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A Google Referral Programs Primer - Part 1 or 2

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by Carsten Cumbrowski, April, 12 2007.

Update! As of August 2008, Google discontinued their referral programs for Google products. In their own words: "We are currently reevaluating the Google Referrals program to ensure that it is providing the best possible monetization opportunity for our publishers as well as meeting the needs of Google. At this time, we have suspended the Google Referrals program." If Google should decide to re-establish a referral program, then it is most likely to utilize the ConnectCommerce affiliate networking platform, which Google acquired when then acquired DoubleClick (also finalized around July 2008).

With several new and some not so new additions to Google's AdWords and AdSense advertising platforms did people started to show some more interest into things like CPA, embedded referral links in content etc.

"Old stuff, beaten to death" might one or the other affiliate marketers think. This "new" hype only shows how little people know about affiliate marketing. I might write about this at a different time and would like to concentrate on how Google itself uses it's own technology to promote their own services.

Table of Contents


Google has today a referral program for six of their products and services. Google manages its referral program in-house via the Google AdSense advertising platform.

All programs use CPA offers as compensation method. None uses Revenue share. Google might changes that in the future, if they learn about revenue share based grass root affiliate marketing. The AdSense and AdWords programs would be good candidates for this, where Google could offer to affiliates a percentage of what referred publishers earn or referred advertisers spend as commission instead of a flat bounty fee.

That they understand that not all referred customer are the same and some are better and profitable than others shows the fact that they do offer bonuses if referred customers are meeting certain levels of activity that makes them "good" customers. Google also understands the basic principle that you should reward your performers that generate a lot of business for you on an ongoing basis. The Adwords and AdSense program have both a performance incentive for publishers that drive a lot of "good" customers to the Google Services.

Google Apps and Google Checkout are using the new Google Pay-Per-Action Beta, but I am sure that Google will switch the other four over to it as well very soon. The other referral programs are just older and have their own tracking mechanisms already implemented for a while.

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Google Products and Services with a referral program

Google AdSense, AdWords, Checkout, Apps, Pack, Toolbar (plus Firefox Browser)

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Creatives for Publishers

For each program are a number of different creatives available to publishers to choose from, including standard banners, buttons, skyscrapers and text ads.

Banner Sizes: 468x60, 728x90 (no half-size banners 234x60)
Button Sizes:110x32, 120x60, 180x60, 200x200, 250x250, 300x250, 336x280, 120x240
Sky Scraper Sizes: 120x600, 160x600

Note: Not all sizes and types are available for all programs.

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"Text Links"

Text links are available as well, for one full year already, without anybody making a big fuzz out of it.

The Text Links format triggered new discussions and speculations when Google's introduced its Pay-per-action beta program and mentioned that Text links will be available as new format to Advertisers.

Does this mean that Text Links are a new Google feature? No, it does not!
Are Text Links a new feature available to AdWords Advertisers? Yes, it is!

I will probably write more about this topic at a different time.
Update June 22, 2007: I finally did write about it here.

Google's JavaScript Text Links (Google LMI?!)

Text Links might be the wrong term, because Google Text links are not URLs with additional tracking parameters that are unique for each indivudual publisher, but like regular AdSense Ads, is some JavaScript Code that must be added to the publisher's site and renders the text link when a user requests the page where the Ad unit is embedded in.

Deja vu? Why? Because this is something that ValueClick's Affiliate Network, Commission Junction ( tried to implement. CJ wanted to force the use of Javascript Code instead of classic text and banner links upon it's publishers in early summer 2006, via what is now simply known as "CJ LMI", the "Commission Junction Link Management Initiative".

It is well known what the simple announcement of the Initiative triggered amoung publishers who then also mobilized affiliate managers and advertisers, and eventually made CJ re-evaluate and then postpone the initiative indefinitely.

I got my own fair share of rants about LMI and to speculate about the reasons for CJ's attempt to enforce something like this. I am glad that I was wrong about the reason, which I suspected.

Note: The Banners are also served via Javascript only and not via IMG tags loaded directly from a server.

Problems with AdSense Technology for Affiliate Marketers

Because of this simple fact does Google Pay per action and the availability of JavaScript Text Links to advertisers not create a threat for old school affiliate marketing. Google's choice of technology automatically eliminated a huge number of affiliate marketers as possible publishers of Googl'e CPA based Ads and links.

There are no public statistics to back the following statement up, but I was an affiliate manager myself for several years and also talked to other AMs about their experiences.

The type of publishers in affiliate marketing that Google automatically excludes from its platform because of the used technology, make up far over 50% of the revenue generated by all publishers via traditional affiliate programs. I would even speculate that this number is higher than that and actually somewhere in the 75% area.
See "Who are the Programs NOT for?" below.

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Cookie Duration/Return Days

There is no cookie duration or return days, because no tracking cookie is being used (at least not for tracking referrals where Google has to pay commission).

Google states following in the help for AdSense (answer:27415), which was not very easy to find. Well, Google is new to performance/referral marketing and, which Newbie does not make mistakes.

Please note that in order for your referral to be successful and result in a conversion, the user you refer must sign up directly through your referral button or link. If the user you've referred does not sign up or download a product directly through your referral button, we will be unable to track the referral and you will not receive credit.

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Payments and Earnings Reporting

General Note to Google referrals at Google Help (answer:25889)

Monthly totals of referral credits will appear on your Payment History page - just click the Earnings detail for any month to view specifics about how much you've earned through referrals. Your earnings from referrals will be included with your earnings from AdSense for content and AdSense for search.

AdSense and AdWords Referral Bonus is being paid together with any other AdSense and referral earnings of the same period in which the criteria for the bonus are being met.

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Who are the Programs for?

Google targets content publishers with Websites as partners for their referral programs. This includes personal websites as well as Bloggers.

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Who are the Programs NOT for?

The format (JavaScript) in which creatives and referral codes are provided excludes or severely restricts automatically a wide range of affiliate marketers, including search affiliates, loyalty sites, coupon and promotion sites, comparison shopping sites and email list affiliates.

... Continue with Part 2

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©2006-2007 Carsten Cumbrowski
Replication of this Content in full or in part without written permission by the author is prohibited.

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