Maximizing the ROI of an Affiliate Marketing Program

Marketing is all about reach and engagement. It’s highly ineffective to have one without the other. And in today’s crowded and noisy online world, trying to reach and engage with the right people at the right time can prove to be enormously challenging. However, a well-developed affiliate marketing program could be the answer.

Marketing is all about reach and engagement. It’s highly ineffective to have one without the other. And in today’s crowded and noisy online world, trying to reach and engage with the right people at the right time can prove to be enormously challenging. However, a well-developed affiliate marketing program could be the answer.

What Is an Affiliate Marketing Program?

“Simply put, affiliate programs, also called associate programs, are arrangements in which an online merchant website pays affiliate web sites a commission to send them traffic,” entrepreneur Tom Harris writes. “These affiliate websites post links to the merchant site and are paid according to a particular agreement. This agreement is usually based on the number of people the affiliate sends to the merchant’s site, or the number of people they send who buy something or perform some other action.”

For the most part, online chatter focuses on affiliate marketing programs from the affiliate’s perspective. However, it’s actually far more beneficial for the business.

Here are a few of the business-side advantages:

  • Performance-based. Because affiliates are paid commissions only after successfully completing the desired action, there’s little financial risk on your part. Affiliates must perform in order to get paid, which leaves you in a desirable financial situation.
  • Increased exposure. Your marketing team can only do so much. When you have affiliates connected to your brand, you gain increased exposure and access to new audiences outside of your normal reach.
  • Third-party validation. It’s one thing for you to make claims on your website or in your marketing campaigns. It’s much more credible when someone outside of your company validates the things you’re saying.

How to Launch a Successful Affiliate Marketing Program

Clearly, there’s immense value in running an affiliate marketing program. But not all affiliate marketing programs are highly successful. To ensure you reap the full benefits, you’ll need to successfully plan and execute. Here are some tips and pointers:

1. Get Cozy With Your Numbers

The first thing you have to do is review your numbers and see how much of the pie you’re willing to share with affiliates. This is an important factor for multiple reasons. You need to give up enough to motivate affiliates to feed you traffic, but not so much that you hurt your bottom line.

Affiliate marketing rates typically run anywhere from 5 to 30 percent (with most landing around 10 or 15 percent). You’ll have to determine whether these percentages are worth parting with.

2. Join an Affiliate Marketing Network

When launching an affiliate marketing network, you have two options. You can either set up your own tracking software and system — which requires a lot of time and work — or you can get set up with an affiliate marketing network. Most companies go with the latter.

“[Affiliate marketing networks] provide a marketplace where your affiliate program will be advertised to other affiliate marketers,” Shopify explains. “They also provide the tracking software for your affiliates so you don’t have to build your own tracking system.”

3. Recruit Affiliates

With all of the work you put into starting an affiliate marketing program, it’s important that you have affiliates in the program. In the early days, recruiting affiliates should be a major focus. Some will find you via your affiliate marketing network, while others will require some courting. Loyal customers are a great place to start.

4. Keep Them Happy

Finally, you need to keep affiliates happy and satisfied so that they’ll continue to promote your products. In addition to attractive commission rates, you may also offer other benefits and perks to those who stick around.

Maximize Your ROI

It takes a lot of strategy and creative energy to run a successful affiliate marketing program. However, most brands discover that the benefits far outweigh these upfront costs. Use this article as a guide to get to started and continually look for ways to scale and improve. Three to five years from now, you could look up and see a totally different business with greater reach, higher profits, and more opportunities.

Coupon Affiliate Websites: Marketing Tips for Success and Pitfalls to Avoid

Marketing with coupon affiliate websites might be the strategy you need to attract audiences that convert — especially if you’re not getting the results you’d like from digital advertising. But you’ll need to make sure you’re forming relationships with the right type of sites, optimizing coupon redemption processes on your end, and avoiding the bad sites along the way.

Not getting the results you’d like from your digital advertisements? Marketing with coupon affiliate sites might be the strategy you need to attract audiences that convert.

Instead of pay for impressions or ad clicks, affiliate marketing uses the cost per acquisition (CPA) model. So when you partner with a coupon website, you’ll only pay for your coupon placements when someone actually uses the coupon and converts into a paying customer.

It’s an effective way to optimize conversions and ensure ROI from your marketing efforts, as long as you avoid some common pitfalls and follow these tips for success:

Find the Right Sites to Work With

Finding potential coupon affiliate sites to work with is easy if you go through an affiliate marketing platform like Commission Junction, Shareasale, or LinkShare. Search these popular networks and you’ll find there’s an overwhelming number of coupon sites out there who’d love to get commission from your business.

