Groupon’s latest step forward in its ambition to become the default network for local commerce is taking the company into ad tech waters. Today, it is launching the Groupon Partner Network, a new platform to manage all of the company’s affiliate marketing related to the deals and other products it sells. Unlike some of the company’s other new initiatives like mobile payments, the GPN is getting the global treatment from the word go, rolling out across some 10,000 content publishers in 34 countries to help publicise Groupon deals, goods, and other services.
“I think that anything that we look at what we do with Groupon we have our eyes on what can be done to scale internationally,” Sean Smyth, VP of global partner marketing and business development at Groupon, tells me optimistically. “Now we’ve built a platform for our publishers to use globally, which will mean a faster ability to share best practices globally, instead of having every country grouped differently.”
Affiliate marketing is a lucrative area for Groupon: Smyth tells me that of all the ways that Groupon currently publicizes and pushes offers to users (they include email, site search, and mobile notifications, among others), affiliate placements have the highest conversion — although a PR jumped into to cut him off when I asked him how much specifically it makes in this area. Nevertheless, the fact that this is the best-performing of Groupon’s marketing channels at the moment makes it no surprise that Groupon would like to try to continue to grow this business and control it more.
To be clear, this is not Groupon’s first foray into affiliate marketing. It’s been doing this since 2009, Smyth. But up to now, the company has run programs like this on a national basis, and through third parties like Vannox in Europe and Commission Junction in the U.S.. Now Groupon is positioning itself as an ad distributor in its own right, with retargeting and other publishing tools, such as the ability for publishers to select deals by category to display Groupon offers that are more relevant to their site.
The move will ultimately mean that Groupon pays less to third parties each time a deal gets purchased by a user, but Groupon also is promising, at least for now, that it will also mean better returns for publishers who elect to become affiliate marketing partners of Groupon’s. Unless September 30, those who sign up get commissions of 10%-12% for Groupon Local deals, 6%-8% for Groupon Getaways, and 5%-8% percent for Groupon Goods. It’s not disclosing what cuts will be after that period.
The platform also offers a kind of dashboard to partners, which includes real-time reports to track how well affiliate deals are performing; a feature to create different widgets to link through to groupon deals; access to Groupon’s APIs to integrate deeper into a site.
There is still a long way to go with initiatives like this. Right now the network covers “some of the most popular websites, blogs and apps” among its network of deal sites. These include Ebates, Upromise by Sallie Mae, Dealnews, Fat Wallet, ShopAtHome.com and Slickdeals.net. But as Smyth points out, “We hope in the future for this to cover hundreds of thousands of sites, not 10,000.”
Longer term, this also lays the groundwork for what Groupon may end up doing to use the platform to promote services outside of its own. “It’s in discussion to open this to third parties,” Smyth says, but there are no specifics to talk about today. “If we build a great tool then yes we will like to maximise the enterprise value, but for now but we’re very focused first on the near term and making it work with Groupon.” A task tall enough for a company that is still climbing back from the highs and then lows of the last couple of years.