Depending on whether you’re the merchant or the manager, the industry you’re activating in, the results you’ve had so far and your future goals, affiliate marketing success can mean different things. It may mean more sales, more affiliates, a higher power rank, or improved affiliate program statistics. It could also mean collaborations with major media companies and influencers or third-party acknowledgments like our recent inclusion in SuperbCompanies’ list of top business processing outsourcing agencies.
No matter how you define affiliate marketing success, reaching it is not as easy as it may seem. It requires commitment, persistence, attention to detail, and a few secrets that we’ve learned the hard way. We’ll share them with you in the following lines. Please remember to adopt these basics of affiliate marketing success to the specifics of your business and affiliate programs for the best results.
1. Fast, Functional, and Well-Converting Website
Affiliates drive qualified, targeted traffic to your website. It is your responsibility to convert visitors into buyers. That requires a professional, fast, and fully functional website that offers a streamlined, rewarding buying experience. Without it, when they realize that their efforts are in vain, your affiliates will move on to other merchants.
Your own marketing campaigns depend on your website’s functionality, so don’t try to cut corners! And if you’re serious about being successful, consider additional conversion optimization solutions. Common examples include:
- Browser notifications
- Exit-intent popups
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Split payment/financing options, etc.
2. In-Depth Analysis of Market Trends and Competition
Affiliate marketing success often depends on how you position yourself in the market. You have to offer something different, better, or at least similar to what’s already available. You cannot do that if you don’t know what’s out there. So take the time to find out! Check competitors’ offers and affiliate programs and monitor how these change and what the impact on their overall performance is. We’ve explained how you can do that and what to look at in our Guide to Competitive Analysis and our Blueprint on How to Analyze Competing Affiliate Programs.
3. Attractive Offer to Buyers
You’re not the only merchant your affiliates promote, and your brand is not the only one their audience comes across. If you want traffic and sales, you need to do your part and put together a competitive offer. The most important factors buyers consider are product specifications, merchant reputation, prices, discounts, trial/return periods, warranty, product bundles, and upsells.
4. Brand Awareness
Affiliates can help you create and improve brand awareness. However, it will take more time and higher commissions than if you lay the foundation for them to build on. Some ways to do that are:
- Search and social media ad campaigns
- Products for reviewers and influencers
- Media exposure
- Budget for hybrid (paid+affiliate commission) collaborations
Remember to keep your campaigns consistent and cohesive by using the same logos and colors, and taglines. You want to imprint your brand in your prospects’ subconscious by exposing them to the same elements again, and again, not to create confusion. The greater your brand awareness is, the easier to attain affiliate marketing success becomes.
5. Clear and Competitive Affiliate Program Terms
Knowing what your competitors do helps, as long as you use that information to your benefit. If you want publishers to join your affiliate program and promote your products or services, you need to convince them. An attractive program description and competitive program terms can do that for you.
The most important terms to focus on are the commission (standard & VIP), the first-sale bonus, the cookie life (or tracking period), the performance incentives, the PPC policy, and why not, measures to protect your brand and your top affiliates from to fraud and parasitism. It is vital to have a sound affiliate program agreement in place.
6. High-Quality Creatives and Product Information
If you want affiliates to promote your brand, products, or services, it is important to equip them with everything they need, including but not limited to: brand and product information and affiliate creatives (images, videos, banners, text links, discount codes, a data feed, widgets, co-branded landing pages, etc.).
As you create your visual creatives, beware of traffic leaks: don’t list website URLs, email addresses, phone numbers, social media links, or anything that could cause viewers to bypass affiliate links. Otherwise, no one will display them, and visual exposure is an important part of your journey to affiliate marketing success.
Finally, remember that each new offer and marketing campaign should be supported by new creatives. Replacing the old creatives with new ones will save your affiliates a great deal of time and effort. It will also help you avoid broken links and chaos in your merchant account. So sacrifice a few minutes to update old links and banners rather than upload new ones.
7. Continuous Affiliate Recruitment
Whether you’ve just launched your affiliate program or it’s already successful, close to 70% of your time should be allocated to affiliate recruitment and activation – that is if you want to keep growing and expanding. We’ve already covered everything you need to know in our affiliate recruitment and activation guides on the subject.
Just remember to think outside the box, as affiliate marketing no longer relies solely on couponers, reviewers, and bloggers. There are at least 20 types of affiliates that you can target. Assuming that you manage to activate and engage them, many of them could make a huge difference in your affiliate program’s performance.
8. Timely and Careful Review of Affiliate Applications
Most affiliate platforms allow you to set up auto-approval of affiliate applications. However, I do not recommend that. By approving an affiliate into your program, you trust them with your brand image and reputation. The least you can do is ask about their promotional methods, check their media properties, and, if available, the feedback they received from other merchants.
Don’t keep them waiting too long, though, preferably not more than 24 hours! Also, make sure you have auto-responder messages in place. Rejection messages should explain potential reasons and encourage applicants to reach out if they feel the decision is unjust. Approval messages should include more details about the program and terms, as well as precoded links and banners, to encourage affiliates to activate as soon as possible.
