Rebranding and Affiliate Program: Concerns and Best Practices

RebrandingAre you thinking of rebranding while having an affiliate program up and running? Then I should warn you that it can be complicated, risky, costly, and should only be considered for the right reasons.

As Dawson from Hubspot emphasizes, rebranding is not a solution for low sales, boredom, or unsuccessful brand awareness efforts. It also won’t help new managers stand out or companies in crises cover everything up.

Such problems could be solved with a new, better marketing strategy. When something doesn’t work the way you want it to, don’t destroy everything to start from scratch!

You’ve invested time, effort, and money to reach the point where you are now. Instead of throwing everything away, salvage what you can and build on it. Changing the brand name, logo, or colors, won’t always solve your problems. Identifying past mistakes and learning from them might.

When is Rebranding Favorable for an Affiliate Program?

You should only consider rebranding if your company’s mission, vision, and values have changed. It may help if you’re tapping into new markets to which your current logo and other brand elements are not relevant, or if you’re trying to reposition your brand on the market. Expanding offers and mergers and acquisitions may justify rebranding as well.

If you decide to go through with it, don’t rush! Take some time to plan and prepare everything, to make sure you do it right. The process is much more complicated when running an affiliate program. You need to protect your reputation not just in front of customers but also in front of affiliates.

On one hand, you want to hold on to any shred of brand awareness and reputation you’ve already built. On the other hand, you want your new company image and actions to inspire confidence and professionalism to both customers and affiliates.

Rebranding means more than a new logo. It means a long stream of changes that need to be implemented consistently and strategically, not just by you as the merchant, but also by your partners and your affiliates.

Things get even more challenging when physical products are involved. Compared with digital products or services, where most of the changes have to be implemented online, rebranding physical products affects labels, packaging, stocks, and more.

Here are the most important three aspects to consider when planning everything so as to minimize the negative impact on your affiliate program.

Key Rebranding Aspects & Impact on the Affiliate Program

1. Brand and Products Presentation

Depending on your line of business, you use your logo, motto, and your brand colors everywhere. They’re on your website, product labels, tags, and packaging, product guides, and instruction manuals.

They’re also part of your affiliate network merchant profile. Your affiliates and wholesale, retail, and dropshipping partners use them as well. Perhaps you’ve also spent a fortune on commercials and traditional marketing materials and campaigns.

Before you spread the word about your rebranding plans or implement any changes, it is important to have everything covered, to act consistently. When you get to it, anyone looking up your brand should see the same elements everywhere. Otherwise, your brand image, company reputation, website conversion, sales, and affiliate program statistics will pay the price.

2. Affiliate Program Creatives

Many merchants running affiliate programs ignore the importance of creatives. Don’t follow their lead! Instead, notify affiliates in advance of your plans and make sure that, when the time comes, they have new banners, product and lifestyle images, videos, etc., all in line with your new branding strategy.

If they do not, the gap between what potential buyers see on your affiliates’ sites and what they see on your website or receive from you after ordering could negatively affect your website’s conversion rate and, with it, the performance of your affiliate program.

Low conversion means fewer sales, lower affiliate payouts, and low EPC, which is the primary criteria affiliates use to determine which merchants to promote. All these affect affiliate program statistics, which, in turn, have a snowball effect on overall business performance.

They can be avoided if you remember to provide your affiliates with new, high-quality creatives in time for them to line up with your rebranding process. If you play your cards right, they may even help you spread the word. They could easily announce your plans in blog posts, newsletters, or on social media.

3. Product Samples

Many merchants running more or less successful affiliate programs do not realize it but rebranding brings about the need to send new products or samples to reviewers and influencers.

If you changed the labels and/or the packaging, the available video reviews and photos are no longer an accurate representation of your products and/or services. They create false expectations (of a certain label, packaging, etc.).

Therefore, you will have to send products with the new labels and packaging to affiliates. This way, you enable them to create new reviews or update their existing ones.

That could add up to the already steep rebranding costs. However, it’s a necessary step and does bring about some benefits. You’ll get more backlinks, more search results, and more attention.

Some reviews are surely old, forgotten, buried under more recent reviews of competing products. Some affiliates have probably refined their strategies and are much better at highlighting product strengths and convincing their audience to buy.

It may help to begin with top reviewers and expand to the rest gradually. If you have high-quality creatives and a knowledgeable and dedicated affiliate program manager, they should be able to help. They can reach out to affiliates, send them the new creatives, and ask them to update their promotions accordingly.

4. Merchant Website Changes & Affiliate Program Links

The changes you decide to implement as part of your rebranding process will, undoubtedly, be reflected on your website. It’s maybe the last thing on your mind, but if it will result in website downtime or if the domain name or product URLs are going to change, you need to do something about it.

If you already know when it’s happening and how long it may take, it helps to notify affiliates. Rather than abandoning your old domain, setting up a new one, and expecting all your affiliates to update their links immediately, set up redirects and update links and banners on your end.

Not doing it means closing your door on affiliate traffic. The broken links will result in warnings to affiliates, poor experience for the traffic they send your way (which could be redirected to your new website), lost sales, and, implicitly, lost commissions.

All these can be avoided, so see to it. If you do not succeed, then acknowledge, apologize, and act! This post on How to Remedy Downtimes in Affiliate Tracking explains everything you need to know and do.

Unsuccessful Rebranding Through Customers’ Eyes

Imagine that you’re the buyer and you find out about a great line of products on an affiliate website, from ads, or on social media. You want to know more, and you google them. You get a lot of results but, instead of each result reinforcing the idea that you’ll get great value for your money, you get confused.

The same brand name appears with different logos, in different colors. Some retail websites show generic, specifications-focused product names that do not resemble anything on the merchant website.

You check video reviews, and you find some linking to retailers and others linking to the merchant website. Some feature products with a blue label, others feature products with an orange label. You click links supposed to take you to the merchant’s website but end up with a 404 message.

As you move from one website to the next and from one page to another, you notice the brand name is spelled differently. Perhaps you can even find different spelling variations on the same website.

Do you risk ordering if you’re not sure which product you are going to receive? Let’s say you do order and receive a product that’s labeled and packed differently from what you saw online. Even if you don’t return it, your experience is anything but rewarding.

And just because one person decides to buy, it doesn’t mean all your target customers will do the same. How can you avoid such issues and make sure that your rebranding efforts pay off? Pay attention to the aspects discussed above and follow the tips below!

10 Rebranding Tips for Merchants Running an Affiliate Program

1. Learn from the Best

No matter your line of business, you should be able to find at least one competitor or related merchant who went through a rebranding. Analyze their reasons and evolution. Identify their strengths and weaknesses, so as to leverage the former and avoid the latter when the time comes.

Believe it or not, your partners and affiliates can be of tremendous help here. Chances are some of them went through rebranding themselves. Others have surely witnessed the process implemented by various merchants they work with. They can share their experience, provide feedback, and advice.

At AM Navigator, we helped quite a few of our clients rebrand while managing their affiliate programs. It’s not easy but it’s not impossible either, especially when you learn from other people’s success and mistakes, when you plan and implement everything strategically, paying attention to details.

2. Get Everyone Within the Company Involved

While the decision may be yours alone, as explained above, it impacts most if not all the departments of your business. Therefore, make sure you discuss it with your team, including your affiliate program manager.

This way, they will know what to expect, what their responsibilities are, and they will be able to help. Your rebranding efforts will be much more likely to succeed if they are supported by everyone else, from accounting to marketing,  customer service, logistics, and affiliates.

3. Budget Carefully

Rebranding brings about considerable costs: new logo, website, marketing materials, and packaging designs, new product photoshoots and video commercials, extensive marketing campaigns, new label products for affiliates to review and feature, etc.

Once you get the ball rolling, you cannot stop it because you’ve exceeded the allocated budget. Therefore, make sure you’re aware of the costs and able to cover them. The members of your different teams can help you assess needs and costs for their particular departments.

