After 12+ years in the affiliate industry, everything I've learned boils down to one thing…
Playing the long game.
Whether you are running an affiliate program or are an affiliate yourself, patience is key and success does not happen overnight.
In fact, there are 15 steps to just ONE successful partnership campaign. You multiply that by hundreds of affiliates and that equals…a whole lot of work!
So if you find yourself looking to launch an affiliate program, but you don’t know where to start… You have come to the right place.
I’ve been through this process dozens of times with clients, so I going to walk you through the steps I personally take to set an affiliate program up for success.
Table of Contents
Affiliate program growth is dependent on several variables, but the more important is revenue and the percentage of revenue coming from this channel. Other key performance indicators are:
- Average order value (AOV)
- Earnings per click (EPC)
- Total sales or leads
- Percentage of sales active partners
The number of affiliate partners in your program means nothing if they are not sales active. The affiliate program has a top goal is to generate sales and leads that turn into revenue. To maximize your efforts, let's go through each step I personally take when creating or auditing an affiliate program.
Step 1: Analyze competitor programs.
Every company has competitors. Once a company reaches a certain level of success, creating an affiliate program tends to be a natural next step.
It's likely you have some competitors that already have an affiliate program… So the first step is to determine which competitors have affiliate programs and what they offer affiliates.
Bonus: check out my free competitive analysis document here that you can use during this process.
- Tracking Platform
- Commission rate
- Network Earnings
- Transaction Type
- Cookie Duration
- Locking Period
- Performance Incentives
- Program Visibility
- ITP Compliance
- Keyword Policy
- Direct Linking
The best way to analyze these features is by joining your competitor’s program.
But don't stop there. Observe and take notes on the whole process:
- How easy is it to join their program?
- What platform your competitors use? Is that the right choice for you?
- Check out their application process > how much they are offering in affiliate commissions? Do they have a nice flow to getting accepted?
Your ultimate goal should be to figure out what your competitors are offering affiliates and then work to make your program better and more appealing to affiliates.
Pro tip: Participate in a demo with at least three tracking networks. Each will have different features, selling points, and prices. You need to weigh all your options before making a decision.
My top pick for a tracking platform: Shareasale.
You have done your research and now it is time to make some hard decisions.
Let’s go through some major questions together.
You need to make this decision first so that you can decide which tracking platform is the right fit for your program.
Will you be paying out for clicks, leads, sales… or all three?
Traditional affiliate programs go with the pay-per-sale model, but that might not be the best fit for you.
If you do pay out for leads and clicks, just know that you will open your program up to higher fraud risk.
You’ll need to make a decision here – allow anyone to fill out an application, or make an invite-only program that cannot be seen by others.
Will you choose a major tracking platform like Shareasale? Or do you want a private in-house platform?
Big affiliate networks allow you to reach a much larger publisher base and have lots of bells and whistles for reporting. However, maybe you are looking for a smaller program that you can control easier, making an in-house solution a good fit for you.
Still not sure? Check out my post on the best private tracking solutions here.
Create a payout that is going to catch the eyes of affiliates that are interested in joining.
However, don’t let that be your maximum payout. Make sure you have special rates for VIP partners that can really make a difference in sales to the program.
Incentive bonuses for volume in sales is a popular tactic in keeping affiliates motivated.
You can offer things like activation bonuses, incentives for a certain number of actions in a month, and more.
This is always the toughest question to answer. If you cannot invest time in the affiliate program yourself, the most crucial thing you could possibly do is hire an affiliate manager.
The first option is to hire an experienced affiliate manager. This is the most costly solution as just like any employee, you will have to offer benefits on top of a salary. Plus, the more experience they have, the more they will cost. However, they can absolutely be worth it in terms of the growth of your program.
For more on finding an affiliate manager, check out my post on how to hire the right affiliate manager.
If you don't have the budget to hire in-house, you can consider hiring an Outsourced Partner Manager (OPM). An OPM brings instant experience to your affiliate program.
OPMs have established relationships with publishers, which is extremely helpful to growth. They also know how to do all the things to make an affiliate program successful.
However, it should be noted that agencies are a double-edged sword – you won’t be the only client of the agency and your clients won’t get the same personal attention you could give.
On my blog post about how to find influencers, you can get a complete list of OPMs that I trust to run an affiliate program.
