Affiliate marketing is a great source of passive income. It’s also an effective customer acquisition strategy.
It’s no wonder why US businesses spent $6.8 billion on it in 2020. Partnering with the right affiliates can help brands reach a broader audience and increase their sales.
Despite its rising popularity, affiliate marketing remains a mystery for many people. It is often confused with referral marketing. There’s also the matter of understanding affiliate marketing terminology (like affiliate network) and the anatomy of an ideal affiliate marketer.
If you’re serious about making money through affiliates, you need to clarify these basics. With that done, you can explore ways to build a resultful affiliate marketing program.
Want to know the best part?
You don’t have to search Google or read a dozen articles to get all of this information. I have covered all of these topics in this simple, jargon-free post. You’ll learn the fundamentals of affiliate marketing, plus proven optimization tips, real examples, and free tools/resources to help you in the task.
So, let’s get started.
What Is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is performance-based marketing where brands pay affiliates for each new customer/lead/website visitor they generate through their own efforts. Affiliate payout can be in cash or kind (discount, deals, free upgrades, etc.). Businesses use tools to track affiliate performance and calculate their commissions.
There is a common misconception that affiliate marketing is the same as referral marketing.
However, these two marketing forms differ in two major ways:
- Referral marketing relies on word-of-mouth marketing to grow brand awareness and sales. Affiliate marketing, on the other hand, is more complex and technical. Affiliates leverage all types of channels and tactics to bring customers, including promotion on their blogs and social media pages.
- Typically, in referral marketing, existing customers work as marketers, promoting the brands they love to their families and friends. Conversely, affiliates may be existing customers or neutral entities, who are solely in the business of promoting brands to earn commissions. Moreover, their circle of influence is wider than just friends and families.
You might get the impression that referral marketers possess some kind of altruistic instincts. This is not entirely true. Nowadays, brands have proper loyalty programs, in which they reward customers who generate referrals for them. In this regard, referral marketing is somewhat similar to affiliate marketing.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at a term that will get thrown around a lot in this post – affiliate networks.
What Are Affiliate Networks?
Affiliate networks are platforms where brands/advertisers go to look for affiliates, and where affiliates go to look for suitable brands/offers to promote.
In other words, affiliate networks help:
- Affiliates and merchants connect
- Protect affiliate interests
- Manage affiliate-merchant relationships
While the match-making capabilities of affiliate networks gets due recognition, you certainly can’t overlook their administrative features. They help brands and affiliates with tracking, payment processing, and reporting as well.
On top of that, they help brands access a wider pool of affiliates and eliminate logistical hassles from affiliate marketing. On the flip side, affiliate networks charge brands (and sometimes affiliates) for services rendered, which can end up cutting into profit margins.
Anatomy of an Affiliate Marketer
So, who exactly are these affiliates? What do they look like?
According to Affstat’s Affiliate Marketing Benchmark Report, here are the locations, interests, and demographics of affiliates:
- Out of all the affiliates surveyed, 57.4% live in the US and 9.7% in Canada.
- In the US, 13.5% of affiliates stay in California, 12.7% in Florida, 11.1% in New York, 10.2% in Texas, and 8.9% in Nevada.
- 54.2% of affiliates are males, 43% females, and 2.8% didn’t specify their gender.
- 31.9% of affiliates fall in the 35-44 years age bracket and 27.6% in the 25-34 years bracket.
- 55.3% of affiliates are married, 62.4% have kids, and 54.3% work from home.
- Most affiliates (81.4%) work in the B2C space.
Boost Your Affiliate Marketing in 6 Simple Ways
When we talk about optimizing affiliate marketing, there are two things that matter – the quality of affiliate-led traffic and conversion rates of your offers/landing pages. Plus, you need to monitor affiliate fraud and costs during your campaigns and beyond.
Now, let’s take a look at ways to turbo-charge your affiliate marketing.
1. Analyze Your Revenue and Customer Data
Before you get started with affiliate marketing, you need to take a deep look at your business data and answer questions like:
- What is the value of a new customer?
- What is the value of a repeat customer?
- Do you know your customers’ lifetime value?
- What is your profit margin on different types of sales?
- Have you determined your cost of customer acquisition on various channels?
But business data can be complex and scattered. To make sense of it, you can use data cleansing tools. With clean, accurate data, your decision making and analytics are more precise.
Once your data is consolidated and assimilated properly, you will have a bird’s eye view of your business. You can identify resultful channels and high-potential customers. You will also be able to structure your affiliate payouts in a better way.
One more thing…
Affiliate programs for B2B and B2C differ widely. While B2Cs pay affiliates on low individual purchases, B2Bs typically have recurring payment structures and higher pay slabs. While structuring your affiliate programs, ensure that affiliate compensation is commensurate with the lifetime value of the customers they bring in.
2. Analyze Your Traffic Sources
You can do loads of optimization on the traffic front, and it’s fairly easy to do.
