5 Common Affiliate Banner Mistakes to Avoid

On December 19, 2014 I wrote a post that discussed affiliate banner ads, more specifically requirements, sizes, and examples of affiliate banners. With my first post of 2015 I would like to discuss 5 of the most common mistakes (I see) made when creating affiliate banners. The mistakes that are going to be discussed are ones seen most often when working with merchants and can be the difference for an affiliate to use a competitor’s banner ad.

Mistake # 1 – Poor Graphics

This one in particular can be the difference for an affiliate to market a competitor’s product. Graphics should be clear and not pixelated. Merchants should be sure that the version of the graphic they are using is high quality and looks good on the created banner.

Mistake # 2 – Font Unreadable

This is one mistake I see way too often. Why would you include text on a banner when it is not legible? Font that is either too small or blurry will do more harm than good, in fact it may hurt the conversion rate. If you want to include a tagline or some other text on banners that is fine, but including it on small banners (i.e. 88×31) is not recommended.

Mistake # 3 – Brand Not Included

How are the potential customers supposed know who the product is being marketed by? Including the brand should be a top priority and should never be omitted. In my time managing affiliate programs I have seen this mistake more than I would like to, so never forget to include your brand name/logo.

Mistake # 4 – No Call to Action

A clear call to action is a must for all affiliate banners. Do not assume that visitor knows to click the banner, so ASK them by including the appropriate call to action. Examples of calls to action include: Shop Now, Click Here, and Learn More.

Mistake # 5 – Missing a Border  

This is by far the most common mistake I see when merchants create affiliate banners. The banners can include amazing graphics, a concise message, and a call to action, but are missing a small, yet important detail: a border.

Banners created with white or very light backgrounds get lost in the white backgrounds of affiliate sites. Be sure to include a 1 pixel line around the border of all affiliate banners to ensure your banners stand out.

If you avoid making the 5 common mistakes referenced you will have quality affiliate banners that affiliates will be proud to display on their sites. Affiliate banners are another marketing tool, so make sure they represent your brand in the way you want.

Affiliate Banner Ads: Requirements, Sizes, Examples

Banners are an integral part of any affiliate program, but in some instances merchants do not understand how important they really are. Banners and text links make up an affiliate programs creative inventory that affiliates used to promote merchants products or services. Affiliates use them in a variety of ways and require them in multiple sizes.

When we at AM Navigator either take over management of an existing affiliate program or start one from scratch banners are among the most popular issues/topics we discuss with clients. In a few instances I have seen banners not include a sales message or a call to action; so what is the visitor supposed to do? The key is to make the banners entice the visitor to click and buy. Many merchants are unsure of the protocol for creating affiliate banners, including the key elements to an effective affiliate banner and the sizes they should create. Examples of quality affiliates banners can be found by clicking here.

I will go over the 3 main elements an affiliate banner requires and provide a list of banner sizes (and quantities) that we recommended when running an affiliate program.

All affiliate banners require three elements:

1.       Clear Visual Elements

2.       Concise Message

3.       Call to Action

Without the three above elements the banners will not be attractive to affiliates and they will not convert.

Affiliate banner size recommendations (with recommended quantities):

88×31 px button – 2-5
468×60 px – 2-5
125×125 px – 2-5
120×600 px – 2-5

160×600 px – 2-3
120×240 px – 2-3
234×60 px – 2-3
254×331 px – 2-3
728×90 px – 2-3
250×250 px – 2-3

720×300 px – 1-2
300×100 – 1-2
300×250 px – 1-2
180×150 – 1-2

The banner sizes above are broken into 3 groups based on demand from affiliates. Even though the list includes all the most popular sizes, affiliates may still have special requests for custom sizes, so you must be ready to create additional ones that may include different color schemes and images.

The 88×31 is by far the most popular size among affiliates because it can be used in different ways. It is the most popular with coupon/deal oriented affiliates. We recommend having at least 2 created in different styles.

Affiliate banner creation should be taken seriously and include the 3 elements outlined above and most of the sizes discussed. Without quality banners available to affiliates, the less likely they may be to promote your product/service. Next week I will discuss mistakes to avoid when creating affiliate banners.

