Tips for Successful Affiliate Program Management

There are of thousands of opinions on how to build a successful affiliate program. The easiest way to sum it up is to say the affiliate manager needs to “Get It”.

If they don’t understand affiliate marketing, the program will never see its full potential. It took me a few years to really get it.

Honestly, there is no right answer. Every single month I make adjustments to my programs. Affiliate marketing evolves daily and managers that get it, evolve too.

Best Practices

Fight club movie sceneThis isn’t fight club. We are allowed to talk to each other about best practices. Any affiliate manager that is not active in the industry is not learning.

Affiliate marketing is about building relationships. When you build relationships outside of your comfort zone, you learn. When you share, they share. Trade secrets don’t need to be discussed but other managers could become great mentors.

Here is a list of 10 key factors to successful affiliate program management:

  1. Find balance between merchant needs and affiliate needs. The best managers will be advocates for both sides, especially if the merchant doesn’t “get it”.
  2. Be transparent and accessible. Add full contact information to program descriptions and emails. No one will stalk you. Be proud of your work.
  3. Respond to applications and questions within 24 hours or less.
  4. Regularly update datafeeds, text links, banners, coupons and deals. Keep it fresh.
  5. Fix problems when they come up and be honest about what’s going on. Affiliates have platforms to complain and they will, unless you do the right thing.
  6. Send newsletters monthly or as needed. Treat them like sales people and give them relevant information about how to sell products.
  7. Respect affiliates’ time and opinions. They have busy lives and they are pretty smart.
  8. Reward them for effort as well as performance. Sometimes, they deserve the commission increase more than those that bring in sales naturally.
  9. Conversion is the responsibility of the merchant. Clicks are the responsibility of the affiliate. Push for growth accordingly.
  10. Keep your programs clean. Existing customers will crossover to the affiliate channel but your goal is to provide as many new customers as possible.

Content sites rock

For each program, there are different types of sites that drive traffic based on the product itself, not the name brand, price or discount. You want the majority of your sales coming from these types of affiliates, which include datafeed sites, general content or niche sites.

I wrote about how to nurture these sites in this post, Fantasy Affiliate Program Management.

If a merchant sells stereo equipment, they need to work with sites that talk about stereos and music. If they sell toys, they need to work with toy review sites. These are the sites where the owners will give extra time and effort into promotions.

They drive traffic through social media, through datafeed pages and sometimes by placing an ugly old banner in just the right place. Many of these content sites are probably already joined in your program but you can never stop looking for new ones.

Cleaning up affiliate programs

Coupons, paid search and toolbars give me a headache. This is the part where managers have to evolve to survive and show growth in their programs.

Affiliates have learned how to cater to bad customer habits and laziness. I have to act as a policeman every day for every program. It dominates my time but growth and profitability are my key metrics.

Toolbars

When I take over an existing program in Commission Junction or others, I clean house. I make sure the merchant is on board with the strategy and I warn them there are no guarantees but I have never failed.

From small programs to Fortune 100 programs, the results are all the same. Toolbars, software downloads, browser help objects do not add value to your marketing.

Millions of customers have these downloaded onto their computers to help them find deals when they shop. But they do not give you new customers. Ever.

Merchants will not see one drop in overall sales when they are removed. When the program is cleaned, the channel becomes more profitable and conversions for content sites increase.

Read more on How I Keep Affiliate Programs Clean. I name names and do not hold back.

Coupons

If your site has a coupon field at checkout, I think you need to work with coupon affiliates. But you can control them tightly. I have a list of 8 coupon sites that are active with sales and I crack the whip on a daily basis.

In many tests over the years, I have seen evidence that the big coupon sites do add value. My estimation is that they take credit for 20% to 40% of existing customers. That’s because customers are trained by every other site to leave the shopping cart and look for coupons.

The argument is the coupon site is closing the sale for you, thus preventing the customer from looking at other brands. Look at the numbers in reverse.

