For small businesses looking to compete on the Internet, affiliate marketing represents an efficient and effective method for boosting traffic and increasing revenue. Unlike traditional methods, affiliate marketing (in theory) provides the opportunity to ensure a return on investment for every dollar spent — but only if implemented and managed precisely. It takes decisive action, thoughtful stewardship, consistent analysis, and frequent adjustments to maximize the results of a modern affiliate campaign.
While an ever-increasing number of competitors battle for the attention of a growing pool of online consumers, businesses need to identify the most lucrative path and travel it confidently and carefully to achieve results to drive an online business. Here are five steps you should take for effective affiliate marketing:
1. Define Your Image and Set Your Goals
The desired result of an affiliate marketing program is to increase revenues — but taking the time to understand your business, your image, and your goals from the start can save you valuable time and resources. If you haven’t already, define the foundational elements of your online business and brand image by how and to whom you advertise.
Beyond simply focusing on boosting your bottom line, consider your current budget and capabilities in order to set realistic expectations for the short term, and draw a timeline for business growth and expansion over the weeks, months, and years to come. Yes, it’s your ultimate desire to grow, but by pacing yourself you can control quality while maximizing the return on every penny invested.
2. Create and Manage a Customized, Scalable Campaign
Performance marketing is a broad landscape that requires focus, planning, and adjustment in order to thrive. It’s essential to focus your efforts in creating a campaign that fits your exact needs and can grow along with your business.
Install a software platform that allows you to manage your program efficiently. This enables your staff to quickly and accurately accomplish the myriad essential details needed in order to achieve success, from setting up tracking options and domains servers, to creating branded designs and custom templates. With the fine technical and aesthetic details in place, you can get to work creating an initial campaign for affiliates to promote, tackling details such as offer terms, tracking methods, and compensation amounts.
3. Strategically Choose and Effectively Manage Affiliates
It’s natural to want to jump in with both feet and start reaping the inherent rewards of performance marketing. However, it’s wise to determine a small number of carefully chosen affiliates to start with that offer, the brightest prospects for generating qualified traffic and sales.
Create customized offers, ad designs, and structured landing pages that represent your brand and promote conversions, while carefully maintaining control over which affiliates you add or turn away based on your current needs. As your program is set in motion, pay close attention to the data it yields for insight into how and where your money is being spent, and the return on investment you are realizing. Testing and tracking is part of the process from the get-go, so monitoring individual offerings, the effectiveness of elements like landing pages and banners, and rates of conversion from various media sources or affiliates will allow you to hone your program and optimize results. (Check out these tips for affiliate marketing management for more.)
4. Cultivate Affiliate and Partner Relationships
At a glance, affiliate marketing may seem to be just about tracking numbers and clicks, impressions, and rates of conversion. However, there exist more nuanced business practices that help to promote sustainable success.
Whether an affiliate represents a favorable demographic or shows an exceptional aptitude for generating qualified leads, there’s great value in identifying the partnerships that are most beneficial and make the effort to cultivate those relationships. From creating customized terms and offerings to extending performance incentives, you can see to it that your products, services, or content remain a priority for your affiliates. By adhering closely to payment schedules and being attentive to details and concerns, you can ensure your key partners remain comfortable and confident in doing business with you over the long haul.
5. Track, Analyze, and Adjust to Optimize Efficiency
Getting your affiliate program on the right track takes patience and planning, as well as ongoing analysis of data and statistics to gain an accurate picture of the results of your efforts. The management platform you put in place should provide access to a wide scope of reports and metrics that you can customize, along with the tools needed to drill down statistics and extract conclusions.
Keeping your established goals and timeline in perspective, scrutinize the scope and effectiveness of your offers to gain insight into the user experience and perfect the path to conversion. As answers come to you through affiliate tracking, real-time statistics, and session data from click to conversion, you’ll be able to learn everything from where your traffic referrals are coming from to how users respond to your messaging. This can help you to make adjustments that will optimize results.
An advertising method that guarantees a return on investment is an alluring concept — however, like any business venture it takes planning, dedication, and the proper tools to make affiliate marketing work. By understanding your brand, establishing realistic goals, putting in place an efficient management system that’s customizable and can grow along with your needs, and cultivating relationships while analyzing and adjusting to perfect your campaigns, you can unlock the full potential of your business and achieve desired results.
Have you had success with affiliate marketing? Share your stories in the comments below.
If you’re looking for even more information on affiliates and performance marketing, download our Ultimate Guide to Partner Marketing, a 50+ page resource that covers everything you need to plan, create, and drive more revenue through an affiliate program.
Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.