The Ultimate 2002 Affiliate Resolution List

As you read these words, a flurry of business activity is taking place that will likely change the way you run affiliate programs in 2002.

The old days, when tens of thousands of affiliates plastered meaningless banners all over the Net, are being replaced by a new, streamlined version of performance advertising based on results. The change was expected in 2001. It will finally occur in 2002.

Most New Year’s resolutions are guaranteed to be broken. The following list, drawn from my own experience and that of the industry this year, points to significant change. Here are seven resolutions you should keep.

1. Focus on performance.

Affiliates are out, performance advertising is in.

The word “affiliate” has become a code concept, symbolizing mom-and-pop Web sites that post anyone’s ads. Affiliate program managers are shifting from this mass-market approach to performance-based partnerships. Many of your best partners will soon resent it if you call them affiliates. The word now signifies a small, nonperforming partner, not a qualified site. Smart affiliate managers will discuss their conversion ratios instead of trying to persuade sites to give them free ad space for a pathetic, untested offer.

2. No more “free” advertising.

Hybrid affiliate media deals rule.

A few years ago, anyone could post your affiliate ad based on performance as the only metric for success. Now, many advertising sites have been plagued by lack of payment, difficult affiliate systems, and a lot of work with little to no payoff. If you really want to perform, put your money where your mouth is and pay for hybrid deals, part guaranteed payment and part performance. This is one of the few ways to appear on quality sites and email lists.

3. Guarantee affiliate payments.

Pay what you promise — or get out of the game.

I’m being optimistic, but the entire affiliate industry has been undermined by a few programs that never had the slightest intention of paying for advertising space. One affiliate claims to have been left holding the bag to the tune of $80,000 from companies such as MatchLogic (part of the Excite debacle), CoolSavings, and iMPOWER.

Every super affiliate I know has been ripped off. Significantly. The fact that I even have to iterate the obligation to pay affiliates is evidence of a flawed industry; you get what you pay for, and a few snakes ruin it for the good guys.

4. Go beyond the banners.

(Will we ever actually do this?)

Most affiliate programs remain, basically, banner ad farms for free, low-performing advertising. If affiliates can’t make money, they won’t post your ad. If you want them to make money, think outside the banner. Think interstitials, email links that work (no longer than 65-character URLs is our rule), and good, focused conversion.

Great affiliates couldn’t care less about you or your product. They want to know how your ad will convert into dollars for themselves. Banners are not a route to success, so why do most people still focus on them? Why have we been asking ourselves this same, inane question for three years? Because it takes creativity to break the mold, and that is what’s lacking.

5. Handpick your best affiliates — personally.

Most people promote their affiliate programs the old-fashioned way. They rely on the masses delivered by LinkShare, Be Free, and Commission Junction to drive sales. Add up the wasted time, the serving costs, and headaches. It’s obvious that taking a little time to handpick and personally contact prospective affiliates is a sensible first step toward performance. Why not pick up the phone and thank your best affiliates for a great 2001? Better still, send them a bonus check.

6. Conversion is more important than click-through.

If your program numbers among the many affiliate programs still driving people to a home page loaded with choices, wake up. Good affiliates know focused conversion is the way to make sales. Sites must display specific products related to the ad. Anything else is distraction and leads to leakage. Smart affiliates look at our site and note this immediately. If your site can’t sell, they will never run your ad.

Click-throughs are a qualitative measure of an ad’s success; sales are quantitative. Conversion is the only thing that matters to a smart affiliate. In 2002, forget about the clicks. How many you convert is the way to keep score.

7. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Winstar Interactive dropped all CPA deals, illustrating how tough it is for most affiliates to market products. Currently, affiliates must sign up at your site, wait for approval, cut and paste your ads or text links into their site, and try to figure out your tracking system (and whether to trust it).

There’s an easier way. Select fewer affiliates. Take control of the process, and make sure the partners you select get their code emailed quickly.

Remember — an affiliate program is where you can test ads and track return on investment (ROI) for all advertising. Your program should be a testing ground for new campaigns and for tracking the effectiveness of every ad buy you make.

Affiliate marketing should be the nucleus of all your performance-based ad campaigns. Next year, your affiliate program should become integral to the larger strategy of promoting your business. From there, you can track the success of all your campaigns, from search engines to media buys to straight performance deals.

These are my resolutions for 2002. I look forward to hearing yours.

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