4. Consider Trademark and SEO

If you’re going to change your brand name or how you spell it, it is important to make sure that the new name can be registered as a trademark and protected. The last thing you want is to neglect that and leave your brand name at the mercy of trademark violators.

It can severely harm your reputation, cause additional costs, and negatively affect the affiliate program. You can expect deceitful advertising, increased PPC costs, and valuable affiliates turning your back on you.

Another aspect to consider when choosing the new brand name is SEO. You want to research keywords that would be relevant for your products or services, for your line of business, and optimize your website to rank among the first ones in search results for the respective keywords.

5. Strive to Get a Great Logo

The logo is usually the first thing that changes during rebranding. Many merchants see it as a shortened version of their name and only worry about whether it matches brand colors and looks good on the website, labels, and packaging.

Ideally, the logo should be able to tell your target customers who you are and what you’re selling without requiring further explanations. Many of your affiliates, especially those focusing on savings and rewards, will only display your logo on their website.

If visitors don’t recognize it and can’t tell what you’re selling from it, chances are they will not click it, so they won’t find out about your offers, visit your website, or buy from you.

6. Announce Your Rebranding Through Stock-Clearance Sales

Especially if you have a large product inventory, you want to get rid of old label products and packaging and make room for new ones. It’s never a good idea to send your customers products that differ from what they see on the website.

An excellent way to avoid that and ensure the success of your rebranding efforts is to organize a sale. It goes without saying that your affiliates, especially reviewers, influencers, and content affiliates, should be included.

Work closely with your affiliate program manager to make sure they receive timely notice of the sale and of its purpose. The discounts will help you sell faster, increase your website conversion rate, and improve affiliate program statistics, including EPC.

When the time comes to send your affiliates new products to review, they won’t refuse. Moreover, the sale is an excellent way to announce your new goals, values, and mission.

7. Work with Your Partners to Implement Changes in Sync

When you rebrand, you want to do it at the same time everywhere: on your own website, on your resellers’ websites, on any third-party directories, etc. It doesn’t help anyone if you change the logo and images on your merchant website but resellers and affiliates keep promoting the old ones.

On the contrary, it will create confusion, false expectations, and burden your customer service department with questions to answer, refund requests to process, and unsatisfied customer feedback to mitigate.

8. Be Consistent

Once you’ve started on the rebranding path, there is no going back. Don’t switch between logos or start another rebranding process. It suggests that you don’t know what you’re doing and you cannot be trusted.

With the right marketing strategy, any logo and brand name can be made popular but, once ruined, a merchant’s reputation is difficult to rebuild. Your customers, partners, and affiliates need to know that you’re responsible, reliable, and you know what you’re doing.

9. Be Coherent, Within and Outside the Affiliate Program

As you go through the rebranding process, a lot of changes will be required, from the website content to the affiliate program description. It is very important to make sure that every single image, every video, every banner, and every single piece of content on your website and within your affiliate program reflects your new brand elements.

So take some time to review and adjust everything.  Sometimes, it can be as easy as using Ctrl+F to find different spellings of your brand name and updating affiliate banners within your affiliate network to make sure the changes will be reflected everywhere.

10. Announce Your Rebranding Outside the Affiliate Program

There’s no such thing as too much publicity. Don’t hesitate to announce your rebranding campaign and promote your new brand elements whenever and wherever possible: paid ads, commercials, truck side advertising, affiliate recruitment campaigns, giveaways, newsletter blasts, contests, etc.

It is important to help you and your partners’ audience associate everything that was positive about your brand with the new image you are trying to build. You want to leverage any amount of brand awareness and build on it, and marketing can certainly help with that.

The more popular your brand is, the easier it will be for your affiliates to promote it to their audiences and drive traffic and sales. And if you work together, at the end of the day, you will get what you want: sales for you, commissions for your affiliates, and great statistics for your affiliate program!

Review Affiliate Transactions and Keep an Eye Out for 5 Things

Affiliate transaction analysisAs I was performing my daily review of affiliate transactions in a client’s account, I’ve realized that every time I’m doing this, I subconsciously look for specific things. These range from bad to good ones — from red flags to opportunities. Today, I’d like to share with you what I am typically looking for.

1. Violations

While most violations of your affiliate program’s policies will be caught by specific compliance policing tools, your routine review of affiliate transactions may yield additional insights.

If, for instance, your affiliate compensation terms are different for different types of affiliates, look for bypasses. A classic example would be that of an affiliate, who is either paid less or is banned from your affiliate program, using a content monetization platform (or another mediator) to mask themselves.

Coupon affiliate bypass

Above you may find a real-life illustration of the situation where a coupon affiliate (who is supposed to be paid 5%) is, actually, getting a much higher commission by linking indirectly but via a mediator.

2. Inconsistencies

Whether it is a wrong commission rate or anything else that’s inconsistent with the agreement that you have with a specific affiliate, keep an eye out for these as you perform your routine review.

3. Red Flags

Depending on the platform that you use, your review of affiliate-referred transactions may reveal certain red flags.

Below you may find an example of how on ShareASale merchants see an alert when the same IP was used on transactions that have a similar lock date.

Same IP affiliate transaction

Another case would be the below-illustrate spike in conversions (registered on CJ).

Spike in affiliate conversions

As mentioned elsewhere “any spike (in traffic, leads, sales, conversion rate, or anything else) should raise a red flag”. Spikes are not always indicative of violations or affiliate fraud. But they always call for an additional dissection and analysis.

4. Activations

When you see an affiliate’s first conversion come through, it’s a great time to reach out to him/her with personal congratulations and encouragement to press on.

Go out of your way and also analyze how they drove the sale, thinking of what they could  do to drive more action.

…and you better have a  goodfirst-sale/conversion bonus in place too! These are always great in motivating stagnant affiliates to activate.

5. Optimization Opportunities

Finally, as you examine affiliate transactions, ideas on optimization opportunities should also surface. Put yourself in your affiliates’ shoes and think of ways for them to make more money with you.

Here is an illustration of a pretty common scenario (where multiple affiliates touch the same buyer along their shopping journey):

First-touch affiliate

The purple dots represent every affiliate touch, while the green dot stands for the “commissioned click” (or the one for which the last-to-touch affiliate got paid).

Diving deeper (and thank you, ShareASale for the technology to give us these great insights), we noticed that the affiliate who was the first to touch this buyer, has his cookies overwritten much more frequently than he overwrites other affiliates’ cookies (see the donut charts below).

Overwritten affiliate cookies

Moving this particular affiliate to first-click attribution was a common-sense conclusion. Having discussed this with the affiliate, we’ve had the affiliate network “prioritize” this affiliate’s cookies. Now, every time that he introduces a customer, he is the one who gets the commission for that customer, regardless of how many (other) affiliates touch the same customer before he/she buys.

Of course, this is just one optimization idea. You’ll come up with many more if you approach your analysis in a thoughtful and affiliate-friendly manner.

If you need help in anything related to affiliate marketing and/or affiliate program management, hit me up directly.

If you’re an affiliate program manager yourself, do chime in (via the “Comments” section below) to share what your are looking for while reviewing and analyzing your affiliates’ transactions.

How to Turn an Affiliate Program Failure Into Success

Has your affiliate program reached a dead point, where the few affiliates you have are no longer promoting you, or their efforts no longer pay out? You may be tempted to give up think that your failure simply means that affiliate marketing does not work for your business model.

Don’t give up without a fight! We have yet to find a business model for which performance-based advertising does not work. Chances are that, if your affiliate program is not driving the results you were hoping for, it’s because you’re doing something wrong, especially if you’re active in one of these 15 niches.

The least you can do, before giving up, is to try to identify your mistakes and correct them. You can do that by performing an in-depth affiliate program health check to see where you stand and what can be improved.

