Affiliate Text Links vs. Banners – The Great Debate

I am asked regularly by clients what types of links are best for their affiliate program and I give the same answer, it depends. What do I mean it depends? Every affiliate promotes a merchant differently. For example, some use text links embedded within content, while others prefer banner ads to help convert traffic from their site. I would never say go with one over the other, as both are essential to the growth of an affiliate program, but I would do an analysis of your current creative inventory and see what links and banners are being used more frequently and supply your affiliates accordingly. If you are thinking of starting an affiliate program then I would say have both text links and the most popular banner sizes available for affiliates.

Rakuten Marketing conducted a link performance report across the Rakuten Affiliate Network from October 2013 – June 2014 to see what types of links are most effective for merchants. Please note that this data is specific to Rakuten Affiliate Network and could vary depending on the network.

The report from Rakuten Marketing provided the percentage of sales by link type and the percentage of sales by banner size. They found that 51% of sales occurred using a text link and another 22% using banner links. Does this mean you should not offer any banners or even decrease the amount in your creative inventory? Absolutely not! Offering affiliates a selection of the most popular banners will do, but be prepared to create additional banners if an affiliate requests a size not currently available.

Sales by Link Type

According to Rakuten Marketing, over 56% of all sales from banner links resided from two sizes in particular. The 88×31 (28.1%) and 120×60 (28%) were by far the most popular for affiliates and also generated the most sales. Both the 88×31 and 120×60 banners are popular among coupon and deal oriented affiliates as are text links, but text links are also very popular among content affiliates.

Sales by Banner Size

When deciding how to stock your creative inventory it is wise to provide the most popular banner sizes (88×31, 120×60, 125×125, 300×250) and create text links that include your brand name and all coupons/deals and popular keywords associated with your brand. By equipping your affiliates with the most popular creatives it will save time creating banners that will never be used by affiliates.

Affiliate Coupon Landing Pages: Why They Are Important?

Creating a comprehensive coupon strategy is a great way to increase conversions and overall revenue for your affiliate program;. However, many times merchants ignore a major piece to their coupon strategy — landing pages.

You would be surprised on how many merchants do not employ this tactic (even clients of ours). It does require some additional coding and design work, but the benefits can be tremendous. Many merchants who create landing pages for their affiliate coupons have seen a spike in conversions and that equals more revenue.

Why are landing pages for each coupon so important? Besides providing higher conversions and revenue, it provides the customer all the details related to the promotion and allows them to redeem the coupon all in one place. With that being said, there are four (4) main components to an effective affiliate coupon landing page and they include:

1.       Emphasizes the specifics of the coupon/deal

If there are multiple pieces to the coupon (i.e. a percentage off and free shipping) then it must be spelled out here. Being transparent is important and explaining what the customer gets (in terms of a discount) and needs to do should be highlighted in this section.

2.       Informs the customer of any restrictions associated with the coupon/deal

This is one of the most important pieces to an effective coupon landing page. Providing all restrictions associated with the coupon (i.e. cannot be combined with other offers, not valid on certain brands, etc.) will limit the amount of customer service inquiries received and put the customers mind at ease knowing they are getting the discount on the products they are purchasing.

3.       Clearly illustrates how the customer can redeem the coupon/deal

This may seem like a common sense task, but it is necessary. Walk the customers hand through the process so that they feel comfortable. This part should tell the customer if they need a coupon code and where it should be input during the checkout process. If no code is needed then it should say that discount will be subtracted from total in cart upon checkout. Any piece of information that will be vital to a customer should be included.

4.       Contains a clear and concise call to action

Having the specifics of the coupon, restrictions, and instructions are all great and beneficial, but having a call to action should be considered just as important. Having a button to “Redeem Coupon” or “See Details” should be showcased prominently on the page so the customer can act immediately. There should be no confusion on what the customer should do once on the page.

Creating effective coupon landing pages are essential to any coupon strategy. As a merchant if you are not doing it, then you may be losing out on opportunities to enhance your affiliate program and getting quality affiliates to join too. Beat your competition to the punch and start building those landing pages.