Here’s an overview of the main types of coupon affiliate sites you can work with today:

  • Traditional coupon sites — Sites like Groupon, Savings.com and other generalized discount sites that promote all available coupons.
  • Curation-driven coupon sites — Sites that feature daily deals, such as Tech Bargains and DealsPlus.
  • Coupon forums — Open source forums where anyone can post coupons, such as Slickdeals.
  • Cash-back coupon sites — These sites pay back customers part of the commission they receive from publishing your discounts. Ebates is a popular example.
  • Browser extensions — Some coupon sites (e.g. Honey) now offer browser extensions that automatically find and apply coupon codes for you when you shop online.
  • Bloggers — There are plenty of niche bloggers that focus on providing ways for their audience to save money through couponing, such as Coupon Mom and Hip2Save.

Any of these kinds of coupon sites could be valuable for your affiliate marketing efforts, as long as you evaluate them thoroughly before working together.

Build a Relationship With Your Coupon Affiliate Sites

Once you do find a few worthwhile coupon affiliate sites to work with, start communicating with them directly to build a closer relationship. Instead of investing in a variety of platforms, get to know two or three that you can really work well with to drive new sales traffic.

Try to get to the point where you can negotiate placements of your promotions on the homepage, in their email newsletter, etc. You can usually negotiate special distribution deals by offering an increased commission. Tactics like this will maximize the value you get out of investing in just a few affiliates to promote your discounts.

Optimize the Coupon Redemption Process

When you offer promo codes to encourage sales, they can be both a help or a hindrance to the conversion process. If you want to have a promo code box as part of your checkout, make sure you eliminate barriers to using it.

Some shoppers will reach your checkout without realizing there are even any promo codes available, and then abandon the process to go search for one. Make this easy for them by having a designated page on your site that displays all your promo codes as well. Include a prominent link to it near your promo code box. That will discourage customers from heading off-site in search of discounts for your brand.

2013: Year of the Social Selling Expert

If social media and content marketing managers are to survive the meteoric rise of “big data” they’ll need to become social selling experts—pronto. Like any new marketing trend, few can actually agree on what big data is. Yet the drumbeat of its promise is quickening and becoming louder. The role of the CMO is increasingly coming under pressure to techno-fy, automate and focus on bridging the gap between marketing and sales teams.

If social media and content marketing managers are to survive the meteoric rise of “big data” they’ll need to become social selling experts—pronto.

Like any new marketing trend, few can actually agree on what big data is. Yet the drumbeat of its promise is quickening and becoming louder. The role of the CMO is increasingly coming under pressure to techno-fy, automate and focus on bridging the gap between marketing and sales teams.

Facebook, blogging, Twitter, LinkedIn? Inbound marketing, content marketing?

“Yup, we’re on it.”

B-to-B marketers are “just doing it.” Growth is slowing. The love affair with social media and content marketing is nearly over. Everyone’s all gaa-gaa over big data.

Social Media Marketing: A Necessary Evil?
We’ve seen this kind of stagnation before in the days of online affiliate marketing. It didn’t take CEOs and vice presidents very long to go from boasting about how many thousands of affiliates they have to completely ceasing to talk about affiliate marketing.

Suddenly, behind closed doors, executive leaders started calling their affiliate marketing programs “a necessary evil.” Today, it’s a check on a checklist of mundane strategies that aren’t customer acquisition channels at all. At best they’re over-priced customer retention devices.

Social media and content marketing are at risk of suffering a similar fate: not being strategic. Will social media marketing end up being seen as a necessary evil, just another check mark on a list of ho-hum marketing strategies, more ways to spend money?

Said more bluntly: Will you be seen as a money spender or a money-maker in 2013? Will you get caught up in Doug Kessler’s “crap storm” or will your content produce leads and sales?

Because ultimately the difference between content that’s crap and content that isn’t is simple: Its ability to create a business lead.

The Rise of Social Selling Experts
For a select few large brands and small businesses social marketing is surviving and, in fact, thriving—powering businesses forward. These places are where we see today’s social selling experts emerging. These savvy pros see the rise of flash-in-the-pan trends as good news—a time to dig in and create bottom-line impact. Leads and sales.

One such pro is Ed Worthington of Action Business Systems, a provider of document management products and services.

You might be thinking, “Sure, Molander but Ed is a traditional sales professional, I’m a marketer.”

Yes, but that’s precisely the point.

Especially in the world of B-to-B marketing, the last few years has seen the meteoric rise of marketing automation, sales enablement—whatever buzzword term you want to use it amounts to one thing: The bridging of sales and marketing through technology-driven processes.

