The past few months have seen an explosion in ecommerce. 

Publishers have seen record results from affiliate marketing powered commerce content – Hearst titles alone sold 1 million products in March – and merchants have seen a corresponding expansion in their online businesses. The IMRG reported online sales hit a ten-year high in April. And while there has been success for some, for others the pandemic has posed problems, particularly in affected sectors including travel and entertainment. 

Now as brands reactivate their affiliate programs, the challenge has become how to do so successfully and make a powerful comeback 

Working with 48,500 merchants has afforded us deep insights into the brands that paused programs, those that have reactivated and given us the opportunity to work closely on successful reactivations that help boost the yield from the get-go. Here’s our top advice: 

Reactive your program across all partners 

For advertisers that want their program to perform on relaunch, we advocate opening the program to all partners. The more publishers have access to your program, the more traffic you’ll receive and more sales as a result. 

Where a full reopening is not possible, communicate clearly on when you expect your program to be open in full. Publishers need to be able to plan their content calendar and to understand when they will be able to include your brand in articles to earn commissions. 

If your plan is phased, share the stages and thinking behind it, so publishers are well informed. If making a limited reactivation, we recommend activating across two content publishers from each vertical. 

In either scenario, also be mindful publishers will have likely redirected traffic to protect their commerce revenue. An added incentive, like a targeted CPA release or exclusive coupon, can help boost performance in the short term, to get your program back on track. Skimlinks’ Merchants that use coupons for example have a four times higher conversion rates than those with no offer at all. 

Respond to the trending news cycle 

Historically timeless evergreen content has played a key role in publisher’s commerce strategies. Since March that’s changed and now much commerce content creation is led by timely trending news items. 

Advertisers reactivating their affiliate programs need to have their eyes on the news cycle and be able to respond in kind to it. That means having prescient promotions and tying back any offers to the new trends where possible. This can mean pushing warm weather products during a heatwave as earlier in the spring, or altering to focus around travel with the relaxation in restrictions that came in early July. 

Face Masks have been predictably popular and have been the top trending product in our network during lockdown. Publishers change and update content quickly, with trending items included in new content, or updated in existing content, within 48 hours of recommendation. 

Advertisers should also be quick to communicate on any trending products in their network. Telling publishers about these trending items can increase the likelihood of coverage and help to turbocharge success, driving further traffic sales on the relevant products. 

Communicate, communicate, communicate 

If your program has been inactive for some time you’re going to need to rebuild bridges and communication is key to this. 

In the first place publishers need to be sure they can earn commission from directing traffic toward you and on top of this they also need to know about changes if any to commissions paid. In many cases, brands reactivating programs have been limited in the CPA rates they can offer and in some instances lowered them relative to what they would have paid at the start of the year. 

Publishers need to understand these changes, so they can make informed choices for their own commerce strategy. They’ll also need to understand the likelihood of the program being deactivated again in the future, as this can shape the content they create. If there is any risk, be up front about it and clear. 

The all important Q4 period is on the horizon and publishers want to get information on advertiser strategy for that season, across Black Friday and other events early, so if you can offer this it will help set you up for a longer term relationship. 

Lean in

We have seen first hand the increase in affiliate marketing performance: The revenue Skimlinks drives to merchants and publishers is up 50%. So if brands are able to lean in when they relaunch their affiliate programs they stand to see success. 

So that means firstly setting a competitive CPA. You want to set your rate at least 25% above competitors to get publishers attention, particularly if your program has been paused for a long time. 

Thinking about how much people are buying online, relevant offers also make sense. Free shipping for example can be a great converter: Merchants that offer it see a two times higher conversion rate than using no offer at all. With people buying everything online, free shipping can be a nice added bonus. 

In conversations with publishers, also be up front about your performance KPIs: The most advanced publishers, who are benefiting most from the increased interest in commerce content, want to know about your average order value and your earnings-per-click to understand the value you can bring to their commerce strategy. 

Stay flexible 

These are uncertain times and it goes without saying that flexibility will help with a successful relaunch. Publishers are feeling the pinch from the drop in display advertising revenue, so channels like commerce content where they can continue to generate revenues are becoming ever more vital. 

So where you’re able to accommodate their requests, tailor offers to them and provide exclusives that can help to sweeten the deal and forge meaningful partnerships with enterprise publishers. For many publishers deactivation of programs was a painful experience and can have compromised significant portions of their commerce revenue. So it’s important to be open to their requests to help re-establish good relations. 

If you can bring a range of options to the table when you relaunch your program, across rate increases, the promotions you can offer, new product launches and trending product updates all of that can help your program get back on its feet. 

Key takeaways

The first half of the year has been a challenge for advertisers, but as they reactivate there are levers they can pull to make an affiliate relaunch a success. 

In sum, we recommend advertisers:

  • Reactive all partners at the same time on the program
  • Tailor communications to the trending news cycle 
  • Communicate proactively on offers, program updates and new product information 
  • Lean in where possible to recover lost ground 
  • And, remain flexible to publishers’ requests