In a recent LinkedIn article, Silverbean’s Nicholas Yates discussed opportunities for unlocking growth through traditional affiliate management. He summarised four key areas in which affiliate and partnership managers focus the majority of their attention:

  • Recruitment
  • Optimisation
  • Budget maximisation
  • Expansion of audiences/territories

Naturally, when tasked with performance growth, prioritising recruitment can seem like the obvious choice. More partners = more conversions, right? Actually, perhaps not. Depending on your goals for the channel, simply introducing more partners to your programme may not have the desired result on conversions, particularly if your goals are more complex than simply tracking more conversions – tracking being the operative word. 

If your resources are limited, increasing your focus on maximising the outputs of your existing partners will almost always pay off. One such tactic is conversion optimisation. Below are three key strategies for optimising the conversion rates of your existing partners to achieve your performance growth objectives.

1. Optimise your content

Whether you are working with international editorial publishers or niche bloggers, the quality of the content you provide to your partners will influence the performance of their content, alongside your ability to co-create content with them.

This applies to all your partner communications. From press releases to new promotions, the content you send should give them the right information at the right time. You should communicate high-quality content on a regular basis – and for anything worth shouting about, your partners should be the first to hear about it.

Apple is a great example of content communication done well. Their recent iPhone 12 press release includes everything a partner needs to promote their latest product release. Think what, why, when, where and how. 

  • What do you want them to promote? A product? A sale? Make it clear.
  • Why should they promote it? Communicate the benefits for the customer and the partner. 
  • When should they promote it? When does the product/sale launch? Should they align their promotions with any of your wider marketing activities? or even other partners? 
  • Where should they direct traffic? Provide relevant landing page deeplinks, custom tracking links, and anything else to make your partners’ content effectively steer their users. 
  • Finally, how do you communicate the content with individual partners? For some partners, newsletters or blanket emails may be adequate, for others you will need to communicate directly, tailoring your content to suit their needs or the needs of their users.

Effective content optimisation has enabled the Silverbean team to work with the Ambassador Theatre Group over the last 4+ years to dominate search engine results pages for key ticket sales. 

Providing ATG’s partners with high quality content on a regular basis and giving as much notice as possible means that SERPs for key search terms are primarily populated by content produced by ATG and their partners. As such, continuously optimising the conversion rate of these partners led to 73% of ATG’s affiliate performance being attributed to content partners in 2019. 

2. Optimise your feeds

Dominating search engine results pages typically hinges on optimisation of organic listings through content, but similar results can be achieved with product aggregators through organic and paid results, and more recently CSS partners through paid shopping ads. 

The key ingredient to the success of partners of this nature is the quality of your feed. This will directly impact the performance of your affiliate campaigns and your wider digital marketing channels. 

Research by ChannelAdvisor suggests 42% of consumers will shop more digitally in the future. With the growing shift of consumer habits from offline to online, it’s easy to see why optimising feeds will have increasingly positive conversion rate implications for both advertisers and their affiliates.

As with content, quality and consistency are key when optimising conversion rates through feed management. Your feeds should be updated regularly, whether via an API or at least as frequently as your affiliate platform will allow. Your feeds should also have all of the commonly required attributes, and ideally you should build upon this and add attributes based on specific partners’ requirements. 

Now you’ve established a high-quality and consistent foundation, it’s time to take optimisation to the next level. Your partners rely on you to share important data on performance, stock levels, margin, and price competitiveness to optimise their campaigns.

You can prioritise or de-prioritise different areas of your feed such as products, brands or categories based on this, ensuring partners are sending traffic to profitable, high-converting, and in-stock products. This process can also be managed advertiser-side by only giving partners feeds containing products you want them to promote, but ideally this should be decided with the partner. Transparency is key to fostering stronger relationships.

Whilst effective feed management benefits all affiliates that use your feeds, Silverbean has seen particularly strong performance growth through optimising feeds provided to CSS partners. Awin revealed that traffic, sales and conversion rates through CSS partners all grew at a significantly stronger rate than other publisher types in 2020, and this relatively new group of affiliates now accounts for ~5% of their retail advertisers’ sales.

For those advertisers in competitive markets, CSS partners enable greater coverage and ownership of Google shopping results and therefore increased domination of search engine results pages, but only if your feeds are optimised effectively.

3. Optimise your offers

Your offers to customers – voucher codes, gift cards, cashback/rewards and all other incentives – whether exclusive to the affiliate channel or not, are a key tool for optimising your partners’ conversions. 

Optimisation with partners that use these offers is a continuous process. The offers that convert best can change at any time – adopting more traditional CRO methods such as A/B testing is vital to stay ahead of the curve.

A/B testing (or split testing) is the process typically applied to testing two or more variations of a web page, but here we apply the same process to affiliate offers. With the goal of the offer being to gain a conversion, the aim of the test is to benchmark different offers against each other to establish which is most effective. When all other variables are the same, which offer has the best conversion rate? This process is then repeated, testing new ideas to make continuous gains.

Split testing methodology can be applied to all offers promoted by partners, including but not limited to testing the effect of changes to voucher codes, gift cards, cashback/rewards, etc. Consult your key partners regularly when optimising your offers, – they have access to data you don’t, and can provide valuable audience insights.

Optimising conversion rate through your offers is perhaps the most multi-faceted of the conversion optimisation strategies I’ve outlined. To ensure you are achieving your long-term conversion goals, leverage as many opportunities as possible to identify which offers convert your customers before you need to. Testing is best done outside of and before key dates such as Black Friday, to give yourself and partners the best possible chance at making key campaigns a success.

Key takeaways

To summarise, the key takeaways here are:

  • Adopt a content strategy that ensures your communications give your partners the right information at the right time to optimise their own content.
  • Ensure you have a high quality, consistently updated product feed available for partners, before optimising based on performance, stock levels, margin and price competitiveness.
  • Optimise your offers and incentives continuously with your key partners before key dates such as Black Friday. Partners are likely to be more flexible outside of peak periods and knowing which offers work for your customers ahead of time gives you the best possible chance of success over periods of heightened competition.

Which partners you choose to prioritise when it comes to maximising performance through conversion rate optimisation depends entirely on your objectives for the affiliate channel. The partners you choose will also help you decide which of the above strategies are relevant. My number one piece of advice is to start now! 

Affiliates and partnership marketing is reliant on relationships, and building productive relationships takes time. Whilst all of the above strategies are ultimately aimed at optimising conversion rates, they will undoubtedly improve your relationships too. 

You can’t expect partners to invest in your success when you need them most if you don’t invest in theirs. The key to long-term success through the channel is to ensure relationships continuously become stronger – and mutually beneficial.