How To Start an Affiliate Program on CJ Affiliate Network

On November 21st I wrote a post on setting up an affiliate program on ShareASale, now today I am going to walk you through setting up an affiliate program on CJ Affiliate By Conversant. Over my time managing affiliate programs I have seen the set-up process not complete or the merchant decided to shortcut the process. The set-up process should be done with careful precision to ensure you are presenting your affiliate program in the best possible light upon launch. The following guide will go step–by-step in setting up your CJ affiliate program. In total there are seven (7) steps that you must follow.

Step 1 – Technical/Tracking Implementation

Once the contract is signed it’s time to start getting your site ready to handle the affiliate traffic and sales.  CJ will send you a tracking integration questionnaire to complete and once complete they will create and send you all the conversion tags needed for your site.

The next step in the technical/tracking implementation process is to install the conversion tags provided. You will need to tag all pages of your site and all conversion pages. Once tracking implementation is complete then you must test to ensure everything is working properly.

Testing the tacking pixel involves 4 test purchases:

  • Test # 1 is without a discount
  • Test # 2 is with a discount (both whole order and item level)
  • Test # 3 is with discount (whole order)
  • Test # 4 is with a discount (item level)

Once all four tests have been complete next step is to confirm tests worked, cookie information and site tagging are functional.  Now you can move on to completing the program settings.

Step 2 – Program Settings

There are six pieces that need to be complete and they include:

  • Upload a logo (150×40)
  • Set up publisher accept/decline criteria

This is where you determine how you are going to manage affiliates that apply to your program. I recommend not auto-approving any affiliate, but manually reviewing each application. You can also add specific countries to the auto-decline and manually approve lists.

  • Enter Search Keywords

Add keywords related to your brand. This is what affiliates use to find programs to partner with

  • State Serviceable/Shipping Areas

Where do you ship your products to? What countries do you currently service?

  • Confirm category

CJ has a plethora of categories to choose, but make sure it is relevant to your business

  • Draft and upload Program Description

This should describe your company and the products/service being offered, the commission being offered, and any other details that affiliates will need to know prior to joining.

Step 3 – Branded Sign up Settings

This phase of the process involves three (3) aspects:

  •  Introductory Message

This should be crafted in a similar way to your program description

  • Application Response

This should be a short message to affiliates once they apply to inform them that their application is under review and a decision will be made shortly on their status.

  • Header graphic should be added: Size should be 468×60

Step 4 – Program Terms

This is where you determine your program policies and search guidelines. This is important because the information loaded will tell affiliates the “rules” they must play by. Also included here is the commission to be paid out, cookie life, and any other terms that affiliate partners should be aware of.

Creating customized program terms is also an option here. For example, if you partner with an affiliate that you are going to pay a different commission rate to they must be on their own program terms and not included in the “default” terms.

Step 5 – Add New Links

This step is where you upload all your freshly created banners and text links. Use the “links” tab to upload banners and text links.

Step 6 – New Publisher Email

This is where you create the email that is sent to affiliates upon acceptance. It should include information on your company, products/services, paid search guidelines, links to creatives to get them started with, and most important, contact information.

Step 7 – Request Activation

Once the six steps above have been complete you can request your affiliate program to live.

You go to: Support Center>The Basics / Getting Started

Whether you are launching an affiliate program on ShareASale or CJ, there are steps that need to be carefully completed in order to successfully launch.  Follow the above seven steps and you will have an affiliate program you can be proud of on CJ Affiliate By Conversant.

Key Affiliate Manager Responsibilities and Time Allocation

A good question came to me from a reader of my “Affiliate Program Management: An Hour a Day” book. He wrote:

Do you have any page in your book or in your blog where you elaborate on the necessary hours and manpower per task e.g. search, recruit affiliates etc.?

Having thought about it, I realized that even though I have talked about this in my conference presentations, I have never looked at things through this angle in anything that I have written to date. Hence, this blog post.

There are different tasks and activities that affiliate managers are involved in on a daily basis. I like to think of them as 5 pillars of affiliate program management: affiliate recruitment, activation, compliance policing, communication, and program optimization. More in this brief video of mine:


Now “what percentage of time should affiliate managers spend on each of their key responsibilities?” is a question that is worth a delve of its own.

