RAMP – The Framework to Grow Your Affiliate Marketing Program

Have your affiliates begun to drive sales and determined you to look for ways to grow your affiliate program? Indeed, affiliate marketing benefits businesses in numerous ways. It can be a great way to build brand awareness and reputation, improve SEO, and boost sales. By growing your affiliate program, you basically grow your business and support all your company’s marketing efforts, so the investment is definitely worth it.

How do you do it? It’s an intuitive, 4-step process that we, at AM Navigator, like to call RAMP:

  1. Recruit
  2. Activate
  3. Motivate
  4. Police

Let’s review each step and see what it involves and how it can help you grow your affiliate program!

R: Recruit More Affiliates to Grow Your Affiliate Program

Affiliate recruitmentMore affiliates mean more websites and/or influencers promoting your products or services. They will help you reach a wider audience and, hopefully, get more traffic and sales. If you’re serious about growing your affiliate program, you need to recruit more affiliates.

We’ve already discussed the basics in our guide on finding and recruiting high-quality affiliates but here are a few tips to get you going:

1. Recruit from All Categories

Many merchants focus only on coupon and cashback affiliates and influencers. There are at least 20 types of affiliates out there. Some of them could play an important part in promoting your brand. The more categories you cover, the wider the audience affiliates can help you reach is.

2. Use Several Contact Methods and Personalize Messages

There is no universal method to reach affiliates, so stay flexible in your outreach efforts. Emails, phone calls, private messages on social media, network invites, and even combinations of these methods may be required. Remember to mention the name and/or website of the prospects you contact. It will show that you know who they are and what they are doing.

3. Follow Up

It may take 2-3 follow-ups to receive an answer, sometimes even more. Don’t give up if your first attempt failed. But rather than sending the same message repeatedly, tweak the follow-ups to show your willingness to make things work. And don’t hesitate to change contact methods – if they don’t answer the phone, they may read your email or private messages on social media.

4. Streamline Affiliate Recruitment Efforts with Smart Tools

Out of the recruitment emails you send, less than 10% will receive an answer. Even fewer responsive prospects will actually join. Therefore, you need to reach out to several hundreds of prospects every month. That will take time and effort you probably can’t spare. Your best chance at succeeding is to use smart tools. Most affiliate networks have their own recruitment tools, and there are also several great 3rd party tools that you can use.

For example, the Publisher Discovery App can help you find affiliates of your competitors and provides contact details where available. Their browser extension lets you see if a website is monetized through affiliate links and who the main partners are. Tools like SEMRush help you identify websites linking back to your competitors and competitors of your best affiliates. Tools like Hunter help you find email addresses for the websites you’re looking to contact, and tools like ContactOut help you obtain email and phone numbers from LinkedIn (from standard to all versions depending on the chosen plan) and automate outreach. There are also more complex outreach CRMs like Mediarails that can save you a great deal of time and effort on follow-ups and reporting.

5. Don’t Forget about Passive Recruitment

Active recruitment is very important if you want to grow your affiliate program but passive recruitment can get you a long way, too. Spread the word about your affiliate program by creating a dedicated page on your website, submitting the details to affiliate program directories, rewarding affiliates who refer other affiliates, etc.

A: Activate Affiliates to Grow Your Affiliate Program

Affiliate activationRecruiting alone is not enough for growing an affiliate program. In fact, the number of recruited affiliates means nothing unless they are actually promoting your product and/or brand.

Affiliates only bring value if they are actively promoting your brand. Therefore, you need to convince those who are not promoting you to get started.

Here’s how you can do that:

1. Incentivize Affiliates to Activate

Reward affiliates who activate or drive their sales within a given time period. Examples include:

  • Higher commission to affiliates who put up their links and banners within 1-2 weeks
  • First-sale bonus
  • Flat amount bonus on first x sales
  • Flat amount bonus on all sales driven within the first month
  • Double commission or flat amount bonus for driving x sales within the first month

You can play with amounts, percentages, and timeframes as you see fit, and reactivate incentives regularly for inactive affiliates.

2. Equip Affiliates

Affiliates can find the information and images they need on your website. However, going through everything will take time and effort. Streamline the process by offering them the basics:

  • Create a well-structured presentation of your brand and products
  • Put together an album with high-resolution product and lifestyle images and videos
  • Provide keywords lists, top products, trial, and warranty details, highlight selling points, etc.

3. Facilitate Promotion

Some affiliates are just getting started. They may have a hard time finding the links and banners to use in their promotions. Others are too busy to put up new content. If you make it easier for them, they will be more likely to start promoting your products. Send them precoded affiliate links and banners that they can just copy and paste to wherever they need.

