Are you ready to invest in building a successful affiliate program? You should be, as, according to statistics, affiliate marketing is more popular than ever among both advertisers and publishers. It is also the key to getting in front of your target audience and convincing them to buy:
- Affiliate marketing spending was due to reach $8.2 million this year. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if the amount has been far exceeded. The predictions surely didn’t take into account the pandemic and its impact on e-commerce and online shopping behavior.
- 84% of publishers and 81% of merchants resort to affiliate marketing. This means that 84% of the media outlets, influencers, and reviewers you want promoting your brands are used to working on a commission. It also means that 81% of your competitors already work with them.
- Close to 60% of shoppers search online before buying to ensure they make the best decision. Omnichannel strategies drive 80% more store visits. In other words, the key to success is to make yourself easy to find online and ensure your brand’s promotion through as many channels as possible.
That’s where affiliate marketing comes in. It allows you to reach more publishers and get in line with or exceed your competitors. It is the best way to reach out to buyers through multiple channels and enjoy numerous other benefits. But the most important part is that, with affiliate marketing, you always have control over your spending. You only pay for performance (sales, leads, or clicks), only as much as you wish and can afford.
We’ve already covered how you can start an affiliate program here. But what are the secrets of having a successful affiliate program in 2023, when competition is tighter than ever and buyer behavior has changed significantly? In what follows below, we have the pleasure to bring you ten practical tips to pave your way to affiliate marketing success in 2023 and beyond.
1. Analyze Competing Affiliate Programs
The first step is to analyze competing affiliate programs and stay competitive. As the above statistics show, you and 81% of your competitors are targeting the same affiliates. It’s unrealistic to expect to be chosen over your competitors. You have to convince affiliates to choose you. The only way to do that is to stay up to date with your competitors’ offers and beat them at their own game. We’ve covered how to analyze competing affiliate programs here.
2. Equip Affiliates to Facilitate Activation
Your target affiliates are probably assaulted with offers and crazy busy. Don’t leave it up to them to dig up product information, creatives, read program terms, research keywords, etc. Provide everything they need in your affiliate program communications: description, approval/welcome emails, newsletter, activation emails, and reminders. The easier it is for them to start promoting your brand, the more likely they are to get started.
And, since we’re discussing creatives, remember that video content rules. According to Wyzowl’s State of Marketing Report, 86% of marketers use videos. 96% of those report that video content is an important part of their marketing strategy. 87% associate video use with positive ROI. So do make high-quality videos available to your affiliates or enable them to create their own by providing free samples!
3. Diversify and Intensify Affiliate Recruitment
Gone are the days when you could email a blogger, influencer, or reviewer and expect prompt and helpful answers. Assaulted with emails and offers, many publishers prefer to keep their contact information private and choose which brands to promote on their own. Others simply ignore proposals from brands they’re not interested in.
This means that, in order to succeed, you want to diversify and intensify your affiliate recruitment efforts. You need to reach out to as many publishers as possible, from various categories, and through several channels. We recommend reaching out to at least 300 publishers every month. Some publishers will not receive your emails. Others will not answer. There will also be publishers who request high upfront payments to promote your brand. You need to onboard a few new publishers every month, so casting your net wide will help.
There are at least 20 types of affiliates that you could target. Don’t be shy! When you reach out to them, do it with personalized messages by email and social media. Mention their name, website, or a post that you liked. This will help you avoid having your messages reported as spam. Explain what you offer and stay flexible. Keep up with trends and cover newer channels, too, like Twitch and TikTok. Don’t give up on the first discouraging replies!
4. Offer Attractive Activation Bonuses
Getting publishers and influencers to join your program is important. However, even after joining, affiliates are useless if they don’t activate. Building a successful affiliate program is not about having many affiliates. It’s about having many active affiliates, from the right categories. Bonuses are a great way to activate affiliates.
- You can multiply the commission or pay a flat fee bonus. You can reward the first sale, the affiliates who drive a set number of sales, or those who reach a minimum sales amount.
- Always set a time limit for the bonus you offer and make it attractive. And do remind affiliates of what they stand to win or miss out on! The time limit (15 days, 30 days, 90 days, etc.) will create a sense of urgency and convince affiliates to activate faster.
- The more attractive the bonus is, the more likely affiliates are to try to earn it. Instead of a mere link or banner somewhere, they may provide several dedicated posts or even website or social media takeovers.
- When assessing what activation bonus you can offer, remember that, depending on the terms you set, very few affiliates will actually earn that bonus. The idea is to get them to try.
- Also, consider the lifetime value of the customers each active affiliate can bring. In most cases, it’s well worth losing money on one or even several sales if that loss will bring you hundreds of other profitable sales.
- Check what your competitors and other merchants from related niches are doing. Don’t be surprised if you see bonuses that double or triple commissions or pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to affiliates who reach certain thresholds. It’s very important to stay competitive.
5. Set Clear Affiliate Program Terms
Some affiliates focus on content and quality and can bring real value to a brand. But there are also affiliates focused on earning easy money and willing to do anything for it. For them, what’s not prohibited is allowed. Clarify how and where you want/don’t want them to promote your brand in your affiliate program agreement.
Otherwise, you’ll find affiliate ads targeting your TM keywords and increasing the costs of your own campaigns, newsletters spamming your target audience and causing them to hate your brand, high-discount coupons from non-affiliate campaigns becoming viral, and generating unexpected costs (lower sale price + commissions), etc.
The clear terms and conditions will also show good affiliates that you’re set on building a successful affiliate program and have their best interest at heart. Most of them fear having their sales and commissions stolen by unscrupulous affiliates. They will appreciate your efforts to prevent that.
