What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate Marketing refers to a type of marketing in which a business entity or a merchant, rewards the affiliate for bringing it business/ customers. The affiliate only receives certain key information/ resources from the merchant/ business owner and carries out the marketing campaign on its own. The rewards/ commissions given by the merchant might be based on the sales made by the affiliate or just for getting visitors for the merchant's product.
This guide would answer all the questions you ever had about affiliate marketing - Be it from an affiliate's point of view or from the merchant's point of view; We have it all right here! Here are the three characters we will be referring to throughout the article -
Why use Affiliate Marketing?
Some marketers/ merchants might have the perception - " I made this product, I know it the best, I can sell it the best". True that, you made the product and you know it the best, BUT there are people who can sell that product as good as you, or even BETTER. Yes, the person making the product might be an expert in making products but, he/ she might not be the best salesman around. Also, there are resources (like mailing lists, the affiliate's brand value, affiliate's loyal customers, etc.) which an affiliate might have and the merchant could easily leverage such resources to boost their sales! On an average the digital products industry experiences a 40-50% share of sales made by affiliates. Take Amazon.com as an example; Amazon gets 40% of its sales from affiliate marketing under "Amazon Associates" and from other third party entities selling their products.
A 40-50% share in sales refers to an increase of almost 100% to the merchant’s current sales. Also, this number increases to around 300%-400% for smaller businesses. And the merchant receives all this “extra sales” by shelling out just a small percentage of the affiliate sales revenue. Let’s study a simple case, for a merchant with a $100 product and making 1000 monthly sales -
Current Monthly Sales = $100,000
Current Profits (assuming 40% profit margin) = $40,000
Total Sales (after introducing affiliates) = $200,000
Profit from Direct Sales = $40,000 (same as above for the $100,000 direct sales)
Additional Profit from Affiliate sales = $20,000
The additional profits made, as shown above, are from sales made by the affiliates with almost ZERO EFFORT from the merchant's side.
This is just a small example to show to you the importance of Affiliate Marketing. This guide would tell you in detail how to get the best out of an affiliate program and also, how affiliates can earn more through their affiliate sales.
Who all can benefit from Affiliate Marketing?
As stated above, affiliate marketing is a great tool for both the merchants (to increase their revenue and profits) and the affiliates (to increase their earning without investing into product development).
From the merchant's point of view, most of the products can be promoted/ marketed using affiliates to market the product. Price, kind of product, etc. does not have much influence on whether or not to have an affiliate program for a product. For products where the information a merchant wants to show to a customer is very critical or needs to be very accurate, an affiliate program that drives customers to the merchant's website would be better than driving sales directly through the affiliate.
From an affiliate's point of view affiliate marketing provides great opportunities to earn a lot of money online. Selecting a product to market is a very important step for an affiliate. There are lots of factors that an affiliate needs to take care of before joining a merchant as an affiliate. All this and a lot more is covered in this guide.
In the discussion above, we have covered the "financial" beneficiaries of an affiliate marketing setup. Another silent, or not so noticed, beneficiary of such is a setup is the customer itself. If a merchant would have not used affiliate marketing, there would have been a huge set of prospective customers that would not have come to know about the product. Hence, the customers are also benefiting from the reach of the affiliate marketers.
Types of Affiliate Marketing Programs
There are various kinds of Affiliate Marketing Programs a merchant can run or an affiliate can join. These are based on the type of compensation or commission model followed by the merchant. The most commonly used programs are pay per sale (PPS) and pay per action (PPA)
This is the most popular kind of affiliate marketing program. Around 70-80% of the merchants follow PPS as their affiliate payout system. Here the merchant pays a percentage of the price or a fixed amount to the affiliate for making a sale of it’s product. The merchant is guaranteed a sale before it goes out to make any kind of affiliate commissions. This system makes it very simple for the merchant to make calculations on profit margins.
Following the previous example, for a 40% profit margin product, keeping a 20% affiliate commission makes it very attractive for the affiliates and also gives the merchant a considerable increase in business. The merchant also needs to factor in all the up-sells it has planned with the products. For a merchant driving 20% of its customers into buying the upsell, the PPS percentage can certainly go up.
From an affiliate’s point of view too, the affiliate needs to ensure completion of sale before it can expect any kind of payout. Getting a customer to visit the merchant’s site is not enough! If the affiliate manages to pull off the sale it receives the commissions which are considerably high. Tracking such a system is easier for both the affiliates and the merchants.
The pay per action(PPA) or the cost per action(CPA) model of payment for the affiliates refers to a method where-in the merchant decides an action which is mostly information about the prospective customer. This information is mostly gathered by the affiliate by getting some form filled by the customer. Also, an action may refer to a free trial (or a very minimal amount) given to a prospective user. Once the product is tested by the user the merchant may go ahead with the main sale and then go ahead with the upsells.
This method is generally used by merchants who prefer using their own sales effort (sales pages, website, etc.) to complete or close the sale with a prospective customer. In this case the merchant needs to have the information about conversion rates for it’s product. For example if one out of every 25 people visiting the site buy the product, the price of making a sale comes out to be 25 x (amount paid per action). If a merchant pays $0.10 per action, then 25 x 0.10 = $2.5 is the cost of acquiring that customer.Thus, a merchant can easily work on improving the conversion rates to utilize the visitors generated by the affiliate more efficiently.
From the affiliate’s point of view, getting somebody (prospective customer) to fill in the form (the action) ensures the payment from the merchant. Getting a sale out of the customer is then up to the merchant. An affiliate who can drive that kind of traffic through it’s already existing sites, blogs, etc. or otherwise would be advised to enter into a PPA affiliate program.
The PPA payment amount may vary from product to product depending on the value the customer carries for a merchant.
Let's understand the meaning of "Value of Customer" with an example
Value of Customer
Price of the trial (t) = $1
Price of the main product (mp) = $100
Price of Downsell (ds) = $70
Price of Upsell 1 (up1) = $50
Price of Upsell 2 (up2) = $40
Value of Customer (v) = t + 0.80(mp) + 0.20(ds) + 0.50(up1) + 0.40(up2)
Value of customer is (v) = 1 + 0.80(100) + 0.20(70) + 0.50(50) + 0.40(40)
(v) = 1+ 80 + 14 + 25 + 16
(v) = 136
Thus, the actual value of customer is $136 and not $100 as it might appear from the outset.
It's very important for the merchant to make the calculations according to this number and not the price of the main product.
Choosing the type of Affiliate Program - Critical!
Merchants need to choose an Affiliate Program which suits their capabilities, the product and attracts the affiliates too. Here “capabilities” would refer to “How confident is the merchant to convert a Sale?” After the affiliate’s “action” in a PPA model, if the merchant is very confident on it’s conversion rates and believes to have great conversion rates, it should go in for a Pay per Action Affiliate Program. Here-in the affiliates are very active and would provide great numbers for the merchant’s sale.
Using the example above -
Thus, for merchants who are confident about the conversion rates should go in for a PPA Affiliate Program, while the merchants who all looking for affiliates to close the sale and see lower conversion rates should go in for a PPS Affiliate Program.
An affiliate first needs to understand what kind of work he/ she is about to enter. Basically, affiliate is an entity which in some way is helping the merchant to sell its product. This "some way" may be - carrying out direct sales for the merchant or driving traffic to the merchant’s site. For this activity, the affiliate is paid a commission by the merchant which may be in the form of a percentage of the price of the product or a whole amount, as decided by the merchant.
Affiliate Marketing can be better understood by comparing this system to the sale of physical products. Let’s take the case of a company like P&G, which is a multinational manufacturer of personal care and household products. P&G has its expertise in manufacturing and marketing its goods. But still, for reach, viability, growth and various other reasons it chooses to have distributors and dealers to sell its products worldwide. This kind of a “sales network” is used by most firms to promote and sell their products. It's a similar story in the digital marketing world as well.
