As a merchant, how much importance do you place on planning the perfect affiliate campaign? Are you doing your homework before launching a campaign or do you rush into things? If you are in the latter group, you may be missing out on revenue in the long run.
Affiliate marketing is used by many big e-commerce businesses as part of their online marketing mix and I am a firm believer that any business can benefit by launching an affiliate program, if done right.
The competition is high and therefore it is important to stand out from the crowd and catch the attention of professional affiliate marketers. The following five tips will help you plan the perfect affiliate campaign, which is bound to become a success.
1. Research the market and analyse
Before launching a new affiliate program, it is essential to do an in-depth competitor analysis. Research the market and join the affiliate programmes of your competitors. That way you can monitor what your competitors are up to and ensure that your future affiliate programme offers more attractive affiliate conditions in order to win over affiliates.
You need to understand your market as well as your own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore a SWOTT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, trends and threats) analysis within the pre-launch phase of your own affiliate campaign is essential in my opinion as it will give you a complete picture of where your business is and where your business should be going.
Once the results of your analysis are established, it is recommended to build on your strengths, resolve weaknesses, utilise opportunities, avoid threats and last but not least take advantage of upcoming trends. The results of this SWOTT analysis will help you to develop a strong and competitive strategy for your company’s perfect future affiliate program.
2. Compare affiliate networks and in-house solutions
After establishing your strength and competitors weaknesses, it is then time to look into the options you have in terms of the platform and where your affiliate programme should operate from. You can either chose to go with an affiliate network or purchase an affiliate marketing programme software which allows you to operate your affiliate program in house.
Let us have a look at affiliate networks first. Networks connect the merchant with the affiliates. Affiliate networks provide, among other things, the tracking software, technical support, reporting tools and online marketing tools for affiliates and merchants as well as somewhere to host your creatives. On top of that, they also manage affiliate payments, so if you want to run an affiliate program through a network you will receive support along the way.
There is a wide variety of affiliate networks across the globe, some are country specific and some are global. While others are niche-specific. Each network has its own benefits, fee structure and regulations, so you will need to evaluate all the affiliate networks available to you . Check for example if they offer unique tools and technologies, check their customer support and the overall reputation among affiliates and merchants.
Depending on your products or service, you may be better off to go with a dedicated niche network rather than with a huge multi-niche network and take advantage of all those established affiliates within your niche and the more personalised support.
Affiliate programs can also be run in house on a self-hosted software for a fee, but are perhaps best suited to large, established brands that have a dedicated in-house team of developers and affiliate managers. The in-house option may save on network fees, but affiliate networks can offer broader exposure due to the already existing affiliate base.
As mentioned above, affiliate networks manage a lot of tasks that you would have to manage in house yourself. So it is fair to say that each option has advantages and disadvantages and you will have to weigh up and make a decision according to your needs.
3. A solid merchant site
Before signing up to an affiliate network or buying the in-house software, ensure you offer a quality product and that your merchant site is well presented and trustworthy. Affiliates don’t want to send their targeted traffic to pages that will not convert or to products that do not work. Create effective landing pages and work on your conversion rate if necessary before launching an affiliate programme.
4. Understand the needs of affiliates
Providing a well-converting merchant website and launching the programme on a quality network is only half the battle. The second half is proactive affiliate management. I gained profound affiliate experience from the merchant side as well as network side and below are the main affiliate needs that should be considered when planning the perfect affiliate campaign:
Above average commission rates are always a great way to capture the interest of top affiliates. Merchants who think 'affiliate first' and reward affiliates with good commissions for their hard work are likely to be more popular. Also, offering cash incentives and running competitions can keep your affiliates motivated and build up a loyal affiliate base.
Affiliates often complain about the lack of communication or the impersonal way of communicating. It is a massive mistake to start a programme and leave it unmanaged. Make sure you have the resources available to ensure a professional and personal communication with affiliates as this is key to success.
Most affiliates prefer lifetime cookies, which means that if a customer orders again, the affiliate will still get the sale credited regardless of when the first sale was made. However, big e-commerce players often only offer 30 or 60 days, so be better than that. As a rule of thumb, the longer the cookie length, the happier the affiliate.
Affiliates want to be treated as business partners and are often looking for long-term relationships. It is important to them that you offer an honest and credible program with payments on time, this is the perfect base for the optimum partnership.
Providing resources to affiliates is very important, so they can more effectively advertise your products/services. Quality affiliates are very busy people. Provide regular fresh creatives such as banner, call-to-action graphics, product images, content, data feeds etc. It shows affiliates that you are committed to your affiliate programme and that you want them to be more successful. If you care, they will care!
5. Specify your recruitment strategy
After establishing how and where you want to set up your affiliate programme, it is time to think about your recruitment strategy as affiliate recruitment will always be one of the most important factors in your affiliate strategy.
Make sure you implement a labelled footer link on your website where you can describe your affiliate program,me layout benefits and refer visitors to your affiliate sign-up page.
You also need to actively go out and recruit affiliates. Focus on webmasters that own sites that match your products/services and then introduce them to your affiliate programme in a very personalised and concise manner, including legitimate stats that show them your strongest USP. Attending conferences is another great way to meet top affiliates and pitch your programme. Some networks also attend conferences and offer promotional opportunities for merchants, so it is always worth checking with your network first.
To sum it up, creating your own successful affiliate programme involves meticulous planning but it is well worth the time invested as it ensures that your business grows and sales continue to rise. The key is to maintain your programme. Be proactive, be reliable, be generous and show affiliates your commitment. If you care about your affiliate programme, they will too!