There are also affiliates who require that you pay an integration fee or sponsor a post in order to be featured on their platform/website. Perhaps the most popular example is Rakuten (Ebates). In some cases, the investment is well worth making. Don’t dismiss paid opportunities without trying to find out more about their long-term benefits.

4. Communicate Regularly and Provide Support

Some affiliates think twice before investing time and effort into promoting a brand. They want to make sure you’re reliable, easy to reach, and able to provide great support to both affiliates and buyers. You can convince them of that through regular communication (bi-weekly newsletters) and timely notifications (of new promos, new product launches, and any changes regarding your brand, affiliate program, etc.).

Make sure to answer all emails and requests promptly. This will show that you respect affiliates and are willing to build long-term profitable partnerships. Monitor prominent affiliates’ content and suggest suitable placements for your brand. Share case studies with similar affiliates to show that the partnership would benefit everyone (remember not to share sensitive details that may upset the affiliate they refer to).

5. Offer Samples or Demo Accounts and Discount Codes

Many affiliates have special requirements for promoting a brand. Some will want to try the products or services themselves. Others will need exclusive offers, better than the ones you have publicly available. If you don’t provide what they need, they won’t promote your products or services. Therefore, make it clear that you’re open to such opportunities and ready to help. Your affiliates will sooner or later take you up on your promise.

M. Motivate Affiliates to Grow Your Affiliate Program

Motivate affiliatesIf you follow the above advice, you’ll have more and more affiliates promoting you. But many affiliates only have 1-2 posts about your products or services and tens of posts about your competitors. More posts mean more traffic and sales.

Therefore, it is in your best interest to convince and motivate affiliates to add your brand to more posts and include it in more campaigns.

Here is how you can do that:

1. One-on-one Communication

Affiliate marketing is also called partner marketing for a reason: you and your affiliates should be partners. The first step to building a strong partnership is communication. As you may already know, personalization is key. Here are some ways to build close, motivating relationships with your affiliates.

  • Show gratitude and appreciation – Thank your key affiliates for their first posts. If you notice any inaccurate information or inconsistencies, help them correct them.
  • Celebrate first sales – When an affiliate drives their first sale, reach out to congratulate them. Take advantage to suggest new placements.
  • Send personalized updates – Notify your top affiliates of any new launches and updates through personal emails. Explain how the changes will affect their promotion. Suggest ways for them to further announce the updates to their audience.
  • Ask for feedback – If you sent products, provided demo accounts, or made significant website changes, ask your affiliates for feedback and ideas for further improvements. They’ll love the fact that you care and take their opinion into account, and you’ll get inspiration, maybe even competitor intel.
  • Share performance details and suggest optimizations – As your affiliates start promoting you more, you will notice that some posts convert, others don’t. Share your observations with the corresponding affiliate and work together to optimize promotions and improve conversion rate.

In other words, show your affiliates that they matter! Treat them as partners and respect their work and their opinion. Stay open to their ideas and show them that you’re ready to go the extra mile to ensure a mutually beneficial partnership. They will appreciate it and they will stay by your side and promote you even when you’re not the best on the market or you don’t pay the highest commissions.

2. Showing Off Valuable Endorsements

Did one or more affiliates endorse your product/service as best overall, best for a specific purpose, or best in its price range? Then brag about it! Ask your top affiliates for badges. If they can’t provide them, they may approve the ones you create. Displaying those badges on your product pages or even your homepage will help with both store visitors and affiliates.

Store visitors will feel reassured that they are buying the right product and getting their money’s worth. Affiliates will see that other affiliates endorse your products or services and will be more likely to do the same. Just remember not to link back to any 3rd party websites. Your other affiliates will see that as a traffic leak and a risk of having their cookies overwritten.

As the number of valuable endorsements increases, consider creating a carousel with short but relevant excerpts from your affiliates’ reviews. Another option is to create an “As Seen On” section displaying the logos of your most prominent affiliates. These endorsements ultimately say that you’re a powerful, well-known company offering excellent products or services.

3. Co-branding

As you grow your affiliate program, some affiliates will stand out through the volume of traffic they send and the value they attribute to your products or services. A great way to encourage those affiliates and take the partnerships with them to the next steps are co-branded campaigns. These are activities or promotions that include both your and their name/logo. Here are a few ideas:

  • Co-branded welcome messages – When visitors referred by your affiliate reach your website, you can display a popup with your affiliate’s logo and a personalized welcome message. An exclusive discount code advertised by your affiliate and shared in the same welcome message will take you even further.
  • Co-branded landing pages – Does an affiliate send thousands of visitors to your website every month and recommend your products or services as best in certain categories? Try building co-branded landing pages for that traffic. It will help streamline their buyer journey and improve conversion. Just make sure tracking is in order and the page is not visible to the other affiliates or their referred traffic.
  • Co-branded retargeting campaigns – As your more prominent affiliates build in-depth reviews of your products or services, you will notice that hundreds, if not thousands of visitors leave the website without buying. Statistics show that retargeting brings about numerous benefits. By retargeting the traffic referred by a specific affiliate with co-branded campaigns (ads, emails, push notifications, etc.), you can take those benefits to the next level and consolidate the relationship with the affiliate at the same time.

