Updated: Oct 25
Welcome to our guide on Affiliate Marketing Best Practices. Affiliate Marketing is a powerful channel but if you're not experienced, it can be a whirlpool of inaccessible jargon and a very different type of marketing to many others. This is our guide to everything you need to know to get started with Affiliate Marketing.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a strategic partnership between businesses and independent marketers or entities.
By allowing businesses to tap into external networks, they can harness the expertise and audience reach that they might not possess in-house. For instance, an online fitness apparel brand could form partnerships with fitness bloggers and influencers. Instead of spending large sums on traditional advertising, they can give influencers a unique link, and for every purchase made using this link, the influencer gets a commission.
Benefits of Affiliate Marketing
Both merchants and affiliates can immensely benefit from affiliate marketing. For a business, it translates to increased sales and a wider audience without direct advertising costs. On the other hand, affiliates can earn without product creation or service delivery hassles. Take Amazon's Affiliate Program as an illustration: affiliates can earn up to 10% in advertising fees by showcasing Amazon products, making it a win-win for both parties.
Cost-Effective: Affiliate marketing primarily works on a performance-based model, meaning you only pay for actual sales or leads. This eliminates the risk of spending money without guaranteed returns.
Broadens Market Reach: Affiliates can help you tap into new audiences and markets that you might not have reached on your own.
Low Risk: With no upfront advertising costs, and payments made primarily for actual sales, the financial risk is significantly reduced.
Scalability: As your affiliate network grows, so does your potential for more sales without the need for proportionate increases in your marketing budget.
SEO Benefits: Quality backlinks from affiliates can improve your website's search engine ranking.
Performance Tracking: Modern affiliate programmes provide comprehensive analytics, allowing businesses to track sales, clicks, and overall performance.
Flexible Commission Structures: You can decide how you want to compensate your affiliates, be it through fixed amounts, percentages, or other metrics.
24/7 Marketing: Affiliates from different time zones and locations mean your products are being promoted round the clock.
Diverse Marketing Approaches: Different affiliates have different methods, from SEO-focused content creators to influencers and email marketers, offering a multi-pronged marketing approach.
Essential Best Practices for Affiliate Marketing
Setting Clear Goals and Objectives for Your Affiliate Programme
Setting clear goals and objectives is the foundation of any successful marketing initiative, including affiliate marketing. These goals serve as your roadmap, guiding your efforts and ensuring your resources are effectively utilised.
Importance of Clear Goals and Objectives:
Direction: Clear goals provide direction, helping you identify what you want to achieve and charting the course to get there.
Measurement: Setting specific objectives allows for better tracking and measuring of performance. You can quickly identify what's working and what's not, enabling efficient resource allocation.
Motivation: Goals serve as motivational tools for both you and your affiliates. They offer a target to aim for, creating a sense of purpose and urgency.
Decision Making: With established objectives, decision-making becomes more straightforward. Any decision can be weighed against its alignment with your goals.
Disadvantages of Not Setting Clear Goals:
Resource Misallocation: Without specific targets, you risk spending time and money on strategies that don't drive desired results.
Lost Focus: The absence of clear goals can lead to scattered efforts, with no coherent strategy driving your actions.
Decreased Motivation: When you and your affiliates lack a clear sense of purpose or targets, there's a risk of dwindling enthusiasm and commitment.
Types of Goals and Objectives:
Traffic Goals: Aim for a certain number of clicks or visitors from affiliate links.
Conversion Goals: Set targets for actual sales or leads generated via affiliates.
Revenue Targets: Establish desired revenue numbers that you aim to achieve through your affiliate programme.
Engagement Goals: Track metrics like average time spent on page, bounce rates, etc., from affiliate-referred traffic.
Setting Achievable Targets:
While it's essential to be ambitious, setting unrealistic goals can demotivate. Research industry standards, consider your product's appeal, and factor in your affiliates' reach. For instance, aiming for a 5-10% increase in affiliate-driven sales over six months is more achievable than aiming for a 50% increase in a month.