You’ve already invested time and money into your affiliate program, so you owe it to yourself to not give up without a fight. I’m pretty sure your affiliate program can be resuscitated, and I’ll lay out the steps in the following lines.

10-Steps Health-Check or How to Turn Affiliate Program Failure into Success

1. Competitive Landscape

When you launch an affiliate program, you can expect the best publishers to be already promoting your competitors. If you want them to switch to you or promote you as well, you need to offer something more, like higher commissions, better creatives, better offers to the end consumer.

If you haven’t done it already, it is imperative that you do your homework on what your competitors are doing and how they are doing it. Compare your current offer with theirs, and see what you can improve so as to at least match but preferably beat their offer, at least for select niche affiliates.

Put yourself the question all affiliates ask: “what’s in it for me?”. Why should they promote you? And keep reporting yourself to your competitors and learning from them throughout the following steps as well. It will help you make better decisions and, eventually, turn your affiliate program failure into success.

2. Affiliate Program Agreement or Terms of Service

Do you have an affiliate program agreement in place, to define the terms of your collaboration with affiliates? Without it, some rogue affiliates could be trashing your brand name and resort to fraud, deceitful advertising, spamming, and more.

Good affiliates avoid promoting merchants without a thorough agreement in place because they know their cookies will most likely be overwritten by those rogue affiliates and they will not get paid anyway.

If you do not have a program agreement in place, then its lack could definitely explain your affiliate program failure. If you have one, make sure it clearly defines what your affiliates should and should not do. This guide on how to create your affiliate program’s terms and conditions and this sample affiliate program agreement will surely help.

3. Affiliate Compliance

Let’s say you have a sound affiliate program agreement in place. Do your affiliates actually comply with it? You shouldn’t expect them to but rather monitor their activity and take measures against those who do not. Many affiliates resort to parasitism and other activities that do not add value. Such activities could justify your affiliate program failure.

If you want your affiliate program to work, you need to start policing your affiliates. Use tools like BrandVerity to monitor their TM use and ad hijacks. Analyze affiliate transactions and canceled orders. Monitor affiliate traffic volume and sources keeping an eye for red flags like:

  • Higher rate of canceled orders from the same affiliate
  • Sudden and unexplained spikes in affiliate traffic
  • Affiliate clicks from websites you do not recognize
  • A high number of overwritten affiliate transactions

Once you’ve confirmed violations of your affiliate program agreement, depending on their gravity, warn affiliates to stop or report them and remove them from the program directly.

If they generated fraudulent transactions or overwrote other affiliates’ referrals, don’t hesitate to withhold their commissions and, if applicable, credit the affiliates who should have received them in the first place.

4. Affiliate Creatives

Did you provide your affiliates with links and banners, perhaps even a datafeed and some videos, to enable them to promote you? Again, look at what your competitors are offering and match or even beat their offer. You need different banner sizes, including some mobile-friendly banners.

If you’ve already provided some banners to your affiliates, it may be time for an update. Make sure the banners you have don’t include spelling mistakes and, worse, your website URL, phone numbers, or email addresses.

These last three qualify as traffic leaks and could determine affiliates to never start promoting you or, if they have, stop. Affiliates hate leaky websites and landing pages as well. This brings us to the next step to turning your affiliate program failure into success.

5. Merchant Website and Landing Pages

Believe it or not, your very own website and landing pages may have driven your affiliate program failure. Publishers check websites and landing pages before joining affiliate programs.

If they notice traffic leaks, they don’t join or, even if they do, never promote the respective merchant. Therefore, either don’t display phone numbers, email addresses, chat, and links to other websites, or accurately track all referrals.

Also, do your landing pages convert? If you’ve received traffic but no sales, it could be a sign that they don’t, and you need to improve them. This post covers 15 ways to create affiliate-friendly websites. It should be enough to get you on the right path.

6. Affiliate Recruitment

Did you actively recruit affiliates? Many merchants don’t. They join affiliate networks and mistakenly believe that, just because they’re listed as merchants, publishers will rush to join. They don’t, at least not the ones you really want in your program.

You need to reach out to them, using all means available (email, social media, affiliate network tools, website contact forms, forums, etc.), and this affiliate recruitment guide should help. Don’t forget to follow up on your initial contact initiatives. recommends five follow-ups and I’ve seen good results following this approach as well.

Also, remember that you need diversification in your affiliate recruitment efforts. Don’t focus on coupon affiliates, reviewers, and bloggers only. There are at least 18 types of affiliates you can and should reach out to, and doing it could be key to turning your affiliate program failure into success.

 7. Affiliate Vetting and Approval Process

So you’re recruiting and receiving quite a few affiliate applications. How do you deal with them? Auto-approval based on affiliate rating may seem a good way to save time but it will also mean leaving the door open to affiliate fraud and parasitism. From there to affiliate program failure, there is only one step.

Auto-approval of affiliate applications could lead to affiliate program failureNowadays, some merchants and program managers provide positive feedback to affiliates just for joining their program or in an attempt to convince them to put up their links, without even looking at the affiliate’s specific.

A proof that rating is not a reliable criterion for automatic affiliate approval is ShareASale’s test account ended with +50 rating (not that they don’t deserve it). Just check their and other affiliates’ feedback and you’ll see for yourself.

Many merchants do not police their affiliates and find themselves praising TM, PPC, and coupons policy violators for driving their first sale. At the opposite end, I’ve seen affiliates with negative feedback because they chose not to promote a merchant, gave up, or didn’t drive sales.

Therefore, review each affiliate application carefully, and request a marketing plan from the publishers who join your program. Check websites to make sure they are live and compatibility with your products or services. Do not accept PPC and coupon affiliates if you do not plan on working with them, or notify them of your related policies and monitor their activity.

8. Affiliate Activation and Motivation

Perhaps you have hundreds of affiliates, and that probably makes your affiliate program failure more difficult to accept. But just because a publisher joins your program it does not mean they will actually promote you.

It is up to you to convince them through first sale bonuses, incentives, contests, and strategic affiliate communication. We’ve covered some effective ways to motivate and activate affiliates in this post.

9. Affiliate Payments and Voids

It should go without saying that all valid affiliate sales should be rewarded accordingly and on time. However, quite a few merchants neglect to activate the auto-deposit function or void transactions. If your merchant account funds run out, your program goes offline, its statistics are messed up, and your reputation suffers.

If you void transactions without a valid reason, your affiliates will eventually stop promoting you. Sure, it makes sense not to pay commissions on canceled orders or returned merchandise. However, it is important to consider the reasons for those cancellations and returns.

If it’s something out of your control, like credit card issues or repeat orders, it’s your right to void transactions and not pay commissions. If the buyer claimed a refund or returned the merchandise, you should assess your contribution (assuming there are no instances of deceitful advertising involved).

When affiliates do their job and drive valid sales, your failure to retain buyers should not affect them. Most of the time, the middle way works just fine. Just make sure to provide accurate reasons when voiding transactions and, of course, do it before the commissions lock.

10. Management and Leadership

Have you actively managed your affiliate program and acted as the leader your affiliates need? Just like your business, your affiliate program needs management. This covers all the above and more:

  • Besides making continuous efforts to grow your affiliate program, you need to use affiliate program analytics to assess results and make better decisions. Don’t rely only on instinct, experience, or third-party advice. Your affiliate tracking software, whether network-based or in-house, provides accurate numbers. Use those to assess results and steer your affiliate program in the right direction.
  • Just like your employees, your affiliates need supervision, guidance, and inspiration. But do not forget that affiliates are not your employees and you cannot manage them. They are your partners, your collaborators, and all you can do is help them reach their full potential while also protecting your brand and interests.
  • Communication is also important. You need to write your affiliate program description, affiliate application receipt, approval, and denial emails, newsletters, recruitment, and motivation emails carefully. It is also important to notify your affiliates in advance of any promotions you run and changes to your affiliate program. We’ve covered all about affiliate communication here.

