How to Use Affiliate Program Analytics to Optimize Its Performance

Affiliate program analyticsDo you think that once you start your affiliate program, recruit affiliates into it, and start seeing them activate, you can rest easy and let sales flow? You’re not alone.

However, affiliate program success is not that easy to achieve, and part of driving it involves monitoring and analyzing your affiliate program analytics. Affiliate program success has five foundational pillars, intuitively explained by our very own Geno Prussakov and reviewed in our Complete Guide to Affiliate Marketing Program Management:

  1. Recruitment
  2. Activation
  3. Policing
  4. Communication
  5. Optimization

We’ve already covered the first four pillars on various occasions, so, in this post, we will focus on optimization. It involves measuring, analyzing, and taking measures to improve program performance.

There are numerous metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that you can and should monitor to assess program performance and management effectiveness. Here is a list of the five most important ones to focus on, compiled by our very own Geno Prussakov, in his Affiliate Program Management: An Hour a Day.

Key Performance Indicators to Monitor and Analyze

1. Affiliates Recruited

As mentioned above, recruiting new affiliates is key to program performance. But not all affiliates are alike. Some of them run quality websites and have a marketing approach similar or related to yours. These are the ones you want to focus on. To identify them and find out which recruitment strategies work best, you need to look at:

  • The number of newly recruited affiliates over a certain period (weekly, monthly, annually, etc.)
  • The specifics of the websites your newly recruited affiliates run (niche, traffic rank, demographics, etc.)
  • Affiliate type (coupon, content, cashback, video, paid search affiliates, etc.)

These metrics will allow you to assess and improve the success of your affiliate recruitment campaigns. For example, they will let you assess which recruitment methods bring about the highest number of desirable affiliates. This way, with time, you can focus on those methods and avoid investing resources in other recruitment methods that bring you few or poor quality affiliates.

2. Affiliates Activated

Active affiliatesAnother foundational pillar of affiliate marketing program success is affiliate activation. Those affiliates who join your program but do not promote your products or services are gold mines that you want to exploit and turn productive.

We’ve already discussed how you can activate affiliates. To assess the effectiveness of your campaigns, you can track and analyze the number of new and previously stagnant affiliates that you manage to activate over given time periods.

Ultimately, always remember that the number of recruited affiliates is nearly irrelevant until they become active participants in your affiliate program. That is why affiliate activation is as important as affiliate recruitment.

3. Affiliate Activity Index

Affiliate activity indexYou already know by now that having numerous affiliates enrolled in your program is no guarantee of success. You want to engage affiliates, to see them actively promote your brand, products and/or services. Stagnant affiliates are of no use to your program if you do not succeed to activate them.

As you take measures to make that happen, you can assess their effectiveness by looking at the number of active affiliates vs. the total number of affiliates at different time intervals. If you do your job right, the difference between the two values will hopefully decrease.

But just having affiliates promoting your products as services is not enough. How they do it and what results they drive matters as well. Some of them may merely display your links on their websites. Others could refer traffic that fails to convert. You will also have affiliates that generate sales and/or leads.

Affiliates active into your program but who see no results, no matter if the lack of results is their fault or your own, will eventually stop promoting you. That makes improving conversion a shared responsibility for merchants and their affiliates.

Tracking the activity of your affiliates can help you detect conversion issues and solve them, so as to have more active affiliates that drive sales and/or leads, not just traffic. It can also provide the examples you need to motivate and guide affiliates who do not see results to improve their performance.

4. Affiliate-Referred Traffic

Affiliate marketing website trafficThis metric is very important to measuring the success of your affiliate program. For example, traffic that fails to convert could signal affiliate fraud. Sometimes, affiliates make false promises or force clicks to drive traffic to merchant websites.

While in theory, traffic means exposure and sales potential, in practice, you do not want your brand associated with fraudulent activities and practices. By monitoring traffic, you could detect bad affiliates and take measures to discipline them or ban them from your program.

Traffic failing to convert could also signal issues with your own merchant website. Perhaps it loads slowly and visitors do not wait for it. Perhaps the conversion failure is due to poor quality content and graphics, difficult checkout process, or high prices.

