Keeping Your Affiliates Loyal

We love numbers. That’s a part of the mania involved in being an affiliate manager. Big, round, sexy, impossible numbers, like having a roster of affiliates that number in the six digits.

I’ve got to admit that back in June, I was seduced by the announcement that had reached 100,000 affiliates. But a couple weeks after I heard that announcement, I heard that was closing its doors. How could this be?

More Affiliates, More Problems?

Tons of affiliates may look good on paper, and surely the investors love hearing about the large stable of affiliates acquiring new customers or members at a low rate. However, as you acquire more affiliates, you also increase the time that will have to be dedicated to activate these affiliates.

The trend has shifted from quantifying affiliates to qualifying them. After all, what good is it to have 100,000 affiliates if only a fraction of those are generating results? In order to succeed, you must have a strong pool of active, talented, and loyal affiliates.

But too many affiliate managers are breaking a very important law every day the “Law of Reciprocity,” which essentially means that people should be paid back for what they do. Sounds simple enough.

Despite its logic and the apparent ease of applying this win-win tool, many affiliate managers stumble when attempting to implement it. They feel as though the commission check is the only thing they need give to their affiliates. And then they wonder why they can’t find those elusive loyal affiliates.

Ask What Affiliates Want…

I found the secret to affiliate loyalty in an unlikely place. After joining ClubMom to run the affiliate program, I was reading through some company promo copy one day. I came across a phrase that stuck with me: “ClubMom asks Moms what they want and gives it to them.”

I figured that strategy was working rather well to involve members of ClubMom, so it would probably transcend to the affiliates. So I put a call out in our affiliate newsletter asking the affiliates what they wanted. They responded en masse, and it was interesting to see that they had quite a few common requests.

They wanted monthly commissions, links directly to the registration page (not the home page), a community where they could interact with other affiliates, and, most of all, they wanted a timely response when they had problems or questions.

Glenn Forde, affiliate account manager for i-traffic concurred: “The best way to keep top affiliates loyal is to maintain a relationship with them. If you regularly communicate and form a mutual trust, that produces loyalty in the truest sense. Beyond that, ensure that the basics, including on-time payments, regular chances for bonus compensation, site promotions, and a variety of links, are delivered.”

…and Give It to Them!

I figured it would not really make a difference to most affiliates if we just paid quarterly. After all, how many affiliates would really be making enough to merit monthly checks? But then again, if we did not incur a substantial cost, why not pay monthly? So I ran through the numbers and the benefits (happy, productive affiliates) far outweighed the costs (hundreds of dollars per quarter for the extra checks that were cut).

We always linked directly to the registration page, but too many of you are linking to the home page. Understand this: Affiliate and dolt are not synonyms. Affiliates are savvy, and they understand that when they link to your home page, rather than a direct product link or registration page, they have less chance of a conversion.

As I mentioned in a previous column, we created an eGroup in order to communicate with our affiliates and to allow them to communicate with one another. This free resource has been very well received by the affiliates because it has provided them a venue to share and learn, trade links, network, and improve their sites.

The biggest complaint to come out of my request for feedback was that affiliates never seem to get a response from their queries to affiliate managers. I want my affiliates to be loyal, and I do my best to demonstrate their importance to me with prompt responses to their problems and questions.

In an attempt to please affiliates and show they want a loyal and profitable partnership, many programs are moving toward contextual links. Scot Wing, General Manager of GoTo Auctions, explained: “We improved our GoTo Auctions affiliate program search boxes by providing the instructions to prepopulating the search field. This made the affiliate’s link to our site immediately more relevant to their site content and increased the click-through rate.”

Have You Told Them Lately That You Love Them?

Back in June, I sat on a panel of affiliates at Refer-it’s Affiliate Solutions conference for my site, BabyLounge. At one point, I expressed frustration that the majority of affiliate programs can’t be bothered with me. It was both enlightening and disheartening to hear that my fellow panelist Patrick Toland, Director of Business Development for Schoolpop, has shared my experience with too many programs.

Why should your affiliates be loyal to you? Have you asked them what they want, and if so, have you delivered? I am personally a serial affiliate. I have a nasty habit of being very impatient with programs that don’t respond to my wants and needs. I am not alone.

Woodrow Wilson once said, “Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.” Can you truthfully say that you inspire loyalty in your affiliates?

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