With affiliate programs that AM Navigator manages, we spend between 30 and 60 hours a month on a program. I have done my math and here is how the rough spread of the time devoted to each affiliate program looks:

  • 40% of time is spent on affiliate recruitment;
  • 35% of time – on affiliate activation, education, and support of communication channel (both one-on-one and newsletters);
  • 10% of time – on compliance policing and enforcement;
  • 10% of time – on competitive intelligence and affiliate program optimization (based on what we learn from the intelligence as well as our own successes);
  • 5% of time – on reports.

You may also learn more about the key affiliate program manager responsibilities in/through the following slidedeck (of my presentation at  Affiliate Summit East 2014):


How To Guide to Starting an Affiliate Program on ShareASale

You are ready to start an affiliate program and have decided to use ShareASale as your affiliate network, but now what? Setting up an affiliate program can be a daunting task, but let me show you a step-by-step approach to successfully set-up an affiliate program on ShareASale. In total there are 8 steps and I will describe what needs to be completed within each step.

Step 1 –Commission Rates and Program Description

This is where you determine your default commission rate per sale and/or lead. It can be entered as a percent or dollar amount (make sure the correct radio button is marked). If you are going to be doing a two-tiered commission structure this is also where you enter that information.

The program description should describe your product or service, the commission being offered and any other enticing details that will get affiliates to join. Along with the program description you should create your program agreement. This document will lay the ground rules for affiliates to follow while promoting your product/service.  It should include SEM restrictions, coupon policy, and other restrictions affiliates should be aware of. Finally, make sure to add your logo here. It should be no larger than 300 pixels wide and 200 pixels high.

Step 2 – Administrative Options

This step is where you have the options to control the behaviors of your affiliate program. Tasks to be completed include:

Setting the auto-approve affiliate option -we recommend reviewing each application individually.

Reply email text – this is the message that gets sent to potential affiliates when they apply to your program. It generally includes a short message informing them that their application is being reviewed and decision will be made within 24 hours and if there are any questions to reach out.

Email notifications (when affiliates join your program) – not necessary, but you can select “yes” to make sure you are reviewing each application as they come in.

Low balance notification – we recommend getting notified, just in case!

Balance threshold notification – you get an email notification when your balance hits the threshold entered here.

Email when a sale/lead takes place – This is totally up to you, but it could just be filling up your inbox. You can see all new transactions upon logging into the main interface of your program.

Tracking Cookie – How long do you want the time to be between the original click through and the sale? 60 days is their default, but you can select whatever one makes sense for your business.

Step 3 – Choose a Program Category

In order for affiliates to find your program you need to select a category. There are almost 40 categories to choose from (they only let you choose 1), so make sure you select one that relates to your business. You also add keywords here for affiliates to use when searching through ShareASale for merchants to partner with.

Step 4 – Place Tracking Pixel

We are getting closer to launch now. This is the most important step of the process because the pixel you will be installing on your site will be tracking all affiliate activity and will be the tracking mechanism for your program (clicks, sales, etc.). We recommend having a person with an IT background install to ensure it is done properly.

Step 5 – Testing the System

Once the tracking pixel is installed you must make sure it is working properly. What happens here is you do a test purchase to make sure the pixel is firing when necessary and all the information is being collected by ShareASale.  The transaction completed will be voided before the program goes live.

Step 6 – Funding the Account

General rule of thumb here is to deposit a minimum of $100 to start. Once the program is live you can set up the auto deposit feature (highly recommended) and deposit more money if you desire to cover sales that may come in initially.

Step 7 – Upload Creatives

In this case “creatives” mean your banners and text links. Depending on how many banners you have created there is an option for a mass upload as opposed to doing it one by one.  If you are not sure what banners to include check out this article that will provide more clarity.

Step 8 – Request Activation

This is final step. Once steps 1 -7 are complete you can request your affiliate program go live to ShareASale. Once activation is requested it may take 24-48 hours to go live. ShareASale checks everything again on their end to ensure you are 100% ready to start running an affiliate program

There you have it, a guide to starting an affiliate program on ShareASale. Follow the steps carefully and you will have a live affiliate program. Now it is time to start recruiting and making money.