Today’s most successful online marketers are online SELLERS. These people aren’t afraid to be held accountable for leads and sales. Heck, they thrive on the chance to sing for their supper. They know success is all about applying specific skills like coming up with blog content that creates leads.

Maybe you’re asking, “Why is now the time … why should I be considering rising to the ranks of a social selling expert?”

Because the trend toward investing more on “big data” must be met by big change. If you’re going to keep your job or client relationship (or GROW it) you’ll be wise to become a social selling expert. Reach beyond engagement and become a money-maker, not just a money-spender.

What do you think?

6 Insider Secrets to a Winning Affiliate Marketing Program

Affiliate marketing has been a viable way to help build ancillary revenues by having someone else market your products. It’s generally cost effective and could involve little work. You can go about this through affiliate networks, such as Commission Junction or LinkShare, or simply start an affiliate program on your website and track sales and commissions with affiliate software, such as DirectTrack. Software costs could range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars … depending on how robust you’d like your features.

Affiliate marketing has been a viable way to help build ancillary revenues by having someone else market your products. It’s generally cost effective and could involve little work.

You can go about this through affiliate networks, such as Commission Junction or LinkShare, or simply start an affiliate program on your website and track sales and commissions with affiliate software, such as DirectTrack. Software costs could range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars … depending on how robust you’d like your features.

But before you start, make sure you know the critical elements to help grow your affiliate program:

1. Promotion. This is where you’re promoting your actual program on targeted locations, as well as recruiting affiliates to market your program. You’ll want to make sure you list your program on all the top affiliate directories, networks, forums, associations, bulletin boards, websites, listings and blogs (and, by the way, many of these sites are free!). You’ll also want to leverage free classified sites such as Craig’s List, as well as social marketing sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. And, of course, don’t forget to create powerful online press releases (free or paid) promoting the program’s launch and any other noteworthy milestones. Some of my favorite paid and free distribution services are free-press-release.com, PRlog.org, PRWeb.com and PRBuzz.com. You can also distribute these press releases through social marketing and bookmarking sites, including the aforementioned as well as Digg and StumbleUpon. There are many more cost effective ways to promote your program. Just be a strategically creative thinker and the sky’s the limit!

2. Site Awareness. It will be hard to promote your program to a site that doesn’t have a decent Web traffic rank or Web traffic (visits). If your site has poor traffic, a professional affiliate marketer will look at it as a lost opportunity. It will only make his job harder. So make sure to deploy SEO/SEM tactics to improve your site’s presence and traffic before you launch your affiliate program.

3. Online Store. Make sure you know which are your best-selling and most universally appealing products. Those are the ones you’d want to have in your affiliate program. You should also have varied price points. You don’t want to pick prices too low as, after the affiliate split, there won’t be anything left for your own profit. And you don’t want to pick prices too high, as most of these leads are cold, it will be a harder sell. A good range is generally $69 to $300, depending on the product and benefits.

4. Affiliate Rewards. Decide if you’re going to pay out per lead (CPL) or per sale. Decide if you’re going to have a flat commission rate or a tiered system. Do your competitive research and see what other, similar affiliate programs are paying out. You want to be competitive, as that, besides brand recognition, will be your two strongest areas of appeal to a potential affiliate. Some of the best performing programs on the Web are offering a commission of 25 percent of the product price. So do your due diligence for commission rates.

5. Analytics. Make sure you have a robust reporting system. You’ll want the ability to track underperformers and super affiliates, and reward OR incent accordingly. You’ll also want to know which creatives are performing the best and worst and, of course, how many sales and leads are coming in, as well as how long the lead is staying on the file and their lifetime value (sales).

6. Keeping In Touch. Top affiliate programs often have a newsletter or ongoing communication to keep their affiliates engaged … up-to-date on latest products being offered, special sales incentives, updates to program terms, and other newsworthy notes.

Affiliate marketing can help with most all of your online marketing objectives … lead gen, sales conversions, Web traffic, branding and buzz. Not having one could be detrimental to your business.

13 Things You Must Do This Year To Boost Your Biz! Part Two

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

[Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a two-part series.]

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

Today, I’m wrapping up the list with even more tips and tricks to get the most out of your marketing efforts (and marketing budget!) this year.

