The term ‘culling’ is not one that I for one am particularly fond of as it always conjures up negative associations with pest control. However the concept is very apt and more worryingly has slowly wriggled its way into the affiliate industry with an increasing number of merchants adopting cleansing strategies on their programmes. This article will review common reasons why merchants may conduct affiliate culls and then focus on some of the arguments against carrying out this activity. Important considerations for the management of affiliate culls will also be explored.
Often affiliate culls are a favoured course of action for merchants who wish to exercise greater control over where and how their brand is promoted online. Brand repositioning is often cited as a reason for merchants to review the quality of affiliate sites and traffic sources, and this is something that networks and affiliates have had to accept.
However, before any affiliate is removed the merchant, with support from the network, must always undertake an extensive affiliate audit and be able to provide valid reasons to the affiliates about why they are not deemed a right fit for their brand. Before conducting any suspension it is considered best practice for merchants to always provide a fair notice period (recommended minimum of 30 days).
It is imperative that any brand conscious merchant looking to launch within the channel is selective right from the start. Merchants must provide clear quality criteria in their programme description and operate a manual affiliate vetting process to prevent any future culls.
Value of the Longtail
For most affiliate programmes it is fairly typical to see a smaller number of affiliates driving the majority of the sales: the 80/20 rule. Sadly this results in the ‘longtail’ affiliate base coming under intense scrutiny as merchants want to see results; it is after all a performance based industry. This has led to strategies being employed where merchants choose to focus all their time and efforts on optimising the top 10-20 affiliate performers on their programme.
Whilst the prospect of trying to optimise 1000+ affiliates would be a daunting task for any affiliate manager it would be foolhardy to ignore or in the worst case remove the longtail affiliates who do generate a low volume of sales as collectively these sales will still make a valuable contribution to the merchant’s overall revenue stream. The same applies for the affiliates that generate a high number of impressions but no sales; is removal the best solution if they are generating a good level of exposure and not harming the merchant’s brand?
This scenario should rather be viewed as a prime opportunity for all parties to discuss the ways to improve click-through rate (CTR) and ultimately conversions.
Stop damaging my conversion rates
Affiliates who drive lots of clicks but fail to generate any sales are a major cause of concern for merchants as this will have a negative impact on overall conversion rates and can make the programme look less appealing for new affiliates. In these cases rather than removing these affiliates, merchants should actively communicate with them and ascertain why their traffic is not converting, providing support and suggestions about how to improve their campaigns.
It could simply be that the affiliate is showcasing out of date creative or promotional offers and a simple refresh of the site content is all that is required to remedy the issue. If the affiliate refuses to act upon advice given or is unable to demonstrate any improvement over an agreed period of time then the merchant has every right to review the long term viability of the relationship.
It is also common for dormant affiliates to be first in line for the chopping board. These affiliates are categorised as those that apply to join a programme and then do not drive any traffic or sales.
Whilst this is frustrating, merchants need to appreciate that a lag in sales generation can ensue whilst new affiliates learn about the space and develop their sites and campaigns and therefore shouldn’t be penalised for non-performance. A better approach would be to communicate with these affiliates to find out more about their plans and whether they intend to start actively promoting the programme in the near future.
The merchant and network are ultimately responsible for providing the right tools and advice to help new affiliates get started .You never know, the right engagement might even uncover a future super affiliate. Merchants should also consider tailoring programme incentives such as competitions and prize draws to motivate the whole affiliate base rather than always focusing on the top performers.
Fortunately removing affiliates en masse is still not a standard practice within the industry, however as merchant programmes mature more analysis will be carried out on the true value each affiliate partner brings to the table. Without careful management cleansing strategies can cause a considerable amount of damage to a merchant’s brand reputation, angering affiliates and providing a strong disincentive for them to promote the merchant again in the future. Networks and merchants must work together to ensure that the reasons for making such dramatic changes to a programme are the right ones for all parties involved.