The industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years. The ‘golden age’ of affiliate marketing was a time when the field was dominated by content sites and the industry was much smaller.

Cashback and voucher code sites weren’t around yet, and perhaps there was more of an opportunity for individuals and smaller organisations to carve out their own mark in what was a more level playing field.

Whilst there is no doubt that there was some real value being driven through affiliates, the channel wasn’t subject to the same level of scrutiny that it is today. For any affiliates so inclined, there was an opportunity to abuse the system by creating multiple websites with unoriginal or low quality content, cookie stuffing, or by using black hat SEO tactics in an effort to improve their online presence and generate commission from advertisers without offering any real value in return. 

Fast forward to 2016

But times have changed. Bloggers and content sites are no longer the biggest players in the market having given way to the large incentive sites that we see dominating the affiliate channel today. Good quality online content is still easily accessible with lots to choose from, and content affiliates really need to go the ‘extra’ mile in order stand out. Advertisers are (quite rightly) becoming more and more demanding over the level of value and the quality of traffic that they expect from their affiliates.

One may argue that the content/blogger community is stronger today due to the material they write and values they uphold. Regulations have been put in place that ensure bloggers are highlighting sponsored posts, which helps readers  to distinguish when a post is genuine and in turn creates a greater level of trust. 

With increased competition, publishers are finding new and more innovative ways to drive sales, providing advertisers with a larger pool of options to choose from. 

How do we maintain a community feel?

It could be argued that the industry as a whole is losing its community feel due to the rise in competition and size of the market. However, change doesn’t need to be viewed as a bad thing; the industry presents itself with many opportunities that weren’t available several years ago. We need to find ways to revive the sense of community without bringing back any of the questionable elements of ‘the golden age’.

Advertisers, networks and agencies need to take advantage of the rise in high quality bloggers to reignite the sense of community on their own affiliate programmes. Blogger and content sites add a personable touch to a programme that is harder to achieve from other publisher models, and they inspire a greater level of trust with the users they reach. A survey conducted by affilinet in early 2015 found that bloggers are the most trusted source after family and friends for influencing purchasing decisions online. Not only does this say a lot about us Brits and our cynical attitude, but it highlights how valuable bloggers are and the impact they can have.

Perhaps there also needs to be a shift in the way advertisers view the affiliate channel – and indeed all of their digital channels. If advertisers fall into the temptation of placing all their value on a last click ROI, the importance of publishers higher up in the funnel will be forgotten or ignored.

There is value in creating a ‘desire’ to purchase: a user needs to want the product or service before buying it, and taking a user from the start of the purchase funnel to the end of it doesn’t always (or often) happen instantly. If advertisers want to create a programme where all affiliates feel involved with the brand, we need to find new and better ways to compensate these affiliates. For this to happen advertisers need to be provided with insight into customer journeys by their networks, so they have better visibility over where their publishers sit within the conversion funnel and can make informed decisions based on the data they have available.  

Building and maintaining relationships with publishers on a programme is essential to creating a community. Affiliate days is a great way of aiding this. An affiliate day once a quarter will give affiliates the chance to develop a deeper understanding of the brand and gain insight into the bigger picture of the programme. There is nothing quite like a face to face interaction where the affiliates can get to know the advertiser personally.

The affiliate industry as a whole may have lost its community feel, but perhaps that is to be expected from an industry that has grown so dramatically in such a short period of time. That being said, the industry is in a much better place, driving real value to advertisers and making a bigger impact in the digital space. We’ve got an exciting few years ahead of us as the landscape continues to develop , but as this happens we all need to make a conscious effort to work with publishers in order to regain that close knit community feel.