Choose the Product wisely! Critical...
For an affiliate, choosing the right merchant and the right product to market is very critical. This seems to be the small cog (choosing the product) in the huge wheel (affiliate marketing success!). This decision might be based on the merchant's credibility, an affiliate’s comfort with the niche, commissions given by the merchant and a lot more.The following chapter would give you a detailed picture on how to make a good and informed decision to choose the product and merchant wisely.
Deciding on the kind of Affiliate Program? Important...
Once the category is decided, affiliates need to decide which kind of an affiliate program do they want to join - a PPS(Pay-per-Sale) or a PPA(Pay-per-Action).
If an affiliate believes converting a prospective customer/ site visitor into a customer is not a problem, then it should go in for a PPS affiliate program where-in on completion of the sale, a high percentage commission is paid.
However, if an affiliate already has a site that drives great traffic and is confident of carrying them as leads to the merchant, then it should go in for a PPA affiliate program. here the affiliate will get huge numbers for just referring customers to the merchants. Converting them into sales is then the merchant’s responsibility.
Have a site/ blog that already drives traffic? Monetize it...
An affiliate might have a website which is already driving good traffic. That’s one problem sorted for the affiliate! The affiliate just needs to monetize the same. The “monetize” referred to here is not revenue gained through ads, this is revenue from affiliate marketing. Thorough research would let you know that there would be some products that need affiliates from the same category as your website/ blog.
For example, if somebody has a blog running on Health and Fitness as a topic and is driving good traffic through there; you just need to find the right products to market from the same category. As of today, ClickBank has 2503 products in this category!! An affiliate can easily find a couple of products to market through its blog. They just need to choose the products with the right gravity and $/sale commissions.
Having an already strong blog is the best and easiest way to move ahead with affiliate marketing success. You would be amazed to see the number of people dying for the kind of traffic such blogs and sites receive which haven’t even thought of earning money as an affiliate.
Starting new? Build your own website...
This is most common way affiliate marketers start with their businesses/ sales.
The marketing cycle for such affiliates starts with choosing a category for the product. This generally is one which is of interest of the affiliate OR one in which the affiliate sees business opportunity.
Once this is done the affiliate carefully examines and chooses a product or a couple of products to market.
Now what follows is the planning and actual development of the website. The website may contain articles about the category, reviews of the product chosen, a blog on the category, customer testimonials about the product, sales videos or a combination of all of the mentioned things. All this would be available in detail in the later chapters.
Once the site is set, starts the process of driving traffic to the website. A great SEO for the website, a sales launch, facebook advertising, etc. might be ways to start of with getting traffic to the website.
Once all this is done, an affiliate just needs to fine tune and track the sales made by it.
Making Efficient use of Merchant Resources
The merchant would always provide resources for the affiliates to market the product. Making correct and efficient use of them is where the affiliate’s role begins. An affiliate would want just the right quantity and the right placement for all the banners. Too many banners makes the page look like a sale “bazaar” more than a blog or a review page, and too little a presence of the affiliate links or banners would lead to the visitor not evening noticing the product. Thus the right balance for the page is a critical aspect. The same is discussed in detail in the chapters that follow.
Never be afraid of the competition! But, be vigilant...
Affiliates need to remember that there is enough space to enter and settle into the affiliate marketing world. Never fear high number of affiliates while diving in. Each affiliate has its own marketing strategy and target audience. But, an affiliate needs to take a wise decision! Say - for an internet marketer who has worked in the weight loss niche for a considerable time, shifting to a product from a different niche might not be the correct option. Finding a focussed niche or changing the product might be the right way to go.
Losing hope is the most common reason for an affiliate to stop marketing! Not receiving rankings/ sales from your site for a month does not mean the end of the road for affiliates. There might be several reasons for the same -
- Google might not have indexed your website yet!! So wait.
- Backlinking for the website might not correct
- Too much of clutter in the category. If your site is good it would come up in the rankings.
So, sometimes waiting is the best and actually the only thing an affiliate can do after making the site. At such times staying motivated and having confidence on what you’ve made is very important. Some affiliates try and make changes and experiment a lot to see if has any affect. Be confident on what you’ve made and wait for the results. Also, be aware of what is going around! Affiliates need to be aware of what is working and what is not for the category and for other affiliates in general. Remember, It is never bad to “follow the leader”.
Build a brand! Get noticed....
If you’re good at Affiliate marketing, great! Get noticed!
A good affiliate marketer needs to build a brand to a level where merchants contact him/ her for their own products. There might be various methods to do the same -
- Word of Mouth - The best and most effective way to market. If you’re a huge affiliate for a particular product, i.e. you drive around 15-20% of the total affiliate sales for the merchant alone, then you are automatically getting noticed. Good merchants would always be part of a good merchant community where they would promote you as an affiliate. Remember one thing - Merchants always are in search for good affiliates! Who would mind having extra sales, huh?
- Forums/ Blogs - Always be an active part of affiliate communities all around. You would get great tips, meet fellow marketers and get to interact with a lot of merchants. This keeps an affiliate up to date on what’s happening around, what are the new products nearing launch and what are the merchants looking for. Also, affiliates should never be afraid to share their experiences and share whatever they’ve learnt. This makes them popular among affiliate circles.
- Facebook/ Twitter - An affiliate, as an individual entity or a company, needs to be socially active to maintain and promote its “brand”. Useful tips and tricks for other affiliates makes them believe in you. Also, Facebook and Twitter provide the best common platform for both the merchant and the affiliate.
As mentioned earlier, this is the most critical part of an affiliate’s success. Choosing a product is neither a “hit and trial” nor a “rocket science”. There are just some easy steps an affiliate needs to follow to choose the right product to follow. Also, there is not just one or say 10 good products to market; there are actually thousands of great products affiliates kind find and market successfully. An affiliate needs to pick a product and category keeping his/ her interest in mind.
The steps an affiliate needs to take for deciding a product are -
Starting off affiliates needs to join an affiliate network where they would find other affiliates and also merchants who are trying to market their product. This is a great place for an affiliate to know and learn which products are selling well, what are the other affiliates selling and also the affiliate gets to learn a lot through the blogs and discussions happening on the network. While signing-in these networks would take the affiliate’s general information like email, website, current products marketed, the kind of marketing methods used, etc.
Some of the good and commonly used affiliate networks are - ClickBank, CommissionJunction, and ShareASale. An affiliate should join at least one, if not all three of these affiliate networks to start off with the affiliate website/ program. Once you sign in on these networks the profile page would generally show an affiliate and his/ her websites, commissions earned till date, sales made/ leads provided, clicks, impressions, CTR (Click through rate), EPC (Earning per Click) and a lot of other information about the affiliate’s performance.
It is very important for the affiliate to use the forums, blogs and discussions happening on these sites. Affiliates would get loads of great information and knowledge which would be of great help. Affiliate’s who are into this field for long and have been successful post loads of great stuff here! As mentioned before - “Never be afraid to follow the Leader”. Also, it is advisable that an affiliate also posts his/ her success mantras here for everyone else to learn and follow. This concurs with the “affiliate brand building” we talked of in the previous chapter.
Once the affiliate has logged into one of these affiliate networks he/ she would find a list of merchant, product categories and products out which the option is to be made. The process of deciding the product category to be marketed is critical. The decision we believe is based on the 2 factors below -
One - Already have a successful blog/ site?
Having a successful blog already running makes the decision easier and more logical. For example if a marketer already has a website reviewing various types of web-hostings present, comparing various hosting vendors, discussions on hosting plans, etc.; it would be very logical for the person to start an affiliate program with one or more of the web hosting companies or, he/ she may go in for a domain registering service. Obviously, the target audience for such a website would be people who are about to start a website of their own soon. they would require a domain registering service and also a web hosting platform. Such are the kinds of “perfect category match” that might happen.
