15 Affiliate Management Tips

By Paul Morris
In a previous life I was the Affiliate director for companies such as National Friendly, Park Resorts, Farm and Cottage holidays, Baines and Ernst and Hoburne Holidays and have dealt with affiliate marketing since then in various guises. 

Affiliate marketing is an important part of many Brands digital marketing mixes, not only for direct sales but also for branding, hence thought I would document my top 15 tips for a succesful affiliate program:

Sort out the basics. Ensure simple things are optimised for affiliates e.g. a simple sign up process, easy to browse products, ensure niche product links are available in the program, effective / optimised creative, custom landing pages, etc

Devise an outreach strategy. Many of the points below will enlarge on this statement but put simply ensure you have a plan of when and where to release new offers, widgets, competitions, incentives, etc to affiliates over the course of a year. i.e an optimised marketing campaign plan in partnership with your affiliate manager. 

Networks are great though consider your own program in addition. Whilst partnering with one affiliate network (such as Awin) on an exclusive basis is often the best approach (at least in my experience due to better account management, more efficient client side management and reduced network override %) it might also be worthwhile considering your own network in addition. Whilst they do not count as SEO inbound links any more (e.g Laterooms were one of the first in house networks to do this over 15 years ago via partnerships such as Newcastle Airport) you can save commission and  sometimes have a better working relationship by working direct. 

Pay affiliates regularly and without fail. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Unfortunately not in some cases. 

EPC (earnings per click) is really important to an affiliate hence make sure you try to improve your own, particularly when measured against your direct competition.  

Sign up to your competitor programs. Start an affiliate profile across the affiliate networks (Affiliate Window, Tradedoubler, Commission Junction, Optimise Media, etc) and subscribe to your competitor programs so you can find out what they are up to.

Maximise conversion rate. If your campaign does not convert then affiliates will leave you in droves to your nearest competitor hence engage in A/B and multivariate testing to maximise site conversion rate, banner ads, creative concepts, etc. 

There are many ways to skin a cat. Remember there are many affiliate types e.g. content sites, voucher codes, blogs, forums, corporate intranets, banner networks, PPC, shopping portals/ directories, product/ price comparison, cash back sites, social networks, email data list providers, etc and you need to engage with the right ones, in a tailored manner, for your products. 

Use your stats to sell your program. If you have a great conversion rate, £payout, extended cookie duration, 2nd tier cookie referral program, excellent bonus scheme, market leading AOV, amazing competitions, seasonal rewards, excellent payouts to your super affiliates, etc then shout about them.

Use grunt work to sell your program. Market your program via engaging in the ‘Affiliate Cockpit’ on Facebook (previously the A4U forum for those who remember it :), engage in Affiliate discussions, post updates about your program, target sites that might be willing to sell your wares, etc. 

One of my favourite grunt work initiatives is to engage in keyword research and find relevant sites to target. You do this by trawling through the first page of Google (paid and natural results) for hundreds of relevant terms, pick out those sites who might want to promote you and then send out a series of communications (1 email, phone call X 2 and then a final chase email if they have still not responded) to try to get them to sign up for your program. Ensure within your outreach you make it succinct and personal to the specific affiliate, sell in the USP’s of your program and give them an incentive to sign up now e.g. for the next 30 days you will earn double commission on any sales generated.

Use fresh ideas to sell your program. A variety of banner designs (flash, gif, static and different sizes), widgets, interactive banners, product feeds, video, onsite tools, etc gives the affiliate something different for their site and makes you stand out from the crowd. An example of someone who does this well is BuyAGift

Detail your promotion restrictions and recommendation clauses. This can be everything from how they use your brand to voucher code usage to whether you allow PPC affiliates.

Stay in touch. You should have different contact strategies depending on your affiliates – not only defined by affiliate type but also by how they like to be contacted and also by how much money they generate. Be open to a wide variety of communication types (phone, email, meetups, email newsletters, IM, twitter, blogs, forums, etc). You also need to be available out of office hours as some affiliates do this in their spare time.  

Help your affiliates. Karma is a great thing. Help your affiliates with general affiliate marketing advice, tell them what is and isn’t working, answer questions quickly and courteously, provide your affiliates with monthly top tips, etc and watch them promote you instead of the competition. 

Understand what day of the month it is. E.g. If you are a retail site do not try to recruit people in Q4 as they will be busy with updating their site for Christmas. Basically put yourself in the mindset of an affiliate and understand when it’s best to start a specific piece of outreach activity.