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Marketing - recruiting and managing affiliates

In affiliate marketing, there's an abundance of myths on both sides of the fence. Many affiliates believe that it's simple to make a killing from promoting other peoples services and likewise, many merchants think they'll generate massive sales via an affiliate program.

Like any aspect of marketing, this can be the case, but not without some blood, sweat and tears. Even if you have a network of thousands of affiliates, chances are that just a few percent of those marketing your products will be responsible for over 90 percent of affiliate generated sales.

Before we move onto recruiting and managing affiliates, you'll need to have given plenty of thought to the components of a good affiliate program and have your affiliate software in place - manual recording of referrals just doesn't cut it these days and most good affiliates will not be interested in your program if you don't have an automated system with good reporting mechanisms. 

If you haven't already selected an application; my affiliate software/services reviews may be of value to you.

Once your software is set up, you then need to start recruitment! This shouldn't just be left to having a "join our affiliate program" link on your site; you'll need to put in a bit more effort than that :).

Recommended affiliate management software 
Used and recommended by Michael - Post Affiliate Pro.
Amazing range of features, economically priced, quick and easy to implement!
Read my review

Affiliate content pages

On-site content is very important, not only to explain your program to potential affiliates, but to give search engines some fodder to chew on. Many affiliates will use a search engine to search for new programs, so ideally, you'll optimize your affiliate pages for terms such as:

(product) affiliate program
best (product) affiliate program

... and similar.

Ensure you have plenty of content spread over a few pages; I suggest the following pages at the least

- Program overview
- Rates
- Terms
- Signup

The "rates" page shouldn't just have "earn x%", but also examples of earnings based on referral levels. Stay realistic with projected earnings.

By the way, on your "Terms" page, make it ultra-clear that you have zero tolerance for spamming and the use of malware for promoting your program; and make sure you enforce those policies. I'll explain why later in this article.

As with any sales process, it's important to have calls to action scattered throughout your content - after all, you're trying to sell your program to other marketers. Have plenty of signup links throughout, and ensure the signup process is simple. Think of your affiliate program landing page as a type of landing page.

Marketing your program

Once you've taken care of your marketing materials, go beyond your site and start spreading the good word. Treat this exercise much the same as you would in convincing a client to purchase your products. Slapped together spiels with little thought put into them will not attract the kinds of affiliates you want.

Affiliate program directories and forums

There's many affiliate directories and forums around, and these are an excellent place to begin advertising your program. Simply run a search on the terms:

affiliate directory
affiliate forum

.. and you'll be on your way. Some forums and directories will allow you to list your program in exchange for a link back to them, but some may charge you for a listing or want a cut of any earnings that affiliates they refer generate. This is where it's important to have selected appropriate affiliate software and 2nd tier payment functions are very handy in these situations. A 2nd tier is whereby an affiliate is paid not only on the sales they generate, but also a slice of the sales of any referrals made by affiliates they refer. It's a bit like MLM (Multi-Level Marketing), but only a second level rather than multiple levels as many MLM programs often have. 

When submitting to an affiliate directory, be sure to read the instructions very carefully. Incomplete or incorrect submissions are usually discarded. Bear in mind that you'll be competing with many other program listings, so pay special attention to crafting attention grabbing descriptions.

Submitting to affiliate directories is a rather time intensive task; it can take days to complete. If you can spare the cash, I strongly recommend using an affiliate submission service such as AffiliateFirst. AffiliateFirst will submit your program to around 50 directories for $59. This is one of the cheapest services around, but by no means does the price reflect the quality. I've submitted a few programs via AffiliateFirst and have been very happy with their service.

Once your program is listed in affiliate directories, visit them all and see if there's a way to get a "premium" listing at a reasonable rate. With so many thousands of programs listed in most good directories, if you can raise the profile of your listing somehow you'll do better with recruitment.

Affiliate networks

These are the powerhouses of affiliate marketing as they usually have thousands of registered affiliates; some with hundreds of thousands. Prices can range from a few hundred dollars as a one time payment to thousands of dollars - a month. Most affiliate networks will also handle fraud screening and payments. The way it usually works is that for each sale referred by a network, the network gets $x or x% - so it's something you need to factor in when calculating how much commission you wish to pay if you choose to use a network. 

Selecting and dealing with affiliate networks is a huge topic area, one better left to an article of its own; but some of the most reputable networks include CJ.com and ShareASale.com. CJ has a huge reach (and prices to match) and while ShareASale is smaller, they are much cheaper and great folks to deal with. If you choose to go with a network, then you won't need to have your own affiliate software, but it can be of benefit to run an in-house program as well as through a 3rd party.

Personal approaches

If you're looking for "power" or "super" affiliates; it's important to remember that they don't have to spend a lot of time looking for affiliate programs - merchants come to them :). Seek out the authority sites in your genre and approach them with a personalized note. One of the easiest ways to do this is to run searches on industry related keywords via your favorite search engine. You're looking for authority sites, not competitors, so add terms like:

articles
reviews
resources
community
blog
forum

.. to your searches.

