On the surface launching an affiliate program looks like one of the simplest and cheapest ways to get your brand out in front of consumers and buyers. After all how hard can it be? Sign up with one of many of the cheap affiliate networks ( or even for free on a revenue share only basis ) , add a script to your check out page, throw up a few banners, then sit back and let the sales roll in….and 14 or so years ago it was that easy, though cheap networks were rather rare at that time.
Back to modern day, and launching a successful affiliate program is far from simple and its success is grounded in actions you need to take a fair while before you decide to move forward with the launch. So what are the things you need to do before you launch.
15 Things to do before launching an affiliate program
While this is not by any means an exhaustive list, these are 15 key tasks that we strongly believe you need to do before you launch your affiliate program.
Be live for 6-12 Months : Many companies will launch a web site and then dive into affiliate marketing the second after the site goes live. That might work if you’ve launched numerous eCommerce sites before and have a loyal following of affiliates all keen to promote your product. But that’s a minority. Affiliates tend not tojump on the program of new site until it has shown resilience by thriving in the marketplace for at least 5-6 months. They will be reluctant to spend their time developing marketing for a company that might end up sucking up their resources for no return.Plus if the project does suffer a wide number of early issues – you may end up permanently burning a bridge with that affiliate. If you’ve been around for a while, have shown you know what you are doing and have a growing online business then affiliates will be far more likely to show an interest and place their trust in your brand.
Do conversion testing : A key question we ask new potential clients is about how well their site converts. And we’ll usually get a vague answer based on a best guess. Affiliate Marketing lives or dies by conversion rate. If you can’t convert the targeted traffic that affiliates send to you, then they will soon move on. Make sure you do conversion testing before you start your program. And don’t just look at the conversion rate as a single figure. Review the conversion rate across all your marketing channels, email, ppc, organic, social etc so you have baselines conversion date to cover the various marketing that affiliates may carry out. Most importantly, if your conversion rate isn’t high enough to support an affiliate program, then don’t launch one.
Do A/B testing of landing pages and product pages : Continuing with conversion rates. Once you have a good idea of your baseline conversion rates, then start testing. Create new landing pages and new ads, mix and match and see which changes will increase your conversion based on the changes you have made. While is this good practice for your business as a whole, it is very important for affiliates, who tend to like to send traffic to targeted pages that specific to the content on their own site, especially product pages, or specially constructed landing pages for key themes or events etc.
Have your site reviewed and tested : Reviewed by peers and customers, not friends and staff, get honest feedback on the good and bad about your site. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that what you have created is the best thing to hit the Internet. Once you get feedback, act on it, don’t get upset when a function you thought was awesome proves to be far from it. Review all feedback with consideration and make the changes that make sense and fit with what your site is trying to accomplish.
Do Brand building : Your business can not exist in a vacuum. Every passing eyeball that sees your brand / logo somewhere on the internet is helping establish your brand. Brand awareness is essential for driving a better conversion rate. Consider also that when an affiliate has a chance to offer two similar products for the same commission, will the offer one that has no brand presence or the one that may be a tad more expensive but is from a company that consumers are more aware of.
Ensure your hosting and site are stable – Stress Test : Your site might be awesome, the conversion great, but you went for the cheapest hosting you could find? And suddenly when you start getting a lot of traffic the site slows down, pages don’t load, or worse eventually it just dies. From anyone’s perspective this is bad, and more so for an affiliate. They put faith in the fact that your site will be available for the traffic they send to you. If they are recommending your site, and your site fails, not only are they losing potential revenue, but in the eyes of the consumer they just recommended, they are wasting that consumers time too, so the damage can be two fold as the consumer loses faith in the affiliate’s site too! When you launch your business, do some stress testing, make sure it can stand up to serious amounts of traffic without suffering slow downs or crashing.
Review your margins to ensure you can afford to have an affiliate program : If you can’t afford an affiliate program, then don’t launch one. If your product margins are so slim that when you work out the numbers you’re not making a profit, or have guaranteed residual revenue, then don’t do it. There’s little point launching an affiliate program that offers 2% commission if one of your close competitors has found a way to offer 6%, when offering 5% will see you losing money on every sale. It won’t be long before you are begrudging affiliates every sale they bring in and the relationship with them will devolve into a less than healthy one. If the numbers say no, then don’t do it.