9. Policing of Affiliate Activity
In an ideal world, publishers read program terms upon joining and comply. In our imperfect world, you barely approve their application and find them bidding on your trademark, highjacking ads, advertising discounts you don’t offer, or, worse, building websites with your brand name.
If you let them have their way, they will end up increasing the costs of your PPC campaigns, overwriting good affiliates’ cookies and stealing their commissions, and ruining your reputation in front of both buyers and affiliates. You, therefore, need to police affiliates and take measures against those who do not comply with program terms.
It helps to give them a second, maybe even third chance, depending on how serious their violations are. This means giving them a warning and a deadline to adjust their promotional methods and start complying with your program terms. Some are just testing you, so they may come around and turn into valuable affiliates.
10. Close Monitoring of Traffic and Sales
We all love it when affiliates send traffic and sales. A careful, daily analysis of the traffic and sales can help you identify problems and new opportunities. Here are some of the things to look at and why they matter:
- Traffic sources: search traffic could signal TM+ bidding or ad hijacks; traffic without a clear source could signal sub-affiliate networks or shady affiliate practices; a high volume of traffic that doesn’t convert negatively impacts affiliate program statistics; referring URLs help you see where and how your brand is promoted.
- Clickstreams: reviewers’ cookies could get overwritten by coupon affiliates; an affiliate always overwriting another affiliate’s cookies could use browser extensions or browser notifications.
- Buyer IP: multiple sales from the same IP or from IPs located in a country you don’t sell to could signal fraud.
- Huge and sudden drops or spikes in affiliate traffic and/or sales: drops could mean broken links, tracking gaps, or website malfunctions/downtime; spikes could mean unorthodox promotional methods.
- Coupons used: coupon websites will often promote or let users upload discount codes that were not meant for affiliates but distributed within campaigns that generated their own costs; you surely want to avoid double-dipping, so watch those coupons!
- Commissions: depending on how complicated your commission structure is, it helps to keep an eye on commissions paid to affiliates, in case commission rules don’t trigger correctly.
- Returns: a high number of cancellations or returns for orders referred by the same affiliate could signal fraud or deceitful advertising; depending on the timeframe from purchase to return, you may want/need to adjust the commission lock period.
As you start paying attention to everything going on in your affiliate program, your ability to spot red flags should improve.
11. Customer Support and Brand Reputation Management
All businesses face challenges and deal with unsatisfied customers sooner or later. How you live up to those challenges is very important. The last thing you want is to have upset buyers leaving bad reviews on your affiliates’ websites or as comments to their YouTube reviews and social media posts.
Unaddressed negative reviews affect your brand reputation, so it’s important that they be prevented or at least answered. You need to show that you care about your customers and do everything you can to ensure their satisfaction. And there are surely some satisfied customers out there as well, so reaching out to them and asking them for feedback could help mitigate some of those bad reviews.
12. Careful Planning
Are you planning to launch new products, new offers, make changes to the website, or give your affiliate program a makeover? Fingers crossed for everything to turn out the way you want it. In order for that to happen, however, it is important that you plan carefully. Make sure to take your affiliates, their needs, and their interests into account. Try to anticipate and prevent everything that could go wrong (broken links, tracking gap, traffic leaks, affiliate fraud, etc.). Conduct tests to ensure everything works as it should and make sure you have enough time and a backup plan to turn things around if something goes wrong.
13. Thoughtful Implementation
Whatever changes you’re implementing, it is important to do it thoroughly. Pay the utmost attention to details, and ensure that all the parties affected are considered and aware. Launching a new offer takes more than displaying a banner on your website or sending a newsletter to affiliates. It requires banners, links, maybe some old offer URL redirects, and notifications to top affiliates. Launching new products takes more than displaying them on the website. You need to send samples to reviewers, provide product info, images, videos, and dedicated links and banners to affiliates, etc.
14. Personalization and Affiliate Support
In times of isolation, dehumanization, auto-responders-based online communication, personalized, 1on1 communication can get you a long way. Many affiliates will go over earnings, power rank, and other performance criteria. They will promote your brand just because they appreciate your support and willingness to help. So take a few seconds to drop them a personal message. Common examples include:
- Welcome messages when they join your program
- Congratulations on the first sale or several sales in a row
- New deals notifications
- Holidays greetings
- Contests and special campaigns
- Optimization opportunities
Be careful, though! Personal relationships can give you a chance, maybe two. If you don’t accompany them with results, with all respect and personal consideration, your affiliates will still move on to your competitors.
15. Continuous Learning, Optimization, and Improvements
Every affiliate program is different, and affiliate marketing success is not something you conquer and keep. So don’t sleep on your success! As your affiliate program starts growing, take time to analyze what works and what doesn’t:
- Affiliate categories driving the best results and their promotional methods
- Best-performing creatives
- Best-converting landing pages
- Audience specifics
- Best-selling products
- Most effective awards and accolades
Use these findings to improve your own strategies and help your affiliates optimize their promotions. The more sales they drive, the more commissions they earn, and the more likely they are to expand their promotions. If you play your cards right, everybody wins and you will continue to enjoy the sweet taste of affiliate marketing success for a long time.