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 One

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

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

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

Boosting your business doesn’t have to take a lot of time, or money. Certain marketing tactics are tried and true because they work year after year, decade after decade. They’re proven. And they get results. Best of all, I’m going to reveal them to you … all for free.

Today, I going to go over some proven winners to help create visibility, drive website traffic, increase sales, generate leads and produce buzz. These are low-to-no cost tactics that fit most any budget and most any business niche. All you really need is the manpower to implement them. And the few that do involve a budget are extremely cost effective. So, without further ado, here’s numbers one through six:

1. Affiliate Partnerships/Affiliate Marketing Plan. (Includes joint ventures, also known as ‘JVs). This tactic is having other people market (promote) for you in exchange for a commission. It’s extremely effective and cost efficient. On the JV site, the key is having some kind of leverage when approaching publishers with a similar list size and interest as your own list. In exchange for content or revenue share efforts, you and the other publisher agree to reciprocate either e-news ads or solo emails to each other’s lists for cross-marketing purposes. You have an agreed upon, competitive affiliate split (net commission on each sale) and forward payment either monthly or quarterly. Or, you can agree to reciprocate efforts and both agree to promote to each others’ lists and keep whatever sales (or leads) you each get from the efforts. It’s also a best practice to advise deliverability and performance stats. On the affiliate marketing side, many online affiliate programs are robust and offer real-time access to a control panel where affiliates can download creatives, check status of payments, and view campaign stats. Creating an affiliate program and marketing plan for that program can be turn-key. There are several off-the-shelf programs and softwares, such as DirectTrack and WordPress; as well as online networks such as CJ.com (Commission Junction), Clickbank.com, Linkshare.com. What’s most important as with any affiliate marketing plan is the PR. That is, getting the news out and marketing the program itself to as many targeted locations as possible. If you have a product to sell, not having an affiliate program is simply leaving money on the table.

2. Content Syndication Plus. A recent article by Forbes, which was actually featured here on TargetMarketingMag.com, mentioned 2012 was going to be the year of content and social marketing. Content is king and you can leverage it via the SONAR Content Distribution Model:

  • (S) Syndicate partners, content syndication networks, and user generate content sites;
  • (O) Online press releases;
  • (N) Network (social) communities;
  • (A) Article directories;
  • (R) Relevant posts to blogs, forums, and bulletin boards.

SONAR works hand-in-hand with your existing search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing (SMM), and search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. If you have original content … you can do SONAR marketing!

3. Search Engine Optimization. In order to drive as much organic traffic as possible to your website, you need to make sure your site is optimized for the correct keywords and your target audience. Once you optimize your site with title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords, and alt attributes/alt tags, you need to make sure you enhanced your site to harness the traffic that will be coming. That means adding eye-catching email collection boxes to the home page; relevant cross-marketing banners; obvious links to get to product pages; keyword-dense, search-friendly and consumer-friendly content pages; a site map; and more. You don’t want to downplay the importance of SEO. Site already optimized? Great. But remember that you need to review your analytics and visitor usage patterns and keywords on a timely basis, as algorithms and search behavior are always changing.

4. Online Lead Generation Polls. Incorporating a lead gen poll on your website, or having a poll on another site or e-newsletter (via a media buy or ad swap) is a great way to build your list. It’s important to spend time thinking about your poll question—something that is a hot topic, controversial, and relevant to the locations where you’re placing your poll. You want to pull people in with your headline and make the poll entertaining. Your answers should be multiple choice and have an “other” field which encourages participants to engage with your question. I’ve found this “other” field as a fantastic way to make the poll interactive. Many people are passionate about certain subject matters and won’t mind giving you their two cents. Then, to show appreciation for talking the poll, tell participants they are getting a bonus report and free e-newsletter subscription (which they can opt out of at any time). And of course, make sure to mention—and link to—your privacy/anti-spam policy. After you kick off your list-building efforts, make sure you start tracking them so you can quantify the time and resources spent. This involves working with your webmaster on setting up tracking URLs specific to each website you’re advertising on. It also means looking at Google Analytics for your website and corresponding landing pages to see traffic and referring page sources.

