What Are Affiliates Thinking?

Part One

We often read about the best practices in the affiliate marketing industry, but much of what we read has come from the pages of textbooks rather than experience. Although there is certainly value to being book smart, it’s equally important to be affiliate smart.

Along those lines, the first industry-wide benchmarking study, Affiliate Metrix, was recently launched. This report combines analysis of data gathered from affiliate managers as well as best practices for the industry (compiled by yours truly and Keith Kochberg of imarketing ltd.). All affiliate managers are invited to take the survey.

Recently, I called out to the ClubMom affiliates to ask them what they don’t like about affiliate marketing. In general, they love the concept, but they’ve still got plenty of gripes about the state of things. With the bonhomie of a game show host, I present their requests and comments for a better industry.

The Pesky 1 x 1 Pixel

Many merchants require that affiliates use the 1 x 1 pixel (a tiny, clear graphic placed with an affiliate link to track link performance). They want it because it tracks affiliate link impressions. Meanwhile, a great number of affiliates regard the 1 x 1 pixel as the cockroach of affiliate marketing. Biggest affiliate complaints: can’t use the 1 x 1 pixel in text newsletters, banner rotation scripts, and software.

The Check Is in the Mail

One of the key decisions when starting up an affiliate program is the frequency and threshold of commission payments. Will you pay monthly or quarterly? Does the affiliate have to earn $25, $50, or $100 or is there no minimum? Biggest affiliate complaints: not issuing checks per the schedule in the affiliate agreement and only sending out checks after a high threshold.

Lack of Communication

To operate a successful affiliate program, you must communicate so that affiliates know what is happening with your company. What is the best way to promote your program? What upcoming promotions will assist the affiliates in converting more sales and leads? You can count on questions. When you do receive queries, appreciate them rather than show disdain by clicking delete. Biggest affiliate complaints: no response received when email is sent to the affiliate manager; no updates regarding new promotions, sweepstakes, sales, offers, etc.; and no appreciation or acknowledgement for performance.

Uncreative Creative

According to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), there are eight most commonly accepted banner sizes. But if you look at the average affiliate program, you might see a few 468 x 60 banners. Biggest affiliate complaints: slow-loading graphics, large image sizes, lack of choice in size and style of creative, creative that doesn’t keep up with the seasons, no text links or content (articles, news feeds, and other relevant free info to complement the advertising), and the absence of direct product links.

The Unkindest Pay Cut

Foresight is key when setting the commission rate for affiliates. Using conventional wisdom, you could imagine that a company will be more likely to retain employees if it increases rather than decreases salaries. Affiliates are just the same; show some restraint when setting those commission levels. Biggest affiliate complaint: reducing commission rates.

Lazy Links

In the big picture of the merchant/affiliate relationship, the onus is on the merchants to provide the tools necessary for affiliates to generate click-throughs and conversions. When links don’t work, affiliates don’t stick around. Be sure to test and retest your links before letting them loose on the world. Biggest affiliate complaints: links for time-sensitive promotions that continue to promote an offer after the end date, links that go dead with no notice from the merchant, and graphic link codes that leave the “alt text” blank.

Stamp of Approval

There are two schools of thought when it comes to approving affiliates: automatic and manual. Affiliates tend to be rankled by manual approval. Biggest affiliate complaints: overly restrictive criteria for affiliate acceptance, too much time taken to approve sites, and minimums for affiliate output.

Limited Viability

When a site joins an affiliate program, there is a partnership in which the merchant is entrusting the affiliate to drive quality traffic that will lead to conversions at the merchant site. That said, affiliates are inclined to exhibit their affiliation to increase the chance of a click. Biggest affiliate complaint: programs that do not allow affiliates to use the name of the merchant anywhere on the affiliate site (site copy, meta tags, etc.).

Switching Affiliate Solution Providers

The early decisions in starting an affiliate program are often the most significant. The choice of an affiliate solution provider should be made once, so merchants ought to perform extensive due diligence before getting in bed with any vendor. After all, some of the best affiliates have domains dedicated entirely to one affiliate program. This sort of endeavor can translate into hundreds of links. Biggest affiliate complaint: merchants switching affiliate solution providers.

More on affiliate thoughts to follow in Part Two, December 18th.

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