6 Types of Coupons To Use In Your Affiliate Program

In my experience as an affiliate manager I see the value in providing coupons to affiliates. It gives your affiliates another way to convert visitors to their site in customers of yours. Do all affiliate programs need to have coupons? No, but if your products/services are set up for coupons then I highly recommend developing a well-rounded coupon strategy to introduce to all your affiliates (not just coupon affiliates).

During the set up process of clients affiliate programs (even merchants with established programs) I like to have them create a set of coupons to offer their affiliates from the outset. Affiliate coupons should not be intended only for coupon/deal oriented affiliates, but also content, media buying affiliates, social media affiliates. Each affiliate has a different way of promoting merchants products and the more tools given the better chance for success.
So the question you are now asking is; what coupons should be offered?

There are six common types of coupons for merchants to offer affiliates, but please note that not all will be applicable to every program. The six coupon types are: monthly coupons, coupons that are valid from the beginning of the year to the end (i.e. January 1 – December 31), holiday related coupons, short-term coupons, affiliate exclusive coupons, and deal of the day coupons.

1. Monthly coupons

These coupons should target different price points and should change from month to month. We recommend clients try and make the banners/links associated with the coupons dynamic so that the affiliate does not have to change creatives monthly and they can be assured it will update automatically. Having happy affiliates increases the chance of program success. Examples of monthly coupons include: $5 off $50 order and $15 off $100 orders. Each month the offer would change either the amount of the discount, the threshold, or both.

2. Coupons that are valid from the beginning of the year to the end

The main purpose of these coupons is to get the customers to spend more than the average customer would. For example, Free Shipping on orders over $50 or Save $10 on orders over $100. This gets the customer in the mindset that the more they spend the more they will save.

3. Holiday specific coupons

Customers love to save money, especially around the holidays, so create coupons that will excite the customers (an affiliates too). An item simply on sale does nothing, but offering a percentage off or dollar amount off gives the customer more motivation to buy, and it is free money to them. The holidays are right around the corner, so be prepared with coupons specific to your business and the holiday.

4. Short-term coupons

These coupons are valid for a weekend, a 2 – 3 day period during the week, or even a full week, but the purpose is to get the customer to act and spend immediately. If weekends are historically slow then offer a discount to create buzz and spur action (i.e. 20% + Free Shipping on all orders). Also, if you have a product that you want to move then a good strategy is to create a coupon that will aid in that (i.e. $100 off all widgets – this weekend only).

5. Affiliate exclusive coupons

These coupons are self-explanatory, they are meant for affiliates only. Affiliate exclusive coupons should be reserved for the affiliates that you value the most, but making sure they are aware you can do this is essential. Personally reaching out to affiliates that produce and add value with exclusive coupons can help cement a healthy relationship. Some affiliates do not want to promote coupons that the other affiliates are, so providing your top affiliates with their own coupons (with their own vanity codes) will help differentiate them from their competition.

6. Deal of the day coupons

These coupons are geared more towards retailers, but if you have a product that you want to promote, then creating a deal of the day coupon should be an option. Coupons like this should be as aggressive as possible in terms of a discount. If you are planning on implementing a deal of the day strategy be sure to create dynamic banners for affiliates. Affiliates are not going to want to update banners daily. The easier you make it for your affiliates the more they will want to promote your products/services.

A coupon strategy is another way to increase conversions for your affiliate program, but making sure they make financial sense (for the merchant) and are going to be used and accepted by affiliates is another piece to the puzzle. The six above mentioned coupon types gives you a foundation to create your strategy and solidify relationships with your current and future affiliates.

As always your comments are welcome. Please comment below or email me.

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.

The Importance of Affiliate – Affiliate Manager Relationships

The success of any affiliate program is built on the relationship between the affiliates and affiliate manager. What do all successful relationships require? The number one element is trust. The goal of any affiliate – affiliate manager relationship is to not only have the affiliate know you, but trust you and know that they will do as much as possible to help them succeed. Building trust does not happen overnight, but in order to get it there are traits you must show including: dependability, being personable,  being helpful, and understanding their business and what their goals are. Once trust is built the affiliates will be more eager to help you out by sharing things they see from their perspective.

