predatory practices aimed at gathering cookies with little to no input from, or value to the user. This, however, has since changed, with many toolbars and browser affiliates now adding value and interactivity to the user experience in ways that stretch beyond the webpage. Choots, also points out that in today’s landscape, excluding browser extensions will likely put you behind your competition.

What are some of your main concerns with toolbar and browser affiliates?

May identified several top concerns, the first of which is the cannibalization of sales, as existing customers and direct visitors to a merchant’s site are being fed coupon codes during the checkout process. This also hurts other coupon affiliates, as customers no longer feel the need to search outside of a merchant’s site for better deals. Additionally, May lists attribution concerns, the loss of incremental revenue, and the lack of understanding of how the toolbars and extensions work as major problems that these types of affiliates can bring.

Scott posed another concern, which is the negative impact that these affiliates can have on the user’s shopping experience. Users are already frustrated with the number of pop-up ads that they are confronted with on many merchant sites, and these toolbars and extensions, which often act in a similar manner to pop-ups, can add to that frustration, especially if the user doesn’t understand how they work. Also, trying to figure out which affiliates provide legitimate value and which are simply predatory can pose a serious challenge for retailers.

Choots expanded on the concern that browser and toolbar affiliates can cannibalize other affiliate marketing efforts by pointing out that many merchants place a premium value on content and influencer affiliates, and ultimately feel that browser and toolbar affiliates add a “current that they have to swim across” to accomplish their goals. The second most common concern that he sees is the perceived lack of value to the transaction, as merchants may overlook the fact that toolbars and browser extensions often keep consumers from seeking out more competitive deals elsewhere and minimize their chances of encountering alternate buying solutions outside of the merchant’s site.

How can you identify a legitimate toolbar or browser extension affiliate?

May explained that establishing direct communication with potential partners is essential (this is true for all types of affiliates). Another indicator is reputation – what is the industry buzz saying? Research on your potential partner should uncover feedback, both positive and negative, and you may be able to request information like case studies to further assist in the decision-making process.

Choots stressed the importance of collaborating with your agency and/or network to become better educated, identify trusted partners, and establish a standard for which affiliate partners you are willing to work with. Networks can provide attribution data that shows the incremental value that an affiliate brings. A legitimate affiliate often provides a variety of involvement in the sale from the first to the last click. And, another strong indicator of legitimacy is user interaction with the toolbar or browser extension, beyond installation.

Scott feels that worthwhile partners often provide additional value gains such as newsletters and cashback offers for users. And, great partners often look beyond the merchant’s site and target competitor sites to win back traffic and customers with better offers.

How can we improve the value of our relationships with affiliate toolbars and browser extensions?

For Choots, it’s all about relationships. By creating solid partnerships with trusted toolbar and browsers affiliates, advertisers have more control over the user experience and more control over how the brand is represented.

May added that in forming transparent relationships with these affiliates, you can regulate the coupon codes, which allows you to maintain a competitive advantage in a very crowded market.

Scott mentioned the importance of addressing commissions. While the last touch nature of browser extension and toolbar affiliates may not warrant the premium commission of say a content or influencer affiliate, it’s important to recognize their value and compensate them fairly.

Ultimately the group agreed that the key takeaways in deciding whether to work with a coupon or browser affiliate are to keep an open mind, form meaningful relationships with potential partners, do your research, and use data to make informed decisions.

This marked another information-packed PMA roundtable discussion on LinkedIn, but there is much more to be said about affiliate toolbars and browser extensions. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, we would love to share our knowledge and expertise with you. Email us at [email protected] to get the conversation going.

To view the full round table discussion, click here.

The Performance Marketing Association is a non-profit trade association that has been representing the performance marketing industry since 2008. The PMA’s mission is to champion and protect accountable performance marketing.

To learn more about the PMA, click here.

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