Two - Affiliate’s Interest
If an affiliate is starting new and does not already have a successful blog running, the best way to move forward is to choose a category of interest. It is always easier and more motivating to work on a topic that interests you. And, there is never a dearth in the number of products present in most categories. An affiliate is bound to find a product of interest to him/ her. Even for a niche like Legal Services an affiliate would find around 15 products to promote only on one of the sites like CommissionJunction.
Once an affiliate finalizes the category comes the next step to choose a product or maybe a couple of products to market. There are various factors to be kept in mind while choosing a particular product. These are -
- Monthly Sales - The total monthly sales made for a particular product are generally provided by the merchant on these sites
- % Referred - This number defines the percentage of total sales made through affiliates or referral sales. This gives an affiliate perfect information on the targeted slice of the pie he/ she is aiming for
- PPC/ PPA - The affiliate needs to decide the kind of affiliate program he/ she wants to join. This may be a pay-per-click or a pay-per-action. Blogs already driving huge traffic might prefer to go in for a PPA payout scheme as it matches their profile more
- Average $/ Sale - This is a huge and fairly important factor while choosing a product. It defines the percentage of sales made by affiliates which would end up as earnings for them
- EPC - Earnings per click defines the conversion rates for a particular product. It defines the earnings in dollars per 100 clicks made by prospective customers. A higher EPC means higher conversion rates which is better for the affiliate
- Gravity - This is a term used by ClickBank. It defines the weighted sum of the number of new/ distinct affiliates referring customers to a merchant. Higher gravity refers to a good product, a product in which the affiliates have confidence in and have marketed it successfully
- Targeted Audiences - Some of these affiliate networks provide information on the targeted audiences for a product. This gives an idea to the affiliate about the territory or language preferences, if any
- Kind of Promotion - Coupons, sales, free shipping, seasonal sales are some kinds of promotions that merchants typically run. An affiliate might be particular on the kind of promotion he/ she wants to run through his/ her website
- New - Getting into a promotion of a new product might not be a bad ploy, especially if it’s a new product from one of the old reputed merchants. The main advantage for picking such a product includes being one of the first affiliates to enter the program and thus affiliates enter a level playing field with the other affiliates. It gives the affiliate an opportunity to showcase his/ her creativity without being influenced
Most of these parameters are present on the search page or the advanced search pages of these website marketplaces. An affiliate would generally want to choose a product category first and then keep in mind all these parameters before finalizing the product. Usually an advanced search on these sites would have filters present for the category and all/ most of the above mentioned parameters
Affiliates need not take a lot of time doing this! If you’ve followed the steps mentioned above, things are going to be right! Do not think much and go ahead with the selling!!
Once the product/ products are chosen, affiliates just need to do one more thing - Do a small background check on the merchant chosen. This can be a simple “Google Search” or reading about the merchant on blogs and discussions. Affiliates may also find some information about the merchant from the affiliate network website as well. Try and find previous products (if any) for the merchant and the reviews about that affiliate program. An affiliate would not want to put in all the effort and make sales for the merchant and then not get payed for the same in the end. So, BEWARE of such entities around.
So, once the product is chosen, the affiliate is off making the website/ blog to effectively market the product. There are various ways in which an affiliate can build the website. This may include:
Even if an affiliate does not have a blog which is already running, he/ she can start off with a new one and develop it. Blogs provide a great opportunity to write great stuff about the product category and attracts a lot of crowd to do the same. As the blog is generic to the category, it attracts an opportunity for the affiliate to market several products at one time or in spaced time intervals.
An affiliate needs to take care that SEO is the greatest tool for the popularity of the blog and thus, indirectly, for the sales too. Blogs drive most of their traffic through keyword search through various search engines. Use of social media might be good way to kick-start traffic for a blog. The following chapter contains a detailed SEO guide for an affiliate to follow for it’s blog.
It’s very important for the affiliate to keep the blog ACTIVE. Regular comments from visitors and the affiliate would create that buzz and also help Google to rank the site better.
Articles are a more researched and lesser generic form of a blog. These articles are based on keywords which are searched-for in search engines like google. An affiliate should generally have around 10-15 article on the website which are of varied lengths from say 300 words to around 2000 words. Out of the articles mentioned it is suggested to have around 30-40% articles on the generic product category and the others more specific to the product. Affiliates should generally follow this small exercise mentioned below to find “correct” keywords to write articles on (Correct - in terms of driving traffic).
- Step 1 - Before writing an article an affiliate always needs to remember one thing -
"What does the prospective customer want to read?"
If you’ve answered all those questions genuinely, more than half the battle is won right here!
- Step 2 - Open the Google Keyword tool and put in the product category. Let’s take "weight loss" as the product category for this example. Put in "weight loss" in the word or phrase box and press search. Keep in mind that the language and country setting mentioned just above the search box are set right to the targeted audience for the product. An affiliate would see a list of 50 keywords for the phrase mentioned. Google gives information on the number of global monthly searches for that keyword and also, the competition for the keyword. The best case scenario would be to pick up keywords with a low competition and a high number of monthly searches. For this example, say, we pick “weight loss calculator”, “weight loss diet”, "weight loss help", "weight loss recipes", "weight loss foods" and "kristey alley weight loss".
- Step 3 - Now, if an affiliate is promoting a product like "The Diet Solution", which is an Ebook covering healthy foods for weight loss and myths about healthy food. Next step for an affiliate would be to search for the sub category in the keyword tool. For the keyword “weight loss foods” we pick up keywords like - "laxatives for weight loss", "hcg for weight loss", "herbs for weight loss", etc.
- Step 4 - Once an affiliate has a list of such keywords, he/ she should write articles based on these keywords keeping the first thing in mind - "Write what the reader wants to/ would like to read". Article writing is all about writing good readable content and not content focused on keyword usage.
Another way of going about designing a website is reviews. Directly target the audience which is looking for that particular product. The searches for such a customer would be a simple - "
Writing just one review for a product might not such a wise idea for the affiliates. There need to be multiple product reviews present on the website for the customer to go through. The best way to do so would be for the affiliate to get actual users of the product to write genuine reviews for the product. This can be done through a small social media campaign or a PPC advertizing campaign by the affiliate.
Making sales videos is another tried and tested successful method to go about selling the product. A simple sales video containing the basic product features, it’s advantages, disadvantages, why is it a good buy and a final verdict on what the affiliate thinks about the product.
This also can be done using Youtube where-in a link can be given on the video itself which could lead to your main site or the sales page on your site or the merchant’s affiliate sales page.
This point is common for all the above mentioned types of websites. For authenticity and a better image, an affiliate should go in for reviews, articles, comments, videos with the experts on that particular field. For example, for an affiliate selling a product about making money online through surveys - calling somebody who’s earned a lot of money doing the same and having a lot of experience in the field does boost up sales. This gives the visitors a sense of assurance and reliance on the affiliate’s website.
All the techniques mentioned above have been proven to be good. But what Dekh.com suggests is to go in for a Medley of all the above mentioned techniques. A website which contains generic articles about the product category, a blog where experts can post, sales videos to make things interesting and to boost sales; multiple product reviews and a great social media campaign to go with it would be the best way to go about making a successful affiliate marketing website.
Use of Social Media
The use of Social Media prior to opening sales is crucial for an affiliate. Making a good website for the customers is one part done and getting customers to actually visit the site is the next important step. Creating an initial buzz and driving the first few sales is very important for the affiliate.
