Q&A With Chris Tragett, Two Decades of Affiliate Marketing Expertise


I’ve known Chris for a long time, and I’ve always been impressed by his knowledge of the affiliate and performance marketing industry.

He’s the co-founder of Publish Discovery, which helps create artificial intelligence, marketing analytics, and machine learning for affiliates to help them grow their businesses while paving their way in the affiliate industry.

Moreover, he serves on the Board of Directors of the Performance Marketing Association. With his 20+ years of experience in the affiliate industry, he has also been the founding member of buy.at affiliate network which was sold to AOL and then Awin.

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Chris Tradgett,  CMO and Founder of Publisher Discovery currently marketing adviser at Moonpull. Have been in and around affiliate for around 20 years, initially with the buy.at network (incorporated into Awin in 2009-10); with experience client side and in developing tools for affiliates with Publisher Discovery and now also Moonpull. My chief focus at present is in development and marketing of Moonpull globally.

Why is affiliate marketing still considered often the dark side of the advertising industry, even though many reputable brands use it to promote their products
The term ‘affiliate marketing’ because it is primarily a payment model (not a channel) has become the label used for a huge variety of affiliate/partnership/publisher activity. 20 years ago, when I got into the industry it was a simpler place and was largely simple websites linking via the few networks that had launched by then. Affiliate now encompasses everything from that simple ecommerce referrals with reviewers and couponers via the networks, through lead generation campaigns to gaming referrals often using bespoke tracking. As to the affiliates; they have developed, so we now have SEO and search specialists, email marketers, database managers, app developers, bloggers and influencers – the affiliate ‘model’ is active across all marketing channels

You have mentioned before that you believe that as much as 25% of third party cookie transactions in affiliate marketing are lost. Why do you believe this? 
As we know, third-party cookie tracking has been under attack for a while and currently Firefox and Safari and all of iOS block third party cookies. Based on recent estimates of cookie acceptance / management / blocking and network policies, this is an estimate based on European markets. When Google eventually deprecates them, currently Oct 2023, this will rise further, with only a few instances in which they will work. 

The issue also affects first-party cookies (read more in this article) and up to 14% of tracking is likely to fail; 5% from tracking set up issues (deeplinks, 404 and other issues) and a further 9% from declined or managed user cookie consent. First-party cookies (also required during js and server tracking) vary as some advertisers may treat an affiliate cookie as a ‘necessary’ rather than ‘marketing’ cookie.

The issue is less of an problem across the US market at present, though with CCPA-style legislation being adopted across other states, it will increase in importance. 

Where are most of the affiliate transactions lost? (ie, in the shopping cart) and why? This varies across advertisers. In almost all cases, tracking providers do an excellent job, though the pressure on the tech teams at advertisers to manage the ever-increasing tech stack driving and reporting in their websites means regular changes to their website structure. This may be anything from amending a GA tag through to website architecture and any of these changes can inadvertently amend or break affiliate tracking. Something like PPC breaking will be noticed fast – as it costs $$$ – where affiliate tracking gets broken, it may not be noticed for days and has a less immediate $$ impact.

Based on recent examples Moonpull has audited these include
– tracking correctly on home and category pages or a mobile phone advertiser; tracking breaks in the deep links to handsets as soon as add to basket is hit
– advertiser with multiple campaign IDs via one network, but the advertiser has used a single ID across all the javascript tags 
– tracking breaking where a product is not found and goes to a 404 and tracking parameters get dropped
– publisher inadvertently hand coding a link with advertiser A and added a deep-link to Advertiser B

Many of these more technical issues can only be picked up in developer tools – or at scale using Moonpull.

What is the solution to making affiliate tracking more reliable?
There is no simple answer but most are down to attention to detail as the examples illustrate. Against that is pressure to perform – and that applies to affiliates, networks, affiliate managers, OPMs, and the techies who implement and enable the technologies to work.

Why is affiliate tracking often considered “light” tracking and why hasn’t the aff industry embraced behavior marketing?
One of the beauties of the affiliate model is its inherent simplicity at its basic level. Nuance can be introduced but basically, any website owner or blogger can pick up a link to track a referral.  With the steady march of privacy concerns, behavioral marketing may have a harder ride in the coming years. As users elect to manage cookie acceptance and durations even on a first-party basis tracking user activity and preferences within a website is not so simple – and certainly applying any of the learnings on a third-party website is going to have problems. 

First-party data is going to be far more important and interaction with consumers is becoming more valuable, using content more intelligently to achieve an interaction that is clearer and more transparent to the user. 

Thank you so much, Chris. We really appreciate your insights into the world of affiliate marketing and are grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from someone with 20 years of experience in the industry!

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