5. Viral Marketing. Make sure you have a “forward to friend” feature in your e-newsletter to encourage viral marketing. It’s also important to have what I call a “content syndication blurb”—both on your website and in your e-newsletter. This blurb simply states that anyone can republish your free content, as long as they give attribution to the author and publication, as well as provide a back-link to the original article. This encourages other websites, publishers, editors and bloggers to republish—creating buzz and back-links, both of which help SEO. You can set Google Alerts for your articles (buy using keywords of article title, author, topic) and then see when the article has been picked up by another site. You can also look at your site’s back-links, as well as referring traffic sources, to see which sites you didn’t push the article out to, but republished it from a viral standpoint.

6. Cost-Effective Media Buying. To complement your “free” online efforts, you may want to consider targeted, low-cost media buys (paid online advertising) in the form of text ads, banner ads, blog networks/ads, or list rentals (i.e. e-news sponsorships or solo emails). You’re paying for the placement in these locations, so you must make sure you have strong promotional copy and offers for the best results possible. Blog ad networks and online ad networks are a great, cheap alternative and they have a wider reach. Networks to consider: BlogAds.com, Advertising.com, ValueClick.com, BurstMedia.com, and FastClick.com. You can also find a full list of sites. Make sure you’re savvy as to what comparable rates are (CPMs, CPCs) and try never to pay rate card. It’s all about the power of negotiation.

Stay tuned for the next article which will feature more tips (#7—#13!)

Affiliate Governance in Paid Search: Asserting Control to Boost Overall Performance

Your affiliate marketing and paid search programs are intrinsically linked. For instance, your brand uses paid search to generate leads, while at the same time your affiliates use paid search to generate leads for you. Paid search and affiliate marketing success often depends on integrating your paid search program with your affiliates’ programs. This can be accomplished through affiliate governance.

Your affiliate marketing and paid search programs are intrinsically linked. For instance, your brand uses paid search to generate leads, while at the same time your affiliates use paid search to generate leads for you. Paid search and affiliate marketing success often depends on integrating your paid search program with your affiliates’ programs. This can be accomplished through affiliate governance.

Affiliate governance requires a flexible operating framework that can be used to relay core messages to your affiliates. Affiliates manage their search efforts independently, yet must be directed to follow brand standards and best practices. Affiliate governance strategies help in two ways:

  1. they prevent affiliates from competing with your brand in paid search; and
  2. they foster brand/affiliate collaboration to boost paid search visibility.

Preventing Competition
Competing with your affiliates in paid search can raise cost per clicks (CPCs). It can also raise overall cost per acquisition (CPA). For example, your affiliates could be generating leads through paid search and charging you commission for those leads in situations where you should be generating the lead yourself, therefore avoiding paying said commission.

This not only inflates overall CPA, but also results in inaccurate revenue attribution, skewing the data needed to make future channel investment decisions. The affiliate network Atrinsic recently analyzed hundreds of advertisers running affiliate campaigns and estimated an average of 40 percent of revenue attribution per advertiser is inaccurate.

To avoid competition and attributing revenue to the wrong source, set some paid search ground rules for your affiliates. For example, prohibit your affiliates from bidding above you (or bidding at all) on your brand terms. While nearly all major brands prohibit most affiliates from bidding on their trademarked terms, the majority of brands do allow a few affiliates to have limited search privileges. This reduces competition, subsequently reducing CPCs. It also increases the possibility that searchers will click on your ad before an affiliate’s ad, potentially saving you a commission.

However, allowing affiliates to outbid you on particular brand terms can actually improve efficiency. For example, assume Old Navy is running a Groupon promotion. A person searching for “Old Navy coupons” probably isn’t looking for OldNavy.com, but rather a coupon site. They likely wouldn’t convert from Old Navy’s ad. Thus, Old Navy would improve efficiency by allowing Groupon to bid above it for “Old Navy coupons.” Searchers would land where they want, and Groupon — not Old Navy — would pay for the clicks. Of course, affiliate bid governance rules require a test-and-learn approach to determine which rules work best in each situation.

