Affiliate marketing faces a rarely discussed, but very real, challenge: outdated links. The most common form of link rot leads to the page no longer being found by the consumer. Understand the problem in order to avoid it.

Hanan Maayan, CEO, Trackonomics

Hanan Maayan, CEO, Trackonomics

Link rot is a stealthy topic in affiliate marketing. It costs the industry an estimated $4.3 million in commission each month—$1.15 million on Black Friday in the U.S. alone—yet surprisingly few people discuss it. More significantly, few businesses plan out strategies to actively combat it, and those responsible for tracking ignore link rot’s impact. In order for affiliate marketing to keep up with and attract content publishers, it must identify a better plan of attack against link rot.

Affiliate links have long been seen as static, a viewpoint that presents a constant threat to large content publishers who want to monetize links. Where content is expected to generate high traffic and search results long after its publication date, the automated nature of other channels (like programmatic display) trumps affiliate’s highly contextual—and crushingly manual—model of perpetual link maintenance.

Link rot is when a deep link decays to the point that it no longer earns money for a publisher.

In an industry that’s hyper-focused on short-term marketing tactics (like discounting), the notion that links decay over time hasn’t seemed particularly problematic. But it is and has been for years. Today’s affiliate marketers must curtail link rot to strengthen ROI longevity.

1. Understand link rot

Let’s back up. What is link rot? Link rot is when a deep link decays to the point that it no longer earns money for a publisher.


Several circumstances will create link rot: An advertiser removes the product, the product goes out of stock, or the link breaks when a URL redirects or affiliate tracking changes. Based on a study we ran on more than 7,000 webpages and 25 major publishing sites, the most common issue (27%) is pages that are not found, which occurs when affiliate links aren’t able to keep pace with the changing structure and content on advertiser sites.

That same research found that between 3% and 10% of all affiliate links in the U.S. either point to an incorrect page, contain out of stock/incorrect information, or simply don’t work. Each affiliate webpage has around 10 individual link rot issues; link rot is present in 4% of all scanned affiliate links and more than 40% of scanned affiliate URLs. In short, it’s a big deal.

Content publishers are the businesses most susceptible to link rot, as embedded affiliate links help monetize what’s on their pages. Long after writers move on to new projects, published articles often receive traffic from organic searches and referring links. Content that is no longer updated, but that remains prominent in search engine results pages (SERPs), nurtures link rot. Affiliate links become dated very easily.

2. Focus on lasting links and lasting value

As content strategies evolve, publishers and affiliate marketers need to recognize that links have lasting value. Today, many content publishers (a lifestyle blog, for example) purposely produce evergreen content with long-term SEO value. Keeping affiliate links relevant and up to date can create long-term monetization paths. Letting the links rot strips publishers of the ability to earn that potential revenue.


In part, this requires a new way of thinking. In the past, affiliate marketers were accustomed to measuring performance with a campaign-oriented mindset. Today, content publishers must evaluate their commercial content over the long-term. Focus on creating lasting value, rather than negotiating short-term or short-burst marketing tactics with publishers.

3. Develop an actionable strategy for dealing with link rot

All parties play a role in preventing link rot, and all stand to lose when it occurs:

  • Marketers with out-of-date content risk lost revenue.
  • Tracking providers fail their clients if links don’t resolve.
  • Publishers create poor user experiences for visitors.

Affiliate marketers can no longer afford to ignore link rot, and it will increasingly become a major risk to publisher-advertiser relations. Traditionally, networks left the management and updating of links to publishers. That works in certain scenarios: for incentive, cashback, or comparison publishers with a limited number of links; or when links direct to the advertiser’s homepage. It doesn’t scale, though, to the world’s largest content generators.

A healthy, actionable strategy to combat link rot helps publishers: report on the link rot issues that impact their business most directly; identify these by article/content generated; prioritize the issues and related risks; and fix the problematic links.

4. Capture the revenue opportunity

Each month in the U.S., affiliate marketing’s largest content publishers generate more than 25 million unique clicks on affiliate advertising. That correlates to a potential 2.5 million unique clicks that go to dead links, wrong pages, or out-of-stock products.

The risk of these lost opportunities is huge. So is the opportunity present for affiliate marketers. Savvy marketers can stay a step ahead of the game by incorporating link rot prevention in their affiliate marketing strategy.

Trackonomics provides affiliate management software.