How to Detect the Affiliate Shaving and Counter It

13 February 2023
Reading: 6 min

Two paramount questions of affiliate marketing are where to drive the traffic to and how to avoid getting “shaved”. With the right set of creatives, clear understanding of own sources, and strict commitment to the offer terms, any vertical can generate solid profit. 

However, sometimes all your efforts can go down the drain, because not all the leads count. If you honestly observe the rules of the offers, but suspect not getting paid in full, then it is high time to shed light on shady business practices of some “partners”.

Shaving: false alarm

How to Detect the Affiliate Shaving and Counter It

While shaving is generally a bad thing, the infamous label is given to many phenomena, some of which have nothing to do with malevolent intent. For example, wrong GEO targeting, fraud, misleading, and lack of pre-landers for gray/black niches are just a few causes for your suffering from poor performance. In such cases, the advertiser may refuse to pay out for the leads you generate, or scrub them, because they mismatch the offer conditions.

Shaving on the other hand is the reduction of the actual number of leads, done on the network part, so that it can pay the affiliate less than one deserves. In this case, the advertiser pays the affiliate network, but the network keeps the sum in full to itself. Basically, the unearned profit of the affiliate goes directly into the pocket of the nefarious network.

Conversion rate drop can be caused by many reasons, and shaving is not the most common of them. Performance decrease can be attributed to:

  • Technical issues of the CPA-network
  • Outdated tracking code, blocked by the apps
  • Antiviruses cutting off the affiliate ID in the link
  • Delay in statistics update
  • Violation of the terms and conditions of an affiliate network
  • Changes in a landing page, caused by platform updates
  • The bonuses promised on the landing page mismatch the actual offer itself

Do not accuse your manager recklessly and double-check everything. Perhaps you have missed something, or the problem is on the advertiser’s part. 

Sources of shaving

No affiliate network that wants to last long will ever start shaving the commission beard of the affiliates. Affiliates are its source of income and not doing them justice is the right way to lose one’s revenue but more importantly — reputation.

Once the affiliate is cut off from a part of their well-earned profit, the word-of-a-mouth comes into play. The affiliate can go to a forum and raise awareness of the whole industry about unethical behavior of the network. This in turn will make the short-term gain overshadowed by the massive loss of income, caused by the affiliates’ leave, due to the fear of getting robbed.

Shaving can be caused by the following reasons:

  • Recently established networks, trying to get out of the negative ROI.
  • Unethical networks, attempting to lure in more affiliates by promising enormous bids that cannot be paid out to everyone and in full, due to the budget constraints.
  • Low conversion rate, despite the leads being valid. In this case, the advertiser may not pay for all the leads, because the former is interested in generating revenue, not just window shoppers.
  • Dirty competition, when the competitors bring in valid leads by any means necessary. This in turn forces the advertiser to scrub the leads, which sometimes cuts off the fully compatible and converting leads by accident.
  • Duplicates, the mistake made by the beginners, when several offers from the same advertiser are promoted on the same website. It is not a theft, because in such cases the same email of a user is used numerous times.

Indicators of shaving

Shaving cannot be detected perfectly. However, there are some signals you should pay attention to, in order to minimize the risk of being deceived:

  1. Sudden approval rate drop: 80% for three months in a row, with the fourth dropping to 30%. The indicator is imperfect, for the drop can be caused by GEO targeting switch or unappealing creatives.
  2. Offer performance decrease. A single offer is usually launched on several CPA-networks. In case you monitor a sudden drop, but the same offer performs fine on other networks — you are most likely getting shaved.
  3. The results of the CPA-tracking tool and your own tracker mismatch. Bad news is when your tracker outperforms the in-house one.
  4. Quality of the traffic decrease. This metric is suitable only for the affiliates running their own traffic sources. If a banner on your website has generated 500 redirects, while it used to be no less than a thousand, you are underpaid.
  5. The same number of redirects with fewer leads is a clear-cut sign of shaving.
  6. You have partial access to commentaries and call center records. There is something rotten, if you cannot check the history of interactions for all your leads.

Remedies to shaving

How to Detect the Affiliate Shaving and Counter It

Let’s not delude ourselves, there is no 100% effective defense against shaving. However, the risk of it occurring can be turned to a minimum by following a few simple steps:

  1. Always work with trustworthy networks. Learn more about the network you collaborate with via forums, reviews, or even direct question to the advertiser.
  2. Complete a testing order, by asking a friend or relative to make an order. Check out whether the conversion will fire or not.
  3. Always be careful whenever you detect double redirect. Wrong GEO is the reason not to convert the leads, so inquire the manager about what’s going on if you happen to find one.
  4. Own your own hosting server, instead of driving traffic straight to the link received from the affiliate network. This allows you to set up data transferring via API and tailor the logging process. Plus, you can incorporate any metrics you wish.
  5. Settle for your personal landing pages. First, it saves you from dealing with the pre-installed shaving piece of code. Second, you can design it however you like, instead of adapting to rigid requirements.
  6. Use your own tracker in tandem with the one, provided by the network.
  7. Ask the network for the call history, if you suspect being fooled. This way, you can check how well the leads actually convert. If you are refused access — you know what to do, check for another network.


Shaving might seem common, but more often than not it’s a simple excuse for poor campaigning and tracking. The traffic source can also start to generate leads of different quality at some moment. Before ever approach the network with the accusations of shaving, make sure to conduct your A/B testing. Also, verify that your tracker is set up and running properly.

In case you do spot the shaving, then make sure everybody knows about it. The negative word-of-mouth is detrimental to the business reputation and can turn away the others from making the unwanted shave to your well-deserved commission beard. Remember, an affiliate is the main source of income for any affiliate network. Deceiving one and getting away with it might be easy, but fooling the pack and living like nothing ever happened will not be possible once you speak up and protect your well-deserved profit.

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