: By Geno Prussakov :
You have launched an affiliate program, a number of affiliates
have joined and you have started to see referrals to your
website. However, at one point the sales volume gets frozen
at one level, and no signs point to a brighter future. In other
words, your affiliate program is no longer growing, or growth
has slowed to a crawl. Does this sound familiar?
I have come to describe the above situation as
Limited Potential Syndrome. It’s not because your product or
service has limited potential. And it’s not because affiliate
marketing is the wrong channel to market your services or
products — anything that sells online can be marketed
through affiliates. The problem lies in the fact that either your
affiliate program or your very website has limited affiliate
marketing potential. The good news is that there is a cure.
The treatment starts by paying closer attention to how your
current website looks, and how your affiliate program is
organized and structured. You need not be an expert to spot
the most frequently occurring mistakes and to deal with
them. What follows is a list of the seven most deadly sins that
commonly hinder the growth of affiliate programs.
Leaks, in affiliate marketing context, are external links
within the merchant’s website that lead to sites that do not credit
affiliates for sales and/or traffic. Some classic examples are
AdSense units, banner ads, links to sister sites and even phone
numbers listed on your website. Unless you have a way of compensating
your affiliates for a sale that occurs over the phone, or
an order that is placed on the website you are linking to, stay
away from these. This includes all non-commissionable activity
that may happen on your website after the end user has clicked
an affiliate link. Allowing non-commissionable activity spells
disrespect to those whose investments are based on the trust
they will be paid for performance. Of course, dissatisfied affiliates
hinder current and future growth of a program.
#2: Lack of Detailed Terms of Service Agreements
In a study conducted for my book, “A Practical Guide to Affiliate
Marketing,” I examined 100 affiliate programs in the same vertical
and analyzed their program agreements. The results were shocking:
51 percent of the merchants lacked Terms of Service (TOS)
agreements altogether, 36 percent had extremely generic ones, and only 13 percent of the affiliate
programs in the study had full
affiliate program agreements in
place. If your affiliate program is
not outlining the responsibilities
and obligations of all involved
parties, you are in for long-term
Returning to the study
yields another astonishing fact:
Close to 70 percent of the affiliate
programs with full agreements
in place copied them (often word-for-word) from their
competitors. By not taking time to craft your own TOS agreements,
or simply copying another’s, you’re not getting the maximum
potential (and protection) from your affiliate programs.
#3: Auto-Pilot Affiliate Programs
Is your affiliate program managed? This may sound like a
strange question to some, but the sad truth is that many affiliate
programs are run on auto-pilot; especially when the program is
hosted on a large affiliate network. Merchants, often called
“advertisers,” have a misconception about their whole affiliate
marketing campaign. They believe it to be an advertising campaign
where they pay on performance. While the latter part is
correct, the former is not. Your affiliate marketing program is not
an advertising campaign; it is a marketing program. And marketing
programs should be managed. That means making yourself
available to provide for any affiliate needs (be it creatives, landing
pages, keyword lists, or anything else).
#4: Treating Affiliates as Employees
While affiliate programs cry out for management, affiliates
themselves are generally opposed to any expression of such.
Any top-down managerial behavior expressed by a merchant
turns affiliates away. You can manage your affiliate program, but
do not consider it your duty to manage the affiliates who have
chosen to participate. By all means, keep tabs on affiliate performance
and behavior, and make yourself (or your affiliate program
manager) accessible, but not intruding.
Motivate through opportunity, not fear.
#5: Outdated Material
Be it your data feed (prices, images, etc.), creatives,
coupons, promotional campaigns, or anything else — keep it
up-to-date at all times. It will save you, and your affiliates hours
of customer service troubles. Making sure your affiliates always
have the latest information and offerings will give them the best
chance for conversions.
#6: Overlooking Trademark Bidding
There are several reasons to bar affiliates from bidding on
your trademark, but two in particular. First, when a search engine
user types in keywords such as “YourName” or
“YourWebsite.com” they already know and are actively searching
for your website or business. Allowing affiliates to bid on your
brands diverts traffic to their websites or links that rightfully
belongs to you. In addition, once you turn over your trademark to
the highest bidder, you lose control over how it is presented.
Second, even if your brand is not famous, allowing
trademark-bidding affiliates into your program will considerably
decrease the likelihood of real producers joining your program.
After all, the affiliate setting the last cookie gets the commission.
For example, your product or service might be found
through an affiliate that executed a quality pre-sale job. But the
prospect shops around for a day or two before making the final
decision. Later, the prospect goes to a search engine to find your
business by typing in the name, but arrives to your site through
a trademark bidder’s AdWords campaign. Just like that, the real
producer’s cookie gets overwritten and the commission goes to
the wrong affiliate. While most affiliates will not even bother
telling you this, allowing trademark bidding in your affiliate
program will not let it grow to its fullest potential.
#7: Adware & Cookie Overwriting
It is sad, but true, that BHO (browser helper object) plugins
and toolbars that prompt overwriting of competitive affiliate
cookies not only abound, but are often tolerated both by major
affiliate networks and in-house-based affiliate programs. These
are the affiliate wolves in sheep’s clothing (the façade will often
look like one of a charitable foundation, or a scholarship fund).
Experience testifies to the fact that booting out an unethical
affiliate can increase affiliate-referred sales by as much as a
factor of 10 in a very short period of time. Regardless of what
sales volume a violator produces, he or she will always hurt the
campaign. Uncouth affiliates prevent serious marketers from
signing up with your program, and often hurt your other avenues
of online marketing.
Enlisting the help of affiliates is a smart way to get traffic
to your website and increase sales. But not just any affiliate will
do. Make sure your program is not paralyzed by limited marketing
potential. Make sure you are doing everything possible to run
a clean, transparent and affiliate-friendly program, and you will
see the program grow and prosper.
About the Author: Geno Prussakov is a graduate of the University of Cambridge,
author of “A Practical Guide to Affiliate Marketing” (2007)
and “Online Shopping Through Consumers’ Eyes” (2008),
popular speaker and affiliate marketing evangelist.
Prussakov is the founder and CEO of AMNavigator.com.