Affiliate management, and its approach, often varies between affiliate managers, whether in-house, agency or network managed. The commonality between all affiliate programs is having a group of websites, blogs, influencers advertising clients on a risk-free, performance-basis.
A process on the rise is program managers taking the decision to suspend publishers from a program once a time period of inactivity has elapsed. This means affiliates falling into this segment are no longer permitted to track for the advertiser, and won't be paid out if their tracking links are used during a sale once the suspension has completed.
From a practical point of view, there's very little logic in this strategy. The affiliate, by the very nature of their inactivity, is also cost-neutral to the program. There is no cost or liability to working with them, but allocating resource to go through the program and suspend this segment of publishers is generally counter-productive.
The advertiser (or its agency) before the suspension has often made no attempt to contact the affiliate to discuss the opportunities of a partnership. Instead, they take the face-value performance as the total "opportunity". In reality, the partnership process is much more complex.
In some cases, affiliates have integration requirements, or work on a project basis (e.g. specific activity, rather than an evergreen merchant page) and therefore simply inviting and accepting an invitation to join an affiliate program does not necessarily equate to an affiliate actively promoting the advertiser. Fast forward 6 months, the publisher remains inactive. Does this mean they should be suspended?
The net result of streamlining the number of publishers an advertiser works with ultimately results in a smaller pool of affiliates available to work with, which in turn increases reliance rates on those affiliates that are left. In one instance where our agency has experienced this, is for an advertiser we began working with, who only had 48 affiliates on the program, has suspended more than 3,000 others.
The solution - allocate the resource in a productive manner
Where there is a number of inactive affiliates, instead of allocating resource to "culling" the program, first take steps to reach out to that publisher segment. Take time to understand the publisher and it's offering, and present an opportunity for the publisher.
Next, set up some activity with the publisher; you'll often find just by doing this creates some activity in terms of traffic and transactions and enables you to see the strength of the publisher's audience.
Once that's complete, and the publisher still remains inactive, focus on other publishers - especially those recently active. Spending time on then removing them has no net benefit to the program, so the time spent in itself is simply a drain on resource.
A good affiliate manager or agency will often have relationships with a wide range of affiliates. For example, ThoughtMix has more than 24,000 constantly active affiliates across all of its clients and campaigns. So while the publisher may be inactive for your program - it may well be a top performer for another.
Your strategy going forward should be that of growing the active numbers of affiliates on your program, and consistently testing new campaigns and publishers - you never know what growth that could achieve!