The 5-Point Affiliate Program Audit
By Jamie Birch, JEBCommerce.com
Reviewing and auditing your own work is a vital aspect of success that can’t be overstated. The ability to honestly and comprehensively audit performance, the performance of your area of responsibility, and the performance of the team(s) that reports to you is instrumental for personal success, the agency’s, your team’s and your clients’ successes.
Auditing your affiliate programs should be a priority and one of most often reviewed and critiqued areas for an organization. It’s recommended that you start with five main areas of focus.
1. Terms and Conditions:
Affiliate program managers should focus their efforts in two areas.
• Are our affiliates abiding by our clients’ agreement?
• And, do our terms and conditions include all the necessary sections and cover our clients against every legal liability possible?
It is incredibly important that the affiliates in a program know the sections of the agreement that really pertain to them, especially ones that are not usually accepted industry wide. Review each and every affiliate producing a click and a sale. Brands should focus on the highest performers first.
Use a simple format – an Excel spreadsheet that outlines the different items being audited (coupon promotion, proper link usage, messaging and nexus status) and keep track of the results for each affiliate on that spreadsheet. If there are any infringements, a team should then execute a communication plan to get things rectified.
Review each specific client’s agreement and compare it against a master agreement that includes all the legal sections, including nexus, FTC guidelines for advertising, etc. Once that’s completed, determine if any of these sections are not included. If not, make sure they get in there. Often, this only occurs once, when one initially takes over a program. But it is healthy to review several times a year as legal requirements change over time, many times more frequently and with a higher velocity than any of us care to encounter.
2. Affiliate Promotion:
Once it is determined that a brand has a comprehensive agreement and affiliates are abiding by it, it’s time to audit their specific promotion of the program, brand and products. Typically one should do this at the same time that he or she audits their compliance with the agreement and include several areas to review including:
• Are they using the most current logo and creative?
• Do they have approved and live offers and coupons?
• Are they promoting your current top sellers/new products?
• Is your program included in the correct categories?
• Does the affiliate have the correct keywords for your company/products and do you show up on the search pages appropriately?
• Are you included in any appropriate seasonal pages?
• Are you included in their advertiser listings?
The key here is to get the right list of variables one is searching for that lead the affiliate to generate sales for them at the highest rate. Then they track it over time and work with them to optimize each of those criteria.
There are very few things that are more important than the technical tracking of orders through an affiliate program. If affiliate partners can’t trust that the numbers they are seeing are accurate, neither parties can effectively optimize the relationship. How do managers effectively audit tracking? Place test orders…all kinds of test orders. Run at least 10 orders. Here are some variables to implement with your test orders:
• Different items
• Different categories
• Different affiliates
• Different types of links
• Different times between initial click through
Managers must be confident in their tracking. They also shouldn’t be opposed to doing this monthly or more often because it’s incredibly important to test tracking accuracy.
4. Diminishing Performers:
Nothing hurts a program more than affiliates who simply stop producing. Identifying those affiliates who are or have reduced their sales can be a quick way to jump-start revenue. It’s recommended that managers perform this audit weekly. Identify those affiliates who were in the program this period last year who are not producing as much the current period this year and also compare week over week revenue and traffic numbers, as well as conversion rates, average order size and other metrics. Then, group these affiliates into a number of different categories in order to develop and execute outreach campaigns to them.
This also helps considerably in forecasting and budgeting an affiliate program. As managers catch these affiliates before they become long-term problems, their forecasts even out and become more reliable.
5. Your Own Work:
This may be the most difficult to honestly review and requires the most courage in the entire process. Does a manager know what work he or she is doing? Is he keeping track of the tasks he is completing and the ones he isn’t? Is he doing more busy work than revenue-producing activities? Do he know the difference?
Is this the single largest driver of revenue and success in an affiliate program? Definitely. The effort one puts into a program is important, but what one puts his effort into is even more vital and he won’t know if he doesn’t track that work.
Brand should consider implementing and utilizing a proprietary task manager and CRM system with their team to track the tasks everyone is completing and not completing and the relationships they are either strengthening or not. Managers should review these reports daily to ensure that they are doing important and revenue-producing work, and not busy work that makes them and their team feel good at the end of the day as they review the 58 relatively useless things they accomplished. Everyone loves marking something “complete,” but they need to be sure those things they’re marking off are important items.
Another useful item to create and use is an affiliate manager scorecard. Use it each day and week to track the type (category) of tasks that one is executing – both revenue producing and non-revenue producing. Assign a value to each activity and then at the end of the day add up the positive activities and subtract the negative ones. Each team member (including managers) should have a target to hit each week.
This activity helps everyone stay on task…on the important tasks. Combine this with the other parts of the five-point audit and managers are sure to be more successful in 2015.
Jamie Birch is the CEO of JEBCommerce.com, an award-winning performance marketing agency. Birch has been running marketing programs for Fortune 500 companies for more than 15 years.