10 Elements Needed to Launch an Affiliate Program

As a merchant you have decided to start an affiliate program, but you are not sure where to begin. This is common problem because there are so many components needed to launch a successful affiliate program and your knowledge of affiliate marketing may not be there. Where do you begin? There are 10 major elements that need to be completed in order to launch an affiliate program.

1. Competitive Intelligence

This is the most important piece in getting the program off the ground. Compiling data about your competition will guide you on many of the other necessary pieces to launching an affiliate program. What you want to do here is find competitors (or merchants as closely related to your niche) and see what network they are running on (ShareASale, CJ Affiliate By Conversant, LinkShare, In-House platforms), what commission structure they have in place, what is their cookie duration, and their current EPC statistics. Once all the data is gathered it will guide you in deciding how to structure your program.

2. Choosing a Network

You do not want to choose a network strictly based on cost, but rather where your direct competition is and where affiliates are that will be willing to promote your product/service. For example, if most of your competition is on ShareASale and they are having success, then ShareASale should be strongly considered as the network to launch your program on because they have the affiliates that would be a perfect fit to your program.

3. Commission Structure

This is a tough step for many merchants, but if you performed an in-depth competitive analysis the decision should be less stressful. Being competitive in terms of payouts is a must, but deciding how to structure them is another story. Do you want to offer a flat fee (i.e. $25 per sale), a percentage of the sale (i.e. 10%), or offer a tiered structure based on performance (i.e. if sales exceed $2,000 per month then commission paid will be 12%, up from 10% default)?

4. Cookie Duration

This will also be determined by the competitive data gathered earlier in the process. Affiliate transactions generally occur within the first week of the cookie being dropped. After 30 days a majority of users delete their cookies. 30, 60, 90, and 120 are commonly used cookie durations, but it is up to you and how you think it will impact conversions for your program.

5. Program Bio

This is what the affiliates see when they are searching for merchants to promote within the network interface. You want to include as much pertinent information as possible to make the decision easier for prospective affiliates to choose your program. Items to include are:

a. Brief description of your company

b. Affiliate program details that include: commission structure, cookie like, opportunities to earn more money, and other major selling points.

6. Email Templates

These are what are sent to affiliates upon applying to your program, being accepted into the program, or being declined.

a. The apply email template – this email should include verbiage stating we received your application and are reviewing it and will notify you within 24 hours of our decision as well as contact information.

b. The decline email template – this email should include reasons for possibly being declined and also provide them the opportunity to appeal the decision by contacting you or the affiliate manager directly.

c. The acceptance email – this email should provide a description of your company, on overview of the paid search policy, the program details (commission, cookie life, etc.) and 3 – 5 creatives to get them started with.

7. Terms of Service

This is critical to any affiliate program. It outlines the rules and regulations of the affiliate program. It goes over expected behavior and consequences if not followed. If affiliates violate the TOS at any time you should communicate with them what part of the TOS was violated and expectations moving forward. Any changes made to this document after the fact must be communicated to the affiliates immediately.

8. Banners/Text Links

Affiliate use them to promote your products/services. When creating banners for your affiliate program there are a few requirements that must be met in order for them to be quality banners. Check out this article by Geno Prussakov on banner requirements. Text links on the other hand need to be catchy and be relevant to what you are selling. Providing your deals in the form of text links is a great idea because affiliates can insert them into their own content and they can also be deep linkable.

9. Coupons

Offering coupons is great way to increase conversions through your affiliate program. Starting out with 2 – 3 coupons will give your affiliates another way to market your products. For example, offering a free shipping coupon or a % off to start can get the affiliates excited.

10. Policing Tools

Compliance may become an issue in your affiliate, but the question is how do you monitor what your affiliates are doing? There are tools out there that monitor various aspects of your brand and they include:

a. Paid Search Monitoring – you can find out if any affiliates are bidding on your trademarks through Google, Bing, Yahoo, or AOL ads.

b. Content Monitoring –  you can find webpages that match your current offers being produced by affiliates.

c. Domain Monitoring – you can find out if affiliates are purchasing domains with your trademarks in it as well as misspelled variations.

d. Social Media Monitoring – you can see if affiliates are promoting your brand through social media in accordance with your terms of service.

e. Coupon Code Monitoring – this is used when you do not want affiliates to promote certain coupon codes. This can also be used to determine if affiliates are harvesting coupons from your site or email newsletters.

Launching an affiliate program does not have to be a daunting task. Ensuring it is optimized is the first step on the road to success. Being competitive and providing affiliates what they need to be successful is the name of the game, but ongoing management will be ultimately determine success or failure.

3 Affiliate Types to Keep Out of Your Affiliate Program

There are many different types of affiliates, good and bad, ranging from content, data feed, email marketing, social media, and even coupon affiliates. These 5 affiliate types are considered quality affiliates, for the most part, but there are always bad apples in every bunch. In this case they give the affiliate marketing industry a bad reputation. There are three types of affiliates that do more harm than good to affiliate programs. The three types are: coupon and content hijackers, trademark violators, and adware and toolbar affiliates. To avoid the hassle associated with such “parasites” either decline their applications or remove them from your program immediately.  You will save a great deal of energy, but also money you can invest back into your affiliate program.

Let’s go into more detail on the parasite affiliates and what tactics they use and how it harms an affiliate program.

Coupon and Content Hijackers

These affiliates have been around since the industry started and the problem is still large. What they do is take exclusive coupons assigned to an affiliate or take an affiliates content and place it on their site or social media platform and act as if it is theirs. A tactic also used by them is deal harvesting, in which they seek out deals that are not being used in the affiliate space and promoting them with their affiliate links attached. There are ways to monitor this and ensure they are not negatively affecting your affiliate program. There are coupon code monitoring programs that can tell you what sites your codes are bring used on and then from there you can take action. By actively policing this tactic your affiliate program will be more attractive to affiliates that will bring incremental value.

Trademark Violators

These affiliates bid on the trademarks of the merchants they are promoting. They engage in paid search campaigns on the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) and use the merchant’s brand name plus a discount or deal (i.e. Get 20% off at Merchant X). This practice occurs more often than not and the most effective way to eliminate this tactic is to strictly police your affiliate program and have in the program terms that trademark bidding is prohibited. There are various tools that I use to find trademark violators for the programs I manage, but the key is to communicating with the violators that are engaging in such activities. The protocol in place I use is email them and warn them to remove ads immediately or face removal from the program in 24 hours.

Adware and Toolbar affiliates

These specific types of adware that are downloaded and appear on your web browser (i.e. Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer) and activate when you reach a merchants site, and then a cookie is dropped. When the cookie is dropped it overwrites other marketing channels and alters the user’s experience and other websites visited. Examples of adware/toolbar affiliates include: ShopatHome and We-Care. Do they add value to an affiliate program? No! The incremental value is not there and your program will be better off without them.

Overall, the affiliate marketing industry has more good affiliates than bad, but being aware of who they are and how they operate is important in running a successful affiliate program. If any of these parasite affiliates are currently operating within your program make the decision to remove them, but remember there are tools to help in policing your program and a simple warning (for coupon thieves and trademark violators) goes a long way in stopping the behavior for good.