7. Pay Per Click (PPC). Many people try pay per click only to spend thousands of dollars with little results. Creating a successful PPC campaign is an art—one that I’ve had success with. If PPC is new for you, then don’t start out with the big guys like Google or Yahoo, run your “test” campaign on smaller search engines such as Bing, as well as second-tier networks, such as Adbrite, Miva and Kanoodle. In addition, you must make sure you have a strong text ad and landing page and that the ad is keyword dense. You must also have a compelling offer and make sure you do your keyword research. Picking the correct keywords that coincide with your actual ad and landing page is crucial. You don’t want to pick keywords that are too vague, too competitive or unpopular. You also need to be active with your campaign management which includes bid amounts and daily budget. All these things—bid, budget, keywords, popularity and placement—will determine the success of the campaign. And most campaigns are trial and error and take anywhere from three to six weeks to optimize.

8. Free Teleseminars or Webinars. These are a great way to collect names for list building, then cross-sell to those names once they’re in your sales funnel. You can use services like FreeConferenceCall.com, where it’s a toll (not toll free) call. But in my experience, if the value proposition of the subject matter is strong, people will pay that nominal fee. Promote a free teleseminar or webinar to prospects (that is not your internal list). Remember, this is for lead generation. So your goal is to give away valuable information in exchange for an email address. You can have a ‘soft sell’ at the end of the call and follow up with an email blast within 24 hours. But the most important thing is getting that name, THEN bonding with them through your editorial.

9. Free Online classified ads. Using CraigsList or similar high traffic classified sites is a great way to sell a products or get leads. The trick is ad copy that is powerful and persuasive, as well as geo-targeting—picking the right location and category to run your ad in. Hint: think of your ideal audience. Ads are free, so why not test it out.

10. Reciprocal Ad Swaps. One of the best kept secrets in the industry: Some of your best resources will be your fellow publishers. This channel often gets overlooked by marketers who don’t give it the respect it deserves. In the work I do for my clients, I spend a good portion of my time researching publishers and websites in related, synergistic industries. I look for relevant connections between their publications (print and online) and list (subscribers). Let’s say I come across a natural health e-letter that has a list of readers similar in size to one of my clients, who is a supplement manufacturer. Since many of their audience share similar interests, cross-marketing each other products (or even lead gen efforts) can be mutually rewarding. Swapping ads will save you money on lead-generation initiatives. Since you won’t be paying for access to the other publisher’s list of subscribers, you can get new customers for free. The only “cost” is an opportunity cost—allowing the other publisher to access your own list. It’s a win-win situation. This technique also opens the door to potential joint-venture opportunities for revenue sharing (sales).

11. Guest Editorials and Editorial Contributions. Another popular favorite used in the publishing industry is editorial contributions. This is where you provide quality editorial (article, interview, Q&A) to a synergistic publication and in return get a byline and/or editorial note in your article. In addition to an editorial opportunity, this is a marketing opportunity. You see, within the byline or ed. note you can include author attribution plus a back-link to your site. Some ed. notes can even be advertorial in nature, linking to a promotional landing page. Relationship networking and cultivation come into play when coordinating these, as it’s usually someone in the editorial or marketing department that spearheads such arrangements. These are great for increasing exposure to other lists, which can be beneficial for increasing market share, bonding, sales and lead generation efforts.

12. Snail Mail. Direct mail is still a consumer favorite—and another good way to get your sales message out. It can be especially effective used in conjunction with another effort, such as an email campaign. Studies indicate that 70 percent of respondents prefer receiving correspondence via mail vs. email. As with any marketing medium, though, you can end up paying a lot between production costs, list rental costs, and mail shop/postage costs. The most costly direct mail packages are magalogs and tabloids (four-color mailers that look like magazines). However, 6 x 9 postcards, tri-fold self-mailers and simple sales letters are three low-cost ways of taking advantage of this channel. Note that copywriting, list selection and geo-targeting can be crucial for direct mail success, no matter which cost-effective mail format you pick. Although 100 percent ROI (return on investment) is what you should aim for, many direct mailers these days are content with 80 percent returns. This lower figure takes into consideration the lifetime value of the names that come in from this channel, because they are typically reliable buyers in the future and snail mail address are more solid—they don’t change as often as email addresses.

13. Print Ads. This is another channel that gets a raw deal. One reason is because it can be costly. To place an ad in a high-circulation magazine or newspaper, you could shell out serious money. But you don’t need a big budget to take advantage of print ads. If you don’t have deep pockets, consider targeted newspapers and periodicals. Let’s say you’re selling an investment report. Try using the Internet to research the wealthiest cities in America. Once you get that list, look online for local newspapers in those communities. These smaller newspapers hit your target audience and offer a much cheaper ad rate than some of the larger, broad-circulation publications. You end up getting quality rather than quantity. I once paid for an ad in a local newspaper in Aspen, CO, that had a flat rate of less than $500 for a half page ad. My ROI on this effort turned out to be more than 1,000 percent. Most important rule: Know your audience. That will determine placement and price.