Practical Ecommerce

After 20 Years in Affiliate Marketing, 5 Rules for Success

After almost 20 years in affiliate marketing, I’m leaving the industry to teach full-time at a university. It’s a bittersweet transition. However, I’d like to leave you with five best practices I’ve learned over the years.

1. Invest in Content Affiliates

Customers driven by content tend to have a higher lifetime value than others. This is because a customer referred by content is informed. Her purchase decision is based on a need or desire cultivated by the content. This is in contrast to a customer that is referred by a coupon or deal site. That customer is likely to be a discount shopper. His purchase decision is influenced by price or the perception of a good deal. The discount shopper is less loyal, and will likely purchase from your competitors for a better deal.

But engaging content affiliates is challenging. Good content takes time to develop. And after it is developed, it has to be distributed. But once quality content is out there, it will continue to show up in search results and drive customers to your site for years.

…once quality content is out there, it will continue to show up in search results and drive customers to your site for years.

Unfortunately, many retailers want quick results. Without significant revenue immediately, they will often shift spending away from content affiliates to channels that produce faster, more immediate sales. But, remember, fast revenue does not guarantee a high-value customer. The revenue from content affiliates may be initially low, but it will lead to solid, repeat buyers.

2. Provide Information and Assistance

To inspire content affiliates to write about your products, provide the affiliates with relevant information, such as how your products can be used, seasonality, and why sales spike when they do. Let affiliates know which products are typically purchased together.

Additionally, provide affiliates with the tools they need be effective. For example, when I managed the Groupon affiliate program, I worked with local bloggers who would develop regional content. They appreciated it when I let them know about upcoming big-brand deals.

But their main focus was on promoting local deals that were relevant to their audience. They mined the Groupon site to find those offers. So, we developed a tool that enabled our affiliates to create a tracking link quickly and on-the-fly, streamlining the process. We saw an immediate increase in revenue.

Reach out to your affiliates, figure out their pain points, and develop tools to make their lives easier.

3. Work with Other Affiliate Managers

Networking with other affiliate managers is not only beneficial to your career, but it also makes you more effective.

Here’s an example. Not all affiliates are ethical. This includes trademark poachers, who create paid search campaigns using a retailer’s protected brand name and variations, which violates the terms and conditions they agreed to when they joined the affiliate program.

These rogue affiliates will typically create a phony site to get accepted into an affiliate program, and then use geo-targeting and dayparting — scheduling search ads for specific timeframes — to avoid detection by the brand’s affiliate managers and legal team. Several times an affiliate manager from another company contacted me with screenshots and affiliate links to help me track down one of these trademark poachers.

There have been other times when a prospective affiliate applied with a URL that plants adware or malware. I’ll let other affiliate managers know so they can add the dishonest applicant to their auto-decline lists.

In a positive vein, fellow managers have introduced me to top-performing affiliates, provided insights on successful paid placements, and have even shared generalized benchmark data.

…fellow managers have introduced me to top-performing affiliates, provided insights on successful paid placements, and have even shared generalized benchmark data.

In short, I am thankful for all the support and guidance I’ve received from fellow affiliate managers.

4. Understand Other Marketing Channels

Some companies encourage competition between marketing channels, believing that it will produce peak performance. However, that’s not how consumers shop.

Consumers pass through multiple touch points en route to purchase. They may see a banner ad that triggers them to search on Google for the product, which leads them to a product review on an affiliate site, or to a search ad. Effective marketing works together.

But I’ve had a search manager come storming to me, demanding to know why an affiliate was bidding against him on a trademarked term. Once the search manager realized that I didn’t want that affiliate in my program any more than he did, we started working together to identify trademark poachers and eventually created an effective, coordinated monitoring process.

In other instances, I’ve notified my social media manager when an affiliate crafted an effective blog post. The manager distributed that post across multiple social channels, which helped amplify my affiliate’s message, solidifying my relationship with that affiliate and driving incremental revenue.

As attribution tracking becomes more sophisticated, with deeper insight into how each transaction is influenced by multiple channels, these cross-marketing interactions will become more common. But until then, affiliate managers should cooperate with other marketing functions.

5. Keep Abreast of New Developments

When I got started in affiliate marketing back in 1999, tracking was pretty simple. A consumer clicked through an affiliate link, completed a purchase, and the affiliate earned a commission.

Today, affiliate commission structures can vary based on new or existing customers, affiliate type, length of time between referral and transaction, click-path position, and many other variables. Transactions can now be tracked across desktop computers, cell phones, tablets, and even offline via coupon codes or unique phone numbers.

Affiliate links are no longer limited to static banner ads. Those ads can be dynamically generated based on informative, helpful affiliate content. Affiliates can create videos to drive traffic, and earn commission when that traffic converts. Some of the best traffic I’ve received in recent years has come from unique video tutorials or simple shopping haul videos.

Affiliate marketing is no longer limited to entities with websites. We now see partnerships between retailers and charitable organizations that may not have online marketing resources, wherein the retailers create dynamically merchandised micro-sites to help with the charities’ fundraising efforts. Moreover, we now see individuals with influence sell out an item within minutes.

Technology will continue to evolve, and affiliate marketing will continue to advance and grow with it.

Carolyn Kmet

Carolyn Kmet

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  1. Darren January 3, 2017 Reply

    Good luck Carolyn!

    • Carolyn Kmet January 3, 2017 Reply

      Thank you very much!

  2. Frank R January 3, 2017 Reply

    Thank you Carolyn for this article and your contributions to the industry. You’ll be missed!

    Help your students to become good affiliate marketeers.

    Cheers!

    • Carolyn Kmet January 4, 2017 Reply

      Thank you for your support, Frank. Will do.

  3. Collin Baptiste January 4, 2017 Reply

    Carolyn, thanks for the feedback and really meant a lot to me I happens to be a new affiliate on the marketing world 🌎 With the knowledge of your content it well really would help me a lot thank you.

    • Carolyn Kmet January 4, 2017 Reply

      Enjoy the space, it’s a wonderful industry.

  4. Bill Swartwout January 4, 2017 Reply

    Amazing, Carolyn – almost 20 years. Me, too, ha – but I left the academic world to do affiliate marketing full time. It is, indeed, a great pleasure to know you and to have worked with you for such a long time. I wish you all the best in the world of academia where, I know, you are a superstar. Your students are very fortunate to experience your leadership.

  5. Rosalind Gardner January 17, 2017 Reply

    Affiliate marketing is losing one of its best managers! :-(

    But we wish you all the very best, Carolyn.

    Cheers,
    Ros

  6. Carolyn Kmet January 18, 2017 Reply

    Thank you :)