Hey there Sea Changers. Today we continue our journey for those of you working with, or considering starting an affiliate program as we discuss the steps required to ensure that they are given their best opportunity for success. Why? Because one of the most common mistakes that affiliate program managers make is that they attempt to simply ‘set and forget' their programs. Like any marketing endeavor however, they need constant work and attention to ensure that they are given the best possible opportunities to generate sales revenue for the vendor. So grab a notepad and let's run through 6 steps to successfully manage an affiliate program…
1. Be clear on targets
The first step here as an affiliate program manager is to ensure that you are perfectly clear on the reasons behind, and the targets for, the affiliate program. This could be a number of reasons such as to:
- Open new sales avenues
- Increase sales
- Increase brand awareness
- Promote a particular product
- Increase internet traffic
- Run discounted promotions for superseded or over stocked items
If there were goals attached to the reasons why the program was started, then it is important that you are aware of these moving forward. This is so that everything we discuss moving forward within this post can be reflected upon to ensure that these goals are met.
If not, then the first step here is to set some goals. These must be realistic (SMART goals are good here) and truly reflect the initial reasoning for the affiliate programs. Some examples include:
- Increase sales by 15% across the board in each calendar month.
- Increase site traffic by 25% by the end of the current quarter.
- Add 10 affiliate marketers to the program each week.
Obviously these goals will be industry and company specific but as mentioned earlier, these need to be clear and understood from the outset.
2. Recruit affiliates
This second step probably goes without saying but it makes sense to focus on as it should be obviously that without affiliate marketers, affiliate programs cannot run. The key here however is to not assume that just because you have an affiliate program up and running that affiliates will come running. In most cases, affiliate managers will need to go about attracting affiliates with the same amount of effort as they do to attract a customer via the promotion of their program (in this case, the program is the product being sold). There are a number of ways that this can be undertaken including:
- Joining affiliate networks – affiliate program networks work as intermediaries between merchants and affiliates. Their main purpose is to assist in the development and ongoing management of the program. They are however, a place where affiliate marketers go to find programs.
- Advertise in places where affiliates hang out – this mirrors that of finding customers in that if you can get in front of affiliate marketers, then you have a good chance of attracting some of them to your program. Check out places where they hang out such as training sites, social media groups and niche specific forums.
- Add a link to your website – this is a very effective, yet often overlooked method to find affiliate marketers. The reason for this is that marketers will often seek out sites based on their niche and check out the products. If there is an affiliate page link at the bottom, they will likely click on it. If not, or they have to search for it, they may head elsewhere.
- Email your customers – yep, email them all and tell them about your program. If they have a website, they might join and promote for you as well.
- Ask for reviews – This is a more direct approach where you contact affiliate marketers (usually via finding their sites) and ask them to review your products or program. If they like it, they will join – you may even see value in offering a bounty for each affiliate they attract as well.
At the end of the day, regardless of the processes you incorporate, this is a critical step and one that should be constantly managed and reviewed for results as per step 1 above.
3. Support existing affiliates
Now, this probably goes against what I have just discussed above, but there are plenty of affiliate programs out there meaning that the more merceneric affiliates out there will chop and change quite quickly if they feel that they can get a better ‘deal' elsewhere. This means that ongoing support for affiliates is another key requirement for affiliate program managers and as with customers, it is a lot cheaper to keep the marketers you have than be constantly looking for new ones. In general, this will involve:
- Providing an avenue for communications with affiliate marketers so that they can ask questions and find information that they need as required.
- Maintaining an affiliate ‘back office' that provides tracking, sales totals and payments – This can be undertaken within Affiliate networks (Share-A-Sale, CJ Affiliates etc.) if preferred or via affiliate management software such as Partnerize or Refersion.
- Maintaining updated creatives – Whilst this can also assist with brand protection, keeping a library of constantly updated creatives (social media and web page banners, Gifs, videos and so on) at the ready provides affiliate marketers with all the tools to promote your products in a manner that fits in with your strategies and targets.
