Set up an affiliate program and the sales will start pouring in, right? Not so fast! Creating a successful affiliate program requires the same attention to quality as other marketing efforts. The work you do upfront will define how well your affiliate channel performs over time. It just happens that when you do things properly, your affiliate marketing channel tends to scale faster than most other marketing channels because it has so many more people focused on your success.
Several recent conversations got me thinking about some of the biggest affiliate program mistakes I see people make. These mistakes are easily prevented by treating your affiliate program with the same attention to detail your PPC, display, social media, and other marketing channels receive. Here are some of the biggest mistakes I see people make, coupled with suggestions on how to prevent them.
Untested Landing Pages
You wouldn’t ramp up your PPC spend without optimizing landing pages would you? Why should your affiliate landing pages be any different?
Test your affiliate landing pages with the same process you use for other marketing channels because the goal is still to acquire as many valuable customers as possible. By making sure your landing pages achieve the highest conversion rates possible, you improve the overall quality of your affiliate program. Combine eye tracking studies with A/B Testing tools like Convert.com to achieve the best possible landing page experience for affiliate-delivered leads. High quality conversion rates attract high quality affiliates.
Too Little Tested Creative
Affiliates tend to fall into two camps with regard to creative – Some affiliates want to develop their own creative and use in-house testing methodology to optimize performance. The rest of your affiliates want creative in all IAB standard sizes. This second group also wants creative that converts. Before you go to Fiverr and buy the cheapest bundle of banner ads you can buy, develop some creative and test it out by running it through your own advertising campaigns. Share the winning creative with your affiliates to improve their chance of success.
Generally speaking, custom banner solutions will convert better than those created based solely on selecting the lowest cost solution, but again, the only way to know which ads convert is to test.
Budgeting For Success
You will make a bad impression on affiliates if they sign up only to find out you needed to lower their commission later. In fact, I would argue that it’s better to set commission rates low at first, so you can test your affiliate channel to learn how much it costs to acquire new customers. After you have some real data, increase commissions to a comfortable level that motivates affiliates but keeps your customer acquisition costs in check. I’ve never heard of an affiliate complaining because of a commission increase.
As I pointed out in another post, sometimes you need to decrease affiliate commissions if the affiliate channel is out of line with other customer acquisition efforts. Your affiliate marketing channel operates in concert with other marketing channels. By doing the testing to determine the actual cost of customer acquisition, you will avoid needing to make jarring changes to commission rates.
Missed Opportunities To Convert Leads
If an affiliate sends you a potential customer and the customer doesn’t buy, what are you doing to bring them back?
If your answer is nothing, you are missing out on sales. Retargeting (or Remarketing as Google calls it) is one of the most underutilized tools in affiliate marketing. Merchants, not affiliates, are in the best position to retarget website visitors who don’t convert. By using a retargeting tag on your affiliate landing pages, you can continue to market to unconverted potential customers. Just be sure you have your affiliate tracking configured so that the original affiliate gets credit if your retargeting campaign ultimately closes the sale. And of course, plan for retargeting as part of your overall budget, so that the cost of the retargeting campaign influences your decision on where to set your affiliate commissions.
Leaky Sales Funnel
I think the first time I saw this mentioned was during a presentation Geno Prussakov made a few years ago at Affiliate Summit. There are many ways to end up with leaky landing pages. In this case, I’m specifically referring to landing pages that offer more than one method to close a sale. For instance, if the affiliate gets paid when someone goes through the online shopping cart, but not when someone hits a landing page and makes a purchase via the toll free number on the page, you have a leak.
There are great reasons to make your phone number available to potential customers, particularly if your product is complex. Instead of making the phone number generic, use a publisher specific number on the landing page via a service like RingRevenue. With a unique number, the affiliate receives credit for sales and leads that get closed via phone. HasOffers integrated RingRevenue into our affiliate platform for reasons just like this.
Affiliate Program Auto-Pilot
This may be the biggest motivator for writing this post. An affiliate program isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it operation. It takes real work to build relationships with affiliates and establish the resources required to set up your program for success. If your affiliate program is something you are toying with to see if it gets traction, quit before you start because you will burn many bridges along the way. Invest the time required to establish your program and your sales will grow.
Transparent communication goes a long way toward keeping your best affiliates around, even when you many need to make some tough decisions along the way. If you do use retargeting as a way to help affiliates convert more sales, let your affiliates know you are providing this benefit as part of your program. If you need to modify your affiliate program, give affiliates plenty of notice about the changes and explain why the changes are necessary. Continue testing and optimizing to maximize conversions – if you find something working in other marketing channels, implement it for affiliates too because the more you help affiliates succeed, the harder they will work to keep driving sales.
Your affiliates are an elite sales team ready to deliver as many new customers as you can handle. Treat them accordingly. Are you making any of the mistakes I mentioned? What other affiliate program mistakes did I forget?
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.