Tips on Using Goals to Improve Your Affiliate Programme:
Regularly Review Goals: As your business evolves, so should your goals. Regularly reassess and adjust based on performance and changing circumstances.
Provide Affiliates with Targets: Share specific, mini-targets with your affiliates, giving them a clear direction and purpose.
Celebrate Achievements: Recognise and reward when specific objectives are met. This can motivate and encourage further efforts.
Feedback Loop: Encourage affiliates to provide feedback. They can offer insights that can help refine your goals or strategies.
Adjust Strategies: If you consistently miss targets, it might be time to reassess your strategies, commission structures, or even the affiliates you're working with.
In conclusion, clear goals and objectives not only provide direction but also offer benchmarks against which performance can be measured. By continuously evaluating and adjusting these goals, you ensure that your affiliate programme remains effective and aligned with your overall business objectives.
Identify and Recruit Appropriate Affiliates:
The synergy between an affiliate's audience and your target market can amplify conversions. A vegan beauty brand, for example, would find more success partnering with cruelty-free influencers than generic beauty influencers.
How to Recruit Affiliates to Your Programme
Recruiting the right affiliates is half the battle in setting up a successful affiliate marketing programme. Here's how you can ensure you're attracting quality promoters:
Leverage Existing Customers: Your loyal customers can be your best affiliates since they already love and understand your product. Offer them incentives to spread the word.
Join Affiliate Networks: Platforms like AWIN or CJ Affiliate can connect you with thousands of potential affiliates already looking for products to promote.
Direct Outreach: Identify influencers or websites in your niche and approach them directly. Personalised pitches highlighting the benefits of your programme can be effective.
Promote on Your Website: Create a dedicated section on your website explaining the benefits of your affiliate programme. This can attract potential affiliates who visit your site.
Attend Industry Events: Conferences and trade shows are excellent places to network and recruit potential affiliates face-to-face.
Leverage Social Media: Promote your affiliate programme on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, or niche-specific forums.
Offer Attractive Terms: The more attractive your programme terms – be it high commissions, additional bonuses, or quality support – the more affiliates you'll attract.
Referral Bonuses: Encourage your current affiliates to refer others. Offering them a bonus for every new affiliate they bring can exponentially grow your network.
Remember, it's not just about quantity but also the quality of affiliates you recruit. It's better to have a few dedicated and high-performing affiliates than many who don't add value.
Use the Right Platforms and Software:
Tools and Platforms You'll Need to Get Your Affiliate Marketing Up and Running
These platforms connect businesses with potential affiliates.
AWIN: A global affiliate network popular in the UK.
CJ Affiliate (formerly Commission Junction): A renowned global affiliate marketing platform.
ClickBank: Focuses mostly on digital products.
Rakuten Advertising: Known for its presence in the retail sector.
Self-Serve Affiliate Management Platforms:
If you want to host your affiliate programme in-house.
Post Affiliate Pro: Offers tracking and management features.
AffiliateWP: A WordPress plugin to run your affiliate programme.
Ambassador: Provides a range of features for managing and analysing affiliate campaigns.
Essential for tracking performance and refining strategies.
Google Analytics: A comprehensive tool for tracking website metrics.
Matomo: A privacy-focused alternative to Google Analytics.
Mixpanel: Offers in-depth user behaviour analysis.
Other Popular Tools for Managing Affiliate Programmes:
Bitly: For link shortening and tracking.
ThirstyAffiliates: A WordPress plugin to manage and cloak affiliate links.
UpdraftPlus: Ensures regular backups of your affiliate data on WordPress.
LeadDyno: Easy affiliate marketing and social media sharing.
Selecting the right combination of these tools and platforms will streamline your affiliate marketing operations, making management and growth more systematic and efficient.
Make Your Program Easy to Find:
By displaying a prominent link to your affiliate program on your website's footer or main navigation, potential affiliates can easily find and join.
