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.
This 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:
- 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”.
- Be transparent and accessible. Add full contact information to program descriptions and emails. No one will stalk you. Be proud of your work.
- Respond to applications and questions within 24 hours or less.
- Regularly update datafeeds, text links, banners, coupons and deals. Keep it fresh.
- 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.
- Send newsletters monthly or as needed. Treat them like sales people and give them relevant information about how to sell products.
- Respect affiliates' time and opinions. They have busy lives and they are pretty smart.
- Reward them for effort as well as performance. Sometimes, they deserve the commission increase more than those that bring in sales naturally.
- Conversion is the responsibility of the merchant. Clicks are the responsibility of the affiliate. Push for growth accordingly.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.