Opening and managing an affiliate program is often a daunting task for brands and retailers. Versus other digital channels, the affiliate and partner marketing channel is significantly more labour intensive, as it requires the program manager to start their journey in affiliate by building relationships with prospective partners before traffic and sales are made.
Unlike PPC, which once a budget has been assigned it becomes “live”, affiliates first need to be recruited, and a partnership needs to be started with each affiliate.
For marketers new to affiliates and choosing to run the program in-house, we looked at the top 5 mistakes that are made which could hinder the value the channel has to offer. Thoughtmix audits hundreds of self-managed affiliate programs each year, with these top 5 being the most common challenges:
1) Approving every affiliate that requests to join
The most common mistake is approving every affiliate that requests to join the program. In the first few days after launching, groups of affiliates will apply to join the program. This is often done automatically from the publisher side, rather than the publisher actively seeking a partnership.
The quality of these publishers tends to be relatively low. The highest performing publishers do not apply to advertiser programs, as there’s compliance and on-boarding processes to follow. For those that do apply, you’ll quickly be found on websites they do not want to be associated with, and that don’t complement their brand.
2) Just because an affiliate has joined, doesn’t mean you’re “live”
When inviting publishers to join a program and they accept, does not automatically mean that the advertiser becomes live with that publisher. Often, there are creatives and forms to provide the publisher before the merchant page can become active. Particularly for voucher and cash back publishers, they will often require a launch offer for when the page goes live.
When we audit programs, we often see groups of “joined” affiliates with no live pages, while the retailer isn’t aware that they had to complete several steps to become live.
3) Not understanding the publisher, and how they deliver traffic
Publishers promote retailers through various methods and often, different websites. Building a relationship in the first instance with a publisher helps to understand how they will promote an advertiser, as well as ensuring they have all the tools, from vouchers to creative, to make the partnership a success. Advertisers who don’t do this are often left with out of date offers, incorrect pricing and other errors where the publisher has had to scrape the retailer’s website.
4) Not checking the PPC space
This is a critical mistake marketers often make. Publishers by default will often promote offers/promotions through PPC, using your brand name. For example “[Brand’s Name] discount code”.
Particularly evident when publishers haven’t been vetted, advertisers often find publishers bidding on this phrase which in turn generates sales.
Unambiguous program terms, alongside building a solid relationship with a publisher will often alleviate this issue, but mostly only working with credible partners will completely solve this issue.
There are also PPC checking tools available which are especially useful for larger programs.
5) Automatically approving commissions
Without a validation process, advertisers run the risk of over-paying for cancelled and returned orders. Automatically approving commissions also runs the risk of fraudulent orders being paid out on. Once a commission is approved, it cannot be reversed, so manually processing your commissions every month keeps the spend accurate to the sales received.
And a bonus one…
6) Not understanding the channel
Affiliates form part of a retailer’s acquisition ecosystem. When working with affiliates, it’s important to consider what the objective actually is, and to manage expectations for each affiliate. Separately, it’s knowing which publishers to work with to achieve the objective. In most cases when an advertiser is unhappy with the results of their program, it is simply a case that they aren’t working with the correct publishers, and have different expectations for the publishers they are working with.
The key to success with affiliates and partnerships is just that – building a partnership. The channel can be hugely effective and can boost an advertiser’s sales by 20% or more, when engaging with the right partners. To get to that stage, investment in relationships and the structure of the program is essential, in the form of an expert hand spending time and resource into the channel.