Google Affiliate Network Shutting Down

I had an itch to jump into this topic last night when I caught it making the rounds on Facebook, but figured I’d wait until today, mainly to observe the initial reactions.  For a quick recap here…  The Google Affiliate Network or “GAN” is basically a leftover from Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick & Performics back in 2007.  I vaguely recall the DOJ anti-trust folks might have nudged Google to spin off the Performics SEM & SEO business units,  but Google held on to the Performics affiliate platform, rebranding it as the Google Affiliate Network.

A feature in GAN I personally enjoyed from a management perspective was the level of detail with referring urls, which some competing networks don’t do well, or at all.  This was one of the few awesome features added post acquisition.   Other than that, I can’t say I was impressed with the platform.  Maybe if Google doubled down here early on, they could have easily built a best in class service, however they didn’t.  Maybe that wasn’t their goal from the get go?…

At any rate, yes, it’s true, GAN is closing up shop. Minimal official information has been released, mainly what is stated on the Google Affiliate Network blog by director J.J. Hirschle along with some potential shut down dates.  According to the post Jamie Birch made a couple hours ago, all GAN employees will be absorbed into Google, no one will be let go.  Here are some dates for deprecation of services, which are subject to change;  Advertiser Services 5/1, Publisher Support 7/31, Reporting & Tracking 10/31.  I have a personal GAN publisher account which has yet to receive any notifications.

So who’s going to pick up the slack?  As agencies and merchants scramble to ensure they don’t loose momentum with their affiliate programs, competing networks LinkShareHasOffers and PepperJam have  jumped on it, sharing case studies and reasons why they’re the best option.  At the time of this post, there were no statements from CJ, AvantLink, Impact Radius or ShareASale.  Affiliate networks are software as a service, and quite scalable.   If I was running one of these networks, I’d offer free set up and integration for merchants exiting GAN, plus a lower transaction cut, as GAN was often on the higher side of things anyways. It might be kind of nice to add the likes of Nike & Target to your roster.   On a side note, someone should keep track of every GAN merchant, and see where they go from here.  It would be an interesting infographic at least.  Who went where? Which merchants shuttered programs entirely?

On the surface it may appear as though Google no longer has an interest in affiliate marketing. but that’s just silly.  Google Ventures has their hands in a plethora of great ideas and startups.  One of them in particular many of us in affiliate marketing are familiar with is a company called VigLink.  VigLink is one of a few larger players in the auto link monetization sub affiliate business model realm.  I’m not sure what this official model is called, but it’s super cool and has been around for a while.   Some of their competitors include SkimLinks & Prosperent, who have already began addressing the GAN shutdown on their blogs.  VigLink has of course also made a statement, however it’s too early to tell what their real plans might be.

Years ago I was almost suspicious of Google money being behind Vig Link (as well as DrivingRevenue, which they acquired and absorbed in 2010).   A portion of Google’s natural search algorithm likely depends on ratios and use of paid vs. non paid outbound links.  Since search engine bots generally don’t(or until recently didn’t) read javascript(which these services use), links being monetized with these scripts might still appear to bots as non-paid links, even though the website could generate revenue from them.  At the end of the day, Google aims to create the best user experience with their search platform, so gathering intelligence to help steer their algorithm could require the acquisition of certain businesses like VigLink in order to gain the best perspective.

Does VigLink potentially have a larger product or integration being prepared behind the scenes?   That’s my bet.   Is it possible that VigLink ends up being further integrated into Google’s advertising services, rather than the stand alone business it is now?  Directly push the VigLink product alongside Adwords, display advertising and retargeting? With the GAN out of play, it creates a break in a chain that may have otherwise garnished more attention from an anti-trust perspective.  VigLink can now easily align itself to be affiliate network agnostic, which might come in handy later on down the road.

Google Ventures also has their hands in Whale Shark Media, which runs Retail Me Not, arguably the largest coupon site on the interwebs.  As many affiliate managers know, a significant portion of revenue tracked through retail affiliate programs is coupon  or consumer incentive related.   Maybe Google sees a shift on the horizon with online coupons and is adjusting course in advance of these changes?  I’ve always speculated that Google avoided the coupon space solely because of the revenue they already generated from Adwords clicks related to online coupons.

There’s a much bigger picture to the GAN closing than some may realize. Only time will tell where this all goes from here. Ok, back to work now….

(disclaimer: while I do know some of the guys from VigLink, I have no inside information here, all pure speculation derived from my own insanities) 

 

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