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Affiliate Agreements – PPC Restrictions You Need to Include

Affiliate Managers, Agencies
Affiliate compliance begins with a well-crafted and well-thought-out affiliate agreement. This is not legal advice and is intended as business advisement. Many programs require customized contracts. These are examples of restrictions to aid you in deploying an effective compliance strategy:

Direct Linking a.k.a. URL Hijacking

You must prohibit direct linking if you and your affiliates advertise in the same places. This is because directly linked ads will compete with you for placement and ad serving frequency. On the other hand, if you and your affiliates are advertising in different places, you should allow direct linking to give your site exposure.

Competitive Brand Bidding

You should prohibit competitive brand bidding, i.e. the practice of sponsoring paid search ads on a competitor’s trademarks in some circumstances:
  • If you allow your affiliates to direct link, or
  • If your products are confusingly similar to your competitor’s products either in look and feel and brand name, or
  • If your affiliate promotes only your goods & services, not the competitors on the landing page.

Media / Keyword Restrictions

You should prohibit your affiliates from directly competing with you on specific media properties and keywords. Exceptions: if you are deploying super-affiliates to box-in, you need to get more reach. The list of restricted terms should include your brand names, typos, and variation, including ‘.com’ or typos. You may also want your top-performing keywords and brand phrases.

Negative Keywords

Suppose you restrict specific keyword terms from paid search advertising. In that case, you should also require those terms to be negatively matched to prevent Google and Microsoft Ads from accidentally auto-matching your affiliate’s ad to a restricted keyword.

Rank Restrictions

If you allow your affiliates to advertise on your brand name or top-performing keywords on paid search, then you should enforce rank restrictions on those specific terms so that your ads are on top.


You should prohibit your affiliates from registering domains that contain your brand and typos of your brand.

Link Cloaking

Link cloaking can be used for good or for evasion purposes. If you have the technical know-how, consider providing your affiliates with a link-cloaking tool so that you can easily decode the affiliate network and ID from cloaked links while still enabling your affiliates the ability to cloak. The restriction needed in your affiliate agreement is to prohibit link cloaking if done through an unauthorized method or if done to evade you.

Compliance with Search Engine Rules

You should require that your affiliates follow the editorial guidelines of each search engine; for example, (1) the landing page must match the display URL; and (2) no redirects or jump pages that immediately redirect to your website.

Prohibit Evasion

You should prohibit your affiliates from using evasion tactics to hide the affiliate link when the visits are from either yourself or from search provider editorial bots checking on paid ads.

Violation of Laws, Rules, & Regulations

If your industry has specific regulations, as is the case with certain verticals, you need to require compliance with those regulations. For example, if you allow email marketing, then you must require compliance with the can spam act. In addition, your affiliates who operate editorial publications must also comply with FTC's new rules when endorsing or recommending your products, which require disclosure that the website is a compensated affiliate.

Ad Copy & Landing Page Copy

You need to prohibit things like (a) the use of your brand in ad copy text or the display URL if you are prohibiting brand use; (b) false advertising or any claim that shows you OR your competitors in a false or misleading light; (c) promoting old invalid offers past the offer expiration date; (d) using certain words, e.g. ‘Official’ or ‘free’; (e) If you want your affiliates to have unique landing pages, then you will need to prohibit them from copying your landing pages. In some cases, you may want to supply the ad copy to control promotions and the landing page text to hold the meta descriptions of organic listings.

Press Releases

Consider including a restriction prohibiting press releases.

Fraudulent Commissions

You will also want to prohibit fraudulent activities like cookie stuffing, link interception, & falsifying orders.

Referral Transparency

It is essential to see the referrer information from affiliate traffic to evaluate the viability of different marketing techniques. However, problems arise when affiliates hide or spoof the referrer, which is done either because the affiliate needs to trust you or the affiliate needs to do something differently. Therefore, you should require referrer transparency and prohibit spoofing or removing the referrer.

The above rules must be applied to the affiliates with whom you have a direct relationship and any sub-affiliates of your direct affiliates. Be sure that these rules apply to the affiliate, including all websites and businesses owned and operated by the affiliate. For example, it is not uncommon for an affiliate to sign-up for your program using one website address, sign up for your competitor’s program using another and then brand bid on both of you.

Lastly, it is crucial to communicate your rules effectively to your affiliates. Remember that your affiliate agreement is written in legalese, and some of your affiliates will not read it. To ensure that your restrictions are communicated thoroughly, you also want to publish an FAQ section, hold training sessions or provide an online video, and explain the limits via your affiliate newsletter.

Note: This article was originally written by The Search Monitor’s CEO and co-founder Lori Weiman for Search Engine Land.