Five Types of Affiliates (with Examples)

You have learned how to recruit affiliates into your program and where to find them, but what is their value to you and how they can help grow your affiliate program? Below are 5 of the most common affiliates and a little bit about them:

1. Coupon Affiliates

They are the most common type of affiliate. They are not a fit for every program, but if you do allow them in your program they can drive qualified traffic to your site through coupons offered through the affiliate program.

In many cases the larger coupon affiliates rank highly for coupon-related terms in the organic search results.

Examples include: RetailMeNot, Savings.com, and GoodSearch.com.

2. Incentivized Traffic Affiliates

This type of affiliates shares a part of the commission (received from merchants/advertisers) with the end user.

The incentive may come in the form of cashback, points, virtual currency, or similar arrangements.

Examples include: Ebates, BigCrumbs.com, Mr. Rebates, and even Bank of America.

3. Content Affiliates

They are blog (or forum) owners that create unique content (their own or UGC) for their visitors. They send traffic to a merchant’s site through banner ads and/or text links embedded in content. They may not have the traffic of coupon affiliates, but they generally have a high conversion rate and provide incremental value to merchants.

4. PPC Affiliates

They are affiliates that run paid search campaigns using Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and other platforms and use affiliate links to monetize their efforts. This type of promotion is high risk for the affiliate, as they have to pay for the ads and there is no guarantee for a return on investment. They can work in conjunction with merchant’s current PPC efforts to ensure they are not bidding on the same sets of keywords, or not competing with the merchant by capping their bids.

5. Comparison Shopping Sites

They are price comparison websites and aggregators. These affiliates provide the end user with a tool to compare prices (or other product characteristics!) across an array of merchants, utilizing advertisers’ product feeds to power their engines (Shopping Comparison Engines, that is).

Examples of comparison shopping affiliates include: TheFind.com, Shopzilla.com, and many others.

Knowing the various types of affiliates will help in determining their potential value to the program and will help in growing your affiliate program. Recruiting the right affiliates will be a step toward success and bringing in the incremental sales volume you desire.

How to Find Affiliates to Recruit Into Affiliate Program

Last month I discussed the importance of affiliate recruitment and the effects it can have on an affiliate program. Today I will be diving into where to find affiliates to recruit.

Each day, as you are going through the applications of potential affiliates, you are thinking where can I find quality affiliates other than coupon affiliates? Many times the quality affiliates or super affiliates will need to be solicited to join your program. Here are 4 popular places and tools used to find affiliates for you affiliate program.

I. Search Engines

Using Google, Bing, and Yahoo to find sites that rank for relevant keywords to your business is a great place to start. For example, if you are a children’s clothing merchant you would search for sites that rank highly for keywords related to children’s clothing. Blogs that create unique content are great targets when using search engines.

II. Tools/Software

There are free tools and also paid tools used in recruitment. Many of the paid tools provide more robust solutions, but the free ones also are a great help. Examples of free tools include: SEO Quake and Backlink Watch. Paid tools include: Linkdex Publisher Discovery, Raven SEO Tools, and AffiliateRecruitment.com. The point of the tools is to find sites that have affiliate links of your competitors and then you can reach out to affiliate promoting your competition and invite them to your program.

III. Social Media

Finding relevant prospects may also be fruitful using social media. Searching the social media platform (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn groups, etc) using targeted keywords can present you with prospects with strong social media followings that can promote your product/service through their various channels.

IV. Conferences/Events

Conferences like Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Performance Marketing Insights and others are great places to meet current affiliates and most importantly prospective affiliates. Affiliates are at the conference to learn, but also seek out opportunities to grow their businesses. Don’t be shy at these types of events as you never know who you will meet and how they can positively impact your affiliate program.

Later this week I will discuss different types of affiliates you can recruit into your affiliate program. So stay tuned…

How to View ShareASale Pipe-Delimited File in Excel Columns

“Pipe” symbol is a vertical bar as in | or ¦ but more frequently the former.

