State of the Affiliate Marketing Industry - 2009

By Shawn Collins

The numbers behind the numbers in the performance marketing space.

Many small details combine to make for a successful affiliate program. And they can all be summed up in one tenet for affiliate managers: Ask your affiliates what they want and give it to them.

To this end a survey was built, and distributed to more than 450 affiliates to help determine how affiliates work today and what managers can do to accommodate them and increase everyone's bottom line. The survey was conducted for the 2009 Affiliate Summit AffStat Report during Q4 of 2008.

What follows are some valuable insights to the industry for both affiliates and program managers. With the massive market encompassing affiliate marketing, getting on the same page as your business partners can go a long way. Use this information to help streamline your affiliate marketing efforts and offerings.

Affiliate Cookie Monsters
More than 40 percent of affiliates surveyed are content with a return period of 15 to 30 days.

Some affiliate programs tout return days of a year or even a lifetime, but only one percent of respondents considered that to be a fair period. Thus, program managers should not consider this as a major part of their recruiting strategy.

The Price of Quality Affiliates
The majority (58 percent) of affiliates have successfully requested an increase in commission from an affiliate manager.

Some affiliate programs have margins that won't permit additional commissions. So, the worst that can happen is they say no. The best scenario is a significant increase in earnings; and that's worth a try. Either way, if you're a solid performer in affiliate programs and working at the base rate, it's time to pick up the phone.

Money Talks
Of those surveyed, 57 percent answered "yes" when asked, "Do commission payment policies (how often a program pays) affect your decision to promote an affiliate offer?"

In regards to those policies, an overwhelming majority prefer a payment threshold of $50 or $25 (27 percent and 37 percent, respectively), while just a quarter of respondents prefer a $100 payment threshold. In other words, the more often you can pay affiliates, the better.

Eminent Domains
Affiliates are typically asked to provide the site they plan to use when applying to an affiliate program or network. But most affiliates don't have just one domain - only six percent reported as such.

One-third of affiliates own more than 10 domains. Of those, three percent own more than 200 domains.

Our survey results also indicate that affiliates take branding seriously. The majority (55 percent) of affiliates in the survey indicated they dedicate specific domains to individual affiliate programs.

Where to Find Affiliate Programs
The most popular resources for affiliates looking for new programs to join are:

- Searching affiliate directories (18 percent)
- Google (17 percent)
- Affiliate managers contacting affiliates directly (15 percent)
- An affiliate manager who is active on message boards (12 percent)
- Conferences (11 percent)

Program managers should be aware of where affiliates are actively seeking partners. Message boards provide a good opportunity to not only promote your program and gain high visibility among affiliates, but are also a way to listen in on what affiliates are seeking.

A couple of other interesting findings are that affiliate networks are the primary source for only three percent of affiliates and some (three percent) are even using Twitter to choose new programs.

Communication in Moderation
According to affiliates, constant contact from program managers is not desirable. While 39 percent indicated they would like to hear from affiliate managers on a weekly basis, the majority of those surveyed need much less interaction. Most (44 percent) would like to scale it back to monthly; 11 percent would be satisfied with quarterly contact; and six percent said they would prefer to never hear from their affiliate managers.

At first glance, that six percent might offer a sense of relief for program managers, as it represents less hand-on headaches. However, those affiliates are likely among those who never read affiliate agreements; they could be affiliate program liabilities.

Affiliates also differ in their preferred method of contact:

- Mass e-mail (38 percent)
- E-mail within an affiliate network (17 percent)
- Blog (17 percent)
- Company sites (9 percent)
- Network areas for merchants (8 percent)

Affiliates in Their Own Words
In addition to the multiple choice questions for the 2009 Affiliate Summit AffStat Report, those surveyed were also asked to share any complaints, ideas, suggestions or opinions they have regarding affiliate marketing.

For your enjoyment and edification, here are a few comments from some of the survey respondents - pure, blunt, and unfiltered.

"I hate it when I reply to an unsolicited manager e-mail because it has relevance to me, and then the manager does not reply. I have quit programs over this. If you aren't going to respond to me why bother sending me mail? Also, stop treating Canadian affiliates (and non-U.S. publishers for that matter) like second-class citizens. Some of us perform much better than 'homeland' based publishers while honestly working within your service agreements. This is a global industry - keep this in mind and you will find some amazing markets out there."

"Notification of a 'Big Weekend Sale' on Friday night isn't going anywhere. Get us the information in time to fit it into a busy schedule."

"My main compliment to good affiliate managers goes to those who are willing to work with me on my level. They don't assume I know everything and are willing to let me learn. My biggest complaint goes to those affiliate managers who send me invitations to join their program 'after looking at my site' and then reject me when I apply to their program. Or they approve me and then delete me after a month or so because of 'poor performance,' but they never contact me to work with me."

"Not being able to directly talk with the merchant. The separation of merchant and affiliate by networks and third party affiliate managers discourages productive collaboration."

There are several important takeaways from these comments, including timeliness. But it's important to note that personalization is at the forefront. While the earlier numbers suggest that affiliates don't need much in the way of communication, the above comments show that affiliates still want their program managers to be sensitive to needs. A balance must be achieved.

Bear in mind that there is no single solution for all affiliate programs. But make it a priority to find out exactly what your affiliates need from your unique program and work on delivering on those requests. It won't be the same for every affiliate or every program, but higher rates of success are universal.

About the Author: Shawn Collins has been an affiliate marketer since 1997 with a number of active affiliate projects and a decade of affiliate management under his belt. He is a co-founder of Affiliate Summit, the leading global conference and tradeshow for the affiliate marketing industry. To view the full survey results, please visit