By partnering with publishers through an affiliate marketing program, retailers can tap into unique audiences with an online-handshake.
Affiliate marketing has changed dramatically over the years. Gone are the days of a set-it-and-forget-it program where you throw a few banners and – maybe – a coupon or two into the affiliate platform, set a moderate payout for the partners sending traffic, and hope you generate some sales.
Today, the right mix of partners can create a unique and interesting revenue stream, but you have to be prepared to manage that channel with the same vim and vigor as you would other campaigns. Is the time and effort required to setup and manage and affiliate program right for your business?
I suppose that depends on your answers to the following questions.
Do you want more sales?
That may seem like a silly question, after all – who DOESN’T want to generate more revenue?
But, in reality, not every business is looking to scale their direct sales business. Some are quite happy with the number of active customers that they currently have and aren’t really looking to grow.
However, to be fair, if you weren’t looking to grow your business… you probably wouldn’t be reading this article. So, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the answer to that question is a resounding YES!
Can you create the marketing assets needed by affiliates?
Affiliate text links are easy, if you can type – you can create them.
Display ads and banners are more complicated, and you may want to tap a graphic designer to get these done properly.
Dynamic widgets are difficult, and often out of reach for the smaller business or those who are new to affiliate marketing programs.
Looking at the full scope, there are a lot of creative inventory types that can now be served through affiliate programs. But, to be reasonable, you don’t need to order everything on the menu in order to get started. The basics that I would suggest that you have in your program to get it kicked off would include:
- Your logo
- Text links – one for your company, and several for categories of products or services
- Display Ads (aka Banners) – Tackle the most popular affiliate banner sizes sizes in order to have coverage, but I have put them in priority order. If you an ONLY create 2 or 3 banners… start at the top of the list and work downward.
The top 9 most popular affiliate banner sizes are:
# 1 – 300×250
# 2 – 728×90
# 3 – 336×280
# 4 – 300×600
# 5 – 320×100 (mobile)
# 6 – 468×60
# 7 – 120×600
# 8 – 160×600
# 9 -250×250
Your display ads and banners should be simple, clear, and effective. Stick with one key product or message per banner. Animation is ok, but avoid making them too flashy, nobody wants a site with crazy, blinking banners anymore.
As a general rule, I would suggest that you create all 9 sizes to support your main branding message – e.g. ACME Supplies – Your Source for Road Runner Hunting – and only the top 3 sizes for your most popular product categories.
Here are some examples of – in my potentially biased opinion – very well crafted affiliate from one of the best b2b affiliate programs out there banners:
(Yes, these are real, live 728×90 affiliate banners and will follow and affiliate link to the merchant’s landing page)
You can see consistency in the approach, but each banner tackles a particular service category with a unique message and call-to-action that best suits that category.
Does your site have a streamlined and effective online checkout?
Affiliates send you relevant traffic, and they count on you to convert them. If your site is not optimized for conversion, then you are asking the affiliate to do the heavy lifting while you slack off.
Granted, the headline may be a little misleading, as not all online actions are going to be checkout based. They could be free trial signups, or even lead generation form. But the principle remains the same, you need to have a well-oiled-machine of a site before you expect affiliates to send you traffic and trust you to convert that traffic at a decent percentage.
If your site conversion funnels are old, ineffective, and clunky – fix them first before you launch an affiliate program. Programs that suck away traffic but don’t deliver sales, tend to be programs that affiliates leave behind in the dust. And once you’ve lost an affiliate, particularly due to poor conversion, it’s really hard to get them back.
Just a few tips for building effective, affiliate friendly online flows:
- If possible, remove or downplay phone numbers – unless you have affiliate call tracking in place. Affiliates tend to dislike sites where a transaction can occur offline because it means they rarely, if ever, get credit for that referral. Live Chat, which keeps the user on the site through the transaction, can often work as an alternate to a “Call us for help” support process.
- Make the conversion path as streamlined as possible – if it’s a signup flow, make it quick and easy. If it’s a checkout, ensure that your cart abandonment rates are minimized. If it’s a lead gen form, include only the fields you need in order to properly qualify and work the lead.
- Create dedicated landing pages whenever possible – these can be simple duplicates of your main pages, but with as many distractions as possible removed. Or, if you’re dealing with a particularly strong partner, you can create co-branded landing pages that maintain that partnership as far down the purchase funnel as possible.
Can your website offer a variety of sales, discounts and promotions?
Although content publishers are on the rise within the affiliate marketing space, coupon and deal sites still make up the lion’s share of overall affiliate revenue.
In order to tap into this part of the market, you need to be able to offer a variety of promotions that will entice these sites to list and promote you.
Coupons & Deals can include:
- Discount coupons (e.g. % off, $ off, BOGO offers)
- Site Deals (e.g. Black Friday or other short-burst on-site promotions)
- Threshold offers (e.g. Free Shipping on orders over $50)
- Clearance Sections (e.g. end of year clearout events, or clearance sections on your site)
- Free Stuff (e.g. Free Consultations, Gift with Purchase, etc.)
Ideally, you want at least 3 or 4 active promotions at any given time, and at least one new one each month, so that the mix stays fresh. Try to overlap them so that discounts expire and new ones start on a semi-regular basis, as that keeps your coupon and deals section interesting and worthy of the attention of some of the larger coupon and deal sites.
Do you have time to build and foster affiliate marketing relationships?