A “pipe-delimited file” is a file in which each line of represents a record, and separate fields are divided by the pipe. This symbol then serves as a delimiter (or an indication of “the beginning or end of a data item”).

The most common format in which delimiter-separated files are saved is CSV. It may seem a bit strange as “CSV” originally stood for “comma-separated values” but don’t let the file extension’s semantics confuse you here. It is very common that, instead of commas, colons or pipes are used as delimiters.

One of the main reasons why CSV files are widely-used online is because “plain-text makes the data easy to import into any Spreadsheet program or database regardless of what type of computer or software program you are using” [source].

“Easy to import” they say, huh?

However, the reality is that those of us who aren’t too technically savvy, may find the conversion of a CSV file into a digestible Excel format a challenging task… especially when you have to deal with a pipe-delimited original. Don’t despair! It is actually very easy to convert a pipe-delimited CSV into an Microsoft Excel file with columns. Excel will, actually, do all the “magic” for you!

For my example I will use an “Affiliate Timespan” ShareASale report.

Step 1: Generate Pipe-delimited File

If you already have the CSV file you wish to convert into Excel columns, just skip right to the next step.

If you’re doing this on ShareASale, log into your merchant interface, then go to Reports > Affiliate Timespan, and check the box next to “Create Downloadable Text File” (see the image below).

ShareASale Affiliate Timespan Report

Step 2: Open File in Excel

Launch Microsoft Excel, go to File > Open > change “All Excel Files” (to the right of the “File name”) to “All Files,” and find the pipe-delimited file you have just downloaded.

Excel Open All Files

Hit “Open” and Excel’s “Text Import Wizard” will launch.

Step 3: Help Excel to Convert It for You

Keep the 1st step of the Wizard as is (having “Delimited” checked as it is a delimited file that you are working with),  and click “Next.”

But in the 2nd step, pick “Other” and insert the pipe symbol into the blank box to the right of your choice (as shown below). As soon as you do so: Voilà! The preview will already show you the columns you are looking for.

Pipe-Delimited File to Excel Columns

Just click “Finish” and you are all done, and ready to save this file in the format you’ll be able to enjoy a bit better than the original CSV file.

 

The Importance of Affiliate Recruitment

When a company engages in digital marketing activities the main goal is to increase sales and revenue.  When managing an affiliate program it is no different. Growing revenue is not only good for the merchant’s bottom line, but it also helps increase the programs exposure to potential affiliate partners. The higher the EPC and AOV numbers are, the more attractive it will be and the easier it will be to recruit quality affiliates.

Whether you have an established affiliate program or just launched one, getting quality affiliates to join is paramount. Many merchants ask this question: Do I just wait for affiliates to apply to my program? You could, but that is doing a disservice to the program and hurting potential growth.  One of the main pieces to growing an affiliate program is affiliate recruitment. There are two types of affiliate recruitment strategies: passive and active.

Passive recruitment is when an affiliate discovers your affiliate program on their own. On the other hand, active recruitment is when an affiliate discovers your program because of your outreach efforts. When managing your affiliate program you do not want to rely solely on a passive recruitment strategy because you will most likely not get the results desired. If you do passive recruitment you are going to have predominately more coupon/deal affiliates than any other and relying on one type of affiliate is not going to provide the growth and incremental sales numbers you wish to see.

Diversifying your affiliate pool through affiliate recruitment will provide better opportunities for growth.  Engaging in active affiliate recruitment will aid in this facet. Having coupon/deal affiliates in the program is not a bad thing, but including other affiliate types like content, paid search, social media, and datafeed affiliates will help in the growth and sustainability of the program long term. Many of the previously mentioned affiliate types are not going to find you, so you must proactively find them and invite them to your program.

Recruiting the content, paid search, social media and datafeed affiliates is important because they all specialize in different areas of digital marketing and will target different segments of traffic for your brand. Practicing active affiliate recruitment is important for the short-term, but more importantly the long-term.

You may be asking how you find affiliates to join your program? Check back next week for my post where I will be discussing where to find quality affiliates. I will also touch on what each type of affiliate brings to the table in terms of skills and value.

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.