Why we closed our affiliate program
A few weeks ago, we communicated to affiliates that our affiliate program would be closing. For those interested, this post provides some background on how we reached that decision.
When IVPN launched, we never intended to create an affiliate program. We simply provided a link in our control panel, for customers to refer friends and receive credit. When we realised professional affiliates were signing up as customers to get a link, we created a separate signup page for them. As the VPN industry grew, a dizzying number of 'Best/top VPN' comparison sites popped up. And with the increasing competition, along came increasingly unethical behaviour (which is certainly not unique to the VPN industry).
One example is the voucher code scam, where affiliates advertise coupons/vouchers that don't exist (we don't offer any coupons/vouchers) to rank their website on Google for keywords such as 'ivpn coupon'. They do this to take advantage of the fact that many Internet shoppers are conditioned, when arriving on a checkout page, to open a new browser tab to search for discount codes. They would then find the affiliates page, click through on the link, and arrive back on the IVPN site. Even though they don't receive any discount, the affiliate still gets paid, even though they didn't actually refer the customer to us. We would have made the sale anyway, and so the affiliate is effectively stealing 25% of our revenue.
One of the most offensive practices is the offer to pay for top rankings. In some cases, these artificial rankings are disclosed within 'sponsored' areas. But in many cases, they are not. In addition, it's clear to us that many unscrupulous affiliates rank providers in order of potential revenue. Providers that have better commission offerings, or website conversion rates, go straight to the top. It's not hard to see why. Many affiliates are spending thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars on advertising to get visitors to their site, and they lose if a visitor clicks through to a VPN and doesn't buy.
Why does this matter? When someone goes to Google and asks for the 'Best VPN' they expect to find information aiding them in identifying the best VPN for their needs. Not only would the above practices compromise this, but in some cases, people are using VPNs in circumstances where compromising their anonymity could be life threatening. For this reason alone, its imperative that companies advertising VPN services are honest about their relationship with the brands they are advocating. In the USA this principle is encoded in FTC guidelines.
In May of this year, we were contacted by That one privacy site stating that they had found that several of our affiliates had not implemented a clear and conspicuous disclaimer, even though it was required in our terms of service. We proceeded to audit our affiliates, and discovered that less than 5% were in compliance. It was a major failing on our part to have not caught this earlier.
We sent out an email asking all affiliates to implement the disclosure within 6 weeks. The response was depressing, with only a handful willing to comply, and many on the offensive. Indeed, too few compliant affiliates remained to justify the overhead of running an affiliate program. We would rather focus on building a better VPN service.
We would like to thank all honest and hard working affiliates who worked with us over the last five years, and helped to grow IVPN into the service it is today.