Launching an affiliate program can be a great idea to increase your website traffic and revenue through a multitude of diverse referral sources. Affiliate marketing has been around for over 20 years and it basically started as a way to compensate referrers who are sending traffic/business through to various types of ecommerce websites. It actually started in the adult space, but it quickly grew into the mainstream ecommerce space, and has evolved with various affiliate networks and tracking platforms into a huge industry. So, what should you do as a merchant or advertiser looking to launch into affiliate marketing and grow the channel? You should launch on a major network, but only when you have taken your website through a process known as conversion rate optimization. If you are a merchant or a website owner and you are selling products or generating leads, you should first launch on one of the major networks (CJ, Linkshare, or Shareasale). Contact us for our recommendation on the network you should choose. Here are some important concepts and strategies to maximize and run a successful affiliate program:
- Recruiting Affiliates – this is one of the biggest question marks as to how to do it and what methodology to use to accomplish it. Recruiting affiliates is really easy if you know how, but takes a lot of “legwork”. You have to do a lot of proactive reaching out, contacting websites, and contacting known affiliates, doing it very tastefully and offering them some benefit of working with your company. Otherwise you just become one of the thousands of companies vying for their time and attention, which is why it’s important to differentiate yourself by standing out from your competitors with great perks for affiliate marketers. Another way to recruit affiliates is to advertise in paid search. You can advertise in Google and Bing under “affiliate program” keywords. You can also advertise on Facebook targeting people into affiliate marketing to grow your affiliate program. Exposing your customers to your affiliate program can also be an effective strategy. Also, at Experience Advertising, we use tools that can tell us the affiliates of your competitors so they can be prospected to join our client’s affiliate program, which is extremely effective.
- Managing Affiliates – This is one of my favorite phrases: “Management is everything.” If you launch an affiliate program or a performance marketing channel and you don’t have intensive, competent affiliate management behind it, it’s likely not going to gain traction (outside of coupon affiliates and browser extension affiliates that capitalize on your website’s traffic) unless you are a huge Fortune 500 retailer that’s never done affiliate marketing before, then it might grow on its own. But otherwise, it needs a lot of doting upon and lots of TLC. You need very proactive affiliate management in place to both grow it and manage the affiliates we well as possible. Whomever handles your affiliate management, or is working with your partners, needs to do a very intensive job and really take it extremely seriously, it really is a seven day a week type of process. You need to encourage your affiliates to contact you to discuss the affiliate program or they won’t. Most affiliate programs aren’t managed intensively enough in my opinion, mainly because the affiliate managers in place don’t have the background in digital marketing or website building experience to effectively work with affiliates of all experience levels. Simply getting them their tracking link isn’t enough! The people managing your affiliates should be knowledge about digital marketing and driving traffic to websites to truly be effective at optimizing affiliate relationships.
- Affiliate Payout Levels – payout levels have got to be looked at frequently and you should look to payout as much as you can to the right affiliates (content/niche/relevant affiliates) and make it lucrative for your affiliate/publishers in general. You should also look to throw in some kind of incentives and say, “if you make 50 sales this month (or even 5 sales this month), we are going to give you a $100 bonus,” or we are going to give you an iPad or pay more commissions. Pay as much as you can initially and then you can reserve a couple of percentage points for people who can produce serious amounts of volume.
- Don’t be Cheap with your Affiliates and Partners – this is one of the biggest mistakes companies make. They really just don’t reward people well enough and they kind of look at it as just another other channel and say, “I really don’t need to payout much because it’s just our affiliate program…I don’t know what it’s going to do.” Wrong attitude! You really should look at it as a real sales force, as your online “feet on the street” so to speak, and you need to make it lucrative for people to work with you. Also, you should NEVER pay all of your affiliates the same commission rate, but based on the type of affiliate they are and how they do what they do.
- Affiliate and Partner Management – affiliate personalization works best. Typically, personalized affiliate management always works better than a mass approach, but you have to have experienced people in order leverage personalized affiliate management properly otherwise there’s nothing really to discuss outside of “can you promote our company more?”
- Affiliate Network Choice – one network versus many networks. This is a common issue in performance marketing because the more you spread out your offer or your advertiser account onto several networks, the more management has to come behind it and then you have to make sure the same order isn’t being credited to more than one affiliate network source. So it can actually create problems when you branch it out a little bit wider with more networks. So I usually recommend maximizing one network and then maybe trying a couple others when you want to add more volume if there are additional partners you can pick up there.
- Wanting your Affiliates to Succeed – make it worth their time, make it worth their efforts, if you just look at as just another campaign, then don’t even bother because you really have to put a lot of love into it, blood, sweat, and tears in order to get the most out of your performance marketing in your affiliate channel. Facilitating your affiliates and partners with good management, with tools, with resources, with providing them content, original content, about your company, keywords, non-trademark keywords or even trademark keywords depending on your stance, to let them succeed and market effectively.
- Strategize on Growing your Affiliate Channel – don’t just sit there and kind of let it happen, you know, every month you should be putting a new strategy together…”what are we going to be doing in August”, what are we doing in September, what are we doing for Q4 to maximize this our affiliate channel? Are we going to pay out a little more or are we going to do a recruiting campaign? Are we going to run new promotions? So you really have to strategize pretty heavily and leverage experts. Leverage people who you decide can really help you in this endeavor and they are out there, you just have to find them and meet them and talk to them. (NOTE: there are many affiliate management agencies, however most of the banbysit these affiliate networks and ride off the coupon affiliate’s production, so watch out for that!
Conclusion: These are some basic concepts in affiliate marketing and growing your performance marketing channel. Only through a tremendous amount of hard work, outreach, competent affiliate management, and dedication to growing the channel, will your affiliate program reach its full potential. Affiliate programs grow on an annual basis and you have to keep your expectations in check. The better your website “converts” or performs, the quicker your affiliate program will grow and prosper. So make sure you have done a great job on your website and work to improve your conversion rate over time if you want to have a truly productive affiliate program. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!