How Affiliate Managers Can Help Affiliates

Communicating with affiliates is the only way to build a solid trustworthy relationship and showing them that you value their efforts will go a long way in their eyes. There are many ways affiliate managers can help affiliates grow their businesses; here are a few of them:

Increase Commissions:

Provide them incentives to have their base commission increased. For example, if affiliate x increases their sales by 20% from the previous month their commission will be increased from 10% to 12% for life. This shows the affiliate that you value their time and effort and want them to succeed. Rewarding them monetarily shows your commitment to them.

Exclusive Deals/Promotions:

Affiliates want to differentiate themselves from their competition just as merchants do, so, whenever possible/applicable, providing them with exclusive deals and/or promotions gives them the edge to convert more sales. It may also be the difference in them not promoting a competitor’s product or services. For example, a mommy blogger wants to promote nursing bras on her site; therefore, an exclusive deal (e.g. 20% off [product category here]) is created, but is available to only her blog and her audience.

Custom Creatives and Coupons:

Creating custom banners and coupons is similar to exclusive deals and promotions, but involves designing banners and/or coupon codes for the affiliate to use in their marketing efforts. For example, the mommy blogger (referenced above) affiliate would like a 468×60 customized banner with an exclusive code for the nursing bra sale, so as affiliate manager a banner is created using the color scheme of her site with an exclusive code (e.g. MOMMY20) only her audience has access to. The little things go a long way in building a healthy relationship with affiliates.

The affiliate knows their audience and understands what it takes to convert sales, therefore, as an affiliate manager being personable and helpful will assist in solidifying the relationship and making it mutually beneficial to both parties.

How Affiliates Can Help Affiliate Mangers

Relationships are a two way street and the affiliate – affiliate manager is no different. Once trust is built, the affiliate manager can rely on the affiliates to help improve the program and make it optimal for other affiliates as well. Here are two ways an affiliate can help an affiliate manager:

Feedback on What is Currently Working:

The affiliates are in the trenches daily and they see things that affiliate managers may not, so having a solid relationship can be advantageous in determining what promotions work best, what banners are most effective, and where the business may be trending in the future. In ways they can be considered consultants. They have invested time and money into promoting a merchants product, so they want to ensure the program is fully optimized for their success.

Suggested Improvement to Merchants Website:

This is very important to any successful affiliate program, but cannot occur without the element of trust. For example, the affiliate may be seeing a lot of clicks but no conversions and then they look at the merchant’s site and see a potential issue(s) that may be causing the conversion problem. It could be a variety of things causing the issue, but without the affiliates feedback it would continue to be a problem and cause a strain on the relationship and potentially hinder the success of the entire program.

Building a solid affiliate – affiliate manager relationship begins with trust. It takes time to earn trust, but showing affiliates that you are serious about their success will go a long way, whether it be increasing their commission or creating customized banners for their site.  Ultimately, the hard work from both parties will pay off in a successful and profitable affiliate program.

Managing Advertiser Expectations for an Affiliate Program

This is part of two of the series on managing merchant expectations for an affiliate program [see Part One here]. In Part Two, expectations for a launched affiliate program will be discussed and why it is important to make sure the merchant’s expectations are in line with those of their affiliate management team’s.

Managing expectationsThe merchants affiliate program is live, but expectations are still unrealistic; what needs to be done to reign them in? It is all about communicating and educating them on best practices and previous experiences? If I had a dollar for every time a merchant asked why they are not seeing sales immediately I would be pretty well off. Maybe I am exaggerating a little, but you get the point. When expectations during the launch phase are unrealistic that tends to carry over to the program once it is live. Merchants must understand that affiliate marketing is different than other forms of marketing in that it takes months, not days to build a successful program.

Not seeing any sales?

Give it time; asking why there have not been any sales in the first week is not fair. In my post last week “Managing Pre-Launch Expectations of Affiliate Program” I wrote that it is best to give a program 1 – 2 months to gain traction and start producing consistent sales. Many merchants do not understand that recruiting affiliates (either passively or actively) takes time. The process usually includes an email inviting them to join the program, possibly a follow-up email, accepting them into the program, and optimizing them. Depending on the affiliate, this process could take a month or longer. Ensuring your affiliates are armed with the necessary tools to be successful is the most important part of managing an affiliate program. Rushing this process or giving up too soon because sales are not coming through at the pace expected will do more harm than good.