Check out our guide on affiliate program management and affiliate marketing leadership here.

Final Advice on Turning Affiliate Program Failure into Success

Now you have ten possible reasons for your affiliate program failure. Keep in mind that more than one could apply to your particular situation. As advised above, the best way to identify the reasons is to perform your own affiliate program health check.

Another option is to request an affiliate program audit from specialists. Besides clearly identifying all problems, they will also recommend effective solutions.

If you decide to take matters into your own hands, remember to be as objective as possible and consider your affiliate program from your affiliates’ and target publishers’ perspective. Also:

  • Do not let your findings disappoint or discourage you. You cannot turn back time but you can take measures to ensure a better future.
  • Don’t rush things. Take steps, one at a time, monitoring results and affiliate feedback.
  • Admit to your mistakes and rest assured that you’re not alone. Even the best merchants and affiliate program managers make mistakes. I’ve listed no less than 20 affiliate program mistakes here. Check them out and make efforts to avoid/correct them.

Steps from Affiliate Program Failure to SuccessFinally, do not hesitate to ask for help, especially since we’re offering it for free. Contact us, give us more details about your affiliate program failure, and we will advise you on how to resuscitate it. If you agree, we can also do it for you. You have nothing to lose, and your affiliate program deserves a chance to grow and drive profits, don’t you agree?


How to Remedy Downtimes in Affiliate Tracking: Method of 3 As

Downtimes happen. Unfortunately, they happen to affiliate marketing tracking too. Simply put, these are the times when your affiliate program doesn’t track affiliate-referred conversions (be they sales, leads, subscriptions, or any other actions that you want your affiliates to generate).

Those instances are no fun for affiliates, affiliate networks (whose compensation is often tied to the tracked and recorded performance of the affiliate programs run on it), and affiliate management companies (who are also often paid, at least in part, based on performance).

One of the most frequent scenarios (when affiliate tracking goes down) is connected with merchants revamping their websites, but failing to properly implement the affiliate program’s tracking on the new version of their sites. Not too long ago, this very situation occurred in one of the programs that we had picked up for affiliate program management. Of course, it had to happen right before the weekend, and just in the time for their biggest online sales of the year! On the conversion tracking end, the results looked as follows:

Affiliate tracking downtime

Certainly, the first thing we had to do was tackle the problem, bringing it up to the respective contacts on the merchant’s end and helping them fix it (the weekend certainly didn’t help speed things up).

But what do you do after the technical part of it is fixed?! Some stay put and act as if nothing happened. This is not what I recommend anyone does!

Years ago, in a book entitled Trust Agents and authored by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, I read about a 3-As Formula for dealing with situations when businesses make mistakes. Chris later outlined it as “The Three As of Business” here.

The 3 As are: Acknowledge, Apologize, and Act.

Here’s how I suggest you apply this formula to remedy downtimes in affiliate tracking:

1. Acknowledge

Don’t sweep it under the rug, but reach out to your affiliates admitting that your affiliate program‘s tracking was broken, explaining why exactly it happened.

2. Apologize

Be sincere in saying “we’re sorry” and show your appreciation for what they do. You want your apology to clearly demonstrate how much you value the relationship you have with your affiliates.

3. Act

Send one-time bonuses to all of your active affiliates, based on assumptions of what they would have earned had the tracking functioned properly. Communicate this to them too.

To summarize, do not just sit there as if nothing had happened! Practice the 3-As approach being open and supportive of your affiliate relationships. Otherwise, there’s a real risk of jeopardizing them, leaving room for all sorts of speculations, unpleasant assumptions, and real damage done to your affiliate program.

Affiliate Program Management and Affiliate Marketing Leadership

Are you thinking that your successful affiliate program launch, affiliate recruitment, and affiliate communication strategy have earned you the right to take a break and enjoy your success? Don’t!

Long-term results and performance are not possible without active and ongoing affiliate program management and, most importantly, affiliate leadership.

Affiliate marketing leadershipIn other words, your affiliate program will need constant management, and your affiliates will really need not pure supervision but a true leader to follow. You can provide these yourself, hire someone to do it outsourcing your program’s management, or, maybe even combine in-house and outsourced affiliate management solutions.

As we’ve mentioned many a time in the past, running your affiliate program on autopilot or forgetting to put a dedicated manager in the program “driver’s seat” would be a huge mistake. How do you avoid this mistake and ensure effective affiliate program management and affiliate leadership?

Acclaimed affiliate management expert Geno Prussakov authored numerous thorough and easy-to-follow resources, like his Affiliate Program Management: An Hour A Day, and this intuitive LinkedIn Learning course. We have also compiled an in-depth affiliate marketing and management guide for merchants from our most popular blog posts on the topic

As we’ve mentioned on several occasions, the five pillars of affiliate program management are:

  1. Affiliate onboarding (or recruitment)
  2. Activation of onboarded affiliates
  3. Policing of affiliate compliance (with your program’s Ts & Cs)
  4. Communication with affiliates
  5. Affiliate program optimization

Obviously, the first four refer to your affiliates. The last one refers to your affiliate program but should be based on your observations and results connected to the first four pillars. Optimizing your affiliate marketing program will involve optimizing not only your affiliate recruitment, activation, policing, and communication strategy, but also: your creatives and landing pages, your affiliate incentives and your customer-facing offers, and much much more.

One of the keys to successful affiliate program management (and optimization) lies in categorizing your affiliates. Prussakov recommends it in his aforementioned book as an important step to developing custom approaches for each group and maximizing program management effectiveness. Although many affiliate program managers prefer to see their affiliates as a single group and deal with them accordingly, affiliate categorization is beneficial and can be done in several ways.

How to Categorize Affiliates

Segmenting affiliatesAs mentioned above, you may categorize affiliates based on several criteria, and we will review the most popular five of them in the following lines: affiliates’ activity, their promotion method(s), vertical of focus, size, and target area. Let’s look into each of these in greater detail.

1. By Activity Level

You should categorize your affiliates based on how active they are in your program and what results they drive if any. This way, you can reach out to them and provide custom advice and solutions for them to improve their activity and boost their performance. You should have at least three categories:

  • Stagnant affiliates – This category should include those who have joined your program but are not actively promoting your products and/or services. They should be the target of your affiliate activation/motivation efforts.
  • Traffic-driving affiliates – This category should include affiliates who are driving traffic to your merchant websites but fail to drive leads and sales. Your goal is to find out why that traffic fails to convert and take measures. The low or zero conversion rate could mean two things: a) those affiliates lure visitors to your website with false promises or incentives, or b) you should work on improving your website conversion rate.
  • Leads/sales-producing affiliates – This category should include affiliates who are driving some performance. You should focus on keeping them engaged and motivated, on helping them obtain even better results. Also, you can analyze the activity of your top-performing affiliates and use your findings to help other affiliates drive similar performances.

Geno proposes yet another way to categorize affiliates by their activity level, starting from the Objectives-Performance matrix of Goldschmidt, Junghagen, and Harris. It involves looking at the correspondence between your affiliates’ objectives and their performance.

The Correspondence Between Affiliate Objectives and Performance

As marketers, your affiliates have the following objectives: exposure, recognition, attitude, and exchange. Their performance depends on their ability to drive the following end-user responses: attention, interest, desire, action. It can be measured by four variables: impressions, clicks, leads, and sales.

If you analyze the correspondence between your affiliates’ objectives and their performance, you will notice that some of them create just impressions. Others drive hits as well. Some drive both hits and leads, and only a few drive all of the above and sales. If you only remunerate sales, you can skip categories referring to leads.

2. By Primary Promotion Method

Another way to categorize affiliates is based on how they promote your products or services. Geno Prussakov identifies 18 types of affiliates but chances are yours only fit into a couple of categories, like:

Having your affiliates categorized this way lets you provide them with custom creatives and information to help boost their performance and, implicitly, your sales.

