One of the most frequently asked questions I’ve heard in a number different sessions during the past Affiliate Summit West 2010 was this one:
What percentage of affiliates in your affiliate program are active on a month-to-month basis?
This is a very good question, because the metric of total number of affiliates in a program is really a very deceptive/useless one, and it is the active ones that really matter [read also this post of mine].
Just for a second, let’s leave our main question, and look at the terms “active” versus “stagnant”. While some are classifying affiliates as “stagnant” when they are not producing sales/leads, I strongly disagree with this approach. The responsibility for conversion of affiliate-referred traffic is always a shared one: (i) affiliates should work on making it a targeted traffic, while (ii) merchants should ensure that their own websites actually convert. I have seen affiliate programs with zero conversion rates, and not because the affiliate-referred traffic wasn’t right! In some cases the merchant’s offer wasn’t competitive, while in others they had major shopping cart problems that prevented safe and speedy checkout… When there are no (or low) conversion rate across different affiliates in one program, look for an internal problem.
I like to define “active” affiliates in terms of (a) whether they are displaying your links, and (b) whether those links are generating traffic/clicks.
Back to the original question: how many affiliates are traditionally active in any given affiliate program? I answered it in my A Practical Guide to Affiliate Marketing (page 94) where I wrote:
Sooner or later every affiliate manager has to face it – most affiliates on board the affiliate program are inactive. Some have christened it a 5-80 Rule: 5% of your affiliates do 80% of the work. My own observations support this theorem. As already mentioned above, the number of active affiliates on board the affiliate programs I manage fluctuates from 3.5% to 14%. Why are the rest of them stagnant? Haven’t they initially signed up for a reason? Yes, they have, and this is a great point from which to start. Approach them! For starters, offer them activation bonuses. Have a qualifying deadline for the activation bonuses. Without time-sensitiveness, promotions do not work as well… [also] you may run a promo where the first sale that occurs by a particular date (say, within the 30 days of the announcement) qualifies the formerly stagnant affiliate for [either a commission increase, a bonus, a prize, or some other type of extrinsic reward]…
To improve the number of active affiliates in the program, you want to have a strategy of aggressive ongoing affiliate activation. Do this on three levels: the (i) recruitment phase, (ii) welcome phase, and then on the (iii) routine phase [more here]. All affiliate recruitment may be broken into two steps: (i) soliciting/reaching out, and (ii) activation. It is that second step that is being most frequently overlooked by affiliate program managers. And it is affiliate activation that remains to be one of the most important areas for managers to focus.