Having found a target, bear in mind the more popular a site is, the more likely that they would already be aware of affiliate partnerships, so you don't really need to spell out what an affiliate program is :). It's been my experience that power affiliates are concerned with a number of issues:

a) Revenue share levels
b) Tracking accuracy
c) Payment reliability
d) Quality of product/service
e) Money back guarantees for people they refer
f) Good lines of communication
g) Extensive promotion resources
h) Merchant reputation
i) Discount offers for people they refer

Address each of these points briefly in your recruitment note. It's fine to be excited about your program, but don't overdo it or exaggerate potential earnings - all the information you provide should be realistic. An experienced affiliate can see straight through any spin you may try to fling at them :).

Buying lists

Trawling through search engine listings is incredibly time consuming, so buying lists of contacts in your industry is an option worth considering. The key here is to buy lists from a *reputable* list broker. Before buying leads, look at the history of the company - how fresh is the data? How often is it updated? Most importantly - how is the data gathered? Many list brokers are just fronts for spamming operations. Bear in mind that what you pay for is what you'll get - expect to pay a minimum of 25c a lead record (when buying thousands of leads) and also ensure the records contain site URL's. 

Screening affiliates

Once affiliates start signing up, even if you automatically approve them, it's wise to audit your network on a regular basis . The FTC is now making marketers responsible for the actions of their affiliates. If your affiliates run amok, it could literally cost you thousands in fines.

You'll have all sorts of affiliates signing up for your program; from those hobbyists with sites that look like banner shooting galleries, to spammers, to legit career webmasters and marketers. It's important that you review every single affiliate on a regular basis to ensure that the way they are promoting you is acceptable to your company, and more importantly - legal.

The following is a brief list of screening tips:

- Affiliates must have an active site. If they don't, chances are that they may be a spammer. This isn't necessarily the situation in all cases as some affiliates use PPC (Pay Per Click), so if you find an affiliate signing up without having specified a web site, contact the person and find out what their plans are.

- Affiliate site content should be relevant to your product.

- Site should have appreciable levels of content. Web sites that primarily contain ads should be avoided, unless it's a popular destination.

- Watch for  gambling and adult related advertising on the affiliate's site. If you're not geared towards an adult goods and services oriented market; then you probably don't want to be associated with an affiliate who is.

- Content misuse. Be very clear with your affiliates what content they can use from your site. I've seen cases where affiliates have basically copied all the content from a merchant's site. This can not only cause confusion for potential clients, but can impact on your search engine rankings. By supplying quality content and promotional materials to your affiliates, the incidence of this will be minimized.

- Misrepresentation of your products and services. If an affiliate has really hyped up your products and made outlandish claims, there's a possibility that the people they refer won't even bother to read the content on your own site - they'll just go ahead and purchase. That being the case, you may find yourself in a nasty position when the client finds that the product or service didn't perform "as advertised".

Recommended affiliate management software 
Used and recommended by Michael - Post Affiliate Pro.
Amazing range of features, economically priced, quick and easy to implement!
Read my review

Combating affiliate fraud

Affiliate fraud has been on the increase over the last couple of years unfortunately; another good reason to regularly screen your affiliate base.

The main types of fraud:

Malware and stealware: Some affiliates have developed software that is installed on a users machine, usually as part of a freebie download. When a person clicks on an affiliate link, the true affiliate's id is replaced with the fraudster's. If the malware application is widely used, this can result in genuine affiliates losing interest in your program. Be sure to mention that malware and stealware is not tolerated in your terms as this will also help to reassure genuine affiliates.

If you see a particular affiliate generating a large number of sales from various sites that aren't listed in their profile, this may be the result of malware. Learn more about stealware - it really is a major problem.

Fake purchases: If you have a high value product that returns large commissions to affiliates, you may find some unscrupulous parties signing up for your program, then  using stolen credit card information to purchase products via their affiliate links. 

To combat this, ensure that payment of commissions occurs well after the sale, but not so long that other affiliates are discouraged from signing up - 30 days (aka NET 30) after the end of the month in which a sale is made is sufficient and pretty much industry standard. If you offer a refund period period on your goods and services, then the commission pending period should at least equal that.

Communicating with your affiliates

Good affiliates are usually busy people - they can easily forget about your products and services. Over time, your offers can wind up in less visited areas of sites or accidentally deleted.

It's really important to stay in contact with your affiliates, especially the high performers. Don't wait for them to contact you, because if you do, it usually means they are reporting a problem. By taking the time to regularly make contact with your affiliate marketing sales force, you are demonstrating that you recognize their efforts and you are interested in the partnership. 

You don't have to have a new product as an excuse to contact your power affiliates. Even just a brief note to say "hi" and to ask if they need anything can go a long way. Also use the opportunity for feedback on your program. A regular newsletter will also help keep your brand at the forefront of your affiliate sales force's mind. Most good quality affiliate management software has newsletter features.

Going the extra mile

Most affiliate managers know that in order to keep good affiliates happy, you need to offer them a little more than what's on offer for the majority of the affiliate sales force. Be prepared to go the extra mile, for example, priority response times, custom creatives better suited to their site or perhaps special commission rates based on volume or maybe even sending them gifts occasionally. 

Every likes to feel important, so the better you treat your super affiliates, the more likely they are to stick with your program and be productive. Bear in mind that super affiliates tend to flock together, so if you impress one, they'll likely tell their peers about your program.

Related learning resources

Review more of our affiliate marketing articles.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
Web Marketing, Internet Development & Ecommerce Resources
____________________________

In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.

Copyright information.... This article is not available for reproduction without explicit written permission from Michael Bloch and Taming the Beast.net

 

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