3. By Vertical of Focus

Some of your affiliates will only promote a specific category of products or services. Knowing which category they focus on, you can reach out to them with specific deals, creatives, and information. Most will appreciate your personalized approach.

For example, as an online fashion merchant, you may have affiliates who focus on a specific category or brand (shoes & handbags, designer clothing, etc.). Knowing their category lets you send them communications that cater to their specific interests (new product launches, category discounts, brand-specific promotions, etc.).

4. By Size

Knowing your super affiliates and your smaller affiliates helps as well. You want to keep the ones in the first category motivated and help the ones in the latter category grow and boost their performance. We will cover how you can do that later in this post.

5. By Target Area

Some of your affiliates may target specific markets.  Knowing who they are and what markets they target could come in handy. If you decide to tap into new markets, provide free shipping to specific regions, or open new location stores, you’ll want to let the right affiliates know.

Once you’ve categorized affiliates, you can move on to profiling. Just like marketers profile buyers and content creators profile their audience, you, too, should profile your affiliates. We’ll discuss why and how you should do it in the following lines.

How to Profile Affiliates

Types of affiliatesIf you’ve followed our advice on categorizing affiliates, your work is half done. Now, you need to find out a little more about the affiliates in each category. If you were profiling customers, your focus should be on their interests, needs, and preferences.

However, since you’re profiling affiliates, you should care more about their pains and troubles as far as your affiliate program and your products or services are concerned. Perhaps they consider your cookie life too short or your commissions too low. Your creatives may not be as affiliate-friendly or as high-converting as you thought they were.

Moreover, certain affiliate categories will drive better performance than others. Your goal is to find out which those categories are and what drives your affiliates’ success. While at it, exploit every opportunities to improve the tools and creatives you make available to your affiliates and, thus, help drive performance.

If you succeed, you can recruit more affiliates from the best-performing categories and, maybe, guide affiliates from other categories to improve their results. Contrary to what you may think, profiling affiliates does not mean compiling endless lists of data. Simply analyze your affiliates’ activity focusing on the following:

  • Website specific
  • Target audience
  • Promotional methods
  • Marketing focus
  • Competitors promoted

As you begin to look into these aspects, you will notice other patterns as well. You will easily identify the affiliate profiles that match your program objectives and brand vision and those that don’t. You can then use those profiles to steer your affiliate recruitment campaigns and personalize your affiliate communications.

As you categorize and profile affiliates, don’t forget to keep an eye for affiliates who could resort to fraud, unethical or prohibited practices. You don’t want such affiliates in your program, as they could cost you money, affiliates, and reputation.

How to Prevent Affiliate Fraud

Affiliate marketing fraudSome affiliates will do whatever it takes to take credit for leads and sales, from spamming to forcing clicks, cookie stuffing, fake incentives, and more. You don’t want such affiliates in your program. Chances are they will rip you off, ruin your reputation, and discourage good affiliates from working with your affiliate program.

Your best bet is to prevent them from joining your program or, if they already did, police them and take measures against the ones who do not comply. to accomplish that, you should:

1. Have Clear Rules and Policies in Place

The first step to preventing affiliate fraud and discouraging bad practices is to have a sound affiliate program agreement in place. We’ve already explained how you can create one and even provided an affiliate agreement template here, so I’m not going to get into further details.

Just make sure that in it, you clearly explain your position regarding trademark use, promotional methods, cookie stuffing, and parasitic behaviors, etc. You should also foresee clear sanctions for affiliates who do not comply with your agreement.

Of course, quite a few affiliates continue to believe that rules are meant to be broken or do not even bother to read agreements. How do you deal with them?

2. Review All Affiliate Applications and Research Applicants before Approving Them

Many merchants make the mistake of automatically approving affiliate applications. Some see no harm in accepting any publisher wanting to promote their programs and services while others allow all affiliates to join and monitor their activity.

No affiliate program manager can be on call 24/7, and a couple of hours are enough for a rogue affiliate to cause damage to a brand and/or other affiliates. Yes, you can withhold their commissions to minimize costs but chances are you will be unable to reverse the harm to your brand and lose valuable affiliates.

Therefore, instead of automatically approving affiliate applications, review them. Find out whether your applicants have active websites, and what marketing methods and traffic-generating methods they use. If you see anything suspicious or cannot find the information you need, reject them.

Announce your rejection by email, explaining your reasons and inviting them to further explain their plans of promoting your brands if they want you to reconsider your decision. This way, if you accidentally reject good affiliates and they are honestly interested in joining your program, they can reapply.

3. Monitor Affiliate Activity and Keep an Eye for Red Flags

If you accidentally approve rogue affiliates into your program, you should have a system in place so as to detect and sanction them. Here are some red flags to keep an eye for:

  • Sudden traffic surges
  • Unusual increases in the number of transactions an affiliate refers
  • Fraudulent transactions (fake leads, stolen credit card numbers, canceled self-referred transactions after commission locking, etc.
  • Referral URLs and website domain names similar to yours or your brand

This will help you identify some rogue affiliates. To catch others and prevent damage to your brand, you should constantly monitor your online reputation. There are tools that can help you with that, like Google Alerts, Mention, Social-Searcher, Reputation Ranger, SentiOne, etc.

You also need to educate yourself on parasitic and cookie-stuffing behaviors and stay up to date with new developments in the field and their users. You can learn a lot on the subject by joining affiliate marketing forums, as many affiliate marketing managers share their problems and report rogue affiliates there.

4. Take Measures against Rogue Affiliates

As you discover suspicious affiliate behavior or transactions, you want to take measures against them. We recommend adapting those measures to each situation. For small violations, a three-strike approach could work.

For fraudulent referrals, cybersquatting, or parasitic behaviors, an immediate ban of the affiliate from your program would be justified and highly recommended. Needless to say, you should void any commissions earned through policy violations or fraud.

Once you’ve disciplined or eliminated bad affiliates from your program, you can focus on leading the good ones. And yes, besides managing the affiliate program, a competent affiliate program manager will lead affiliates.

Affiliate Leadership Basics

Affiliate marketing leaderThere are many differences between management and leadership, and quite a few scholars have focused on identifying them. My favorite authorities in the field are John Paul Kotter and John C. Maxwell.

Although Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership are a valuable resource, they are too many to list here and not all relevant to our discussion. Kotter’s perspective on leadership and the differences between management and leadership, on the other hand, is definitely worth reviewing.

According to Kotter, management and leadership, although different, are essential to organizational success. While management is all about order and stability, leadership is about adaptive and constructive change. Applied to an affiliate program context, Kotter’s theory could be summarized as follows:

Affiliate Program Management

Affiliate Leadership

Ensure order and consistency among your affiliates

Produce positive change and movement in your program

Plan and budget your affiliate marketing program by:

  • Establishing clear goals
  • Setting milestones
  • Allocating resources
Establish a direction for your affiliates to follow by:

  • Creating a vision
  • Helping them see the big pictures
  • Devising and implementing strategies
Recruit and manage affiliates by:

  • Providing infrastructure through affiliate-network based, in-house solutions, or both
  • Marketing your affiliate program
  • Devising and implementing a sound program agreement
Align affiliates by:

  • Effective communication
  • Engagement and personalization
  • Teamwork
Monitor affiliate activity, improve program performance, and solve problems by:

  • Offering affiliate incentives
  • Developing creatives and solutions to various problems identified along the way
  • Identifying problematic affiliate behaviors and taking measures to correct them
Motivate and inspire affiliates to reach their maximum potential by:

  • Inspiring and energizing them
  • Encouraging their creativity and initiatives and remaining open to their suggestions
  • Helping them overcome obstacles in their promotional activity and satisfying their unmet needs

In Affiliate Management: An Hour A Day, Geno strongly recommends combining management with leadership. Besides providing a list of twenty differences between managers and affiliates, he moves on to characterize a true affiliate leader. According to him, the following four traits are the most valuable:

Most Valuable Characteristics of a Leader

  1. Honesty – For an affiliate program manager, this would mean integrity and trustworthiness, ability to admit and correct mistakes, values and ethics.
  2. Forward-looking – This characteristic implies clear orientation towards the future, vision, well-defined short- and long-term goals.
  3. Inspiring – Affiliates need program managers to set an example, to show enthusiasm, to motivate them and help them move forward.
  4. Competence – Before you can manage an affiliate program or lead affiliates to performance, you need know-how, experience, and skills. You may not have them all from the beginning, but you should work on improving them and overcoming your own limits.

