What developers need to know about Microsoft’s recent affiliate platform transition

The Microsoft Store’s affiliate program has been a boon for Store developers. We use it to increase our earnings from the cross-promotional campaigns we run in our free apps, and we’ve advocated that other devs do likewise in the past.

But something changed on June 30, 2018, and there’s a good chance you missed it.

At the end of June, Microsoft’s affiliate program left Tradedoubler and moved to a different ad network, Impact. The migration was, to put it mildly, a disaster.

Most developers who used Tradedoubler that we talked to weren’t informed at all about the switch. On July 1, any Tradedoubler links they were using to promote their apps started dumping users to the homepage of the Microsoft Store (sans commission, to boot).

If you were using Tradedoubler and this is the first you’re hearing of this, here’s what your links have been doing to your users:

We documented our own experience with the migration below, but first, here’s how to transition your affiliated Store promotions.

Step 1: Sign up for Impact. Do this as soon as possible, since even if you were a vetted affiliate on Tradedoubler, you still need to pass Impact’s approval process, so it may be a while before you can move on to the next step.

Step 2: Accept your Purchase Orders. You need to accept a purchase order in Impact for every geographical area you want to receive commissions. You may have to contact the Microsoft affiliate team to be invited to these purchase orders. More may trickle in over time, so check back often.

Step 3: Re-create your links. As of this writing, the old Microsoft affiliate link builder doesn’t actually build links for Impact. There is a link creation form on the home page of the Impact dashboard you have to use instead.

Note that Impact’s redirector is more limited than Tradedoubler’s; you cannot use it to redirect to your own tracking redirector, only URLs beginning with microsoft.com.

If you use sub IDs (CIDs), put subId1=[your CID value] as the first query string value in your affiliate link.

Step 4: Replace your links. Now, yank out all your Tradedoubler links wherever you have them and put in your Impact links. If you embed affiliated cross-promotion links inside your apps (like in a “More Apps” section), that means re-releasing your apps. Consider using a redirector you control in front of your new Impact links, so you can change their destination without re-releasing your apps.

Our campaign transition experience

Even though User Camp is apparently one of the program’s larger developer affiliates, we were only given 8 business days’ notice to switch. Not only did this leave us scrambling, but it cut a bit off our 14-day cookie lifespan (without compensation).

Once we passed Impact’s approval process — which was helpfully expedited by the Microsoft affiliate management team — there was lots of setup to do. We use postbacks from ad networks to build our own internal source of truth, and unlike Tradedoubler, Impact doesn’t offer a global postback. Instead, the Microsoft Store affiliate program has separate ‘campaigns’ for each of their regions, each requiring its own postback configuration. If it wasn’t for the kind assistance of the affiliate managers, we would be forced to manually configure and maintain about 60 postback definitions.

The transition triggered a weird cashflow hiccup, too — Tradedoubler paid out our entire balance, which was nice, but we won’t see a dime from Impact for more than 3 months, as the program has a 90-day+ payout delay.

But by far our biggest concern was the precipitous commission drop we experienced post-switch:

The cause isn’t clear; the only thing we know for sure is that overnight, our earnings per click (EPC) fell off a cliff. We’re working with the Microsoft affiliate team to identify the root cause, but for now we’ve had to demote the Store affiliate program in our ad mix. It’s still better than nothing—and it’s not like there’s a different Microsoft Store affiliate program we can switch to!—but we’re reducing our promotion of affiliated Store traffic until this is resolved.

Moving forward

We don’t know what precipitated Microsoft’s switch from Tradedoubler. You could speculate that it’s related to Microsoft’s upcoming higher revenue split with developers, and maybe the new affiliate platform gives them a better deal so they can afford a lower Store fee. But it was a significant disruption combined with a lack of communication that can hopefully be avoided in the future.

Around the same time Microsoft started their migration to Impact, Apple announced that they're cancelling their affiliate program for developers completely. It seems like app store affiliates are being put on notice across all platforms.

Despite this hiccup, we’re committed to getting value from the Store’s affiliate program. Hopefully, with feedback from other developer affiliates, the Store’s affiliate program can recapture its old effectiveness.

User Camp is the place for Microsoft Store developers. You should follow us on Twitter.