The recently published research on global programmatic ad spend by Statista shows consistent yearly growth since 2017 and estimates total revenue to reach $725b by 2026. DSPs (demand-side platforms) and SSPs (supply-side platforms) entered the market when the proliferation of online content and available ad space got to the point where ad networks and direct deals stopped being efficient solutions for media buying. The global digital advertising market is expected to cross the trillion-dollar mark in 2026, so what technology is going to streamline campaign optimization when it becomes inefficient to manage them individually? In line with the rest of the IT industry after 2022, the answer seems to be AI.

What is a smartlink?

A smartlink is a tracking link incorporating multiple CPA offers and ad creatives that evaluates incoming traffic and uses that data to send each click to the landing page and the CPA offer with the highest ROI potential for it. In simpler terms, a smartlink takes care of every part of campaign optimization that comes after generating or buying traffic. Every click a smartlink receives gets sorted by country, connection type, carrier, device, operating system, and other parameters to determine the best destination for it and the best path to get there.

This process is facilitated by machine-learning algorithms that use campaign performance data to continuously improve a smartlink’s traffic distribution efficiency. These algorithms use both the massive data set put into them when building a smartlink and every bit of data from ongoing campaigns to hone their targeting, account for banner blindness and overexposure, and ultimately increase ROI for the traffic they receive.

In essence, smartlinks are similar to AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. Trained on massive datasets, the algorithms are designed to recognize patterns in the data they analyze and produce the most optimal outcome. Another similarity is that smartlink algorithms measure their performance and use that data to further improve their efficiency. The main difference is that smartlinks only ever receive one prompt: find the best ad creatives and destination for this click based on its parameters.

Ad creatives are regularly updated by the maintenance team and measured against others to trim underperforming ones. A smartlink’s database of creatives usually consists of ads that have previously been tested in regular CPA campaigns. Our company, ClickDealer, has a team dedicated to developing and testing creatives for our smartlinks.

Currently, smartlinks are increasingly gaining popularity in affiliate networks, but the technology has not yet been adopted by the wider performance marketing industry. There are a few reasons for that.

Why are smartlinks not everywhere yet?

Smartlinks are a relatively new technology. The first AI-driven optimization algorithm appeared on the market in 2018 and it could only be applied in a select few verticals. That list has grown longer since then, but the fact that there is a list remains one of the obstacles on the way to the market-wide adoption of the technology. ClickDealer has encountered many of these challenges first-hand.

Currently, smartlinks work best in verticals with a wide target audience, where all the competing companies offer a singular type of service, such as iGaming or dating. The current set of targeting parameters smartlinks work with does not account for users’ age, gender, income bracket, and other similar demographic indicators that are vital for success in many other market verticals. This obstacle can be overcome by finding ways of integration with traffic sources that would pass that data to smartlinks since the algorithms’ A/B testing optimization method would work just as well with that type of targeting parameters.

Another major challenge is adapting to verticals with many niches and different types of goods and services being promoted. The current way of dealing with that problem is creating a separate smartlink for every niche, but that does not work in e-commerce, for example, where categories of products are too varied to cover each one with its own smartlink. To a lesser extent, the same goes for home improvement and legal service verticals.

Affiliate marketing companies are racing to overcome these challenges because the business that brings the perfected smartlink technology to the market will take over a large share of it. ClickDealer is certainly a part of that race, as are most of our industry competitors. Let us look at every way smartlinks can bring major changes to the performance marketing industry.

Why smartlinks are going to be everywhere

Smartlinks are time-efficient. The amount of man-hours saved by a self-optimizing campaign gives an undeniable competitive advantage to a network, agency, or solo marketer that decides to employ the technology.

Smartlinks are scalable. The volume of traffic a smartlink can handle is only limited by processing power. The capacity for large-scale operations provided by smartlinks puts major growth opportunities in front of performance marketing companies.

Smartlinks are easy. Campaign optimization expertise is a barrier to entry into performance marketing, and removing that barrier brings companies more partners to work with.

Smartlinks are evolving. The nature of machine-learning algorithms dictates that the quality of optimizations they perform is only going to grow with time and increasing amounts of targeting data available to advertisers.

Smartlinks are trendy. After ChatGPT exploded in popularity, becoming publicly available in November 2022, tech companies have been scrambling to upgrade their offerings with the power of generative AI and be the first to offer AI-driven solutions to their clients. Knowing how much AI has shaken the tech market and how much it has progressed already as a result of that, there is no reason to believe it is not going to touch online advertising.

In conclusion

Smartlinks are inevitable. It is exactly what DSPs and SSPs are to ad networks and agencies – a consequence of industry growth. In the next decade, missing out on this level of automation, and consequently, growth opportunities will become unaffordable to performance marketing companies. Early adopters of this technology stand a lot to gain, so the suggestion to performance marketers is to seriously consider becoming one.

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