As Geno warns, you don’t become an affiliate leader by being designated an affiliate program manager. You need to emerge as a leader through persistence and communication and strive to become a transformational leader.

This could be easier or more challenging, depending on your personality and charisma. However, it is doable, at least in the context of affiliate marketing and especially if you follow Geno’s advice and focus on the “three Is of effective leadership”, namely:

1. Inspirational Motivation

Inspire your affiliates to adopt your high goals as their own and motivate them to work with you for achieving those goals

2. Intellectual Stimulation

– Work with your affiliates to help them overcome any challenges or problems, by adapting your approach to their level: educate beginners, brainstorm with professionals, etc.

3. Individualized Consideration

Pay attention to the needs of each affiliate, personalize your communications accordingly, and provide individual direction and advice.

If you are determined, committed, persistent, and willing to learn from your mistakes, then you will surely succeed to become the leader your affiliates need. Just keep in mind that the stake is huge and it ranges from sales, leads, and the corresponding commissions to your most valuable affiliates and your brand reputation.

Final Advice on Affiliate Program Management and Affiliate Marketing Leadership

Instead of trying your luck and taking unnecessary risks, you should consider working with professionals, at least in the beginning. It will give you a chance to learn everything you need to know about program management and affiliate leadership, apply what you’ve learned, and improve up to the point where you feel ready to take over. We are here to help in any way that we can.

Besides providing professional affiliate program launch, management, auditing, and affiliate recruitment services, at AM Navigator, we can also train you and your affiliate marketing team to help you reach your full potential. Contact us now to tell us more about your affiliate marketing program and receive personalized advice and recommendations!

10 Success Tips for Affiliate Managers

An affiliate manager oversees affiliate publishers on behalf of an advertiser. They will recruit, manage the program, work with current and prospective affiliates answering questions and resolving issues. Their job also involves optimizing the program, working with the network, ensuring compliance and analyzing the program activity to find areas for improvement.  It requires someone who is data-driven, can multi-task, and is relationship-focused.

Because of the rise of affiliate marketing, there are a variety of books and events designed to help affiliate managers become more successful. A book that I have found super helpful and breaks down exactly how to excel at running an affiliate program is “Affiliate Program Management: An Hour A Day” by Geno Prussakov.

I’ve compiled a list of key tips that I have learned along the way that have helped me become successful. This isn’t a comprehensive list but it’s a great place to start for someone who is starting their career in affiliate marketing or for anyone wanting to improve their skills.

1. Research the Product and Industry

Affiliate market researchBefore you can manage an affiliate program, you need to have extensive knowledge of the product.

Learn as much as you can about the product, the customer, competitors in the space and general knowledge about the industry. The more you know about the product, the better equipped you are to answer questions and come up with strategies.

2. Set Your Program Up for Success

Make your program compelling. Set up a comprehensive overview within the network so potential partners can see the benefits of promoting your products and how they will be compensated. Provide your partners with all the tools they need to succeed. This means having updated creatives & promotional offers. The easier it is for them to promote and the less work they have to do, the more they will want to work with you. Don’t just limit yourself to adding banners and graphics in the network.  Develop a sales pitch for your affiliates and give them all the information they need on your product and company.  Show them what sets you apart from your competitors and give them examples of how other successful affiliates have promoted your product. Provide them with lifestyle images, videos, and even product samples so they are enthusiastic about your brand.

3. Focus on Affiliate Recruitment

Affiliate recruitmentRecruit, Recruit, Recruit! You should constantly be looking for new partners. You can’t rely on partners that you have in your program and should always be in recruiting mode. This article on affiliate recruitment explains in detail the strategies that are proven successful.

4. Work with Affiliate Partners

Recruitment is important, but there’s more to successful affiliate program management. In particular:

  • Activate.  You have spent a lot of time recruiting affiliates. Once they are in your program, engage with them, and activate them. Develop relationships from day one. They will get an email from the network but send out a personal welcome email encouraging them to reach out with questions or concerns. Let them know that this is a partnership and that you want them to be successful.  Set up an activation bonus so they start promoting you immediately.
  • Diversify.  Make sure you are not reliant on one type of affiliate to drive sales. It’s not wise to put ‘all your eggs in one basket’.  Make sure you have a good mix of affiliate partners.
  • Optimize.  Look at the various type of affiliates that you have within your program and look at optimizing each group. Content, blogs, and coupon sites can be optimized differently so it’s important to come up with tactics and strategies for each group. 

5. Remember to Communicate

For me, this is one of the most important ways to set yourself up for success. Over-communicate with your partners. Send affiliate newsletters through the platform used to support your affiliate program, schedule monthly,  bi-weekly or weekly calls and always be super prompt to respond to emails. I also like to give partners several ways to connect — email, Skype, and even phone calls. Be conscious of time zones so you know the best time to reach partners.

6. Be Strategic

  • Plan for success and constantly evaluate your program for ways to make it better for partners.
  • Have a promotional calendar that you share each quarter so that your partners know your key promotional dates. You may have some sales dates that extend beyond the usual retail dates of Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Black Friday & Thanksgiving.
  • Does seasonality affect your product and should you plan key promotions around that time?
  • Can you offer exclusive offers or bonuses to partners?
  • Are there new product launches and if so, plan in advance with affiliates so they schedule posts and promotions around the launch.
  • Can you send products out for review?

7. Invest Time in Relationships

Affiliate marketing relationshipsI can’t begin to tell you how important it is to develop and cultivate relationships. Building strong relationships with your affiliate partners can make a huge difference to the success of your program. These relationships also need to be mutually beneficial. You need to view these relationships as partnerships where you are just as concerned about the growth of their business and what you can do to help them.

It’s also important to develop relationships within the affiliate world. Learn from others and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice.

8. Focus on Data

Rely on data from your affiliate program. Great affiliate marketing is always data-driven, as it’s data that going to show you what is going on and how you can optimize. Where are clicks coming from, who is converting, does mobile convert better than desktop, what types of affiliate partners perform best for you? I would advise you to dig into your program’s data as this will give you great insight and help optimize the program. I like to spend the first part of my day looking at the performance from the day prior.  I also do a week over week review and month over month for the program as a whole and for top partners. Use data to make decisions.

9. Gain Industry Knowledge

Be knowledgeable about the industry. There are lots of ways to get involved and know what’s going on. Follow some industry blogs, get involved with the Performance Marketing Association, attend industry events where you can meet not only with partners but with others in the industry.  Industry events will have a great panel of speakers and lots of workshops and breakout sessions. Check out the comprehensive list of Affiliate Marketing Conferences in 2019 here.

10. Give Back

Most of the above-quoted will benefit greatly if/when one learns to give back. After all, it’s a relationship-based industry that we work in!

Back in 2007, Missy Ward of Affiliate Summit started Affiliate Marketers Give Back. Since then, close to a hundred of affiliate marketers “helped to raise over $600,000.00 for organizations that fund breast cancer research, treatment, awareness and community programs.” But this is just one way you in which you could “give back.” You may also do this by sharing your time, knowledge and effort (like Geno Prussakov of AM Navigator does through his articles, presentations, and pro bono work), and in many other ways.


