If you were to pose the question of the ideal publisher mix of their program to any digital manager it’s likely their answer would involve it being weighted towards content. For many, it’s the ideal scenario; the Holy Grail of affiliate programmes if you will.

Whilst never diminishing the importance and influence other publisher types have on the customer journey, many clients’ aim is to strengthen their content contribution. Brand goals are often to become less reliant on the publishers that focus on the very end of the customer journey.

The past few years have seen a dramatic shift in the affiliate landscape. With print media in decline, publishing houses looked to their digital platforms to recoup diminishing ad spends and falling circulation numbers. At the same time, the term ‘influencer marketing’ was just beginning to gain traction. This shift in who could be an affiliate publisher changed the game for many brands and opened their affiliate programmes up to a wider mix, making ‘content’ a far bigger pool to draw from.

The industry consensus is that a sale delivered or influenced by a content source is of a higher quality than perhaps other publisher types. Consumer data across industries suggest content publishers drive a higher lifetime value (LTV) or a higher new customer rate. 

The content strategy

The long-term value and purpose of a content-led approach is that the affiliate channel will support the digital marketing efforts of the brand. A sound content strategy should be aligned with search engine optimisation (SEO) and paid marketing (PPC) channels. This is because the aim for affiliate activity is to feature within search engine results page (SERP) results on Google. The content is then strategically positioned within keyword searches, which can deliver an increase in “share of voice” and ultimately market share to the business. 

From an affiliate point of view, the content created will peak in the short term as their loyal audience browses and clicks to purchase. However, it is an evergreen content piece, which acquires a new audience for both the affiliate and the client in the long term. 

Playing the long game

So, how do you ensure your brand is in a position to land as many of those high-quality sales as possible? The ideal scenario is to see brands forge long-term relationships with content publishers, both big and small, global, national and localised. This relationship includes assistance in optimising their content and site to best appeal to the audience they are looking to reach. It’s a ‘you help me and I’ll help you’ approach.

For bloggers or smaller, independent content sites, it might be the case that optimising their content for more specific search terms isn’t something they’ve considered when writing previously. Often, their creative voice takes the lead instead. It’s important for brands to provide guidance and assistance in the phrases, terms and buzzwords their content should include, in order for it to be successful.

This likely isn’t the name of the product itself, but those smaller more specific terms you want to be associated with your product. It could even be to optimise content to find its way into search results for things you can’t as a brand say. For example, say that the Duchess of Cambridge wears a dress from your brand, but this isn’t something you want your site to be publically basking in. Here is where your content partners can truly assist; littering search results with seeded content featuring the dress and the fact it was worn by the Duchess. Your dress finds a home in the search terms you yourself (the brand) wouldn’t want to be seen directly promoting.

How it works in practice

When The Ambassador Theatre group came to Silverbean over six years ago, their brief was to create a market leading affiliate programme which increased market share and with strong ROI. The group consists of ATG Tickets (the box office of over 40 venues across the UK) and LOVEtheatre (a ticketing agent for London West End). 

The ATG Tickets site was well placed to rank for key terms. However, Silverbean saw an opportunity to stand out against the competition and increase the brand’s share of voice in the theatre conversation by moving their program firmly towards content publishers. The strategy would look to dominate search results for secondary terms, specific show titles, top things to do in X city, or top shows in London and so on.  

An example of this is utilising The Times to review Wicked on the West End, The Mirror creating ‘the top 10 shows to see on the West End’, ‘Top 10 family shows’ etc. In addition to this, the agency worked closely with regional publishers for ‘what’s on in X city’ pieces and so on. All of these examples solve user problems through search (often tapping into high volume searches too), and direct the user back to the Ambassador Theatre Group. 

The results

Last year saw the release of one of the West End’s most hotly anticipated shows, 4000 Miles, starring Timothée Chalamet, one of Hollywood’s most in-demand stars. LOVEtheatre, part of The Ambassador Theatre Group, was allocated a number of tickets for the show’s general on-sale date. This meant coming up against some of the industry’s biggest players looking to sell their allotted tickets at exactly the same time. How could Silverbean ensure customers visited ATG for their purchase?

Most of the work had already been done through the six-year content-led strategy. This had seen the ticketing group partner with, and support, publishers in ensuring their content ranked well for key terms, such as the show title. These mutual partnerships bear fruit for both affiliate and brand each time the publisher’s site delivers a converting customer to the ATG Tickets or LOVEtheatre sites. 

For 4000 Miles this meant that the point of on sale, the terms ‘Timothée Chalamet West End’, ‘Timothée Chalamet Play’ and ‘Timothée Chalamet 4000 Miles’ returned top articles from The Times, Metro, List and Elle – all of which directed customers to the LOVEtheatre site.

Those key terms were dominated by content the team placed, in turn making LOVEtheatre the preferred option over competitors, translating simply into a high volume of revenue.

As networks continue to develop the means for brands to better understand the influence of content on an eventual sale, affiliate and digital managers are able to truly evaluate its value. Software as a service (SaaS) platforms have developed sophisticated models to display the touch points along that customer journey from inspiration to purchase, opening up the ability for brands to reward and invest in publishers who strike-up the inspiration for a sale. This type of model isn’t new as attribution has been something long-discussed. It is, however, the closest brands, affiliates and agencies have come to seeing the full picture of a purchase.

This insight helps Silverbean to define a fully bespoke commission structure for clients. Affiliate managers can reward the most influential affiliates (yet who often don’t earn commission on a last, or even second-from-last click basis) with a higher cost per acquisition (CPA) for those sales they do instantly convert. Its assistance helps managers understand where to place budget for paid exposures, to ensure the maximum revenue and return on investment, is invaluable. 

Strategically aligned content marketing

A solid content approach for a brand needs to be strategically aligned with other search channels. Working together, your brand can identify strategic search terms that affiliates, if advised well, can rank for and deliver value to the business. 

The relationship between the brand and the affiliate needs to be mutually beneficial and transparent. Education and support are key in order to execute the strategy in the long term. Each affiliate adds value in the puzzle for a content-led campaign; the key is to understand the potential for each affiliate in relation to each specific search term. 

Strategically, brands need a balance of publisher sizes in order to cater for various search results and search competition levels. But ultimately, this content-first approach enables both quick wins and long-term revenue success for both parties.