Can Affiliate Programs Exist Alongside Paid Search Marketing?

Posted on3 CommentsCategoriesAffiliate Program Management

“If a merchant is running their own paid search campaigns, and also has an affiliate program, how can they ensure that the latter doesn’t cannibalize but compliment the other?” — this is the question that nearly every merchant wonders a few months into running their affiliate program. Some end up prohibiting paid search as an affiliate method of promotion, others impose certain restrictions… To me the question is not whether the two can co-exist or not, but rather: how can a merchant ensure that each “channel” has a happy (and profitable) life?

In light of the upcoming Affiliate Management Days East 2012 — which will be keynoted by two prominent PPC experts: David Szetela and Brad Geddes, I’ve reached out to both David and Brad to get their take on the question. Here are their replies:

David Szetela:

  1. Police prohibited terms diligently – especially brand terms.
  2. Treat your affiliates fairly and let them know you value them.
  3. Keep them aware of new developments in PPC advertising – via a monthly email newsletter, for example. Give them examples of how they can use new features to maximize conversions.
  4. Encourage – BEG for – feedback on how you can help them. Get regular data flowing in your direction regarding the performance of banner ads, for example.

[full interview with David coming up on Econsultancy.com later this week]

Brad Geddes:

That really depends on how sophisticated the merchant is at paid search. Personally, if the merchant is good at paid search, then I have a tendency to be more restrictive in how they handle affiliates than if the merchant is not very good at paid search. If the affiliates are better than the merchant, then give your affiliates a bit more room. Sometimes, this isn’t the merchant’s paid search teams fault – it’s a legal one. Some merchants have all their offer go through legal before they ever go live, in this case, your affiliates can be more flexible than you can be, so leverage that flexibility. The other aspect is how much the merchant wants to dominate results versus have the best ROI.

For instance, I see a lot of companies letting affiliates bid on lots of terms, but the merchants will either restrict the ad position or the max CPC so that their ads are always above their affiliates to help promote their own brand. I even know one company who every Monday gives bids to their top affiliates based upon the previous week’s conversion rates and EPC. If a merchant is good at paid search, then making sure your ad appears in the top positions is a good idea and let your affiliates have the rest of the traffic.

In fact, I find that a lot of merchants do not want affiliates to bid on any brand terms. I think this is a mistake in many cases. The more ads that lead to your site or your affiliate’s sites, the more total traffic you will have. I’d recommend instead of not allowing affiliates to bid on your brand terms, to just make sure they are not above your ad for brand terms. This allows you to make sure you really dominate the ads. The one exception to this rule is if your brand terms have no other ads on them. In this case, you are the only ad and the top organic (hopefully) result. Therefore, you might want to restrict affiliates in that case.  Of course, to do this well, you often have to help with landing pages so they are unique for the affiliates.

I find that some merchants will give their affiliates template landing pages so that the affiliate can bid on a term and send it to their site to get around Google’s ad serving policies. However, if these templates become very common, then sometimes Google steps in and groups all the affiliates together so that only one can ever serve the second ad. You are better off giving affiliates help, ideas, and advice in how to make their pages unique from your other affiliates so that these pages have different experiences and Google doesn’t lump your affiliates together rather than just giving them templates. This is obviously more work, but when you do this, you often can your affiliates bring in more sales through having different messages on the various sites.

[full interview with Brad has just gone live on SmallBizTrends.com here]

Excellent advice on both fronts.

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