What Influences Affiliate Banner Performance the Most? Surprise Ahead

As an affiliate manager, one of the most frequently asked questions I receive is “Which one of your program’s creatives performs the best?”

When running links/banners performance reports, I noticed that text links perform almost always better across all networks in our affiliate program. Monthly publisher performance when using text links (versus banners) looks as follows:

  • Commissions — 2.5 times higher
  • CTR — 5 times higher
  • Conversion rate — 1.5 times higher

Although visually appealing banners are supposed to spark the interest of graphically inclined users and be effective at developing brand recognition, in reality, banners oftentimes are overlooked…or not seen at all. Why? Ad-Block extensions in browsers and image filters in email clients.

Here are two screenshots of a Grammarly affiliate’s website in my Chrome browser with AdBlock extension turned off and on:


Surprise! No affiliate banner on the second screenshot.

The most popular free Chrome extension for advertisement blocking, AdBlock, already has over 9.8 million users. A similar extension for Firefox, AdBlock Plus, claims to have over 14 million daily users. No wonder visitors do not click on affiliate banners — pretty often they are invisible.

Text links, on the other hand, are visible regardless of any settings in a browser or email client, meaning your message will always be seen. A text link allows affiliates to create a highly focused call to action. The downside is some people skim over words, and don’t want to read much. Try being crafty with words to catch a potential customer’s eye!

Does it mean affiliates should abandon banners and use text links only? Not at all!

AdBlock extensions do not block all affiliate banners — rather, it depends on how those banners are embedded. We encourage our affiliates to use both banners and text links for maximum impact and results. If you insert text links in content, and place banners alongside them, you’ll be able to appeal to everyone while always being noticed.

12 thoughts on “What Influences Affiliate Banner Performance the Most? Surprise Ahead”

  1. The problem with in-house creatives, as mentioned in this post, is that most of them are designed to increase brand recognition. Rarely does an affiliate program come with banners that are designed for direct response – the affiliate’s clear preference (if he cares for making money).

    I don’t think I’ve ever found an affiliate program that provided better creatives than I could design myself. Prettier creatives? Definitely. Better branded creatives? Always. But creatives that perform well for an affiliate? The affiliate will nearly always have to get his hands dirty in Photoshop.

  2. Thank you for the great comment, Finch. I would love to know more about your thoughts on affiliate banners. From the affiliate’s point of view, what the “ideal” affiliate banner/creative should look like? I’m sure all affiliate program managers will find this insight extremely useful.

  3. I think there’s always going to be a tug of war between the creatives that affiliates want to run, and the creatives that program managers deem most suitable for promoting their brand.

    From my experience, amateur banners tend to draw more clicks than the slickly produced graphics that internal design teams come up with. I think that’s an evolutionary trend. It’s survival of the fittest for affiliates – he who catches the most eyeballs and draws the most clicks will survive.

    Internal design teams have no motive to produce ads that jump off the page and grab the user’s attention. Their intentions are driven by artistic value. No designer wants to come up with the truly ugly banners that affiliates will reach for instinctively. The designer would not want to have to explain it to his boss, or the branding department.

    I think the way forward has to be meeting in the middle. Affiliates need to be careful not to blatantly abuse a brand’s image by creating ads that manipulate and mislead.

    At the same time, merchants have to produce creatives that are optimised for direct response – not brand recognition. As affiliates, we have no interest in how our dollars are impacting a brand’s familiarity 6 months down the line.

    My advice to any program manager is simple: Give us an angle. Give us a USP. Give us banners and landing pages that are designed and tested to catch attention and drive sales TODAY, not in the future. Ultimately, if we’re not given them, we’ll try to come up with our own – and that’s when the breakdown in communication begins!

    1. Thank you, Finch!

      Affiliates and program managers share the same goal – driving more clicks/sales/leads, so I really appreciate your advice and will keep it in mind when producing our banners.

  4. Finch’s advice is exactly what advertisers need to do more. I see this in my affiliate network too (in Denmark).

    Yesterday I actually made a report for one of my biggest advertisers. It showed that about 88% of all clicks came from the use of text links! That a big share. But my report also showed that only 72% of the sales came from text links. So their banners converted better.

    When looking at the banners and where they were used I saw that it is also very importent where the banners are placed and how much other content is on the page (to take focus away from the banner).

    I will look further into data from other advertisers where it might be different.

    I think that if banners are focused on call-to-action you can get a very good conversion from them.

    But no doubt that text links will often deliver much more traffic/sales because they are used by content affiliates, price comparison sites, voucher code sites etc.

    So I can add the following advice: Also make sure that you have good text links 🙂

    1. Thank you for this comment, Ken. Interesting findings.

      As far as text links go, I always recommend merchants to deep-link as much as possible. While affiliates can generally change the text part of the link, they normally can’t do anything about the actual merchant page it lands on. So the more deep-links, the merrier.

  5. Good call out Geno. This is something AMs often do a poor job at. They spend a lot of money on fancy banners, animated banners and flash, but text links are what often drive the bulk of clicks and conversions…oh – and they are free!
    AMs need to look at the data, not let their creative marketing side overrule fact.

  6. Great comments by everyone – but where’s the meat?
    I once worked with a sales manager that wouldn’t listen to any complaints from his team unless they had at least three options that provided a solution. This policy drove his communication from theoretical to practical real fast.

    I’m looking forward to your “more detailed” advice that you referenced above Geno!

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