Facebook advertising and tweets are the way to go for a push start into making sales and getting visitors. For a successful Facebook campaign, the affiliate first needs to make a Facebook Page which is constantly updated with product information and tips. Then, the affiliate needs to start a targeted advertising campaign. For example, for a weight loss product, targeting users who are already using competing products or are members/ followers of FB pages of the relating topics. These advertisements should direct users to the affiliate website and the affiliate FB page. This would drive likes to the FB page and also drive direct traffic for the website translating into sales, finally. Also, correct use of hashtags can attract a lot of prospective users to the affiliate’s twitter page.
Google, too, looks for traffic on the website coming from social media for better rankings.
Actively Participate in popular Forums
The affiliate should be active in popular forums for the product category. This not only builds a brand for the affiliate but he/ she can drive backlinks for the site from such sources.
Using Squeeze Pages
Squeeze pages are one topic that spur up a debate in the affiliate marketing world. Should they be used or not? Firstly, a squeeze page is a page where a prospective customer is taken to just before the sales page. This is an opt-in page where the affiliate receives the customer’s basic information like the email.
Core components of a good squeeze page -
- A Catchy Title
- A bright and attractive product image
- Benefits of the product
- A video (maybe) describing the product and it’s benefits
- A form to capture the customers details
The advantages of a good Squeeze Page -
Email Marketing - Squeeze Pages are a great source of a great targeted mailing list. An affiliate can use squeeze pages as a great source to build a huge customer mailing list. And, these would always be customers who are interested in the product and the product category.
Driving PPA Affiliate Promotions - If an affiliate has joined a pay per action affiliate program, then squeeze pages are a great tool to promote the product. they provide great information, create interest in the customer’s mind and anyone would be tempted to fill-in the small form there.
The only negative point for a squeeze page is the customer having to fill in his/ her information twice before going ahead with the actual purchase. But, studies show that most customers do not mind doing this and the actual want to purchase the product rules over this.
An affiliate needs to understand that they are fighting for a small percentage of wallet of all the customers present. Thus, it is a direct correlation between the traffic received on a website and the sales made. This may also be defined as percentage conversion which would remain, over a period of time, a constant. There are various strategies an affiliate should try, independently or all at once, to be successful in driving traffic to the website -
Search Engines (SEO)
Search Engines - the most organic and old school, and still the most effective, source of traffic to a website. Perfecting this needs a thorough knowledge of how search engines work, crawl through data present on the website, interpret the data, and then rank the pages for various keywords entered by the user. Without getting into too much detail about the working, here are a few tips to boost search engine rankings for the affiliate site pages -
- Always put in data the user would like to read - An affiliate needs to think like a user of the product being sold. With that perspective, the chances to go wrong minimize. The content should always be easy to read and sharable.
- Limit the use of boring text; Replace it with user friendly interfaces like -
- Bullet Points
- Proper use of headings, titles and use of quotations
- Use (not over use!) of Keywords - Optimal use of keywords on a webpage is very important for search engines. Too many keywords used in an article or too few used may cause rankings to go haywire. Again we suggest just one thing - Write an article which is useful for the user. the keyword placement and quantity would automatically fall into place. Yes, the affiliate needs to take care of correct use of keywords in page titles, headings and meta descriptions. These places actually affect rankings drastically.
- Article lengths - With the introduction of Panda and Penguin updates to the Google algorithm, size of the article also has an affect on the SEO. Earlier 3-4 articles of around 300 words were considered good for an affiliate site. Now with these changes in place it is advisable to have varied article lengths anywhere between 500 words to around 2000 words.
- Referencing - While picking up text/ numbers from a source, an affiliate should always mention the source as a link may be at the bottom of the article. This takes care of data duplicacy issues.
- Use of meta data - Use of meta data such as meta tags, meta description and keywords started long ago but is still very useful. Generally, a meta description is the description of the web page and would appear just below the site’s name in a search engine result. The use of a meta description is important for SEO and are useful for the users as well.
- Use of external Links - Linking, both external and internal, is critical to driving traffic to a website. As mentioned before, links from and to good networking sites and popular discussion sites for the particular topic leads to great rankings and even greater traffic. This precisely concurs with the fact that an affiliate needs to be active on blogs and discussions on other forums and platforms.
- Expert Opinions - It is very important for an affiliate to have actual users of the product and experts for a particular field to be participating in their forums and discussions. This exudes a lot of confidence and reliability about the website and the affiliate.
The use of social media in affiliate marketing is the next big thing to boost traffic and sales. The use of Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Stumble Upon and other media is of humongous benefits for the affiliate. Each of the social media platforms and how to use them to drive sales and traffic is described below -
Facebook - Facebook is the most active and one of the largest community of diverse people on the internet. Thus it makes great sense for the affiliate’s to use it to their full advantage. There are a bucket load of things that can be done using Facebook.
Facebook Page The first step for an affiliate to start off with Facebook is to make the Facebook Page. This Facebook Page should be in the name of their Affiliate Entity. For example, if for a product like Hostgator if an affiliate is using the name Hostgator World as its entity, the Facebook Page can be named “Hostgator World”. This would be the main page used as the affiliate’s social identity on Facebook. The affiliate needs to post regularly on the FB page. Some ideas for the same are -
- News about the product category,
- Images from the affiliate’s website,
- Links to interesting/ useful web pages from the affiliate’s website,
- Infographics and other user friendly data,
- What’s happening new in the category,
- Updates about the product,
- Current offers running for the product,
- Features of the product, and
- Interactive interfaces for the user (quizzes, votes)
Once this is set, the affiliate needs to take care that all the user questions, posts and messages are answered promptly and accurately. This is very important for engaging the customer and customer retention.
Also, the affiliate needs to have a very attractive and engaging display picture and cover picture. The cover picture gives a great platform for the affiliate to show it’s creativity and use that space to depict something useful and attractive.
Also, an affiliate can make multiple pages for itself. Using the same example, pages like Hostgator Coupons, Hostgator tips and tricks, Hostgator Updates, if not already registered by the merchant, can be used by the affiliate.
Facebook Likes and Shares A popular Facebook page is always a sign of reliability and comfort for a user. Popularity for an FB page is generally defined by the number of likes and shares, number of people talking about the page and by the regular updates and interactive interface of the page. It is comforting for a user to enter such a page and use it to gain information.
An affiliate needs to drive FB likes and shares through the website, advertising, and other discussion forums. It might seem to be a "chicken and egg" problem for the affiliate whether to drive FB traffic through the site or the site’s traffic through FB. An affiliate would soon realize that there would be a flow of traffic in both directions and that it is always a good thing to have this. Having share buttons on most pages of the website is the best start. After a good SEO, there would always be some proportion of the traffic that would share the information socially maybe through Facebook, Google, Twitter or StumbleUpon. Google, especially after the Panda and Penguin update, has started to give social media great importance for ranking sites. Driving FB likes through advertising is discussed in the section below in detail.
Facebook Advertising Using Facebook advertising, an affiliate can receive a very targeted audience to their FB Page or the website. Facebook allows advertisers to target specific users according to nationality, what pages they follow, which city they live in, education, gender, interests, birthplace and a whole bunch of other information. The mode of payment used by Facebook is a pay per click or impressions method which generally varies for the kind of audience you are targeting. Generally, a FB ad campaign would vary in price from $0.05 to around $1 charges per click.
Once an affiliate is on the Facebook page for it’s business he/ she would see a tab on the top called "Build Audience" This would contain an option to create an ad. While designing the campaign it is suggested that an affiliate goes for a CPC advertising under "advanced options". This would allow the affiliate to carefully target the audience that would be interested in the product marketed. Some tips for a successful Facebook Ad Campaign would be -
- Deciding whether to drive traffic to the FB Page or the website (An affiliate may run two parallel campaigns to check for effectiveness)
- Having a catchy Headline and text for the AD
- Have a great image. Affiliate may also use the product image here
- Always be clear on the targeted audience
- Start with a small budget
- Do not be afraid to experiment
Facebook also allows the affiliate to create offers, discounts and promotions which are great tools to directly drive sales. An affiliate can directly drive the customer to the merchant's website with the affiliate ID.