I’d love to hear if you have any tips or tricks that have helped you become more successful in your role. Please do share them using the “Comments” area under this post. If you have any questions, please contact us and we’d be delighted to help.

7 Reasons to Work with an Affiliate Management Company

Statistics shows that 81% of brands use affiliate marketing programs and they continue to grow in popularity, due to their performance-based nature. It’s no wonder that retailers want to add this sales channel to their reach. However, it’s not just as simple as setting up an affiliate program and sitting back and watching the sales roll in. A successful affiliate marketing program requires oversight — recruiting the right affiliates for your program, ensuring all affiliates are engaged and active, policing inappropriate affiliate behavior, communicating with affiliates, and reporting, and analysis. This has been covered in more detail in the post about affiliate manager’s core responsibilities.

As a company, you want to make sure that your program is running efficiently and successfully. There are various ways to manage your affiliate program:

I. You can manage it in-house with a dedicated in-house affiliate manager.

II. You can have it managed by the network that you choose.

III. You can have it managed it by an affiliate marketing company also known as an OPM or an outsourced program management (agency).

So how do you decide which is the best option for your company? In this article, I am going to cover the latter option of using an outside company to help you manage and grow your program. There are a lot of benefits to this that you will see immediately and I have outlined each below.

1. Experience

Affiliate management experienceRight away you have access to a seasoned affiliate manager. Not only do you have access to a dedicated manager with a wealth of knowledge but you also have access to their team and their collective experience. The expertise they bring will ramp up your program at a much faster speed. Having worked with multiple clients, they know what works and doesn’t work. They have launched numerous affiliate programs and will be able to launch quickly.

2. Lower costs

There are so many cost savings with using an agency. There isn’t any downtime training as they are totally versed in affiliate management. An affiliate management company will have technical resources, programs, and tools, all of which would be an additional cost should you run your program in-house. By using an agency, you get the benefits of these industry tools without the additional expense of purchasing them.

3. Relationships

Affiliate marketing relationshipsThis is a relationship-based business. Agencies have spent a lot of time developing and growing relationships with networks and publishers and hiring an agency gets you access to those relationships immediately. To develop these relationships can take a lot of time and work, but an affiliate management company already has the relationships in place and can hit the ground running for your program. These relationships can also help with cost savings as they are better versed at negotiating paid placements, securing network discounts for you.

4. Industry insights

Because it’s integral to their business, affiliate management companies will attend all the industry events. They will learn about new technologies and tools to help your program. They will know the trends in the industry and key insights. They will meet with experts in the field and learn from them and take that knowledge back to their clients. Also at these events, they will meet with qualified potential partners (affiliates, technology providers, etc).

5. Optimization

So while recruiting and finding quality affiliates is a huge part of running your affiliate program, optimization is also crucial. An affiliate management company will have experience in this area. They know the importance of quality traffic, conversion rates, and CPA. They will watch your competitors, monitor their campaigns and promotions and make recommendations.

6. Familiarity with technology

Affiliate marketing technologyAffiliate networks and tracking software can be complex and overwhelming. How do you decide what network to use for your program or the benefits of one over the other? Which affiliate software is best for an in-house-based affiliate program? Affiliate management agencies have set up hundreds of programs across all the network and know which ones are best for the various verticals. They also have great relationships with key people within these platforms. They can run the data and reports for you and can also leverage discounts.

7. Results-focused

Affiliate management companies are often paid a retainer plus performance bonuses. These bonuses can be a large part of their compensation. They are clearly incentivized to get results so will work to ensure your program is performing.

Should you decide to go down the route of hiring an outside company, how do you decide on the correct one? Let me give you 7 points to cover in your due diligence:

  1. Ask questions. Find out what are their strengths and what sets them apart from other agencies.
  2. PricingHow do they charge for their services?
  3. References. Talk with others who have used their services.
  4. Professional experience. How much experience do they really have in the realm of affiliate program management?
  5. Possible conflicts. Do they manage competitors’ or potentially conflicting programs?
  6. Representation. Do they attend industry events? How else will they be able to give your program maximum exposure?
  7. Niche experience. Do they have experience in your niche or vertical?

Using an agency to manage your program gives you access to a wealth of knowledge and resources that can take your program to the next level. Set clearly defined guidelines and work together to grow the program. Outsourcing does not mean giving up control of your affiliate program. Rather, you are enhancing the program with the use of the best and brightest in the industry.

We hope that we have given you some insight into the benefits of using an affiliate management company. Good luck with your program and feel free to email us or comment below with any ideas or questions.

Incentivized Traffic and Fake Leads in Pay-Per-Lead Affiliate Program

A couple of weeks ago we launched a new affiliate program. It’s a program for a subscription-based product, with the sales process starting with a free trial. When setting up affiliate programs for such businesses, the rule of thumb is to intertwine two payment models:

  • PPL (pay-per-lead) on each free trial driven in by an affiliate
  • PPS (pay-per-sale) on each trial converted into a paying subscriber

With any pay-per-lead affiliate program there’s always a risk of receiving fake leads, but the beauty of affiliate marketing is that merchants pay only for qualified referrals. With proper affiliate program management, ultimately, all phony  leads result in reversals of affiliate payouts, but how do you prevent these?

One way would be to pay attention to the affiliates’ promotional techniques as you review their profiles at the application stage.

Three Red Flags

Let me return to the story with which I have started this post. A couple of weeks after launching this new affiliate program, we registered a noticeable spike in the leads referred by affiliates.

Spike in affiliate leads

In affiliate marketing, any spike (in traffic, leads, sales, conversion rate, or anything else) should raise a red flag. It may not necessarily indicate fraud, but it does call for additional analysis.

Reacting to the spike, we looked into it a bit more, and found out that all of these leads were referred by one affiliate (red flag #2).

Affiliate marketing leads

We also reached out to the client — for them to look into the quality of these 38 leads. The client replied quickly, notifying us that a large chunk of these were actually fake (red flag #3) with “John Doe” put into the name field, and other sure indicators of phony leads.

Incentives and How They Work

While we were waiting on the client’s response, we studied the affiliate in a bit more detail. It turned out that, regardless of positioning themselves as a monetization platform, they were actually a classic rewards or loyalty affiliate.

Rewards affiliates (sometime also called “incentive affiliates” or “loyalty affiliates”) drive incentivized traffic. This, basically, means that the person referred by such an affiliate is motivated by an incentive. As our friends at BrandVerity explain, incentives may come in an array of forms:

  • Cashback
  • Miles
  • Points
  • Virtual currency
  • Prizes
  • Cash

These incentives are given to the end-user in exchange for the desired action (on the business’ website).

Misaligned Intent

So, what happened in our client’s affiliate program was a fundamental dissonance between the affiliate’s primary technique and the merchant’s ultimate goal.

Different directionsThe “rewards” component of the affiliate’s strategy resulted in misalignment between the end-user’s intent and the the merchant’s intent. As the above description (of the situation) shows, many of the forms were filled out in order to receive the promised incentive, and not because of the lead’s genuine interest in trying out the product.

Bottom line: if you run a pay-per-lead affiliate program, be careful with incentivized traffic. Most of it may be of no good to you.

Should you need any help with anything related to affiliate programs, contact us and we’ll be happy to assist.

How to Audit Your Affiliate Program for a Fresh Start to 2019

Whether you have been running an affiliate program for over a decade or just a few months, it is always great to audit your affiliate program to find out where you can improve.

Here are a few areas to audit your program.


First, you want to look at very general items, such as, is there a description of your affiliate program on your website? If so, is there a link to the affiliate program description page?

The other areas that we consider to be general include having a competitive compensation and sufficient locking period. We have written about how to determine what your affiliate commission structure should be, so we won’t go into depth here in this post.