How, you ask?
First things first. Compare traffic from different sources so that you know which yields the best quality traffic. Then, you can look into what each traffic source allows in terms of affiliate optimization.
For instance, some traffic sources allow you to purchase traffic from specific devices (mobile, desktop, etc.). Others may let you halt or block traffic types so that you can focus on leads that matter and get an accurate picture of your affiliate’s performance.
You can even pass custom variables that fetch customer data relevant for your affiliate programs. For example, you can construct variables that tell you about the placement type of your traffic. Using such insights, you can fine-tune your marketing efforts and maximize your ROI.
3. Pick the Right Affiliates
Selecting the right affiliates is perhaps the most critical part of your marketing. But it’s easier said than done.
Considering that 42.2% of affiliates don’t promote more than ten brands at a time, good affiliates are a sought after commodity.
Image via AffStat
Recruiting affiliates is not a one-time task. You should always be looking for better affiliates. Onboarding and activating affiliates should be given due attention, with special emphasis on helping them gain traction.
While vetting affiliates, here are some questions that you need to answer:
- Has the affiliate endorsed products in your industry?
- Which other brands are they promoting?
- Do they have experience working with your audience demographic?
- What promotion methods do they leverage?
- Do they have websites, blogs, and other marketing properties?
After you find well-matched affiliates, it’s time to onboard them.
Familiarize them with your value proposition, products, and brand voice to get them off to a flying start. Share customer research and competition analysis with them. Don’t forget to share your marketing fails with them. That way, they won’t waste time with methods that don’t give returns and they’ll start delivering value from get-go.
Even experienced affiliates need time to score their first sales so don’t expect overnight success with your new affiliates. If possible, assign dedicated affiliate managers to guide your new brand partners. They can be the single point of contact between you and your affiliates.
4. Stay Connected with Your Affiliates
You need to drill a sense of ownership in your affiliates. If they feel connected to your brand, they will work twice as hard to promote it.
Affiliate managers can bridge the gap between brand and affiliates efficiently. The Benchmark report cited earlier states that often affiliates decide to join, grow, and leave brands based on their relationships with their affiliate managers.
Maintaining open channels of communication with affiliates not only helps them, but brands as well.
- Affiliates are better equipped to promote products from brands they know closely.
- Affiliates are less likely to leave brands with supportive affiliate managers.
- Affiliates can arm you with resources and insights they have gathered and that you can utilize to train your future affiliates and in-house staff.
Apart from keeping existing affiliates in the loop, it’s also essential to activate latent affiliates. Research proves that only 7%-10% of affiliates are actively driving traffic to brands. This means the remaining 90% of resources have the potential to sell, but are under-utilized.
Latent influencers can be broken down into three categories:
New affiliates who haven’t sold anything since they joined (~3 months). Try pushing them into action with higher commissions or a bonus on their first milestones.
Old affiliates who have no activity since they registered to your program. Catch up with them informally and ask what they’ve been up to. Keep them informed about upcoming offers and rewards.
Affiliates who were resultful before but are inactive now. Ask them what challenges they are facing. Appoint new affiliate managers for them, if needed.
5. Regulate Affiliate Methods
Affiliates rely on many tactics to drive traffic, including:
- Social media marketing
- Email marketing
Image via AffStat
You need to regulate and restrict your affiliate methods so that they are not counterproductive to your efforts.
For instance, if you use SEO to draw organic traffic and your affiliates also use the same technique, you might end up pulling down each other’s rankings.
That’s why most affiliate networks have method restrictions. They allow you to search for affiliates by their primary promotion method, which can be:
- Email marketing
- Mobile app
- Price comparison
- Social shopping
You also want to watch out for shady practices. If an affiliate just promotes coupon codes and relies on branded searches to be discovered, they aren’t adding much value to your program. Other red flags include using weighted URLs, stuffing unrelated code snippets in URLs, and using plug-ins and adware.
6. Test Your Landing Pages
You can create custom landing pages on your website for your affiliates to promote, or they can create one for themselves. Be sure to A/B test your landing page elements and calculate the page’s conversion rates. That way, you can figure out when an affiliate is performing below par.
Apart from optimizing your landing pages, provide assistance to your affiliates when they are designing their own pages. After all, you’re both working towards the same goal. Currently, less than 25% of affiliates receive creative help from brands they promote, according to the Benchmark report.
Your affiliate managers can extend help in the form of marketing collaterals and creatives. Plus, they should share testing insights from their own pages. Earning the first conversions is always hard for any affiliate, and you should leave no stone unturned to get the ball rolling.
Ready to Accelerate Your Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is more complex than just adding an affiliate page to your website. It involves analyzing your customer data, business data, and traffic sources. Moreover, you need to select the right affiliates and keep communicating with them while regulating their marketing methods. Last but not least, you should follow landing page best practices and test your pages often.
Do you have any questions about affiliate marketing? Leave them in the comments. I’ll be happy to answer.