For years affiliate networks and agencies have talked about the vast number of affiliates they have on their network, particularly in the ‘long tail’ or ‘content’ area. However, the 2014 IAB OPM study conducted by PwC found that there are only 12,000 active affiliates in the UK and only 12% of these are content based. Everyone talks about their long tail strategy – but does it actually exist? Advertisers are constantly seeking a more diverse affiliate base with greater reach beyond the top 20 affiliates. So where is this long-tail and how do we go about making it work in the affiliate channel, or is it too late? 

In order to make the long tail work there are a few areas that need to be addressed:

Tools and services

As an industry we have fallen behind in terms of targeting technology through the affiliate channel.  The days of blanket advertising, offers and emails is way behind us and not only advertisers but customers are demanding well-targeted, effective and useful marketing communications.  We need to ensure that affiliates have the tools to do this – simply offering a static banner creative and a text link is not enough.  Affiliates need the tools and technology to effectively monetise their content, away from pure banner and text link advertising into video, creative and written content.  They need a way to identify the right advertising to give to the customer at the right time. Advertisers want to generate quality traffic that will produce sales and affiliates are in a good position to do that.

Communicating effectively

Affiliates need to be treated as customers – meaning you need a good CRM strategy, particularly when it comes to communication. Make your communications interesting, relevant and useful to the affiliate and then they will be read.  In order to do this you need to profile and segment your customers effectively then build a communications strategy – i.e. don’t send a £10-off beauty voucher code to an affiliate you know only sells garden sheds. This needs strategy, time and automation.

Managing affiliates

In order to manage long-tail affiliates you need to be able to manage hundreds, if not thousands of affiliates at scale; 1-2-1 relationships are simply not feasible.  A good platform, automation and a great communication and CRM strategy are a must.

In addition, it is key that you create a level playing field, ensuring the long tail are given the same or similar opportunities as the top affiliates you work with. This means dedicated resource to the long tail and ensuring objectives and targets are made and agreed around the long tail.  It also means having a passionate publisher team with the desire to develop and grow the smaller affiliates, allowing them to feel like an integral part of an advertiser’s programme.

Exploring new payment models

If we continue to only work on a CPA, last-click model, then we have no chance of developing the long tail of affiliates. CPA is, and should still be a core metric of the affiliate channel but it needs to be supported by other payment models that recognise the value of traffic and customers, not just last click wins.  This could be CPM, CPC, hybrids, tenancy… but this has to become part of the channel and insight and data needs to be developed to support a case for differing payment models.

A diverse range of long-tail affiliates

Having a handful of bloggers or Lisa Eldridge-type bloggers is not a long-tail strategy. Bloggers are key to content development and there is a huge opportunity out there particularly in the retail, travel and sports sectors, but this is only a small part of the long tail strategy. 

Long-tail affiliates come in all shapes and sizes from smaller reward sites to price comparison, niche interest areas, hobbies and bloggers. The key to a successful long-tail strategy is diversity. Customers have a diverse set of interests, viewing multiple sites across the web.  Having sophisticated, targeted methods that affiliates can use allows advertisers to gain reach across thousands of affiliate websites where their customers are visiting and hopefully displaying an intent to purchase. The affiliate channel is still unique in its reach and diversity but we need to show advertisers a way to harness that.

A lot of work is still to be done, not just by individual networks and agencies on a small scale but by the industry as a whole, on a large scale.  We need to re-engage with those affiliates that are disengaged and attract new affiliates into the channel.  Not an easy task by any means, but a challenge that we should all look to take on in order for the industry to grow, strive and compete with the rest and best.