With the Performance Marketing Insights event on the horizon, Sean McAuley, Managing Director of Feed Management, FusePump Ltd has been thinking about the value of quality product data in performance marketing channels – particularly the world of affiliate marketing. 

Affiliate marketing is a highly significant and constantly evolving channel, offering loads of opportunities for brands to acquire new customers.  It is hugely cost effective too, as most affiliate models are based on cost per acquisition (CPA) models. Advertisers can benefit from increased brand awareness and only pay when they actually make a sale. It is little wonder, therefore, that nearly £1bn was spent on affiliate marketing in the UK in 2013 – and that advertisers saw 150 million affiliate transactions take place.

The affiliate channel also offers superb contextual advertising opportunities. Placing branded display advertising among relevant information on blogs and news items should target exactly the right consumer:  Convertro research puts the conversion rate for affiliate marketing at 3.24%, higher than social media and display advertising. 40% of retailers surveyed by Forrester and Shop.org rated ‘affiliate programs’ as one of their top three most effective acquisition channels.

However, many who strive to make the most of this valuable customer acquisition tool neglect one of the most important areas – the quality of the product data the affiliate networks can access.

Matt Bailey from Performance Horizon Group comments: “There is a clear move from brands to spend more of their advertising budget on a performance basis, and new models are emerging to enable this. Fundamental to encouraging this is making it as straightforward as possible for affiliates, publishers and partners to use the brand’s intellectual property to promote them in innovative ways. For most brands, their product portfolio is a key element – so providing accurate and easily accessible and usable product data is vital in growing incremental sales for brands.”

With this in mind, here are ten ways to ensure your product data is used to its best advantage in your affiliate marketing efforts:

1. Make your product data accessible

To sell your stuff on your behalf, affiliate networks need information about what you are selling. It is not rocket science. But if you do not distribute a product data feed (or make one available), you are making it far more difficult for affiliates to gather the information they require. With the tools that are currently available, it is possible to give your affiliates access to your stock inventory, to allow them to use the data therein however they please. Do not make it difficult for publishers to sell your products for you.

2. Give them as much product information as possible

At FusePump, we have seen time and time again that the more product data retailers provide, the more powerful your affiliate marketing will be. Provide affiliates with every attribute and every possible item of spec. Give them everything. As well as offering more options for interesting content, and making yourself more flexible to their requirements, you are helping affiliates to avoid Google penalties: the search engine has made its feelings clear about ‘thin’ affiliate websites (which simply reproduce content and do not add any value to the user). And if your affiliates’ websites cannot be found, your product listings will not be found either.

3. Check that your data is usable

Providing everything in your product data feed is a good start. But you will also need to make sure it is in the right format (usually an XML or CSV file), without errors and readily usable. Work with the spec from your affiliates or affiliate network. Again: do not create obstacles to advertising your stock.

4. Ensure your content is current

Accurate product data is another no-brainer. This is easier said than done, however. When sending data to an affiliate (or anyone), opt for tools that allow you to automate a feed so that stock availability, prices and all other details match the live information on your website as closely as possible. Giving consumers this pleasant and consistent experience is pretty important, too – when people get through to your website and realise a price or a detail has changed, you could not only lose that particular sale, you could also really damage your reputation and lose any further business from that customer.

5. Give affiliates the option to filter the inventory

As nice as it is to offer up your entire stock list for affiliate marketing purposes, some niche sites may want to only use products that meet a certain criteria. Indeed, if you sell a whole range of pet supplies, but a cat-lover blog wants to promote your cat-related products, allow them to use only the listings that are relevant to them. What makes affiliate marketing such an effective channel is that good publishers create content that is interesting to a certain group of people, then links to products that match the content. This in turn gives you, the retailer, good quality sales leads.

6. Turn product data into branded content

As discussed, a fringe benefit of affiliate marketing is that you can enjoy plenty of brand exposure for no cost. With clever technology, it is now possible to serve your product data to affiliate sites in a way that keeps your brand front and centre. For example, online banner ads can be dynamically created from an existing branded template and your live product data, giving affiliates some fun content to play with, and consumers an easy way to discover your brand.

7. Encourage creative use of product data

Why not offer affiliates the chance to use your products in an on-site widget? Where consumers can browse relevant products and compare spec and generally immerse themselves in your stuff (and your brand)? Start thinking about your product data as advertising content. Provide exciting ways for your affiliates to present that content. They are trying to build a successful website after all: they will be very grateful for well-designed, functional creative that engages their audience.

8. Stay on top of tool developments

With spending on online performance marketing increasing by around 15% year-on-year, this channel is going nowhere – and exciting technology innovations continue to make affiliate marketing more efficient, more creative and more lucrative. Keep an eye on what’s happening – you may find there are better and better ways to engage with your publishers.

9. Think ahead (and think seasonally)

They are your products: you know what sells well and when. So make it simple for affiliates to access this specific content at the right times, and point them towards it before they even realised they needed it.

Stephen Kerin, Group Managing Director at Webgains, says: “As a network we’ve seen over and over again how productive it is when advertisers plan and communicate effectively: publishers rely on having advance notice of advertisers’ promotions in order to capitalise on them. Over Q4 especially, when traffic volumes are at their highest and ‘noise’ at its loudest, clear communication (along with making sure tenancies are booked well in advance) is instrumental to securing results.”

10. Communicate effectively

Stay in touch with your affiliates – they deserve some affection for all that lovely ROI they generate. Give them some exclusive stuff, social media channels that are just for them, and perhaps a central location or platform that supports them and offers useful information along with the tools they need to make the best use of all your lovely product data.

For goodness sake, just make it super easy for affiliates

They drive clicks, qualified sales leads and of course bountiful online revenue, so do not make it hard for your affiliates to access your content, from product data to company news. Whether you keep your data, tools and communications in one platform or not, make sure that the product data you make available to your affiliates is top notch.

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