4. Sponsorships

Some of your affiliates will organize giveaways. Others will organize contests. Some may organize charitable events or otherwise support noble causes. There are also affiliates who require sponsorships for newsletters and seasonal sales page inclusions. Stay open to such opportunities and sponsor those that seem worthwhile.

In most cases, even if the sponsored event or campaign does not bring the desired return on investment, it opens new doors. A giveaway may not bring immediate sales but it can help you build a huge email list and/or considerable social media following that you can then retarget and convert.

Most of the time, affiliates add sponsoring merchants to their list of preferred brands for future content. A small sponsorship could therefore turn into several valuable placements and considerable traffic and sales. It could help you lay the foundation of a long-term profitable partnership.

5. Contests & Performance Bonuses

Affiliates love contests and seeing their efforts rewarded. Therefore, keep them engaged with challenges, prizes, and bonuses that reward performance. You can offer a flat amount, a free product, a commission increase, or even a combination of these. Just make sure that your prize or bonus is accessible to smaller affiliates as well, not just to the big guys.

For example, you can condition the prize or bonus by an increase in performance compared to the previous month or by the number of posts promoting your brand. You can reward the most favorable review, the most beautiful pictures, or the highest AOV. Remember to announce the contest or bonuses to affiliates and let them know how it all ended when the designated period is over.

P. Police Affiliates for Sustainable Affiliate Program Growth

Police affiliate violationsThe more attractive and the better-performing your program gets, the more affiliates will try to make money on it.

The sobering reality is that some of them won’t hesitate to resort to unscrupulous promotional methods and violate your affiliate program terms.

No, having those “program terms” in place will never secure you from violations. It’s important to have them in order to give yourself grounds to police affiliate compliance with them.

Examples of Affiliate Program Terms Violations:

  • Bidding on trademark-related keywords
  • Promoting unauthorized discounts
  • Deceitful advertising
  • Ad hijacks
  • Browser extensions
  • Using software and various scripts to overwrite other affiliates’ cookies or retarget website traffic

Policing Affiliates and Handling Violations

If you let bad affiliates have their way, they will discourage good affiliates from promoting you. They will also cause you to lose money and harm your reputation. You’ll be paying undeserved commissions and see the costs of your own marketing campaigns increase.

It is therefore very important to have clear terms and conditions in place. It is also vital that you monitor affiliates to make sure they comply. You will surely find a few who don’t. When you do, it’s important to take measures.

Depending on the gravity of their actions, consider giving them a chance or two to adjust their promotions. Some are just testing the waters and will come around. Those who continue to violate your program terms should be removed from the program.

If you caught violators late, after they already registered undeserved commissions, you also have the option to reverse those commissions. If the commissions were “stolen” from other affiliates that you can identify, don’t hesitate to pay them to the rightful owners.

As you process refunds, keep in mind the impact on your affiliate program statistics. You don’t want to lower your EPC or average commissions or increase your reversals rate to the point where they become a reason of concern for new affiliates.

Final Advice on How to Grow Your Affiliate Program

The reason I like to call the above strategy RAMP is that, just like climbing a ramp, growing an affiliate program is fun yet dangerous. You can always slide back down or fall. This usually happens when the growth is not sustainable or when you rush to the top without paying attention to the climb.

Examples include:

  • Paying higher commissions and bonuses than you can afford
  • Setting up automatic email sequences that mess up the prospects’ names or websites and contact existing affiliates or wholesalers
  • Suggesting placements and promotional methods that do not take into account the specific of the affiliate’s activity
  • Disclosing sensitive information about some affiliates to others
  • Falsely or mistakingly accusing good affiliates of violating program terms, etc.

The list could continue but the best way to avoid such mistakes is to secure professional affiliate program management. You need the above measures implemented by someone who knows what to do and how to do it. They need to know what strengths to highlight, what buttons to push, and when.

At AM Navigator, we have decades of experience building and growing affiliate programs. Rather than applying universal solutions, we apply our knowledge, experience, and tools to the specifics of each business and we work closely with our clients to help them reach and exceed their goals. Get in touch to learn more about how we’d manage and grow your affiliate program!

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