This installment of “Affiliate Marketing Report Card” reviews WP Engine, a global WordPress hosting platform. WP Engine has a powerhouse affiliate program listed at number 38 in the ShareASale Top 100 Power Rank. WP Engine’s program is exclusive to the ShareASale network.
According to a ShareASale representative, the WP Engine program is in the top 1 percent on that network, with more than 21,000 approved publishers. The program gained popularity by offering minimum payouts to affiliates of at least $200 per sale or 100 percent of the first month’s payment, whichever is higher. The single highest commission to date is $11,000.
WP Engine’s affiliate program management team of four is led by Dustin Howes, an eight-year veteran of the industry. Howes has worked as a blogger, a coupon site manager, and an agency owner. He’s been the WP Engine affiliate manager since 2015.
When he started, seven of WP Engine’s top 10 affiliates were coupon publishers, which is typical in most networks. Howes says today that all top 10 affiliates are content publishers, recognizing that the program also has many corporate affiliates.
The WP Engine affiliate team is using advanced attribution rules to manage the clickstreams. When a coupon site closes a content affiliate’s transaction, the coupon site receives no commission. Other transactions, however, are based on last click.
When affiliates are pre-paid for sponsored content in the program, they must include a disclosure from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission at the top of the promotion. The WP Engine team monitors the content for compliance. If affiliates are promoting strictly for commission, the disclosure is recommended but not mandatory.
The brand normally doesn’t have to give away products for reviews because its best affiliates are loyal customers that understand the value of the company. Howes said his team is working on an influencer strategy and will be offering select influencers free accounts for their firsthand experience reviews.
Focusing on Details
One of the admirable points of this affiliate team is its promise to reply to affiliates’ emails within 24 hours. “Even if we don’t have a solid answer, it’s important for our team to reply to let the partners know we are going to get them an answer as soon as possible,” Howes said.
A typical day for the WP Engine affiliate team includes customer support, outreach to new affiliates, monitoring traffic and conversion spikes, tagging affiliates, and documenting interactions in the customer relationship management system. Every affiliate is tagged according to model of promotion and whether the affiliate has reached its first sale. This is important for newsletter segmentation.
WP Engine continues to work with coupon sites but regulates the deals every month. There are simple evergreen and short-term deals available for affiliates to promote. WP Engine’s customers are typically always looking for an affiliate deal. Because its customers have such a high lifetime value, WP Engine can award affiliates higher commissions and deeper discounts for promotions. Affiliates can also negotiate lower commissions for much deeper hosting discounts.
Interestingly, WP Engine has a locking period of 62 days, meaning it does not release the initial commission until 62 days after signup. Normal locking periods in ShareASale have a minimum of 20 days. I questioned Howes about the semmingly odd number.
“We have a 62-day locking period in place to protect us from fraud. With a monthly recurring revenue model, we want to assure we collect three full payments from a customer before we release commissions. Previously, fraudsters were only paying $29 and collecting $200 commissions, then canceling the account. We found the patience level of fraudsters decreased dramatically when self-submit sales would require them to pay $87 to earn $200 after a three-month period.”
Howes said his team also has checks in place to make sure the lifetime values of the referrals from each affiliate meets basic standards. They discontinue relationships with affiliates that continually send high-cancellation customers. “This is the staple of our fraud-free program.”
Howes said his team also has checks in place to make sure the lifetime values of the referrals from each affiliate meets basic standards.
With such a large footprint in the industry, WP Engine has easily grown the number of affiliates. Those affiliates generally find the program on their own or by reading its impressive network statistics. Howes says keeping up with the demands of the inquiries can be daunting.
Recently, WP Engine began working with Mediarails, an affiliate recruitment service, to help with external outreach and new signups. There are super affiliates in the WordPress hosting niche that Howes may court in the future.
There is one thing, however, about WP Engine’s affiliate program that has bothered me for years. This is where I will deduct the most points from this report card: WP Engine automatically approves affiliates when they submit their application. That practice goes against everything I believe in as an affiliate manager. But, Howes explains it well.
“With our fraud checks, we are able to see the value of partners with the lifetime value of the customers they refer. If there are red flags, we investigate. We find the time saved in reviewing applications supersedes the time spent in fraud audits.”
Howes and I will agree to disagree with this strategy. But I commend his team for finding a system that works for its program. Most professionally managed programs only immediately approve affiliates that meet minimum standards. They don’t want to retroactively deal with fraud or violations.
As an aside, WP Engine created its own holiday to facilitate web hosting changes. It’s “Web Week,” between Christmas and New Year’s. Howes said it’s one of the company most popular affiliate campaigns — while customers are not typically buying things online. It’s the best time to make changes to websites, including site redesign and web hosting.
WP Engine’s affiliate program gets an “A.” Its dedicated program management team and solid strategy gives affiliates what they need for success.
My first report card, from Jane.com, also received an “A.” The second, from Fanatics.com, received an “A+.” But watch for future installments in 2018. I’ll review programs from various networks that aren’t so stellar.