6. Manage as an Already Successful Program
It as also important to manage as if you already have a successful affiliate program. Yes, maybe you’ve just launched or the results are slow. Rome wasn’t built in a day. If your affiliate program does not yet drive the revenue you were hoping for, don’t neglect it! It cannot grow without proper management.
Key Affiliate Management Activities Not to Neglect
- Review affiliate applications daily
- Answer emails daily
- Inform affiliates of any changes or new promotions
- Update creatives as needed to always reflect your current offers
- Police affiliates and take measures against program terms’ violators
- Ensure adequate financing and timely payments
- Engage, encourage, and motivate promising affiliates
- Continue to recruit and motivate inactive affiliates
- Review new placements and help affiliates optimize them
- Check new transactions and make sure commission rules trigger properly
- Keep up with market trends and competitors, etc.
An affiliate program is like a garden: it cannot bloom if you don’t water it and remove the weeds. The few beautiful flowers in it will eventually be suffocated or outgrown. So make time to create the proper ground for your good affiliates (flowers) to prosper and protect them from bad affiliates (weeds). Your efforts will slowly but surely be repaid.
7. Get Personal and Show Appreciation
Online work and the pandemic have forced many affiliates into isolation. They will appreciate personal, 1on1 communication, meetings – even online, and an honest “thank you” every now and then. Leaving the sales they can drive aside, affiliates are great marketers and can provide valuable feedback regarding your website, products, and competition.
Did your website or affiliate program go offline? Don’t try to hide it! Chances are your affiliates received broken link notifications before you figured out what was going on. Instead, admit, apologize, and, if possible, try to compensate for their loss. Treat your affiliates as respected partners, and they may not give up on you when a competitor offers them a higher payment or better products.
8. Budget for Paid Opportunities
There was a time when you could build a successful affiliate program offering commissions only. Unfortunately, with influencer marketing gaining ground and competition tightening, many publishers now request upfront payments or integration/onboarding fees. It helps to have some money set aside for such opportunities.
Not all opportunities will be worth pursuing. It is up to you to review each one carefully, assessing audience, engagement, and other performance metrics. Don’t hesitate to ask the affiliates in question for details and case studies. Those who are worth the effort and are committed to results will have no problem providing the answers and examples you need.
Keep an open mind and give each opportunity some thought. An integration fee of a few thousand dollars may seem expensive but could turn into tens or hundreds of monthly sales. A paid article with a major publisher could open the door for tens or hundreds of free inclusions.
And if you decide not to pursue an opportunity, don’t close the door! Explain to the publisher/affiliate that you cannot afford the cost at the moment. They may be able to lower their fees. Encourage them to reach out to you with new opportunities, too. You can never know when an editor needs your products and decides to test and review them for free!
9. Stay Flexible and Open to Exclusives
Reviewers, influencers, and media outlets love exclusive discount codes. Employee benefits platforms, catering to millions of members, will not even consider listing your offer without an exclusive offer. Gift guide inclusions usually require free samples for the author or sponsoring a giveaway for the listed product.
Various opportunities will emerge and, as they do, it’s important to keep an open mind and try to meet the affiliate halfway. Managed carefully, exclusive offers often benefit both the affiliate and the brand, improving conversion and overall affiliate program statistics. Besides, affiliates are more inclined to consolidate relationships with the merchants who honor their requests and support their needs.
10. Use Tools or Outsource for Efficiency
If you’ve read all the above, you’re probably wondering how to fit everything in one day, especially with everything else you have going on. Yes, a successful affiliate program requires time, effort, and commitment. Not investing in these could be costly, and I know several merchants who learned that the hard way.
Their affiliate programs seemed to grow by themselves. However, because they didn’t monitor affiliate activity, they found themselves honoring and losing money on tens of fraudulent transactions. In another case, the commission rules weren’t set up correctly and some affiliates received undeserved bonuses of thousands of dollars. By the time the merchant discovered the fraud and the undue payments, commissions had already locked and they couldn’t recover their loss.
Someone recently asked me to check why they stopped getting sales. They had reached 300 monthly sales but at some point, a payment failed, and the affiliate program went offline. With all links dead, the sales stopped. By the time the merchant reached out for help, over two months had passed. The neglect cost them hundreds of sales and tens of affiliate partnerships.
So don’t cut corners and don’t expect your program to become successful on its own. If you decide to take matters into your own hands, consider investing in tools. They will help you streamline recruitment and outreach, monitor affiliates, and receive alerts when someone goes rogue.
Tools I Use for Maintaining a Successful Affiliate Program
- Google Alerts helps me keep an eye for new affiliate and competitor placements.
- Octaads Media allows me to catch ads targeting my clients’ trademark keywords and unauthorized use of specific coupons, as well as the affiliates responsible.
- Impact’s Mediarails is my go-to solution for prospect discovery and outreach.
- Of all the tools I tried, UpleadsDigital is best at uncovering competitors’ affiliates, especially those who are not already part of the programs I manage. It provides even contact information and traffic scores.
- I use Hunter to find prospect emails
- Semrush is great for checking traffic information, backlinks, and keyword search volume.
I can’t guarantee that these tools are the best out there. They are the best ones I’ve tried and the ones that work well for me. As you start testing and developing your own system, you may prefer others. One thing is certain: even with these tools, you will still need to invest several hours daily.
Outsourced Management for a Successful Affiliate Marketing
If you sum up your time and the cost of the tools you use, you will probably conclude that having a professional manage your program is safer and more affordable. The decision is entirely yours. Having seen the effects of neglect and the benefits of affiliate marketing, I have to warn you: don’t cut corners!
If you start an affiliate program, give it a real chance to grow and prosper! Show your affiliates the respect and consideration they deserve! Give them a chance to prove their power! That’s something only professional affiliate program management can accomplish. Building a successful affiliate program is not easy but it is sure worth it, and we have numerous clients who can testify to it.