Follow the Merchant An affiliate always needs to follow the merchant’s activity carefully for updates. A good merchant would always update it’s Facebook Page. An affiliate needs to be updated about the current offers running on the product. Days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday are days when merchant's have a lot of offers and drive huge quantities of sales revenue. An affiliate cannot afford to miss such opportunities of making money.
Twitter Twitter is another great tool to promote and market a product indirectly. An affiliate needs to get started by making a twitter profile. Affiliates need to remember to pick a catchy username which describes that describes your work. It can be similar to the FB Page title or have a reference to the product category catered. For example for a Hostgator affiliate having 'hostgatorworld' OR 'webhostingmaestro' makes a lot of sense. The affiliate then needs to write a small interesting bio and the affiliate website's link in the URL tab. Once the profile is set, an affiliate needs to remember, as in case of Facebook, to constantly post on the account. The use of hashtags is of utmost importance of twitter. Each post should have clear and correct hashtags present to be noticed. An affiliate needs to start driving followers through people working with/ for him, friends, people working in the same category. people posting similar stuff, etc. The key to twitter success is getting a lot of people to follow you and that can only be done by making yourself popular and tweet things people in the targeted category would like to read. Using twitter share buttons and gadget on the affiliate site is another way to drive followers to twitter.
Google Plus Google Plus is another huge database of people from across the globe having varied interests. Even Google search allows to like (+1) pages from the search page as a user. An affiliate needs to have a great circle of people in the niche entered. Sharing and posting information in these circles would hugely benefit the affiliate to drive sales. Also, the affiliate site needs to have a +1 button on each page allowing the user to share information present on the page. Events, photos, videos, links can be shared among various circles by the affiliate.
Google, as a search engine, and other search engines like Yahoo and Bing, use this information to rank sites on their engine.
Pinterest We all know that images are a more engaging and user friendly method of sharing data. This is precisely what Pinterest helps a user to do. An affiliate can pin/ upload images to the profile under a category. People following the affiliate can see the picture. Also, an affiliate can create “boards” which can be pinned, re-pinned, liked and shared.
StumbleUpon StumbleUpon is a great medium for an affiliate to share web pages. Here, once the affiliate has an account can post URLs of his/ her own website and other useful pages of the same niche. On uploading the link, StumbleUpon asks for a category and tags to describe the page uploaded. All the people using StumbleUpon are asked to choose categories of their interest to view pages. Thus once a URL is added by the affiliate the people currently online of the same category are able to view it.
StumbleUpon tends to have a exponential impact on traffic. this can be explained using an example. If for example a page posted is viewed by 10 people online. Even if 2 out of those 10 people like the page and share it, it starts a chain reaction. The 2 people sharing, at the same rate of success, would mean another 20 people to view the site out of which 4 are bound to share it again, leading to another 80 views and thus greater shares and traffic for the site. This rate of driving traffic is not visible using any other media. And the best part being that all this traffic is free of cost.
Thus an affiliate should always remember to have a Stumble button on the web pages.
An affiliate needs to remember that it is not one thing that would lead to a successful marketing campaign. It is the combination of strategies mentioned above that would help create a buzz and help the affiliate to drive sales. We would like to call this an “Integrated Marketing Effort” (IME) by the affiliate.
There are ways to get traffic on a website through paid sources. These methods are completely legal and there is nothing unethical about it. Paid traffic is driven through various kinds of advertisements promoting a product or a website online. This kind of advertising can drive the user to the affiliate site or to the merchant site directly as desired by the affiliate. The various methods of driving paid traffic to a website include -
Pop Ups and Pop Unders Pop-ups and pop-unders, though irritating sometimes, are good tools to advertise for a product. They too use PPC or PPI methods of payments and can drive bulk of the traffic to a site.
Social Media Ads Social media like Facebook and LinkedIn are great tools to target customers through paid advertisements. Facebook ads were described in detail in the previous section. Social media campaigns have proved to increase conversion rates and drive targeted traffic to affiliate sites.
Paid Email Marketing Email marketing is one of the most direct and low cost method of marketing that an affiliate can use. Direct mailers sent to prospective customers directly by the affiliate refers to as email marketing. Targeted email marketing lists can be purchased from various database companies like - infousa and specialdatabases. Such lists once purchased can become great resources for the affiliate to drive sales.
Press Releases Press releases are one form of marketing that is of great reliability and highly approved and ranked by search engines. Affiliates can use sites like PRweb to distribute press releases. Once the affiliate is ready with a 500 word (Dekh.com suggests!) article containing affiliate links and links to the affiliate site, it submits it to a press release distribution site. These sites further distribute the release to all search engines, new sites like Yahoo News, ABC News, Google News, News Today, etc. Also, premium packages would allow affiliates to even post the press release on medium like The New York Times, USA Today, The Denver Post, etc. Such releases get great rankings and drive huge traffic to the website. Beware! Such expenses might seem huge for a small affiliate, but the benefits are also proportional if not more.
Paid Blogging As mentioned before, receiving blogs from experts and eminent personalities from the field of operation drives great interest among users/ prospective customers. This can also be achieved by finding people/ experts who would write in the affiliates blog, but would charge for the service. This is a great method to make the site reliable and trustworthy. Sites like BloggingPro would provide the affiliate an opportunity to field people to write for the blog.
Offline marketing can be another effective way of marketing for an affiliate depending upon the kind of product category and the product being marketed. If an affiliate is targeting a product very locally in a small area, the use of flyers can be effective in getting people to know about the product and also to promote the affiliate’s website. Affiliates can print and distribute flyers on their own or can also use websites like InstantPrint to complete the job.
Also, the method of marketing with the highest ever conversion rates is Word of Mouth. Great service delivery ensures that the customer would be talking about the same to his/ her peers and, if the product seems good, reccomend them to buy it too. WoM is the most effective buzz building strategy around. There is not much an affiliate can do about a good WoM, other than ensuring a smooth flow for the customers and keeping them happy all the time.
Email Marketing, as discussed before, is a great tool to promote a product. Regular product updates to the user, product features, sales pages, electronic flyers can be sent by an affiliate to market the product to prospective users. So, why is Email Marketing effective -
- DIRECT (to the customers email)
- Personalized (uses names and contact of the user)
- Creative (Emails can contain messages, images, videos)
- Free of Cost
The affiliate can develop its own email list with time making contacts with other affiliates, merchants and also through social media. Also, an affiliate can purchase mailing lists from other sources which have been described under the paid traffic head a few columns earlier.
Content Marketing (external)
Content marketing has proven to be one of the best effective ways of promoting a website. Affiliates can perform the following activities that group under content marketing
- Writing for popular forums and blogs
- Joining category groups externally and writing content
Generating backlinks and a brand image through these external posts are the main motives for the external content writing. Such backlinks created are a great tool to improve SEO for a site. Varied sites backlinking to the affiliate site translates into better rankings in search engines.
There are a lot of strategies that can be used to converting a user visiting the affiliate site to a customer. These strategies if correctly implemented could lead to a huge difference in conversions and around 10-30% increase in sales. SOme of the strategies or steps an affiliate needs to take to improve conversions are explained below -
Multiple Payment Options After converting a customer with the sales pitch, an affiliate does not want to lose a customer due to not having enough payment options. Accepting all credit cards, PayPal payments, Payment on Delivery incase of a physical product are options that an affiliate cannot afford to miss. This might not be the case where the affiliate is simply sending a link back to the merchant to close the sale. Anyways, in that case it is a great tip for the merchant!!