The key to success in Affiliate Marketing is building & maintaining strong relationships. Not only does this help build successful partnerships with existing affiliates, but it also helps develop your overall reputations within the affiliate industry.
According to the AffStat 2016 Affiliate Marketing Benchmark Report:
- 82% of affiliates list their relationship with the Affiliate Manager as valuable or crucial to their business.
- Relevancy and Reputation play critical roles in new partner acquisition.
- Personalized attention is critical, but time-consuming
Not only does this help build successful partnerships with existing affiliates, but it also helps develop your overall reputations within the affiliate industry.
In fact, the company’s affiliate program reputation is the SECOND MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR when affiliates are selecting potential merchant partners. This is above and beyond the brand awareness and reputation of the company itself, which come in at $4 and #5, respectively.
The basic keys to relationship development within an affiliate marketing program is to:
- Always remember that your partners are people. Treat them with respect and appreciate the work they are doing for you, and you should do fine.
- Always remember that they are NOT an employee of your company. As such, don’t attempt to micromanage them. Affiliates appreciate advice, not dictation.
- Always remember that your affiliates are in business too. It’s not just about you and your revenue, you need to find a balance that works for both partners.
Do you have time and skills to implement the tracking & monitoring capabilities?
Depending on the web development platform that you use, adding tracking codes can be as simple as cutting and pasting… or as complicated as opening up PHP scripts and editing them directly.
But beyond the implementation of the tracking codes, you need to be able to monitor your affiliates and their marketing activities.
It’s sad, but true, that not all affiliates are good partners. Some of them are in the business of doing everything they can to make money, whether it be to your benefit or not.
A few bad-affiliate behaviors to be on the lookout for include:
- Trademark Infringement – These are affiliates who bid on your brand name and use it in their ad text, even if you have it called out in your program terms that this is not allowed. (Side Note: Always include that in your program terms and conditions!)
- Browser Tools with Forced Clicks – There are a variety of toolbar that affiliates use to show potential customers offers that are relevant to the site they are on. Some of these toolbars are good and can help close a sale that might otherwise have continued window shopping. Some of these toolbars are bad and will “pretend” like the visitor has clicked through their affiliate link, even if the visitor did nothing of the sort.
- Search Ad Phishing – One of the worst offenders are affiliates who will copy your brand search campaigns, word-for-word and link-for-link, but add their affiliate tracking URL to the campaigns. These ads look exactly like your own brand ads, only instead of paying pennies per click on these ads, you will now be paying out a full commission to someone who is simply taking advantage of your hard-won brand reputation.
Don’t let this scare you away… with the right tracking and monitoring in place, you can quickly and easily weed out the bad players and focus on the good ones.
I highly recommend Brand Verity because of their affiliate compliance monitoring platform that can do the heavy lifting of watching your affiliates behavior and making sure that they follow your terms and conditions.
Ready to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing?
Here are three of the bigger affiliate network platform that you should consider.
|Shareasale (Part of Awin) is what I like to refer to as the Small But Mighty affiliate network. Their platform can be a bit clunky, but they do a lot of the pre-work on screening out nefarious affiliates, and their affiliate rating system is a great tool to warn other merchants of known bad behaviors. They also have a great set of commission rules that I have used extensively in the past. The Shareasale team is also – in my opinion – one of the best for working directly with merchants and partners to provide support and advice on how to grow an affiliate program.
|Commission Junction (by Conversant) is one of the biggest networks available today. They have a much larger base of affiliates, but that can become a disadvantage as there is more to monitor and more careful attention to affiliate activities is required. If you can handle a bit more of a Wild-Wild-West affiliate marketing experience, CJ is a good place to generate a more significant volume of affiliate partners as they probably have the largest base of affiliates versus either of the other two noted here. This doesn’t always translate to more sales, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
|Impact Radius (by Impact Radius) is more of a platform than a network, as they provide the tools to power an in-house affiliate program. They have a tremendous grasp on the affiliate marketing space and have created a very diverse and unique tool set for managing affiliates and dealing with omni-channel and cross-device attribution. The downside is that you have to do a lot more of the heavy-lifting to find affiliates as there isn’t a great, centralized database of merchants for them to pick from like the other big players.
|Visit ShareaSale >>
|Visit CJ >>
|Visit ImpactRadius >>
I don’t have anything specific against the other networks, but these are ones that I have used in the past. They each have their pros and cons, so make sure to do your own research and don’t take my word for it.
To put them all into perspective, here are the results from the AffStat 2016 Affiliate Marketing Benchmark Report on the popularity of the top Affiliate Marketing Networks:
For smaller businesses, I would recommend picking just one. Larger organizations can utilize multiple platforms, but we RARELY recommend more than 2 or 3 concurrent programs for two reasons:
- Between the big 2 or 3, you easily cover a vast majority of the affiliate marketing space
- Multiple platforms open up a whole other can of worms when it comes to handling applications, monitoring activity, and tracking conversion across two or more distinct platforms. Few things are more frustrating than finding a bad affiliate and kicking them out of your program, only to have them pop back up in your program on another network.
For most businesses, one program is a great place to start out. Two programs (e.g. Shareasale and CommissionJunction) will provide ample coverage of the market. Rarely do you gain any additional benefit from adding a third network, unless you have a mature program and are looking for one with very specific capabilities, such as Impact Radius.