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How to Start an Affiliate Campaign

How to Start an Affiliate Campaign

Whilst many advertisers already have an affiliate campaign, there are a number of advertisers who are yet to join the party. LBi has provided a few pointers for those considering a performance marketing campaign as well as broader considerations for both SMEs and brands to take into account.

1. Identify Performance Gaps

The paid search activity is driving sales, the key terms are ranking naturally in their target positions and the display activity is driving target customers; but the online revenue or sales targets aren’t being hit. Performance marketing provides the opportunity to plug this revenue gap with both widespread exposure and close targeting of key customers.

In addition, as performance marketing has evolved and become more sophisticated, more granular performance targets have become a feature. As a result, campaigns can target based upon: 

  • New customer acquisition
  • Specific products with high margins 
  • Increasing your social presence
  • Increasing quote volume (for financial campaigns)
  • Growing your loyalty card/member-base

This is an example list as the industry continues to innovate to meet advertiser’s needs. 

So if the current online marketing mix isn’t delivering the expected returns, advertisers should review the potential to target multiple business objectives on a long-term performance basis.

2. Internal Considerations

Starting an affiliate campaign requires additional resource in order to get the best out of the activity. Therefore, advertisers need to consider the time required to both setup a new campaign and to sell it in internally. If the resource is not available in-house, advertisers should consider recruiting an agency for additional support, resource and strategic initiatives. By introducing an agency at this early stage, advertisers will receive cost and time savings during the integration stage and in the long-run.  
Time and resource:

Before starting any new campaign, advertisers should consider the time required to setup their affiliate campaign. Whilst affiliate tracking is generally focussed around a pixel on the confirmation page, integration time can vary significantly based upon the site and campaign requirements. 

Therefore, there is a need to measure potential returns against any costs or time tied-in to development activity. For example:

  • Is the site ready for additional volume; will it handle an increase in visits/sales?
  • Is the site controlled internally or externally?
  • Is the confirmation page controlled internally or externally? 
  • Are updates to the site easy to make or do they need to be added into a quarterly development cycle?
  • Is it possible to create bespoke landing-pages for the new channel – relevant both to lead generation capture forms and for all affiliate activity (including removing leakage)?

In addition, advertisers should be mindful that launching an affiliate campaign is not like turning a tap on. It will drive sales on a performance basis, but at least six months is required for a campaign to mature and for the strategy to pay dividends.

Other Online Marketing Channels:

As well as time and resource required for any new activity, advertisers need to negotiate resource time against other online marketing channels. This is at a resource and budget level and to avoid any crossover. This may restrict testing and so needs to be taken into account with any launch planning.

This includes reviewing the current de-duplication and attribution setup as advertisers will need to reassure internal departments that any new activity will not reduce the impact of other channel activity. 

A carefully integrated campaign will produce stronger overall results; but the impact will be more robust if these questions are raised at this early stage.

3. Competitor Activity

As part of the preparation for launching an affiliate campaign advertisers should conduct a full competitor review. Key areas include:

  • Have competitors got a campaign live?
  • What commission structure are competitors offering?
  • What network/tracking platform are competitors using?
  • What sites are competitors currently working with?

In addition, it’s essential to research activity which has been run historically by competitors. A close understanding of what did/did not work is essential to provide an insight into what tactics will work for your campaign; as well as any potential costs.

4. Budget And Margin

The key aims of a performance campaign need to be clearly outlined and communicated to all managing parties/tracking platforms prior to beginning any start-up process. These aims will permeate all decisions within the affiliate space, including a close understanding of available budgets and margins when setting up commission rates.


Competitor rates are a good place to start when deciding on the commission to reward your publishers. However, advertisers should also carefully review the pay-out which will provide the strongest return on investment. 

With this in mind, it is important to avoid launching with a commission rate at the top of your margin. Whilst the rate may be competitive, and it is important to offer a competitive commission rate to your affiliates, it reduces any potential to offer exclusive rates or tenancy deals to incentivise affiliates. 

Therefore, advertisers should launch with a commission rate some way under the top margin. This provides the opportunity to offer tactical commission increases to the top affiliates in return for closely targeted exposure. Keeping this budget aside not only provides a stronger ROI in the short-term, but also supplies a war chest for long-term growth.

Network/Tracking Platform Commercials:

In addition to the commission paid to affiliates, it is important to factor in the costs of tracking the activity. Networks will offer a variety of commercials to advertisers, but generally the cost setup is as below:

  • Campaign setup/technical integration – fixed one-off fee
  • Management fee – usually a fixed monthly fee (effectively a retainer)
  • Override – a percentage of the approved commission

Advertisers need to ensure that the overall costs of the affiliate activity are factored into an overall ROI calculation. The good news for advertisers though is that, according to the recent PWC and IAB study, the average return on investment for a performance campaign is £11 pounds to every £1 spent (1:11).

5. Tracking Network

Once all the above has been factored in advertisers need to choose the tracking platform/network to run the activity on.
There are a number of options available, whether it is with traditional networks or with tracking platforms. Before choosing the network to run your activity on, advertisers should consider:

  • Network experience in the sector
  • Reputation (including tracking and affiliate payment reliability)
  • Potential growth – including projections
  • Cost
  • Reviewing the interface – request a test login and have a look around

Once the network(s) have been selected advertisers can work with the network and/or agency to integrate and launch a strong, performance-driven campaign.

Douglas Sheard

Douglas Sheard

Douglas Sheard is a Senior Affiliate Marketing Manager at DigitasLBi.

Douglas works with the Performance Team at DigitasLBi to develop market-leading strategies for their clients across multiple verticals and territories.

He has been in the UK industry since 2008, working at both network and agency-side, and is an active member of the UK Affiliate Marketing Council.

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