It could also be due to affiliate mistakes. As explained in our post on Affiliate Program Management as Leadership, it is the program manager’s job to drive affiliates to performance. If you fail, affiliates who do not see results will eventually stop promoting you.

Besides traffic, you also want to monitor impressions, namely interactions with your content and feedback on your products and services. Negative impressions could hurt your reputation. Positive ones could mean exposure and more sales and/or leads. Your goal is to drive positive impressions. You can pursue this goal on three different levels, by:

  1. Optimizing your website
  2. Improving your merchant offer
  3. Rewarding good affiliates, recruiting more of them, and discouraging and punishing affiliate fraud.

Monitoring traffic and impressions will also help you assess the effectiveness of your optimization and improvement efforts.

5. Transactions Volume

Affiliate program performanceNo matter how many affiliates (be they active or stagnant) you have and how much traffic you get, transactions remain the ultimate reflection of your affiliate program’s success. You want as many affiliate-referred leads and/or sales as possible, of the highest values possible, and tracking transactions over certain periods will help you assess your program and management performance.

When it comes to sales, you want to pay special attention to transaction figures and transaction origins (new vs. existing customers). Your obvious goal is to encourage affiliates to drive a high volume of transactions and/or leads and refer new business to you.

One way of doing that could be to implement additional rewards or bonuses for the affiliates who drive those. As Geno warns in his book, although important for other purposes, like merchant website optimization, marketing, profits, etc., performance indicators like conversion rates, earnings per clicks, or average order value are not relevant when it comes to measuring and improving affiliate program and management success.

How Analytics Can Help Optimize an Affiliate Program’s Performance

As you already know by now, there are several ways to promote your affiliate program. There are also different ways to recruit, activate, and motivate affiliates, several types of creatives, etc. All of them require some type of investment (time, energy, money, etc.) but not all of them drive results.

An important part of successfully managing an affiliate program is to identify which options provide the best results and implement them. Since there are no universal rules, the only way to do that is through trial and error, or, better put, split testing and analytics.

Split Testing and Affiliate Program Analytics

Split testing means testing two alternate solutions to assess which one drives better results. In the context of managing an affiliate marketing program, the solutions tested could be:

  • Affiliate program landing pages – You can create two or more landing pages for your program and monitor impressions and conversion rates to determine which one yields lower bounce rates and converts more visitors into affiliates.
  • Affiliate networks listings – Running your program on several affiliate networks at the same time can be tiresome, costly, and not necessarily effective. Split testing can help you determine which network is best for your particular program.
  • Affiliate tracking software – As you already know, you can choose between in-house, network-based, and combining affiliate tracking solutions. Testing is the best way to figure out which option and software work best for you.
  • Affiliate recruitment methods – When it comes to affiliate recruitment, some methods and platforms drive better results than others. You should try several or all of them and monitor results to identify the best ones for you.
  • Affiliate emails – Affiliate communication is vital to program success. We’ve already established that affiliates prefer email as a communication channel. However, there are many ways to write an email to your affiliates. If you don’t know what they would prefer, you can test several templates and monitor response to them.
  • Remuneration models – Rewards and bonuses are a great way to recruit, activate, and motivate affiliates. However, some remuneration models may not benefit your program or yield the desired response from your affiliates. Split testing can help you find out which ones do.

Split Testing Benefits

The list could continue, but you surely get the basics. Whether your goal is to recruit more affiliates, activate stagnant ones, or motivate active ones to keep promoting you, testing and comparing the results of various solutions and methods will help you minimize costs and maximize results.

Split testing will prove especially useful for optimizing conversion, and we’ve already explained that conversion is extremely important to both you and your affiliates.

How to Use Split Testing to Improve Conversion

Both you and your affiliates can benefit from testing various elements influencing conversion rates, such as:

  • Affiliate creatives (banners, videos, images, coupons, product descriptions, etc.)
  • Pricing models and promotional offers
  • Landing pages (experiment with different styles, layouts, headlines, calls to action, etc.)
  • Descriptive copy
  • Add to cart buttons

When testing these elements and more, pay attention to placement, wording, sizes, and colors. Remember that your goal is to identify the elements that perform best and eliminate the other ones. While the effort may seem considerable, it will be worth it. In some cases, improving a single element, such as the headline, can be enough to double traffic and/or conversions.