Once you’ve set the ground rules, ensure that affiliates abide by them. This requires affiliate-monitoring technology. Monitoring technology should be able to identify whether your affiliates are doing the following:

  • following bidding guidelines;
  • using your trademarks correctly in ad copy;
  • following landing page guidelines; and
  • fostering collaboration.

Affiliate governance not only prevents conflict, it fosters collaboration. The goal is to ensure that your brand dominates the paid search results for brand queries, pushing down potential competitors who are bidding on your brand. For example, search engines don’t allow advertisers to serve more than one ad per query. To supplement your one ad, organize affiliates to serve ads that promote your brand, boost brand awareness and drown out your competition. You can also increase visibility for generic queries by communicating collaborative keyword and messaging strategies to your affiliates.

Affiliate governance uncovers opportunities where affiliate marketing interests should yield to paid search interests, and visa versa, to boost overall search and affiliate performance. Overall success is therefore most likely achieved when you have one entity responsible for the combined performance of the channels. Ask yourself, “How can we integrate search and affiliate to increase overall leads, conversions and efficiency?”

In the end, performance is all that matters.

Affiliates: Redefining the Original Performance Marketing Channel

As the original performance marketing channel, affiliate marketing has been effectively driving performance-based sales since the mid-90s. But the characteristics of an effective affiliate program have changed dramatically over the years. Whether marketers choose a closed or open affiliate program, or optimize their program monthly or annually, they should view affiliates differently today than they have in the past.

As the original performance marketing channel, affiliate marketing has been effectively driving performance-based sales since the mid-90s. But the characteristics of an effective affiliate program have changed dramatically over the years. Whether marketers choose a closed or open affiliate program, or optimize their program monthly or annually, they should view affiliates differently today than they have in the past.

When evaluating the worth of any affiliate in any given program, ask yourself questions that consider the increasingly mobile, social and local reality of today’s online world. A few starting point questions include the following:

  • Do your affiliates actively work for you?
  • Do your affiliates develop content around your products/categories to improve natural search exposure?
  • Do they generate new traffic/users to your site, both online and offline?
  • Do they use social networks like Facebook or Twitter to encourage brand interaction?

In some cases, the onus falls on marketers to do more to empower affiliates — i.e., arming them with vital brand information to help them drive high-quality sales and more volume. That includes the following:

  • insights on what the best-selling products are;
  • seasonal issues to be aware of, including holidays;
  • dates of catalog drops;
  • seasonal product lines;
  • anything unique about the marketer’s products;
  • proven tactics that have worked with customers; and
  • the type of conversion rates typically experienced.

Marketers should proactively provide affiliates with this critical merchandising information to help them work effectively for their brands.

Give affiliates relevant and timely content, such as how-to articles, important/relevant trends and customer reviews. Provide affiliates with compelling creative assets, including valuable promotions and special offers. Offering great resources for content can help affiliates perform better on natural search and/or increase the clickthrough rate of an advertiser’s promotions by establishing credibility with prospects.

Likely the most substantial change affiliates have had to deal with in recent years is the emergence of social media. Social media has opened up many new opportunities for affiliates. Marketers should seek out affiliate partners that add value by actively embracing this new medium.

Social media offers affiliates an additional distribution channel to interact with consumers. Similar to brands, affiliates use social media to gain followers, generate traffic, distribute offers and promotions, and drive conversions for retailers. Social media enables affiliates to engage more with consumers than ever before, creating deeper relationships with consumers who opt in as brand advocates by becoming fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Seek out affiliate partners with loyal user bases; social media prowess often provides a good indication of this loyalty.

Careful consideration to these crucial questions will help marketers better understand which affiliates are their best channel partners and which might have the most untapped potential. After all, the original performance marketing channel is here to stay. Updating one’s view of the channel will help you remain strong and keep a competitive edge.

* Special thanks to contributing authors Leo Dalakos and Megan Halscheid of Performics.