Screen Affiliates Carefully:
Quality matters more than quantity. A luxury watch brand, for instance, should avoid affiliates promoting budget products to maintain brand consistency.
Create an Effective Affiliate Agreement:
Laying out explicit terms, like not allowing PPC ads using the brand's name, can avert future disputes.
Train Affiliates on the Fundamentals:
By providing product samples or demos, affiliates gain firsthand experience, enabling better promotion.
Optimise for Mobile Devices:
Ensuring affiliate links function smoothly on mobile browsers caters to the growing mobile user base.
Offer Competitive but Sustainable Commissions:
It's essential to balance attractiveness and profitability. Research your industry's average commission rates to determine a competitive yet sustainable figure.
Pay Commissions on Time:
Ensuring timely payments to your affiliates is not just a matter of good business ethics; it's a crucial strategy to motivate and retain top-performing partners. In an industry driven by trust and performance, delaying or missing payments can seriously tarnish your reputation and hamper growth. Let's explore the best practices, tools that can assist, and the consequences of not adhering to payment schedules.
Clear Payment Terms: Always have clear terms mentioned in the affiliate agreement about payment cycles, minimum thresholds, modes of payment, and any other associated conditions.
Automated Payment Systems: To avoid manual errors and delays, set up automated payment systems. This ensures payments go out at predefined intervals without manual intervention.
Regular Audits: Periodically check your payment processes. Ensure that the commissions calculated match the agreed terms and that no affiliate is unintentionally missed out.
Open Communication: If, for some genuine reason, there is going to be a delay in payment, communicate this to your affiliates well in advance. Affiliates are more understanding when they're informed.
Diverse Payment Options: Offer multiple modes of payment like PayPal, bank transfers, cheques, or digital wallets. This caters to a broader range of affiliates, especially if they're spread globally.
Tools to Assist:
Affiliate Networks: Reputed affiliate networks like Commission Junction, ShareASale, and ClickBank have built-in payment systems. They handle payment processing on behalf of merchants, ensuring that affiliates get their commissions on time.
Affiliate Management Platforms: Self-serve platforms such as Post Affiliate Pro, HasOffers, and AffTrack come with features to track sales, calculate commissions, and integrate with payment gateways. This makes the payment process smoother and more efficient.
Accounting and Payment Software: Tools like QuickBooks or Xero can be integrated with affiliate platforms to streamline the payment process, generate invoices, and ensure timely payments.
Consequences of Inconsistent Payments:
Loss of Trust: Inconsistent payments can lead to affiliates losing trust in your programme, making them hesitant to put their best efforts into promoting your products.
Attrition: Top-performing affiliates have multiple programmes to choose from. If you're not reliable with payments, they might shift their focus to more reliable programmes, leading to a significant drop in your sales.
Negative Word of Mouth: The affiliate community is tightly-knit. Word spreads quickly, and if you garner a reputation for delayed payments, it can deter potential affiliates from joining your programme.
Contractual Repercussions: Affiliates could invoke clauses in the agreement, leading to legal actions or penalties if payment terms are consistently violated.
Operational Hassles: Delayed payments often result in increased administrative work. You might have to deal with multiple queries, disputes, or even process rush payments, which can incur additional costs.
Motivation and Morale: Timely payments are a direct reflection of how much you value and respect the efforts of your affiliates. Delays can lead to decreased motivation, affecting their promotional activities.
In conclusion, ensuring that your affiliates are paid on time is a cornerstone of a successful affiliate programme. By leveraging the right tools and adhering to best practices, you not only create a sense of reliability but also foster a lasting and productive relationship with your affiliate partners.
Making Sure You Incentivise Your Affiliates Correctly
Affiliate commission structures are the backbone of any affiliate marketing programme. They serve as the primary incentive for affiliates to promote your products or services. It's essential to get the balance right: offering attractive commissions to lure and retain quality affiliates without compromising profitability.