This is an important part of the audit that is overlooked in many cases. This is where you will want to outline to your affiliates what they can and cannot do within your affiliate program. This includes (but not limited to):

  • FTC Disclosure
  • Trademarks
  • Coupon Codes
  • Paid Search
  • Domain Names
  • Rules for Loyalty / Incentive Affiliates
  • Rules on Self Referrals
  • Toolbar, Software, and Adware Rules
  • Brand Positioning
  • And more

The reason this section is so important is because these are the rules of your program. If you need to remove someone from your program or even remove commissions, these are the rules that lay out why that may occur.


It goes without saying that creatives (banners or texts) are an important aspect of any affiliate program. Ensuring that you have the right size banners, the right call-to-actions, banners that convert and also a diversity of banners are all items to review during your audit.

As with the affiliate compensation part, we have written about affiliate banners and creatives in the past, so you can check out those posts for more in-depth recommendations.

Landing Pages

This portion of your affiliate audit should be done for an overall e-commerce level. It is important to have landing pages that convert. If your landing pages are not converting, then affiliates are not going to promote your offers.

affiliate marketing landing page leak

From an affiliate marketing standpoint, it is crucial that your landing pages do not have any leaks. What do I mean by leaks? A landing page leak would be something that allows the customer to order without the affiliate earning a commission. This could be a phone number within a call-to-action, for example, “Call now to get 10% off”. Also, if there are additional clicks and websites that a customer must go through in order to make a purchase, this could also end up in the affiliate not earning a commission.


Now it’s time to audit your recruitment efforts. These efforts would be broken down into two components, active and passive.

Passive affiliate recruitment is where an affiliate will find you, as opposed to active recruitment, which is where you reach out to an affiliate.

When auditing your passive recruitment efforts, it’s great to start with your in-network program description. Do you have the right amount of keywords and ad copy to entice affiliates to join your program. Find out what keywords your competitors are using within their in-network search and utilize ones that would benefit you as well.

To audit your active recruiting efforts, take a look at your outreach numbers. Are people opening your emails? If yes, are they taking action to the call-to-action within your emails? If not, then it might be time to update your outreach copy.

Audit where you are looking for your affiliates. Have you exhausted all your options in looking at your competitors’ affiliates? If not, that’s a great place to start. If people are already promoting a company within your niche, you may be able to easily activate them and have them start promoting your efforts.

Approving / Denying Affiliates

The first part to audit during this phase is what criteria do you have for accepting / denying affiliates? It is always a great idea to have something documented. If you are the affiliate manager and must take a leave of absence for whatever reason, it is always great to have guidelines for approval / denial for your affiliate program. The “I just know when I see it” approach may not always work. Once you have this criteria, it’s time to look at the emails that are sent to affiliates who are approved or even denied.

Are your approval and denial emails to potential affiliates optimized for the best activation efforts? If not, this is a great time to audit them. When looking at your approval email to affiliates, it is important to include a recap of the affiliate program information (commission rate, locking period, etc.), as well as pre-built links that affiliates can just copy and paste to get started referring traffic.

Affiliate Management

The next part that we are going to look at during your affiliate program audit is your overall affiliate management.  This area is broken down into a few areas.

First, we want to look at segmentation of affiliates. Are you currently segmenting your affiliates into different categories? For example, affiliates who have never referred a sale. This segmentation can be helpful when running activation / incentive campaigns and you want to provide a bonus for people who refer their first sale.

Speaking of incentives, that’s the next part we want to look at during this part of the audit. Are you currently running incentive opportunities for affiliates? If not, now is a great time to plan these out. You can test out performance based payout increases, cash bonuses for first time sales and any other incentive option you can come up with. Get creative!

Program Optimization

Lastly, we want to audit our program to find out where else we can optimize it to be more competitive and more successful. Starting with a competitive intel analysis is always a great idea. This will allow you to see what your competitors are doing with their affiliate program and you may be able to pull a few ideas from them.

During this phase, you might also want to look at the utilization of co-branded landing pages. We have written about the benefits of co-branded affiliate landing pages before, so won’t go into too much detail here, but implementing a landing page with an affiliate’s logo may help increase conversions. If your program is not currently utilizing these types of landing pages, then this audit can help pull this task to the front of your to do list for 2019.

The start of the new year is always a great time to perform an affiliate program audit and find out where you are in order to plan where to go next.

If you have any questions at all, please contact us. Also, please be sure to Like Us on Facebook.

How to Use CJ’s New Insights Tool

In October 2018, CJ introduced a new data driven feature called, “Insights”. According to CJ:

Insights provides actionable, on-demand data in an intuitive, streamlined, and easy-to-use platform that will help you identify where to take action.

I have been able to use Insights and test out using two of its main features, which include:

  • Trends throughout your program that may help you make changes to your program. For example, you may see a trend of more coupon code sites vs content creator sites.
  • Being able to look at reports compared to another time frame. Previously, CJ reports didn’t allow an easy comparison. You had to look at one time period, record the numbers, then look at the next time period and record those numbers before comparing. Now, comparing time period is much easier.

The CJ Insights tool is still new and is not the Holy Grail of data centers. However, CJ has stated that they are committed to this tool and will continue to roll out new features and enhancements.

Let’s dive into how to use the Insights tool now.

*Please note, your screen may look different.

Where to Find CJ’s Insights Tool

When you first log into your CJ dashboard, you can find the link to the Insights tool at the top of the toolbar. For now, it even has a nice, blue “New” image above it. Just simply click on the Insights link.

Where to find Insights Tool

Default Insights Dashboard

Once logged in, you will be directed to the default Insights dashboard. From here, you will see the following reports:

  • Revenue
  • Publisher Commissions
  • Clicks
  • Actions
  • Average Order Value
  • Return on Ad Spend

Default CJ Insights Dashboard

Selecting Dates to Compare

At the top of the dashboard, you will find the date selection tool. This is where you can select the  time period you want to view vs. the time period that you want to compare to.

If you are running a monthly affiliate marketing dashboard report and need to compare the current month vs the previous month, this is a perfect place to do that.

Dates to Compare CJ Insights

As mentioned above, these are the only reports and features available in the Insights report as of now, but they are already much more valuable than the basic reports within CJ’s current reporting tool in the dashboard.

Expanding Reports

The Insights tool allows you to expand on each of the reports that were listed above. Simply click on the Expand button, and a daily graph will pop up along with the top 8-10 performing Partners, Links, and Websites.

The expansion part of these reports is where you can really pull out granular data as opposed to just looking at the high level graphs to find trends.

These reports are also exportable as a .csv file.

CJ Insights Expanded Look

Why Is The Insights Tool Useful

The Insights tool from CJ can help your reporting (and therefore next plan of action) go to the next level. Being able to compare data easier allows you to find trends that can help you prepare for the next month or quarter. For example, it is much easier to find a trend in the Insights report on a specific day of the week that performs better, than it is with the reporting tool within the dashboard.

Quickly Compare Top Performing Links

With CJ’s new Insight tool, you are able to quickly compare your top performing links. Sure, you could do this with the reporting tool in the dashboard (as we have mentioned this above multiple times), but you will save time by utilizing the Insights Tool.

Let’s use an example of why this will be helpful for you.

As the dedicated affiliate manager, you are working on sending out an affiliate newsletter and you would like to include the top 3-4 performing links. You could run a report over the last 90 days in the reports tool in the dashboard and just grab the 3 with the most sales, but that may be misleading.

For example, one of those links may have had majority of it sales at the very beginning of the 3 month report period and since then has faded away and is not a top performer anymore. This could be because of seasonality, a sale/special that was ran, or a myriad of other reasons.

By utilizing Insights, you can quickly compare two time periods and look at the numbers, as well as graphs to see which are your top performing links. With Insights, you will be able to compare two time periods and see an upward trend for a few links, telling you that those are the 3 links you should include in your newsletter to affiliates.

Data is only powerful when used properly. Make sure to use this data properly.

If you have any questions on how to use the CJ Insights tool or how to utilize the data that you see within the tool, than please contact us right away.