Affiliate Marketing Best Practices: Putting Your Online Sales Force to Work

April Nelson - November 12, 2014

In a recent post, we discussed affiliate marketing basics, including who should use affiliate marketing and why. But the key to affiliate marketing success isn’t participation, it’s optimization. In this post, we’ll look at the best practices for launching and running a successful affiliate marketing program.

Creating the Fine Print

This is your affiliate marketing program, so you get to establish the rules. Just make sure those rules are clear, including who can participate, how they can participate, and what qualifies as a conversion.

One very important aspect of your guidelines should be how affiliates can market your brand. You may want to establish a set of keywords, including branded keywords that affiliate marketers cannot bid on (because bidding on them would compete with your own marketing efforts).


Be Aware of the Laws Regarding Tax Collection

As most internet marketers are probably aware, the Nexus Laws govern tax collection by state. All marketers should be aware of those laws, and create their affiliate marketing guidelines with them in mind. If you do not have a tax collection system in place, for example, you will want to ban affiliates from states requiring tax collection if they market solely to local audiences.


Master Your Margins

In order to be as competitive as possible and make sure your program delivers ROI, it’s extremely important to know your margins. If, for example, you only make a 15% profit on a toaster, you cannot afford to pay a 15% commission.

You will want to keep other costs in mind as well. This includes the program set-up fee, (usually a one-time fee) and the network fee (an ongoing, per-sale fee).


Monitor Your Competitors

Your competitors in the affiliate marketing sphere might not be the same as your usual industry competitors. Here, you’re competing for affiliates, those publishers that you want to promote your brand.

So, think like the affiliates. If you’re selling toasters, what other advertisers might want a piece of their audience? Cookbook publishers? (Yes.) Williams Sonoma? (Yes.) Crate and Barrel? (Maybe.)

To create a competitive program, you will want to take a good look at the competition for ad space. Do those advertisers offer higher commissions? Prettier banner creative? Affiliate exclusives? If you want to be competitive, you have to do the same or better.


Keep Tabs on Your Affiliates

Manually review affiliates before approving them in order to verify that these publishers’ websites mesh with your brand, and that their websites provide a good user experience.

Once you’ve approved them, check in on a regular basis to ensure that they’re using the most up-to-date promotions, and that they’re following your brand guidelines.


Communicate with Your Affiliates

Stay in front of your affiliates by sending a monthly newsletter highlighting the latest promotions, coupon codes and brand creative. The more you can get in front of them, the more you’ll be on their minds.


Reward Your Rock Stars

Provide incentives to high performers via exclusive promotions and higher payouts. You might, for example, create a tiered commission system that offers higher payouts for higher sales.

In addition, you might reach out to them directly to offer them exclusive promotions or bonuses. This will go a long way toward encouraging loyalty and engagement.


Choose Your Network Carefully

You truly do get what you pay for; the networks that have a higher set-up fee may be worth it depending upon the affiliates that they’re giving you access to and the tools they provide.


Test, Test, Test

When you launch, go small … at first. Test your creative, test your affiliates, and test your payouts. After three months, evaluate your program, your affiliates, and your competitors, and make any necessary changes to improve performance and drive ROI.


Evaluate Your Program’s Efficacy

As with any marketing campaign, you should tag your links in order to see how your affiliate marketing program is performing against your other marketing campaigns. In Google Analytics, you can even import your cost data in order to get an easy, bird’s eye view of how one marketing platform is performing against another.


Never Put Your Program on Autopilot

While affiliate marketing programs do not need to be monitored as aggressively as PPC campaigns, they still require attention. Routinely checking, updating creative, offering exclusives, evaluating the competition, manually approving new affiliates, and keeping tabs on existing affiliates on a regular basis are all important tasks.

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