Common Affiliate Commission Types:
Percentage-based Commission: This is where affiliates earn a set percentage of any sale they bring in. For instance, a 10% commission on a £100 sale would earn the affiliate £10.
Fixed Amount per Sale: Affiliates earn a fixed amount for every sale. For example, they might earn £20 for every product they sell, regardless of its price.
Pay per Click: Affiliates are compensated based on the number of clicks they generate, regardless of whether these clicks result in sales. This is less common as it doesn't guarantee conversions.
Pay per Lead: Affiliates earn a commission for every lead they generate. This could be a filled-out form, a sign-up, or any other action that might lead to a sale.
Observing the Competition:
It's prudent to see what competitors offer their affiliates. If they're providing higher commissions, it's worth delving deeper to understand why.
Are they working with the same commercial parameters? If your competitors are offering significantly higher commissions, it might be because they have external investment, allowing them to run at a loss temporarily.
If you find you're unable to match competitor commission rates due to such disparities, it's crucial to be innovative. Consider offering affiliates additional non-monetary benefits, like exclusive access to new products, higher commissions for top performers, or bonuses for reaching specific targets.
Always be clear about what you can afford. Factor in all costs and ensure that the commission you're offering still leaves you with a profit. Remember, while it's tempting to offer high commissions to attract top affiliates, sustainability is key.
Optimise Pages for Conversions:
Using A/B testing on landing pages can determine the most effective designs and enhance conversions.
Tips to Increase Conversion Rates
Leverage Influencers: Collaborate with influential figures in your niche. A genuine endorsement from a trusted figure can dramatically boost trust and conversions.
Use Landing Pages Effectively: Design landing pages that are concise and to the point, highlighting the unique selling points of the product or promotion. A/B test different versions to determine which one performs best.
High-Quality Content: Incorporate top-notch content that provides value. This can be in the form of informative blog posts, how-to guides, video demonstrations, or product reviews. Quality content can pre-sell the product, making the user more likely to convert.
Utilise Retargeting: Sometimes users need multiple touchpoints before making a purchase. Use retargeting adverts to re-engage potential customers who've interacted with your site but didn't make a purchase.
Offer Time-sensitive Promotions: Limited-time offers or flash sales can create a sense of urgency, prompting the user to buy before the deal ends.
Showcase Customer Testimonials and Reviews: Authentic customer testimonials or reviews can build trust and alleviate any purchasing hesitations.
Optimise Call-to-Action (CTA): Your CTA buttons should be clear, compelling, and stand out. Test different phrases, colours, and placements to see which one drives more conversions.
Improve Site Speed: A slow-loading site can deter potential customers. Ensure your pages load quickly to keep the user's attention and enhance their experience.
Offer Multiple Payment Options: Cater to a wider audience by providing various payment methods, from credit cards to digital wallets.
Responsive Design: Ensure that your website and landing pages are mobile-optimised. A significant portion of users might be accessing your site through mobile devices, and a seamless experience can boost conversions.
Integrate Live Chat: Offer real-time assistance to users who may have questions or hesitations about purchasing.
Highlight Security Measures: Emphasise security badges, SSL certificates, and other measures that ensure a safe shopping environment. This can build trust, especially for first-time visitors.
Streamline the Checkout Process: A complicated or lengthy checkout can lead to cart abandonment. Keep the process straightforward and quick.
Provide Clear Return and Refund Policies: When users know they can return a product without hassle, they're more likely to make the initial purchase.
Keep Affiliates Informed:
Effective communication is the bedrock of a fruitful affiliate partnership. By keeping your affiliates in the loop, you equip them with the necessary tools and knowledge they need to promote your products or services successfully. Let's delve into the details of maintaining open channels of communication.
What Should Be Communicated:
Product Updates: Notify affiliates about new product launches, updates, discontinuations, or any changes in product specifications.
Promotional Activities: If you're having a sale, launching a new promotional campaign, or offering special discounts, your affiliates should be the first to know.
