When evaluating the performance of an affiliate marketing program, avoid measuring success by how many affiliates are enrolled. Instead, measure how many of them are actually driving traffic.
I have seen affiliate managers boast of having 5,000 affiliates. But I always want to ask, “How many of those affiliates are consistently producing clicks?” In my experience, a good goal is for 30 percent of affiliates to generate at least five clicks per month.
There are five steps to grow an affiliate base: identify, recruit, activate, measure, and optimize. First, identify potential affiliate partners. Next, recruit them to join your program. Once approved, activate them. Then, track their progress and continually optimize their performance.
In this article, I will focus on activating affiliates. Activation involves much more than letting them know they have been approved. It involves providing the tools and motivation they need to succeed.
Here are five activation strategies to consider.
5 Strategies to Activate Affiliates
1. Approve affiliates daily. One of the reasons affiliates apply to specific programs is because they have an immediate desire to promote the products. For example, a food blogger may apply to an affiliate program because she is writing a post on the best new kitchen tools and she sees that the merchant sells those tools. By joining the merchant’s program, she can monetize her post.
However, just because an affiliate applies to a program does not guarantee that she will link to the site. The food blogger, for example, likely applied to several different affiliate programs. She will link to the merchant that first approved her application. As such, it is important to approve affiliates at least daily, if not more frequently.
2. Create an action-oriented welcome letter. Begin activation efforts the second an affiliate is accepted into your program. A welcome letter, which is typically auto-generated, is the first piece of communication the approved affiliate receives from you.
Many affiliate networks will use a default, generic welcome letter when a merchant launches a program. The language is typically something like “you have been approved into XYZ affiliate program.”
This does little to drive action. Take the time to customize that default welcome message so that it provides affiliates with the tools to get started. Include your best converting banners, a list of your top five bestselling items or product categories along with their tracking links, and perhaps some sample content that is coded with affiliate links. Also, include important program details, such as commission rate, return days, and direct contact information.
All of this will help an affiliate get up and running, to get your links on her site.
3. Establish an activation campaign. One way to engage affiliates quickly is through an activation campaign. For example, you might offer affiliates a double commission for the first 30 days. Alternately, you could provide a first or second sale bonus: $5 bonus on the affiliate’s first sale, $10 bonus on the second.
While the welcome letter provides affiliates with the tools to start driving traffic, activation bonuses help even more. Activation campaigns can be targeted toward specific affiliate segments, as different affiliate types often respond to different incentives. Content affiliates are typically receptive to product reviews or to offer product giveaways to their readers. Coupon and deal affiliates, however, are likely to value exclusive coupon codes or increased commission rates.
Add the details of your activation campaign(s) to your welcome letter. Also, activation campaigns don’t just apply to new affiliates. They can also help existing affiliates who have not yet driven significant traffic.
4. Establish a communication schedule. Activation efforts never stop. Perhaps your affiliate responded to your welcome letter and your activation campaign, and integrated your links onto his site quickly.
However, affiliate marketing goes beyond securing that initial banner or post. By continually engaging with your affiliates, you’ll likely see multiple posts and placements, which will likely produce more traffic and transactions.
Thus, establish a consistent communication schedule. For example, I typically send an affiliate newsletter weekly. These newsletters contain information about deals and promotions, new products or trends, and even content with built-in tracking links. By doing this, I keep my program in front of the affiliates, and they have something new to share with their audience.
5. Build personal rapport. Affiliate marketing is relationship driven. Unlike many other marketing channels, affiliate partners are not contractually bound to deliver traffic or sales. Either party — the affiliate or the merchant — can walk away at any time without recourse.
As such, building personal relationships with your affiliates is extremely important. Reaching out to an affiliate to help promote a last-minute sale, or to help drive traffic to a new product category, is a valuable benefit to having a personal relationship.
How do you build that rapport? First, try to meet affiliates in person. Attend industry conferences. While you’re there, set up one-on-one meetings with key affiliates.
Second, if a promising affiliate applies to your program, don’t just rely on the standard welcome letter. Send him a personal note and include something in that message that shows you perused his site. Reference a particular post, or find some common ground upon which to establish a relationship.
Remember that behind every website is a person. I follow some of my affiliates on social media channels. Getting insight into their personal interests helps me relate to them, and visa versa.