Ensure Product Images are quality : Sounds simple enough ” have great product images”, and yet companies still launch with awful images of their products. Not only are great images important for you and your site, they can be critical for affiliates who are promoting your products, and a shoddy picture can do more damage than no image!
Ensure your product data can be easily exported for use in various sources, and test it : While not relevant to every business, if you have a large product range, then ensure it is easy to export it for offsite use. If you already do this for something like Google Merchant Center then you’ll already be well on the way. One core area that many Affiliates focus on is data driven web sites, especially comparison and review sites. In order to get listed on those sites you need a quality data feed that you can send to affiliates directly, or through the affiliate network. Bad data is worse than no data. Wrong prices, poor presentation, weak descriptions, will all work to undermine any work you have done on site to develop a good conversion rate.
Ensure your product info is complete and accurate : Related to the above. Make sure your product information is as complete and accurate as you possibly can make it. There’s no such thing as too much product information. Take a look at any major site and you’ll see that the product information goes to a very granular level. You might not think the weight of your product is important for a customer to know, but if you have that data, then use it, and let the consumer be the judge of what product information they want to read. Obviously the better information you have here the better your data feeds will be too.
Ensure Key Contact info is in place (about/contact/etc) : While it is not only SEO smart to have all the “about us” pages on your site, it is also critical in terms of presenting your company as a professional and legitimate business. When affiliates visit your site for the first time they want to know who they are working with (and consumers who they are buying from). Make this information easily available and detailed.
Participation in Affiliate Forums : When you get closer to launching your affiliate program, don’t just do it blind. Do your homework, learn a bit about what affiliate marketing is and how it works. Go to the forums, read and ask questions, get input from affiliates. This can save you a lot of time down the road, and affiliates on the whole are very happy to give feedback to businesses that are planning an affiliate program.
Define a budget for affiliate marketing : There’s a long held belief that affiliate marketing is money for nothing, that because you are only paying for each sale you get, that there is no need to invest into the affiliate marketing sales channel. However, like every other channel, the more you invest into affiliate marketing, the better the return. Develop a budget for the channel, consider that if you are a newbie, and other businesses have been around for years, making money for their affiliate partners, that it is going to take more than sweet words to get a descent placement on their site. Moving a steady earner to replace them with a new unknown merchant is a risk for an affiliate. Consider how you can mitigate that risk for them. Review sites, need something to review, make sure you budget sending out samples. Very large affiliates will also offer opportunities to participate in special marketing campaigns, and they will charge for this opportunity. Your program may do okay with no budget, but it won’t excel.
Have a coupon strategy : There are a lot of coupon focused affiliate sites around now a days and one thing you need to seriously consider when you launch is how you will work with them, or not. It is not an easy decision, but it is something that must be done if you are to either get the most from what they can offer, or prevent them from cannibalizing your other sales channels and affiliate partners. Coupons can be an excellent way to gain early exposure with affiliates, they can drive up conversion rates, push order values up and ensure specific products get featured when you want them to. They can also cause consumers to run off hunting for a coupon every time they get to your check out page (when they may not have even considered it before) costing you revenue on already guaranteed sales. Worse they may run off and find a better coupon from a competitors site. The up and down side of using coupons and working with coupon affiliates needs to weighed carefully.
Hire an Affiliate Marketing Manager : There is a lot to learn, and a lot to do, and your PPC Manager is really not going to appreciate it when you tell them that they need to take on a new channel that they know nothing about. It’s easy to joke about marketing managers wearing many hats, but every marketing channel is very competitive and if you really want to succeed your need your marketing team to be focused on what they are good at, without distractions. Hiring an affiliate manager ensures you have someone in place that knows the business, and hopefully already knows a good number of affiliates too. 10+ years ago a program having an affiliate manager was considered a rare gem, they stood out like huge diamonds. Now a days though it’s the programs without managers that stand out, or rather, don’t stand out as they fade into the background of the tens of thousands of affiliate programs that are all clamoring for an affiliate’s attention and all have affiliate program managers
For further reading on launching an affiliate marketing program, we recommend the following articles.
The article “15 Things to do before you launch an affiliate program” was first published on AMWSO.net