5 Ways to Fix Your Affiliate Program Right Now

By Greg Hoffman

Thousands of affiliate programs launch without a strategy and without anyone accountable for their success.

A few of them take off naturally in an unmanaged or semi-managed state but most flounder as merchants are generally too inexperienced with the channel to run the program. If an experienced program manager has not been hired for an affiliate program, here are five simple things that can be done right now to make the program more profitable.

1. Sign your name on all signup pages, emails and newsletters.

By calling an individual an "Affiliate Team," he or she is telling affiliates several things: the site can't keep the manager position staffed so they will have to wait for the next available person to get questions answered; there really is no one in charge and there is little chance for meaningful interaction; the site doesn't value their opinions or it doesn't have time for questions and feedback. Site owners should talk to their affiliates as partners. They sometimes know more about the customers, especially in this channel, than the site owner does. Relationships are everything in affiliate marketing, and it starts with the relationships between the affiliates and the manager.

2. Purchase a subscription to a trademark monitoring service.

Every audit of unmanaged programs will show violations that were never enforced. Just stating in the "Terms of Service" that affiliates can't perform a particular promotion or action doesn't mean they will comply. Even some of the best content affiliates don't read the terms; or think they don't apply. Managers need to keep the affiliate playing field level and protect their other online marketing channels. It takes about 30 seconds to scan a monitoring service email each morning (see sidebar). When a site owner finds a violation, they need to deal with it immediately. He or she can warn the affiliate, start dialogue about why they don't want them bidding on those keywords and build a mutual understanding on how to move forward. The relationship can also be ended immediately if the Terms of Service indicate that.

Affiliate Brand Protection

Check out a list of monitoring services at wsm.co/easymonitor.

3. Review the 10 affiliates with the highest sales and visit their referring URL pages.

Are they promoting the brand and products from relevant or high-quality sites? Are there any promotions that are questionable? Have other managers added feedback on their network profiles about things to look out for? Are they being paid an appropriate commission? Has the site owner met them in person or at least traded emails? After answering these questions, the site owner can brainstorm ways to help optimize their promotions to bring more traffic, then make suggestions. Next month, they'll give these 10 a quick skim to spot any glaring differences, then move on to review the next 10.

4. Review the 10 affiliates that have the most clicks without sales.

Are they sending thousands of clicks with no conversion? Is that traffic negatively affecting the site's earnings per click (EPC) and conversion numbers? Or, are those affiliates sending good traffic but it's not converting for a technical reason? Is the problem on the merchant side or the network side? Are the site's links working properly? Merchants sometimes change URL structure or image locations without telling the manager. Both of these will break affiliate links and kill conversion. If everything seems to be working, then the site owner should reach out to that affiliate and see if a simple conversation about what products convert best will help.

5. Round up 50 affiliates with no clicks and no sales.

If they are in a relevant niche, tag them or group them in the system and create an offer they can't refuse.

"We value your partnership and are glad you chose to join our program. Now it's time to get some promotions up and we are going to reward you for those efforts. For the next 8 weeks, we'll bump your commission by x% (whatever you can afford on a VIP level) and/or we'll give you a bonus of $xx (again, whatever you can afford) if you send us at least three (or four or five) sales."

Bonuses, when handled well, can have lasting results for the program as many affiliates will remain active after they've received a bonus.

Greg Hoffman is an award-winning outsourced program manager in the affiliate marketing industry. He's an advocate for good affiliates, merchants and managers.