Affiliate marketing is based on a simple premise - publishers drive traffic to an advertiser's site and they get rewarded if the visitor goes on to make a purchase.
With a wide range of advertisers running affiliate programs, there is a varying degree of how effectively these are being managed.
This article will look at 10 habits of highly effective advertisers. This is by no means an extensive list but should see an advertiser in good stead when managing their program.
It is important to start with the basics. By getting the basics right, the program is likely to run smoothly and publishers will remain engaged. All advertisers really should be getting in to the habit of carrying out these best practices.
Be clear in program descriptions
When publishers are deciding who to promote, program descriptions will help to convince them to sign up. Advertisers need to be clear in terms of what their commission rates are, any de-duplication processes that are in place and the types of affiliate activity that are permitted on the program. As well as what channels are de-duplicated against it is also important to outline whether sales are de-duped automatically at source (they will not appear in the interface) or if they are manually de-duped (sales appear in the interface but are then deleted).
Timely affiliate approvals
Publishers that are signing up to a program want to get promoting right away. Get into the habit of approving them on a regular basis or they may lose interest all together. It is bad practice to keep publishers 'pending' for a long time. Swift decisions can ensure publishers are able to get up and running as quickly as possible.
Regular communication helps to keep publishers informed and engaged. What are your latest products and best sellers? Do you have any consumer or publisher promotions to communicate to your publisher base? The more informed they are the better they are able to target their activity.
Share your promotional plans
This ties in with the previous point. The more information publishers have about key events for your brand, the better they are able to promote you. For example, if there is a big push around a new product launch, it could be possible to secure additional coverage across relevant publisher sites.
Regularity is a common theme in best practices. It is important to ensure that transactions are validated regularly. If publishers are driving sales the quicker they know these sales have been approved and are paid in a timely manner, the more likely they are to reinvest in promoting the program. Long validation periods could lead to unrest and publishers to promote competitor programs over yours. If transactions are deleted, it is important that the reason for this is made clear.
Working across multiple publisher types
One of the benefits or working in the affiliate channel is the number of promotional types that work within the channel. From the traditional publisher types such as editorial content and discount code sites through to the newer technologies of behavioral retargeting and basket abandonment capture there is a wealth of opportunities. The beauty of having these newer technologies sit within the channel is the ability to control them and put rules in place in regards of cookies they are able to overwrite.
These different publisher types can help reach a wide audience and advertisers are able to determine the publisher types that add value to their campaign. It is important to remember to treat publishers as individuals - just because they have the same promotional methods and look similar does not mean they will attract the same type of audience. Analyzing post conversion data helps identify the quality of each publisher's traffic and allows advertisers to focus on those driving valuable customers.
Provision of tools
Publishers should be seen as an extension of your sales force. It is important they are armed with the correct tools in order to be able to generate sales. Creative should be provided in a range of sizes and updated regularly. Product feeds (where relevant) should also be provided and updated on a regular basis.
With the basics mentioned above in place, advertisers can focus on making their programs even more effective by looking at the bigger picture.
Analyze and improve
There is a significant amount of data available across an affiliate program. Advertisers, agencies, networks and publishers all capture various pieces of data that can be tied together. This allows performance metrics to be analyzed and identify activity that has been successful. For example, with an advertiser sharing post conversion data, it is possible to analyze the performance of each partner. Do the customers that have purchased return, are they spending more with each order, what are they buying and through what devices are all elements that can be analyzed.
Think cross device
Mobile commerce has increased rapidly over the past few years. With some advertisers seeing in excess of 50 percent of traffic originating from a mobile device, it goes without saying that advertisers should have sites that are optimized for mobile devices. What is becoming increasingly important is to understand how consumers are using multiple devices to complete these customer journeys. Cross-device tracking is the next stage in the attribution piece, if advertisers are unable to track cross device, how are they expected to attribute sales correctly?
Evaluate the influence beyond the last click
Customer journeys are becoming increasingly complex. A typical path to conversion is likely to span multiple channels and potentially multiple devices. Advertisers need to be able to analyze these journeys and understand how publishers are influencing decisions as well as converting traffic.
Additional payment models outside of last click CPA can be considered, like allowing advertisers to reward those publishers who are assisting customer journeys but not necessarily converting.
Managing an affiliate program does not have to be complicated. Getting into good habits can really help your program take off. In the initial phases getting publishers interested in the program and keeping them engaged is key, while in depth analysis for more mature programs can really help them to reach the next level.
Matt Swan is a Client Strategist at Digital Window, where he works with advertisers on affiliate campaigns and conducts market research. He has experience in account management and business development, and regularly contributes to industry sites like Econsultancy, A4U, and The Marketing Lounge. He sits on the research committee at the IAB Affiliate Marketing Council and has conducted research on the mobile network sector and m-commerce. Prior to his current role, he was an Account Director at dgm, managing the Account Management team and top brands.