Besides, split testing doesn’t have to be difficult. There are numerous tools you can use, some free and others well-worth paying for.

Some Tools for Split Testing

  1. Google Analytics – Best for traffic and Google Ads optimization
  2. VWO – Best for enterprise brands and major retailer websites
  3. Optimizely – Best for testing several pages and several page elements at the same time
  4. Unbounce – Best for landing page testing and optimization
  5. CrazyEgg – Best for calls-to-action placement and layout optimization
  6. OmniConvert – Best for testing and optimizing responsiveness to screen sizes and resolutions
  7. Convert – Best in terms of compatibility with third-party tools
  8. AB Tasty – Best for medium-sized merchants focused on customer experience
  9. Apptimize – Best for testing mobile apps
  10. Adobe Target – Best for ease of use and automated personalization features

Tips for Successful Split Testing

While split testing effectiveness is obvious, to maximize results, it is important to test the changes you want to make or the elements you want to improve both separately and in the greater context. For example, although a video could convert much better than a slideshow, using it on your landing page could slow down the page and cost you traffic.

Also, as you experiment with various elements and solutions, do not forget where you started from. Sometimes, you get so carried away testing new options and you take things so far that you lose sight of the indicators you started from. Your end goal is to improve your original performance, not just test changes and choose which one to implement.

As you make efforts to track and improve your program performance, do not forget that your competitors are doing the same. It is your job to monitor their activity and performance as well, keep up with them and learn from their mistakes.

Using Affiliate Program Analytics in Competitive Intelligence

We’ve already touched on the basics of competitive intelligence and analysis, so we won’t go into details again. At this point, your goal is to make sure you have access to at least the same resources as your competitors and reap at least the same benefits as they do. in the long run, you should, of course, aim to take the lead if you haven’t already.

To do that, you will need to monitor two aspects: your competitors’ activity and performance. You only want to engage in the activities that drive the best performance, so the connection between the two is of ultimate importance. To identify the activities that drive the best performance in your competitors’ programs, you will need to monitor at least the following:

  • Best performing creatives
  • Key performance indicators (conversion and reversal rates, earnings per clicks, average order value, etc.)
  • Conversion rates by type of affiliate
  • Affiliate text links’ wording
  • Bestsellers

These findings, along with the other metrics discussed above, will help you identify opportunities to assess and improve the performance of your own program.

Final Advice on Using Affiliate Program Analytics to Improve Performance

We’ve already explained how affiliate marketing program analytics can help you assess and improve your performance. You also know the most important key performance indicators to never lose sight of, namely:

  • Hits – The number of clicks your affiliate ads received
  • Qualifying actions – The number of sales and/or leads you affiliates referred
  • Sales – The monetary value of the sales your affiliates referred
  • Conversion ratio – The number of clicks that converted into leads and/or sales
  • Commissions – The overall amount paid as commissions to your affiliates
  • Recruited vs. active affiliates – Affiliates recruited vs. affiliates actively promoting your products and/or services

Hopefully, with time, these analytics and more will show that your management efforts paid out. If they do not, you can also use them to identify weaknesses in your program and mistakes in your activity. Successful affiliate program management is not always an all-ascending path.

On the contrary, in many cases, success comes after several failures. Some strategies fail, and the results of others do not live up to your expectations. Do not overlook the data suggesting that you failed or your performance was mediocre. Use it to find out what you did wrong and improve.

The ability to turn failures into success is what differentiates exceptional affiliate programs and their managers from mediocre ones. If you need help turning a failure into a success, we’re here to provide it. At AM Navigator, we love challenges, and we love helping dedicated merchants and their affiliate program managers reach success.

Contact us now, provide us with more details about your affiliate marketing program, and we’ll gladly use your affiliate program analytics and our extensive affiliate management experience and expertise to help you too!

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