Q: I need to know what to look at to check that affiliates aren’t engaging in cookie stuffing and other problem behaviors. How is this done?
A: I’d like to preface this by saying that I am not an expert in sleuthing for cookie stuffing. I know some things about it, but one of the main ways that I keep up on the methods for stuffing cookies and some of the big perpetrators is by keeping an eye on the affiliate marketing message boards.
That said, there are many ways that affiliates effectively stuff cookies, and some are widely considered to be acceptable by affiliate programs, while others are strictly taboo.
A few years ago, I was speaking with a big casino program affiliate at an Affiliate Force conference, and he told me how he was making massive earnings with the affiliate programs by using IFRAMES.
Basically, he would join all of the big affiliate programs, and set up the IFRAME code to feature the affiliate links as 1×1 pixels. This way, when people hit his site, they would be cookied by all of the affiliate programs in the IFRAME without ever noticing a thing.
You can recognize this sort of behavior by looking at the source code of the affiliate’s site and searching for the word: IFRAME. Also, when you hit their page, look at the status area at the bottom of your browser – if you see tons of different URLs loading in, that could be a another sign of cookie stuffing.
And then there are two of the more mainstream methods: pop-ups and pop-unders. While these are generally considered to be acceptable forms of marketing (aside from being annoying), they are stuffing cookies. The end user isn’t requesting to see the page of the company that is popping up or under, but they are getting a cookie anyway.
There are other methods, too. And the scammers are always innovating new ways to beat the system, so it’s essential to constantly learn about the new methods.
Take a look at Ben Edelman’s site, http://www.benedelman.org, for more details on cookie stuffing and other tricky methods used by online marketers to generate affiliate commissions.
There is also an upcoming service called AffiliateFairPlay that “will provide Compliance Testing Results and will assess various mechanisms utilized by affiliates to invoke tracking mechanisms and the conditions utilized to invoke the tracking.”