Affiliate Program = Marketing

Another key to a successful affiliate program is including the affiliate management team as members of the marketing team. This sounds obvious, right? There have been times when managing affiliate programs where merchants have marketing campaigns set up for other channels (email, SEM, Social Media), but do not share them with the affiliate management team, and if they do it is at the last minute and it makes it more difficult to ensure success with the affiliates for the campaigns. The top affiliate programs are successful in part because they treat affiliate marketing the same as the other channels, and that includes aligning their marketing campaigns with affiliate marketing to ensure the most exposure for their campaigns.

Be Open to Change

The strategies outlined pre-launch are being executed and are successful, but something unexpected comes up, what should the merchant do next? The answer is simple – ADAPT.  There may be certain marketing campaigns that were not successful with affiliates, so adapting to what is happening around you in critical. Use competitive intelligence (which should be occurring daily) and create similar promotions to that of the competition so affiliates are equipped with high converting deals/promos. Another reason to be open to change is that the merchants website may not be converting well and changes may be needed, so being open to change is not voluntary, it is mandatory.  Affiliates, the most valuable asset to your program, may have requests like customized banners, exclusive coupons, sample requests, so being flexible and open to doing things differently than planned will assist in creating a quality affiliate program that quality affiliates will want to join.

Set merchant expectations for the affiliate program immediately, so that everyone involved in the management of the program can be given all the necessary tools to succeed and build a program they can be proud of.

Your comments/feedback are welcome in the section below.

Managing Pre-Launch Expectations of Affiliate Program

This is part of one of a two-part series on managing merchant expectations for an affiliate program. In Part One, managing program pre-launch expectations for merchants will be discussed and why it is important to make sure the merchant and the affiliate management team are on the same page.

ExpectationsWhy do some merchants have unrealistic expectations for their affiliate programs? For some affiliate marketing is a new venture, or they have heard how other merchants have had great success with their products/services using affiliates marketing. Either way, the merchant must understand the difference between unrealistic and realistic expectations and defining them up front is essential to the success of any affiliate program. It begins with the set up process of the affiliate program.

Overall Expectations

When initially communicating with a merchant, one of the first things to be discussed is their expectations for the affiliate program. Are their expectations in line with what the affiliate management team is capable of doing? If their goals for the program are too high they need to be informed and an attempt to lower them to a more acceptable level is needed, but that is not always as easy as it sounds. The reason being is that they may have heard other programs had great success at the beginning and they are expecting the same results, however, the merchant needs to understand that every affiliate program is different and comparing theirs to other programs should be avoided even if they are direct competitors.

Website Expectations

The next topic to discuss with the merchant in the set up process is their website. It is the most critical piece to an affiliate program. It should be functional and all landing pages should be optimized to their fullest. With that being said, some merchants do not realize that their site could be the largest roadblock to affiliate program success, but refuse to make recommended changes because they like the way it looks. No matter how nice the site looks, if the landing pages are not optimized properly, traffic sent by affiliates will not convert. Managing website expectations is vital to a merchant and their success in affiliate marketing.

Revenue Expectations

The third topic to discuss with merchants in the set up process is their expectations of sales. Two of the biggest questions asked by merchants before their program goes live are: 1. When will we start seeing sales? 2. What are your projections for the program? Let’s start with question # 1: It all depends on how quickly affiliates are recruited into the program, activated and optimized. Once affiliates are active, optimization is needed to ensure they are motivated to keep promoting their product/service. The previously mentioned steps take time and merchants need to understand that it takes approximately 1-2 months to start seeing results from affiliates.

Now onto question # 2: Making projections for an affiliate program can be slippery slope, but it all comes back to expectations set forth by the affiliate management team hired to oversee the program. The biggest piece to the projection puzzle is the website. If it is new or does not convert well, then projections may not be what originally expected, therefore, showing the merchant everything that is involved in starting and managing an affiliate program is essential to the success for everyone involved. Affiliate programs take time to grow, which may be scary for some merchants, but it is just a fact.

Check back next week for part two of Managing Merchant Expectations for an Affiliate Program, where 3 more critical pieces will be outlined to ensure merchant expectations are kept in check once their affiliate program is launched.