At the end of the day, maintaining an effective and profitable affiliate program for you and your partners is all about "chaos control."
Affiliate programs (aka partner or reseller programs) are great for expanding your business - increased leads and sales from a network outside of your own. But how does this affect you when talking about Internet marketing and more specifically paid search campaigns? Brand keywords (company name, top tier services, top tier products) are the backbone of many PPC campaigns - low CPC, high conversion rate, and low CPA keywords.
So, if there are any variables introduced to the brand keyword landscape, the strong performance of those keywords in your campaigns can suffer. The two primary examples are when competitors or your affiliates bid on your brand keywords. There are side arguments regarding whether or not you should bid on your company name in PPC, but I'm not going to touch that subject in this column. Quite the opposite, in a scenario where competitors and affiliates are also in the PPC SERPs, not bidding these keywords is brand suicide.
At the end of the day, maintaining an effective and profitable affiliate program for you and your partners is all about "chaos control." Here are some helpful tips to rein in the crazy:
Strong Affiliate Contracts
The single most effective tool in your affiliate program is a strong contract. Make sure that you create a contract that covers all of your bases. Cover all possible marketing channels and account for any chance of overlap between an affiliate and your core marketing efforts.
For PPC, draw clear boundaries around what keywords can be used, how the brand or product can be described in ad copy and landing pages, and even as specific as bid levels and/or ad position. For most brands, if you insist on being number one, make sure your affiliate policies ensure that you maintain that position.
Use language in your contracts that is clear and easy to understand. Legalese is often confusing and leads to disagreements, confusion, or worse. Of course, make sure your legal counsel reviews the contract to ensure it is on the up-and-up.
If your business is big enough, it is likely you have a team dedicated to managing your affiliate program and the affiliates themselves. Whether you do or don't, one thing is certain - someone should be reviewing the activities of your affiliates to make sure they are following the policies laid out in your contract.
Keep tabs on their PPC activities. Review your brand keywords in the SERPs. Pay close attention to your brand campaign performance. Affiliates can be tricksters. Maybe they'll be clever and target all locations except where your office is located. Or even worse, hijack your domain and completely block you out (in cases where affiliates have a sub-domain on your brand domain, this can happen more easily than you might think). For the geo-targeting trick, use the ad preview tools provided by AdWords and Bing Ads to review multiple geo-targets. For the domain hijackers, you will know immediately based on the drop in your performance!
Strictly and Swiftly Enforce Policy
Affiliate programs come with a commission - incentive for driving leads and sales. Unfortunately, this incentive can make some affiliates see dollar signs like a character out of a Warner Bros. cartoon. When this happens, we see circumstances like I described before - clever affiliates doing nefarious things to boost their commission.
When you catch this activity - deal with it immediately. Do what it takes to correct the behavior: contact the affiliate directly, send a cease and desist letter, etc. In most cases, the affiliate will react accordingly and all will be well. But if they don't, enforce the rules and end the partnership, restrict their access, or whatever it takes to end the errant activity and set a clear example to all of your other affiliates.
There are countless other scenarios, marketing channels, and individual circumstances that can alter the affiliate relationship in marketing. Hopefully these high-level tips will give you some guidance when dealing with affiliates in PPC and find a profitable path to success!
John A. Lee is an Internet marketing jack-of-all-trades with experience managing PPC, SEO, and social media campaigns. He is a Managing Partner for Clix Marketing, a marketing agency specializing in PPC, display, and social media advertising. Before joining Clix Marketing, John worked as Paid Search Manager for Wordstream and was a Senior Search Marketing Consultant for Hanapin Marketing in Bloomington, Indiana, where he was instrumental in the success of Hanapin's two search marketing blogs: PPCHero.com and SEOBoy.com. John's writing has also appeared on SearchEngineWatch.com, Acquisio's Blog, Wordstream's Blog, and within Website Magazine.
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