Changes in Commission Structures: If you're revising commission percentages, tiers, or payment methods, ensure your affiliates are informed well in advance.
Marketing Materials: Regularly update and share marketing assets such as banners, landing pages, and ad copy that affiliates can use.
Programme Updates: Notify them about changes in terms and conditions, policies, or any other structural changes to the affiliate programme.
Performance Feedback: Share regular feedback on how they're doing, offering insights, tips, and suggestions for improvement.
How to Communicate:
Dedicated Newsletters: Regularly scheduled newsletters, specifically tailored for affiliates, can be an excellent way to update them on a variety of topics.
Affiliate Dashboards: Update information in real-time on their dashboards. These updates can be in the form of banners, pop-ups, or a dedicated news section.
Webinars and Training Sessions: Organise periodic webinars or training sessions. This not only keeps them informed but also provides a platform for them to ask questions and share feedback.
Direct Emails: For urgent or critical updates, direct emails can be the best approach. This ensures the message doesn’t get lost amidst other information.
Affiliate Forums or Groups: Create dedicated forums or social media groups where affiliates can discuss, share, and receive updates.
How Often to Communicate:
Routine Updates: These can be weekly or bi-weekly, sharing general news, product updates, and marketing materials.
Critical Updates: Whenever there's a significant change, such as commission restructuring or major promotional campaigns, communicate immediately.
Monthly or Quarterly Reviews: These are more in-depth communications discussing performance, feedback, and future strategies.
Be Transparent: Always be clear and open in your communications. If there are issues or challenges, share them honestly.
Encourage Feedback: Communication should be two-way. Encourage affiliates to share their feedback, concerns, or suggestions.
Stay Consistent: Regularly scheduled communications, like newsletters, should be sent out consistently. If it's a weekly update, ensure it goes out the same day each week.
Use Clear CTA's: If you want affiliates to take specific actions, use clear Call-to-Actions in your communications.
Segment Communications: Not all affiliates are the same. Segment your communication based on affiliate tiers, performance, or geography to make messages more relevant.
Respect Their Time: While communication is crucial, avoid overwhelming your affiliates. Ensure your messages are concise, clear, and to the point.
In conclusion, keeping affiliates informed is a continuous endeavour. Through regular, clear, and transparent communication, you not only empower your affiliates but also strengthen the bond of partnership, leading to greater success for your affiliate programme.
Detect and Stop Fraudulent Activity:
Affiliate marketing, while beneficial, is not immune to fraudulent activities. Such activities can erode trust, drain resources, and adversely impact genuine affiliates who are working hard to promote your products or services.
What to Monitor:
Rapid Clicks: A sudden surge in the number of clicks from a particular affiliate without a corresponding increase in conversions can be suspicious.
Unusual Conversion Rates: Extremely high or low conversion rates can indicate a problem. For instance, nearly 100% conversion rate can be too good to be true.
Identical Transaction Amounts: If you notice many transactions of the exact same amount from an affiliate, it might indicate script-generated fake sales.
High Chargeback Rates: A significant number of chargebacks (cancelled orders or returns) from sales via a particular affiliate is a red flag.
Suspicious IP Addresses: Multiple clicks or sign-ups from the same IP address in a short span can indicate automated bots at work.
Rapid Sign-ups: A sudden influx of affiliates from the same region, especially from countries not typically associated with your target market, can be suspect.
Tools and Platforms to Detect Fraud:
Affiliate Network Built-in Tools: Most reputable affiliate networks like Commission Junction, ShareASale, and ClickBank offer built-in fraud detection mechanisms. These platforms continuously monitor affiliate activities and automatically flag suspicious actions.
Specialised Fraud Detection Tools: Platforms such as Fraudlogix or Forensiq can be integrated into your affiliate setup to monitor and report potential fraudulent activities in real-time.
Google Analytics: While primarily an analytics tool, Google Analytics can help detect unusual spikes in traffic, referral sources, or specific geographies which can be further investigated.