- Affiliate newsletters – these are a great way to keep affiliates updated with changes to pricing, special promotions, new products and product information (for reviews etc.). Oh, and maybe offer a little incentive for extra sales here (bonus commission or affiliate only customer discount etc.) if your targets centre on moving product or meeting sales targets.
The trick here I guess is to ensure that your affiliate marketers have all of the tools and information available so that they are able to promote your products to the best of their ability.
Compliance management is the process in which the ‘rules’ of operation within the program are implemented and monitored. Some of the disadvantages to affiliate programs are that program managers don't really have any real control over how their products are represented and promoted. In most cases affiliate program rules are put in place to protect the brand against these disadvantages and also allow affiliates to gain a clear understanding on what they can and cannot do to promote your products. Some examples of these rules include:
- Promotional methods allowed – This covers the promotional behaviours that affiliates are allowed to undertake. This can include:
- Use of company logos, pictures and content.
- Where promotions can be made – i.e. coupon websites, social media, email lists or paid ads.
- Affiliate use of links – many ban the use of affiliate links by the affiliate themselves or friends and family.
- Product exclusions – as discussed above, are there any products can are excluded from the program?
- Negative Commentary – Some programs ban affiliates from including any negative comments about the merchant’s brands or products (this can include pros and cons lists in reviews).
- Use of links on offensive or adult content sites – This goes without saying I guess but it should be the case that the use of these sites to promote products is banned.
- Affiliate acceptance criteria – Again, in order to alleviate the risk of damage to your brand, you may choose to limit the acceptance of affiliates based on any number of criteria such as compatibility of their website, social media followers, traffic and competitor content. These decisions are usually made to protect the brand as well as ensuring that they are being promoted by serious online marketers.
Compliance checks are undertaken against these criteria to ensure that all rules within the program are being followed and that the brand is being protected. The main method for this is to simply undertake brand name searches online and see where the information is being displayed. Other program managers will undertake audits of affiliate marketer sites to ensure compliance or run affiliate links via online keyword checking tools to see where they are being used.
5. Track activity
These last two steps run hand in hand in that they are all about running constant checks to see how the program is tracking and whether it is working towards the goals outlined in step 1 above being met. We will start with tracking as that is the part where we record the outcomes of the program as they are (i.e. we are not looking for improvements as yet). The information recorded will depend on the program management software being used and the goals that have been set however in general, you will need to be looking at:
- Number of Sales.
- Average sale amount.
- Average commission amount.
- Highest earning affiliate marketers (so you can see what they are doing).
- Most/least popular products.
- Statistics such as number of link ‘clicks’.
- Conversion rates of sales per click.
- Traffic sources (websites, social media etc.)
Not only is this information critical in terms of ensuring that the program is meeting the initial strategic requirements that we discussed earlier, but is also important for future potential affiliates as they decide whether or not to join the program. Again, it is imperative that affiliate programs are managed in the same manner as any other sales process within the company and this information is gathered to assist in determining what adjustments need to be made to improve any area that is under performing.
6. Analyse and Optimise
And once all that information is gathered (hopefully at least monthly), then the next step is to implement improvements to the program to give it the best possible chance of meeting its original goals. The means in which these improvements are done will obviously vary greatly dependent upon the outcomes of step 5. This may however include rearranging affiliate processes and operating rules, adding or removing products or increasing/decreasing commission payments.
The main point here is obviously to just make sure that it is done – once all is said and done, if the program is not meeting the original strategic goals that have been set then, like anything with business, adjustments need to be made to ensure success where possible.
So there you have it… 6 steps to successfully manage an affiliate program. Each of these steps is critical and if done right, then hopefully your program can become one that is both beneficial to you as the business owner and the affiliate marketers who promote your products. I hope this has been helpful and as usual, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, need some advice or have any experiences to share.
Do you want further assistance with any of the above or need help to build your own online business?
Are you looking for a comprehensive training platform that can give you step by step training, 24/7 support, tools to ethically develop and host your very own website, ongoing assistance with SEO, post ideas, social media and access to some of the best affiliate marketing minds on the planet, then click on the following link to read more about Wealthy Affiliate.
Until next time
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