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For decades, traditional affiliate marketing roamed the partnership landscape with a swagger, offering advertisers the ability to pay only for sales, rather than impressions or clicks. With no upfront marketing cost, affiliate marketing promised big returns, thanks to publishers who would promote products and services in exchange for a cut of the sale price.

As affiliate networks boomed in the late 90s and early 00s, however, a Wild West, rough-around-the-edges mentality soon emerged where online brands had little control or visibility into their partnerships. As a result, gamesmanship and fraud ran rampant and rules were blatantly ignored. Questionable practices were everywhere: Cookies were stuffed, trademark bidding on Google was rife with abuse, while advertisers often weren’t even aware of these affiliate model challenges.

Partnerships Have Evolved Beyond Traditional Affiliates

Fast forward to today: The partnership channel has evolved beyond traditional affiliates, but there are still significant fraud-related challenges brands need to be aware of. These include evolving issues such as mobile fraud and influencer fake followers as well as old tricks like cookie stuffing and unknown toolbars. In fact, a whopping 30% of all digital advertising remains fraudulent, particularly in emerging or new channels such as mobile in-app advertising, so staying vigilant remains essential.

The difference is, now brands know and demand better. These days, partnership managers want to gain full strategic control of and full visibility into their partnerships. They want to make sure they stay on top of potential risks as they expand their programs. To tackle this challenge, they need a trusted, transparent way to track the entire partner lifecycle and make sure they can identify and address fraud at every step along the way.

The Emergence of Partnership Automation

The good news is there is a new, better sheriff in town. With the emergence of partnership automation – enterprises are offered better insights into fraud and protect brands against malicious actors that try to game the system. Thanks to the latest machine learning technology, dedicated data scientists and fraud detection methodologies that review and score traffic, brands can identify fraud across the entire conversion path, while invalid traffic gets cut out. They can monitor traffic for simple and sophisticated click fraud techniques in order to banish attribution fraud and strengthen quality partner relationships. Suspicious traffic sources and high-risk partners are dealt with swiftly through real-time insights, and brands can block payments for illegitimate lead and conversion events.

The result? The Wild West of affiliates turns into a well-protected landscape. You can automatically identify fraudsters and remove them from your program. You can detect influencer fraud and banish those with fake followers and audiences. At the same time, multi-layered tracking combats cookie blocking and lets you connect the dots across all types of events, channels, and devices, so you can ensure your partners are properly credited for every conversion.

With the right partnership platform, enterprises can scale their programs and combat fraud at the same time with the proper tools. The complex universe of partnerships no longer needs to be the Wild West, where rules don’t apply and order is nowhere to be found. Instead, proper management, better transparency and a holistic view create a safe, protected environment where partnerships can thrive.

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