When looking to launch an affiliate program for your company or gain additional affiliate distribution for your company, website, or offer, there are a multitude of options to consider to do it right. Everyone wants to grow a large, productive affiliate program for their company, who doesn’t, but cutting through the misconceptions can be difficult for many companies. I will discuss the affiliate network options you have for your company and what I think is a good strategy to pursue in order to grow your affiliate marketing efforts as quickly as possible. Only through hard work and having an actual strategy in place to grow your affiliate program can you really hope to have a large, productive affiliate program for your company or site. All affiliate programs grow over time if you do the right things to achieve program growth. Make sure your website is a great “converting” place where the traffic affiliates generate will have a high conversion rate, otherwise your program won’t grow like it should. Do your part to make sure your affiliates make money promoting your company and it will grow much quicker than if you don’t make an effort to improve your conversion rate.
The first place to consider setting up your affiliate program is with one of the “major” affiliate networks like Commission Junction, Linkshare, Shareasale, and the Google Affiliate Network. The nice thing about the major networks is you have complete publisher transparency, i.e. you know who your affiliates are and how they generally promote affiliate programs. Most networks also provide referring url data so you know where the traffic is coming from, which is good if you are concerned with controling the quality of sites promoting your company or offer. My personal favorite affiliate network is Commission Junction (CJ) for a few reasons. CJ has a great tracking platform that has been quite reliable over the years. CJ has a wealth of diverse “affiliate/publishers” you can prospect from in their database, allowing you the ability to send recruiting emails to particular countries and categories of affiliates. They have a great email system, that allows you to send newsletters and promotions to your affiliate base without cost, and the deliverability is good. CJ also allows you to recruit affiliates into the program by sending them “pending offers” to join your program which they may or may not accept, but the option to do this is great. You have to know who the affiliates are in order to do this, so most Advertisers aren’t able to do this effectively without using an “OPM” or affiliate management agency. The other major affiliate networks do have good affiliates and good systems, I have just personally found that CJ is on it’s own higher level of publisher quality, quantity, and tracking consistency. All companies that are serious about growing a large, productive affiliate program, over-time, should launch on CJ and possibly 1 or 2 other major networks, but you have to really watch duplication of order IDs across networks when you run on multiple affiliate networks and have logic coded into your site to prevent paying out on the same order in more than one network. If you do CJ right, it should be the only affiliate network you ever need.
Companies with an “offer” that pays a flat fee or engaging in lead generation may want to consider “CPA Networks” or cost-per-acquisition affiliate networks, as opposed to the major networks. One of the issues with CPA networks is that they don’t give you that publisher transparency to know and interact with all of your affiliate-publishers personally, so there isn’t really any actual affiliate management or cultivating the program that can go on. This is fine for some companies with CPA offers, but most medium to large size companies and ecommerce companies tend to shy away from CPA networks due to the fact that you can’t work with your affiliate base personally or send newsletters promoting deals. However, some companies don’t mind this as long as the network is producing good sales or leads, so CPA Networks do work well for certain companies and offers. You have to have a really good process in place to verify any leads or sales that come in through an affiliate network so you can prevent fraud from occurring. Making a “welcome call’ to each order generated by an affiliate network source is usually a good idea to prevent any funny business from going on in your program or paying out on non-valid sales.
The 3rd option is running your own private affiliate network. Operating your own affiliate network can be a great idea because you can recruit affiliate partners directly and work with them one-on-one because you get their phone number and other contact information. Private networks don’t inherently have any affiliates, so you have to mobilize a force to recruit good affiliate partners through a lot of outreach to relavant websites and blogs. I recommend HasOffers.com for running your own private network because they are reliable, feature-rich, and extremely cost-effective (starting at $99/month). HasOffers allows your affiliate partners the ability to log-in and check their stats at any time in a nice interface. It also holds unlimited offers so you can operate with 1 offer or 100’s of offers in your private network. I usually recommend operating a private affiliate network in conjunction with a program on a major affiliate network for the best results. When you run your own network you have to prospect for your affiliates and partners, they certainly won’t come to you unless you make the affiliate sign-up link visible on your website or email your previous customers. You have to pro-actively contact relevant websites and ask them if they want to be your affiliate, which has to be done with a lot of tact and strategy to be effective. You can also advertise in the search engines for niche affiliates that would be a good fit for your affiliate program. You can also turn your customers into affiliate marketers by offering them your affiliate program to join. The way to really get production our of this type of scenario is to have a really good affiliate management in place that can follow-up with everyone that joins and make sure they can access your banners and links and incorporate them into their website, blog, or newsletter promotions. Really effective affiliate managers are able to work with affiliates to make them better affiliates by doing things like analyzing their website, providing helpful feedback, and providing resources that will help affiliates to what they do better and more effectively. However, the vast majority of affiliate managers and even affiliate management agencies (OPMs) don’t have the background or knowledge base to be able to help their affiliates be better affiliates. Affiliate managers should know how to be an affiliate themselves and be able to help affiliates with whatever they may need. They should also be available 24/7 to respond to questions, which most do not.
Regardless of where you grow your affiliate channel you need to have competent, pro-active affiliate managers minding the fort. If you launch in a major network without good affiliate management your program may not grow at all and seriously disappoint you. There are a few options for managing your affiliates, i.e. in-house managers, outsourced affiliate managers (OPMs, or hiring an affiliate manager from the affiliate industry. In-house managers can be good if they know what they are doing, have HTML and web skills, and have some experience with the affiliate landscape, otherwise they won’t know how to handle issues and you may get burned by fraud if they aren’t watching it closely enough. Outsourced affiliate managers can be a great option if you use the right company (like Experience Advertising) with connections and good strategies for growing the program. Hiring an experience affiliate manager can be a good idea if you hire the right person that doesn’t have too many preconceived notions about how to manager you affiliates. Whomever you use to manager your affiliates, make sure they are experience in web promotion, HTML, SEO, and Social Media. Also they should be really nice, friendly, and a good social networker, so they can build great partnerships with your affiliate base. Affiliate managers should be really proactive people that aren’t afraid to pick up the phone and speak to an affiliate about how to effectively promote the company through various online marketing strategies. In fact, good affiliate managers should be encourage affiliates to call them to discuss how to effectively promote the program. If this isn’t the case, you are falling short with your affiliate managers and therefore you affiliates won’t increase participation and production.
All and all, launching and running an affiliate program on an affiliate network is a great idea for most companies. Keep your expectations in check and plan to grow it year-over-year strategically. Don’t be afraid to invest into your affiliate program by launching on major networks, running contests, bonusing producers, and other promotions to create excitement among your affiliates so they try to promote the company moreso. Running an affiliate program should be a fun and exciting endeavour that grows over time through the right management strategies and principles. It can be a very profitable channel for companies with little risk because everything is on a performance basis. Now get out there and launch your affiliate program! Thanks for reading, please leave a comment and feel free to share this article with your Facebook and Twitter followers. Thanks!