Site should contain clear and simple text An affiliate should always remember that the website made should have clear data and information presented in a very simple and understandable format. The important data such as features, offers, promotions, pricing should be visible very clearly to the customer as he visits the site. The affiliate would not want any visitor to miss any of the important information given on the site.
All data should be relevant Affiliates should refrain from filling up web pages with irrelevant and useless information. They should only provide information which is of use to the customer. "Keep sites neat, clean and easily readable"
BacklinksAs mentioned earlier backlinking provides extra traffic and better reliability to the affiliate. A prospective customer coming to the affiliate website through a link present on another website or blog is seen to have a better conversion rate than direct falls on the website
Optimal number of Links The affiliate should take care not to overdo or under do on the links on a page. These may be internal or external links. Affiliate’s having hundreds of articles/ products on their site should take care of not having a large number of internal links on the menus and sidebars. Also, too many external links on the web page makes it look like a page promoting other products or sites. For a reference, an affiliate should not exceed two links per 100 words for a web page.
Return Policy Highlighting the return policy given by the merchant is another way to improve conversions for an affiliate. It is seen that in any product refund rates are never more than 20-30% (This data too is on the higher side, regular refunds are around 10%). Affiliates should use this to their advantage as the increase in sales highlighting return policy is much greater than the loss of customers due to refund. An affiliate can easily expect around 10% gross increase in sales.
Customer Service Similar to the refund policy, highlighting about the customer support provided by the merchant improves sales conversions for the affiliate. Customers are reassured to see 24 hour helpline numbers and email support options provided by merchant. An affiliate can easily see another 5% increase in sale due to this. Affiliates should not see this as just a 5% increase, the cumulative effect of all these strategies used together and effectively causes a noticeable rise in sales for the affiliate.
Security Using an SSL security protocol encrypts the http message and makes it more secure. Some secure networks and users might not allow or be vigilant of http(non secure) sites. Agencies like CAcert, Entrust and Comodo can help affiliates get SSL certificates for their sites. It is important to note here that SSL certificates are important for affiliates who are going to use the site for a long duration. It does not make sense for an affiliate who is looking to promote a product for only 3-4 months to have an SSL certificate on the website.
Discounts and Promotions Like customer service and return policies, an affiliate also benefits from highlighting current offers and promotion on the website. Consumer behavior studies clearly show the impact of promotions on a customers psyche. An affiliate should be aware of this and use it to it’s advantage. Also, for this first the affiliate needs to be aware of the current promotions. Thus keeping an eye on the merchant site, communication is very important. Days when promotions and offers run attract a higher number of sales for the merchant, thus increased revenue for the affiliate.
404 Page The affiliate needs to take care and reduce the number of dead ends or 404 error pages in the website. This can be checked using the Google Webmasters tool and removed. A default 404 page should contain links to the homepage of the website or the previous page. Receiving these errors have the worst possible effect on the customers.
Meta description and meta tags Search results showing meta descriptions to the prospective customer allows him/ her to know if the data present on the page is relevant to the search made or not. This can lead to more people landing on the site having information of what actually the page contains. Thus, improving conversions.
Interactive and interesting data The data and information present on the website or a particular web page should be interactive and interesting for the user. Adding polls, questions and other interesting facts about the category and the product leads to interest from the customer and better chances of conversion.
Using landing pages Landing pages and squeeze pages are important for conversion rates. These pages should have the information put in correct and concise form for the user to see. Also, These should never be more than one page away from, the actual sales page. The section above highlighting use of squeeze pages should guide an affiliate better into importance and better use of it.
Webinars Affiliates having a huge mailing list can look to conduct webinars for the prospective customers. These are live AV sessions taken with the customers explaining to them features of a product, its advantages, why to buy the product, etc. Webinars hugely boost sales conversions for an affiliate.
Images, videos and infographics As everybody would know by now, putting information that the customer enjoys to read or look at is important. Thus images, videos and infographics are means to creatively promote the product. These give the affiliate a good opportunity to create a social buzz around the website. All these three are great sources to drive “shares and likes” socially.
Once everything mentioned in the previous chapters is set for affiliates, they need to keep an eye on the traffic sources and have answers to all the questions below. This is an exhaustive list of questions an affiliate should have answers to, to completely analyze the website and traffic. We have also given below the importance of answering each of the questions below. The text that follows would describe how to receive answers to all these questions and how to make meaning out of the data received. The questions -
What are the main sources of traffic?
This data tells affiliates if they are receiving traffic from social media, through referrals (external links), through search engines or directly through the website. This clarifies areas of improvement for the affiliate. There is no set percentage for a particular source of traffic. It mostly depends on the type of product and he targeted audience.
Which pages on the website are receiving the most traffic?
This data reveals the pages which attract the attention of the user. The affiliate needs to see what information has been posted on that page and if something can be done to make it better. There should always be a link to the sales page form the most popularly visited pages.
What are the demographics of the visitors?
This data provides the gender, country behaviour (new or returning), computing device used, etc. about the user. Once this data is checked affiliate know what kind of audience they are currently target and see if it the correct one for the product. Also, changes if any that need to be made if the current audience is different from the expected target audience
What are the keywords driving traffic for the affiliate?
This information is of utmost importance for the affiliate. The completed SEO of the website is based on these targeted keywords. If not enough audience is coming to the site through the search engine, this is clearly an issue with SEO and search engine rankings. Correct keywords should be targeted to drive maximum sales. Generally
What is the average time a visitor stays on a particular page?
This information reveals if the visitor is actually reading and following the data given on the site. For example if a 1000 word review page has an average time spent of 15 seconds, the affiliate is sure that the visitor is not going through all the data. Thus, the data should be presented in a format which is easily readable and interesting to read.
What the earnings per commission?
The EPC data describes the profitability for the affiliate. Earning is described as (the revenue earned from making a sale) minus (the amount of money spent on converting the customer). This can easily be calculated by subtracting the total spends from the total revenue made and dividing it by the number of sales made. This information can tell an affiliate if he/ she needs to reduce expenses and improve conversions, OR if he/ she has some budget available that can be spent on increasing the sales.
What are the Advertising spends?
There is specific data present that can tell an affiliate the amount of money spent on paid advertising and the sales driven through that kind of advertising.
Are the ad campaigns useful/ successful?
The affiliate needs to also calculate the EPC for sales made through paid advertising to get a clear picture of the ad spends.
What is the site speed/ average loading time?
Site speed is an important factor these days on the SEO of the website/ web page. Typically slow site speeds are due to website design themes, or due to heavy data on the site inform of music, videos, flash or images. Slow site speed disrupts user experience for the visitor.
What items are being searched on the site?
There is data present as to what is being searched for on the website search. This data can give the affiliate enough information on what the visitor needs and wants to know. The affiliates just need to put this information at a place which is easily reachable by the visitor.
Are the customers visiting the page the affiliate wants them to see/ visit?
There are pages on a website which the affiliate would want the customer to see and go on to make the purchase. If these are not the pages where the visitor is actually going then there is something wrong. The first step then would be for the affiliate to put important information on pages frequently visited and then make pages that are not being visited more SEO friendly or more approachable through the paid advertisements.
Are the visitors using mobile phones or other communicating devices?
If the affiliate feels that there are a lot of customers visiting the website through mobile phone he/she should ensure that the website made is a responsive one. All platforms used by the visitors should be able to display the website in the desirable form.
Are the search engines crawling the website?
This information can be used by the affiliate if it notices no or negligible traffic on the website. Sometimes Google and other search engines take time to crawl and index websites. If so, the affiliate needs to see the possible reasons this is happening.
How many search impressions does the website drive?
This information is critical to the SEO of the affiliate website. Number of “Impressions” tells the affiliate how many number of times does the website or a web page appear in the search results for a particular keyword.