Up to 80% of their traffic could be new customers that find you while browsing the coupon sites for deals. Run the numbers yourself and determine what the acceptable balance of new versus old is for your program.

Paid search

If you are not running direct url paid search for your site, let an affiliate do it for you. Because your competitors will take advantage of the shelf space. I don’t buy the argument that your brand is too precious and your SEO will suffer if someone is bidding on your trademark names. Lock it down.

Control the paid search efforts like I suggested you control coupon sites. I only work with two paid search affiliates in all of my programs. There are thousands of them but I only trust two to buy trademark keywords and invest in the long-tail.

I do allow content affiliates to buy paid search keywords and send the traffic to be filtered through their site first. I have seen good solid conversions from that type of traffic.

This also helps fill the shelf space on those search pages for your trademarks. Keep the competitors away. Invest in BrandVerity.com to monitor your keywords, best money spent in affiliate marketing.

About Greg Hoffman

Greg Hoffman (@akagorilla) is President of Greg Hoffman Consulting, an outsourced affiliate program management agency with programs in ShareASale and other top networks. Greg is a Father, Husband, Affiliate Manager, Blogger, Comic Book Man, Vinyl Record Lover, Sunday Newspaper Reader, Pencil User and Tropical Fishkeeper.

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Comments

  1. Awesome post Greg. Great to have an additional resource to point out to folks now when they tell me they’re affiliate program is comprised of 90% toolbar and coupon affiliates. Sigh.

    • Thank you, Rae. I wish more merchants would understand that there are more profitable ways to grow their affiliate programs than working with toolbars and coupon sites that charge slotting fees or paid placement.

  2. “We are allowed to talk to each other about best practices.” – love it! Sharing is indeed caring, the more affiliate managers learn from you the more affiliates they themselves will recruit and help grow our industry.

    Another helpful tip: make the affiliate program agreement fair and friendly to affiliates, create a summary that is clear & concise. Affiliates don’t have time to read 5+ page program agreements). Also don’t auto approve all affiliate partners, you’ll scare good ones away: http://i.imgur.com/UewanpN.png

    Shared and look forward to more posts like these :)

    • Kush – thanks for the input! I have to add though, if you’re not auto approving, then you need to manually review the applications on a very regular basis. Because as an affiliate, if you take three weeks to approve me, I’ll already have your competition’s links up on my site and it you’d be hard pressed to get me to change them unless your program was infinitely better once that occurred. :)

      • I approve applications all day long. From Monday – Friday the longest wait is probably about an hour on Shareasale. Maybe 4 hours on CJ. I usually try to hit them once or twice on the weekends too. Every program should be manual, not auto. For each good affiliate that would get auto approved, 100 bad ones would sneak in.

        • Totally hear ya. I applied for an affiliate program once and six weeks later I got the approval. I was long gone on wanting to work with them by that point – so I just wanted to point out timely approvals are a must. :)

          As an affiliate, not getting auto approved is frustrating (I want it NOW!) but I get why merchants with well run programs require manual approval.

  3. Greg – great post and I love the Fight Club reference! It is very true though – collaboration helps everyone and has been a staple in this industry from the beginning. (at least in small circles). Thanks for doing your part to keep it going!!

  4. Outstanding post, Greg. Everyone involved in internet marketing really needs to read this. Sharing!

    • It really was a great post! I know I spoke with a merchant at Pubcon that was in need of the info, that’s for sure. That said part is that most are trying to run a good program – they’re just relying on the wrong companies to get them from point A to point B.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Sabrina. :)

    • Thank you, Sabrina. Now go find me more content sites. :)

  5. Greg, thanks a ton for putting together your thoughts (and for the mention). It feels that the industry is beginning to turn towards content sites (yay!), and I love that ShareASale focused much of the last ThinkTank on content affiliates.

  6. I think the rise of content is a very health sign for the industry. I also love the pic you have put. Brad is looking great as usual. Thanks for the great tips. I wish people take the point 7 seriously. Thanks

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