There are lots of obstacles to overcome in getting your affiliate program launched internal approval, vendor selection, contract stuff and technical implementation. And once you’ve got the program set up, affiliates don’t always come. Or when they do, they don’t get around to putting up their links. Or they don’t give you top placement. Or…
So, how do you get the most from your affiliate program? Here’s an approach that’s worked for me: Attract, convert, retain.
You Need Affiliates
Job one is to attract a base of affiliates. Way back in January, we looked at the many affiliate marketing directories that offer program listings. If you haven’t already, get your program listed and fast. One of the quickest ways is to use a submission service like Affiliate Announce, which now sports a revised interface, supports more directories, and offers some other useful resources.
Another option is to find your own affiliates. We spent time in March exploring some of the best ways to find affiliates. The same techniques still apply. Track down the top search-engine results for your keywords. Use AltaVista’s “link:competitor.com” search feature to figure out who’s linking to your competition. For example, if you want to know who’s linking to lightbulbs.com, plug link:lightbulbs.com into AltaVista’s search bar. Also, look at where else your best affiliates link.
Once Affiliates Join
Getting affiliates to join your program is only half the battle. In fact, the real struggle is getting affiliates to pick up your banners, buttons and other links. To understand this dynamic, you should have a keen understanding of your activation rate the percentage of affiliates that actually promote your program after joining. When evaluating various sources of affiliates, consider the rate at which affiliates join and upload your links.
One solution is to find better sources of serious affiliates. However, there are other techniques for raising your activation rate. The best plan is a schedule of regular communication. Some affiliate networks allow you to send email only to inactive affiliates and to include personalized linking code right in the email. If this option is available, it doesn’t hurt to email your entire affiliate base active and inactive about new links, top-performing links, and other tips on how your affiliates can maximize their earnings.
Another useful technique is to publicize the earnings of your top 5, 10 or 20 affiliates. This demonstrates to your inactive affiliates that others are making real money and that they can, too.
Getting More From Your Affiliates
If you think of your affiliates as customers, then the notion that your best customers are past customers fits nicely. Specifically, your goal as an affiliate manager should be to constantly consume more pixel space on the web sites of your affiliates. “More” pixel space could mean better placement, placement on additional pages, or additional types of placements for your program (e.g., another product category).
Of course affiliate retention is a familiar refrain to this column’s regular readers. In April we tackled the sometimes counterintuitive notion that if you’re not writing a lot of checks, you don’t have a solid affiliate program in place. Earlier we covered some techniques for building rapport with your best affiliates and getting even more from them.
Following the three steps attract, convert, retain can be helpful as you move to develop your affiliate program. The key is to stay focused on your customers: the affiliates. Find out where they hang out. Show them the benefit of participation. And leverage your relationship to generate even higher returns for both parties. As always, I welcome your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.