Are all pages on the website indexed?
The ratio of number of pages indexed to the total number of pages on the website is very important. An affiliate can and needs to set the frequency of crawling by a search engine of the various pages present on the website.
What is the displayed URL in the bar?
This is a property which can be changed from the settings of the website. Generally a XYZ.com is a better format than a www.XYZ.com.
Which geographies are targeted through the site?
For a locally or a demographically targeted product, geographies defined in the form of countries targeted can be defined and do matter.
What are the blocked URLs?
There might be some URLs of the website which a visitor might try to open which the affiliate does not want to display. Redirecting such URLs is important to avoid abnormalities.
Is there malware on the site?
There is a chance of malware being present on the site. This can be detected through softwares present. Such threats are critical for safe browsing experience for the visitor.
How is the website internally and externally linked?
The importance of internal and external links was clarified in the previous sections. Thus, it is important for the affiliate to know and keep track of the linking of/ and inside the website.
What is the significance of content keywords?
The affiliate needs to know whether the keywords targeted in the SEO efforts of the website are accurate. There are ways in which this can be checked and reviewed. These programs will let the affiliate know and compare the actual keywords targeted and the desired keywords.
The best application/ software an affiliate can use to track most, actually ALL, of the points mentioned above would be a combination of Google Analytics and Google Webmasters. These tools would provide all the comprehensive information an affiliate wants to know. Each and every point mentioned above is critical for the affiliate to fine tune his/ her efforts.
Tracking sales is the next important step for the affiliate. The affiliate needs to be careful of the merchant’s terms and conditions before joining the program. Some merchant’s do not consider a sale to the point they have received the money, others do not count sales which have been refunded. The affiliate needs to be aware of such clauses.
A good affiliate tracking software is the right way to go for an affiliate. Generally, affiliates tend to make a short code for it themselves or use the affiliate program given by the merchant. Tracking sales on a daily basis is very important. HasOffers, Affiliate Manager are some websites that provide great sales tracking softwares. The affiliate needs to visit and choose for a plan that suits the expected sales numbers and visitors.
During the introduction of this guide, we emphasised the importance of an affiliate marketing program for a merchant. Increasing sales, working on and over the bottom line and broadening the marketplace as a merchant are the key driving points. A merchant needs to think of itself and the product as an entity trying to cater to the complete and largest possible market. For fulfilling this a merchant needs to drive a strong and focussed affiliate marketing program.
Here in this chapter we study and look into the “WHYs” of getting into an affiliate program. The following chapters would then get into the detailed "HOW TOs" of the affiliate program for the merchant.
Effect on Sales
First and foremost, for a successful marketing of the product the merchant needs to understand the importance of increasing sales through affiliates. Earlier we discussed the example of Amazon.com and how that firm is driving 40% of its sales through affiliates. Industry standards of around 30-40% sales being driven through affiliates is good enough a reason for merchants to understand the importance of affiliates.
Merchants should assimilate this information not as a 40% share in total sales but a 80-100% increase in sales from earlier (without affiliate) sales. A $100,000 firm can easily grow into a $175,000 firm or even more with the introduction of affiliates. Also, the effect of affiliates on sales (percentage wise) is seen more in the small and medium entities where increase in sales in tune of 200-400% is experienced by the merchants.
The merchant needs to be aware that these numbers mentioned above need good affiliate marketing programs having thought through the profit percentages, affiliate commissions, kind of affiliate payouts, kind of affiliates, affiliate management softwares used and the quantity and quality of affiliates.
Capturing the Untapped Market
The merchant needs to understand that their reach is limited and they are not able to capture the complete market present for that particular product. Thus for broadening the base of operation affiliates are required. A merchant might have a mailing list of say 100,000 prospective users. The merchant should consider each other affiliate selling its product as an internet marketer and a sub-merchant having their own unique lists and marketing techniques. A merchant might be good with email marketing but there are affiliates who focus and excel in other kinds of marketing media like social media, content marketing, sales videos, etc. tapping all these marketers and having a 360 degree approach to the marketing campaign is always useful. Earlier we discussed a term called “Integrated Marketing Effort” or IME that encapsulates all the kinds of marketing tools to build the perfect marketing campaign. A merchant gets to use and build an IME for itself using affiliates that excel in a particular form of marketing. What better can a merchant ask for??
Pay only for a Sale!
Affiliate Marketing is a great tool for merchants to market their products as they only need to pay a commission to the affiliate if they make a sale. Thus the fixed costs for an affiliate program are ZERO. Merchant pays a commission which he/ she has already calculated to be profitable to him/ her. Thus, providing an almost NO RISK benefit for the merchant
More free Branding! Links and rankings
Affiliate would generally make websites about the merchant’s product having articles, positive reviews, videos, product features and benefits, user testimonials, blogs and discussions about the product. All this directly and indirectly help to build a stronger brand for the merchant. The merchant’s website therefore, drives more traffic through links on affiliate sites and also increases reach in terms of targeted audience, thus, enhancing the brand.
More affiliates means more advertising, more websites, more blogs and more internet presence for the merchant. All this transcends into more sales and a better brand for the merchant.
We have seen the rosy picture an affiliate program can paint and will definitely paint for the merchant. But, the merchant needs to be aware of one point that by getting into affiliate sales the merchant is handing over his/ her product to unknown people (people who do not know the product as well as the merchant) to market. Yes, the resources (like banners) are given to the affiliate by the merchant but, the kind of information portrayed, the brand image of the product, the reviews given, the videos made, the kind of articles written, etc on the affiliate sites are all in the hands of the affiliates.
Thus, choosing the right affiliates and always keeping a watch on the activities of the affiliates is important. Also, it is advised for the merchant for whom the portrayed product information is critical for sales and for the prospective customers to understand and interpret, to hand pick known affiliates and to personally communicate with them so that they understand the product and it’s needs. Such affiliates might also want to go in for a pay-per-action method to limit customers to their own website for critical information.
A merchant might feel that making a product and selling it individually ends the job. NO, the merchant has another important and sometimes DIFFICULT task of finding good affiliates and get getting them to market the product successfully. Let us discuss a few ways in which a merchant should start off the affiliate program.
The first step for merchants is to set up resources they need to share with the affiliates. These need to be carefully picked and shared for the success of the program and also keeping the convenience and requirements of the affiliate in mind. There should not come a time where the affiliates feel they do not have something or have to ask for something from the merchant. Because, that would never happen and the affiliate would go on and market another product. Merchants need to know they are marketing themselves here to the affiliate and in a market competing with other merchants!!
Merchant resources are mostly limited to affiliate links to the website and banners. Affiliate links are provided to the affiliates once they log into the system. Banners need to be provided by the merchant in all possible sizes and colors keeping in mind the brand colors (if any). The generally used banner sizes are -
- 120x90 Banners
- 234x60 Banners
- 125x125 Banners
- 468x60 Banners
- 728x90 Banners
- 120x600 Banners
- 300x250 Banners
- 160x600 Banners
Also, the merchant should keep in mind that if the product sold has different variants or plans through which it is sold, all variants and plans should have different banners in ALL SIZES. The reason for this is that the affiliates might have different pages on the website where these plans are presented, thus they would want separate banners for each of these pages.
Obviously the best way to attract an affiliate or for that matter any person is MONEY. Show affiliates the money and they would do anything to sell the product. The merchant needs to carefully do the calculations here - Carefully calculate the expected increase in sales and the product profitability taking out affiliate commissions. Keep in mind to keep the second variable comfortably in positive.
Here, another thing the affiliates need to decide is the kind of affiliate program they want to run - A pay per action OR a pay per sale program. Merchants who are just looking to drive traffic to the site and are very confident of their sales conversion rates should go in for a pay per action affiliate program. The affiliates who want to pay the affiliate only once the sale is complete and are confident about their profitability should go in for a pay per sale affiliate program.
