Talk to Your Affiliates – Or Another Merchant Will

Despite past attempts to cover the basics and really present an overview of the landscape, some recent reader mail suggests a desire for more lessons, even more behind-the-scenes nitty-gritty.

In reflecting on our own affiliate activities this week, I was struck by just how much care and feeding an affiliate program needs. Now perhaps our situation is a bit unusual because we’re actually running six different programs through two different networks both Commission Junction and ClickTrade. But other programs have the added complexity of 10,000 product SKUs or two dozen categories of merchandise or some other unique feature. No matter what the specifics of your program, there are quite a few levers any affiliate marketer controls.

The key to your activities is quickly figuring out what moves the needle. Or as we like to say around here: “What’s the E2E (effort to effect)?” The idea is universal: Go for the low-hanging fruit first. Affiliate marketing works the same way.

For example, Forrester’s report on affiliate marketing claimed the 80/20 rule prevails namely that 80 percent of the activity is accounted for by 20 percent of the affiliates. If anything, the ratio tends to be more skewed more like 85/15 or even 90/10 for some of the programs I’ve seen. Forrester went on to peg the average program at 10,000 affiliates. These numbers are a good start, but our team breaks activity down even further.

After going over your total base of affiliates, look at how many actually have a live link up and running. Experience has shown that as few as ten percent and as many as 70 percent of your affiliates actually add links. Maybe 30 percent is a good average to use. Meaning: Out of 10,000 affiliates that have signed up for your program, only 3,000 are even linking to you (getting these 7,000 affiliates off the sidelines is another topic). At this point, the 85/15 rule kicks in. Out of 3,000 active affiliates, as few as 450 are likely to account for more than 80 percent of your program’s activity.

Even within this group, you’ll notice some “super-affiliates.” You need to determine your own breaks, but using our hypothetical pool of 450 needle-moving affiliates, my expectation would be that about a third merit even more attention. Beyond all the standard monthly mass emailings to your affiliates, each of these 150 super-affiliates needs extra care and feeding.

We have someone on our affiliate marketing team personally visit the site of every super-affiliate every month. All super-affiliates get a personal email with specific comments and suggestions. We offer tips on which links are performing best and propose new placements on the site for our links. We also try to broaden the depth of the affiliate’s relationship with our program by suggesting new products or services for possible inclusion. Finally, we congratulate our super-affiliates on whatever milestone they’ve achieved by raising their payout. We also make clear the steps they can take to earn even more with our programs.

Besides these month-end mailings, we rotate through contacting a cross-section of our affiliates on an even more frequent basis. Some months we may have a specific product focus, so all our super-affiliates for a specific topic are contacted. Other times we seek to recognize just the very top of our super-affiliates across all products. Regardless, you need frequent and consistent contact with your super-affiliates.

Recognize that affiliate marketing is a process. A “build and they will come” mentality just doesn’t work. One trait of a successful affiliate program is regular, direct contact with top-performing affiliates as you coach and develop them. Remember, you want to send out lots of big checks every month.

And now the update on affiliate news…

From AffiliateForce

Today I’m at AffiliateForce in Miami. Yesterday, I moderated a panel of a half-dozen leading affiliate networks providers, peppering them with all sorts of questions, before opening it to the floor for an even tougher round of questions. Look for post-conference coverage next week. As always, I welcome you to email ( your comments, questions and criticisms.

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