Affiliate Management Platforms: Self-serve platforms like Post Affiliate Pro and HasOffers come with fraud protection features that automatically identify and notify of potential fraudulent activities.
IP Monitoring Tools: Tools like ClickCease monitor IP addresses and can block those that show suspicious activity or are known to be linked to fraud.
Regular Audits: Periodically review your affiliate stats and transactions. Regular monitoring can help detect patterns or anomalies early on.
Establish Clear Policies: Make sure your affiliate agreement has clear terms regarding fraudulent activities. Affiliates should be aware that they will be penalised for any fraudulent actions.
Open Communication: Maintain open lines of communication with your affiliates. Sometimes, there might be a genuine reason for a spike in traffic or conversions.
Two-factor Authentication: Ensure that the login process for your affiliate dashboard incorporates two-factor authentication, preventing unauthorised access.
Payment Thresholds: Implement minimum payment thresholds or hold periods for new affiliates. This can deter fraudsters who aim for quick payouts.
Remember, while tools and platforms play an integral role in detecting fraudulent activities, nothing beats vigilance and regular oversight. Combining technological tools with manual checks can significantly minimise the risks associated with affiliate marketing fraud.
Analyse Data to Refine Your Program
Analysing data is a vital step in refining and optimising an affiliate marketing program. By delving deep into analytics, you can uncover potential strengths and weaknesses, which can then inform your strategies and decisions. Let's expand on what issues one might find and how they can be improved:
Low Conversion Rates: If you notice that certain affiliates are driving a lot of traffic but with few conversions, it may indicate a mismatch between the audience and the product or possibly misleading promotional methods by the affiliate. Action: Engage with the affiliate to understand their approach and provide guidance on more effective promotion methods or even consider replacing them if the fit isn’t right.
High Cart Abandonment: If users are adding products to their cart but not completing the purchase, there could be factors deterring them. Action: Explore reasons like hidden costs, complicated checkout processes, or lack of trust signals and address them.
Geo-specific Trends: If data shows that users from a particular region are converting more than others, there might be an untapped potential in that area. Action: Consider localising content, offers, or even recruit more affiliates from that region.
Time-specific Patterns: If conversions peak at certain times of the day or days of the week, this could indicate the most active periods of your target audience. Action: Schedule promotions, email campaigns, or social media engagements during these peak times.
Low Engagement with Materials: If affiliates aren’t using the promotional materials (banners, emails, etc.) you've provided, it might be because they aren't appealing or effective. Action: Seek feedback from affiliates and revamp promotional materials based on their inputs.
High Bounce Rate: If users are landing on the site and quickly leaving without browsing, the landing page may not be resonating with them or meeting their expectations. Action: Optimise the landing page's design, content, and call-to-action elements.
Return Rate: If there's a high percentage of returns or refunds associated with purchases made through affiliates, it might indicate misleading promotions or issues with the product. Action: Work closely with the affiliate to ensure accurate representation and address any product quality issues.
Average Order Value (AOV) Trends: A decrease in AOV might indicate that customers are purchasing cheaper products or buying fewer products per order. Action: Introduce bundle deals, upselling, or cross-selling opportunities to increase AOV.
Affiliate Feedback and Queries: Regular communication with affiliates might bring up common questions or feedback. Action: Address these systematically, refine guidelines, and possibly provide further training sessions.
Click Fraud or Suspicious Activity: A sudden spike in clicks without corresponding conversions could indicate fraudulent activity. Action: Use fraud detection tools, and regularly monitor affiliate activity patterns to detect and address suspicious behavior.
By continuously examining these and other data points, businesses can identify both macro and micro-level trends and issues in their affiliate marketing program. Addressing these promptly ensures sustained growth and success in the affiliate realm.
Want to get started with Affiliate Marketing but lack the resources? Let us help. We have a number of Affiliate Marketing specialists in the Rise collective who would love to help you.