Amazon alters paid search policy

Amazon sent an email to all its affiliates this morning announcing a change in its paid search policy for affiliates – Affiliates will no longer be allowed to direct link to Amazon.

The issue of whether search affiliates add to the bottom line is a hotly debated one in affiliate marketing. In our opinion, the answer depends on a number of factors which include:

  • The sophistication of the merchant’s own search marketers
  • The type of activity allowed (Amazon still allows affiliates to purchase search ads, just not direct link to Amazon)
  • The degree to which the merchant works with its affiliates

I suspect that Amazon’s own search marketing team is probably one of the best in the industry. Since the search engines only allow one ad per display URL on the search results pages, Amazon was finding its ads replaced by ads purchased by its direct linking affiliates.  I’d also imagine that Amazon’s internal research showed that the search affiliates were not contributing incremental profits above and beyond Amazon’s own paid search campaigns.

Amazon also discusses this on their FAQ page:

Q: If my paid search advertisement directs a user first to an interstitial page, then to,, or, will I earn referral fees?
A: No. However, if you place paid search advertisements to send users to your own website, and then your website displays links to,, or in accordance with the Operating Agreement, you may earn referral fees for qualifying purchases made by users who click on your paid search ad, click through to your site, then click through to an Amazon site.

This use of interstitials (or improper redirects) is one that we’ve frequently seen by affiliates in programs that do not allow affiliate direct linking. Not only do interstitials distort the user experience, they make it impossible for the merchant to know the user came directly from search.

PoachMark, our solution for monitoring affiliate compliance of keyword policies, detects interstitials along with a host of other techniques used by affiliates to hide their activities.

Additional coverage and discussion on TechCrunch.

The changes take effect on May 1 2009.

Court Rules Search Ads a ‘Use in Commerce’

Those that have been following the various legal wranglings over search ads and trademarks recognize that a key issue is whether search ads classify as a ‘use in commerce’.  This distinction is important for trademark holders – very few trademark protections apply unless the trademark is ‘used in commerce’.  I’m surprised that there has ever been any doubt about this issue, but it hasn’t necessarily been clear in the past.

TechCrunch points to a recent ruling in the Rescuecom v. Google case that has been bouncing around the courts for a few years.  The court ruled that search ads can represent a ‘use in commerce’ and sent the case back to court for another trial.

The next big legal question is whether competitive search ads on trademarked terms can cause ‘consumer confusion’.  A legal consensus hasn’t formed yet on whether consumer confusion can exist or not.  I’ve been surprised by how little research has been done on this issue and would expect to begin to see some research introduced in the various cases currently in the legal system.