This seems to be the toughest part for a merchant once everything is set. Setting a high commission does not ensure affiliates to root for the product. The affiliates these days check a lot of things about the product and the merchant. The “saleability” of a product, the merchant’s reputation, previous products and affiliate programs run by the merchant, current sales of the product, the merchant’s individual EPI and EPC and reactions of other affiliates to the product. All these factors need to be taken care of by the merchant to ensure that affiliate’s take interest in selling the product.
The product category and the actual product quality matter for the affiliate. Affiliates generally work in one or two niches individually. Also, the product chosen should be sellable, i.e the current sales figures are important for the affiliate. A large number of regular sales would obviously attract a lot of affiliates. Remember, merchants need to sell themselves and the product to the affiliate too. Displaying sales numbers, product testimonials and product features, etc. are also important to attract affiliates. Also, once the affiliate program starts, statistics about successful affiliates should also be displayed.
The affiliates always carry out some research about the merchant before getting started with the program. Generally what is checked is the product history, the payment cycle and reliability of the merchant. This may be done through various blogs and search engine results. The merchant, thus, needs to maintain a good reputation and should be positively active in social media.
Having successfully sold products previously in the same space always helps. A merchant cannot do much if it hasn’t, but if it has, maintaining a good image of the product and the merchant entity itself is important. A successful product once sold paves a path for future success for a merchant.
Current Sales Figures
Displaying sales figures (of the sales carried out by the merchant itself) is another factor that attracts an affiliate. The affiliate program page should clearly show the sales figures for the merchant. Also, merchants should be participating in blogs where affiliates are active and need to highlight sales figures.
EPI and EPC Figures
Earnings per Impression and Earnings per click figures are factors affiliates would always look into before joining a program.
- For merchants who are rolling out their first product and have no experience thus far in marketing their products through affiliates should start off with actively searching similar products and similar product categories.
- Once such products are identified merchants need to actively participate in blogs and discussions for the product where they are bound to find affiliates working on those products.
- Contacting each affiliate personally and letting them know what you have to offer is one good technique to start off
- Also, email marketing gets all the more important for merchants like this. Merchants would surely find a good number of affiliates in the mailing lists they have developed over time.
- New merchants would have to put in that extra effort to hand pick affiliates and, contact and convince them personally to get them to market the product.
Know the Affiliate
It is very important for the merchant to keep an eye on the activities of the affiliates. This industry has seen many a case where some fraudulent transactions have been shown by affiliates. This is generally done using fake credit card numbers just to show sales and earn commissions, and finally all such credit cards decline payments. Such trends can be easily noticed and need to be taken care by the merchant.
Also, random checks on affiliates is important from time to time. Checking their websites and how the merchant’s product is projected to the user is important. This also highlights the importance of a good, effective and clear Terms and Conditions page for the affiliates. The merchant should carefully draft the T&C page. The easiest way to do so for a new merchant is to check and register as an affiliate to other popular products. The registration process would always have such a page which can be used as a reference.
The biggest motivation factor for an affiliate to be working with a merchant is the commission. The merchant, thus, needs to ensure the correct and timely payment of all commissions. This period of payment should be clearly mentioned to the affiliate before it joins the program and also, these timelines should be followed by the merchant meticulously. This is very important for the success of the affiliate program. All terms pertaining to customer refunds and credit card failures should be clearly mentioned and adhered to.
Keeping the Affiliates Motivated
Ground Rule - The affiliates should always remain interested to sell the merchant’s product.
A merchant should always remember that there are thousands of products out of which the affiliate has chosen a particular product to market. Here are a few steps to maintain the motivation -
- Regular Emails
- Promotions (Black Friday, Christmas, New Year Promotions, etc.)
- Offers (Discounts, coupons, etc.)
- Keeping affiliates informed about their sales data (Last month’s commissions, commissions till date)
- Special offers for loyal affiliates
Such things always keep an affiliate motivated, active and constantly reminded of the merchant’s product.
We have already described the importance of keeping an eye on the affiliate’s activities. Always remember that it’s a merchant’s product being marketed and thus, the merchant alone is responsible for it. The kind of “brand image” a merchant wants to portray is controlled by the merchant only till the point the creatives are ready and distributed. After that it’s all up to the affiliates to decide and leverage.
Over and above the brand image, the sales numbers, the total number of affiliates, the conversion ratios of the affiliates, etc. are also important. Let’s discuss the affiliate tracking and management in detail in the next chapter "Affiliate Management.
The number of Affiliates Registered
The merchant needs to keep an eye on the total number of affiliates marketing the product. Generally more the number of affiliates more the sales! But, sometimes merchants might want to keep the affiliate program only on invite or an “approval based” Affiliate Program. These are the cases when the merchant might want to work closely with a restricted list of affiliates and might want to share information that is to be presented in only a certain way.
Total Number of Sales
A merchant needs to keep a close eye on the percentage of sales driven by the affiliates. This would give a very fair idea as to how well the affiliate program is going vis-a-vis the direct sales. In general, affiliate sales drive anywhere around 40%-60% of the sales for a particular merchant. A number lower to this would reflect a not so successful affiliate program. The merchant needs to improve on the number of affiliates or the information flow from the merchant to the affiliate has something lacking. The previous chapter described ways in which a merchant needs to engage the affiliate to maintain his/ her interest.
Average Sales per Affiliate
This number describes the total sales divided by the total number of affiliates registered for the program. We would suggest merchants to go in for a “Average Sales per Active Affiliate” which can be derived by dividing the total affiliate sales by the number of affiliate that have made at least one sale. This would give a very clear picture of the affiliate sales as there might be some affiliate who register for an affiliate program and then don’t actually move ahead with the selling process.
Top Performing Affiliates
A merchant needs to treat top performing affiliates in a special way. It is noticed across categories and products that “The top 20% of the affiliates contribute to 80% of the affiliate sales”. Thus, these 20% of the affiliates need to be treated well as they drive a huge percentage of the merchant’s business. Some things which can be done to make them feel special are -
- Make them a member of the “Elite Club” or “Inner Circle”. All mailers sent to them would refer them to be the elite affiliates for the product. Offers and promotions news can be sent to them a day in advance than the other affiliates.
- Running special promotions for the Elite members. After crossing a certain quantity of sales revenue, these affiliates can be given an additional 5% bonus commission.
- Sending personalised mails and messages to these affiliates is another way of engaging them and keeping them to market the product. Remember - These affiliates are great marketers and of great value to the merchant
- A direct chat or a phone call to them may be a great way to get in touch with them and show them that they care. Everybody likes a small “Thank You” call! It sends a message that the merchant cares and appreciates a personal touch.
Click Through Numbers
Click through rates for the affiliates would give great insight to the merchant of what the affiliates are upto. Such data is provided by good affiliate management softwares and programs. This is also a great reference for merchant’s to compare their direct sales CTRs and the affiliate CTRs.
Commissions Payout Status
The merchant needs to know the status of commission payment at all times. Setting the rules and terms for the payout, adhering to them and then keeping a look on what actually is happening is very critical. A merchant at all times needs to have the status of payments of all the affiliates for its own reference and for any information required by the affiliate on the same. As described in the previous chapter timely and correct payments made is the single biggest motivational factor for an affiliate. A good affiliate management program would provide the merchant all the payment information required at all times.
Finding a good Affiliate Management Tool has always been an issue for the merchants. There have come and gone a lot of small tools, programs and websites that have tried to build a one stop Affiliate Management Software at an affordable price. Dekh.com promises to solve all the problems experienced by merchants and affiliates thus far and provide an integrated Affiliate Management Progrm and an affiliate community that is here to stay.