Pro tip: There is a third option that tends to be my favorite, which is hiring smart junior marketers and training them properly. Training affiliate managers also happens to be my specialty.
I created PerformanceMarketingManager.com, the only online academy dedicated to training affiliate managers on how to recruit the right affiliates, optimize their time, and take the growth of their affiliate program to the next level.
This is the most cost-effective solution for getting affiliate program expertise and includes an hour of private consulting with me.
It's important to remember every program is different. Make business-savvy decisions that you are comfortable with and build the program to scale with your business.
When you were doing your competitive research (you did this…right?), you saw what you liked and disliked about each program. Was there anything missing?
Here are some key elements that could be the difference between your brand's affiliate program and your competitors'.
Get your potential partners excited to join the program with a partner page that screams “JOIN THIS PROGRAM!”
Tell them how much they will make and make the call to action clear for them to sign up.
When affiliates join your program, this is the moment they are most interested in promoting your brand.
Send an email sequence that is 3-6 days long to keep your brand at the top of their mind.
In these emails, you need to walk a fine line between welcoming the new partners and motivating them to start ASAP. It’s a tall order since they are working on a performance basis.
You should provide all the assets they need to be successful. Things like top selling points, how much money they could earn, and a list of your most successful links, banners, and landing pages.
Offer up your time and get them familiar with your brand and program.
Give partners and affiliates lots of options. Offer up banners in 10+ sizes and different designs.
Present links to high-converting landing pages. Make it easy for them to join your program and grab a link yesterday.
Product feed (if applicable).
Deep linking to certain products can be a deal-breaker to some affiliates. Make sure you set up your data feed with your affiliate platform so that your partners can link to the products they want to promote.
You don’t need your legal team involved with the terms and conditions as these should be easy to read for anyone. However, make sure you have all the right statements in place to make it clear that you mean business.
Fraudulent publishers will seek out programs with weak terms and steal your money if you aren’t paying attention.
Need inspiration for this? Check out my template of terms and conditions that I use for every program I create and audit.
High-quality content your partners can use to promote your products.
Create a 1,000 word or so blog post that your affiliates can use for a template for a review of your product. Plus, this is super easy to reference in your welcome sequence.
Your ultimate goal should be to make life as easy as possible for your affiliates. In turn, you will be rewarded with the content being produced at a faster rate.
Pro Tip: Making friends with your partners is key to earning their trust and loyalty to your business. Go the extra mile and offer up your time to jump on a quick call.
Are you interested in having all these steps done for you? I offer an affiliate program launch package that could be the solution you are looking for. Learn more here.
Your program is officially ready to go… So now what? Just like any big product update, you want to let your fans know the big news.
Let's take a look at a few outlets that you will want to utilize when it comes to getting the word out.
Whenever you are ready to launch your program, the tracking solution you went with will have options to promote your program to their audience.
Getting this placement of “new programs” or being included in their newsletter could bring in a flood of potential partners. Reach out to your sales rep or launch team to see if there are any opportunities to gain this exposure.
You definitely want your email subscribers to know that your affiliate program is open. After all, your customers are the people that know your products the best.
These first-hand experiences speak volumes and you will want these customers spreading the good word! Invite your customers – past and present to join the program and earn money for their recommendations.
This one is easy to recognize, but can be hard to execute properly. I’ve never heard of a post about an affiliate program launch going viral, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
Buying ads to drive more traffic to your affiliate sign-up page is a practice that I have seen work in the past. Paid strategies like this could work for your product too with the right messaging.
You can even create groups so your affiliates can get the latest updates about the program and products.
Your ultimate goal when it comes to announcing your program to the world is to let as many people know about your affiliate program as possible… Especially your loyal customers.
Pro Tip: If you want even more exposure, there are lists of the best affiliate programs to join. Needless to say, you want to be on these lists!
If you want to be included in my own list, simply fill out this form with details about your program. I’ll take a look and see if you make the cut.
It can be exhausting to get the attention of top affiliates and the failure rates are going to be high, no matter how experienced you are. If I get 10% of prospects to respond to emails, that is considered a solid win.
Good agencies have a team of all-star affiliate managers with years of experience recruiting affiliates to programs. They know how to connect with needle-moving players and get them sales active.
Grovia has a data-base of thousands of affiliates in dozens of different verticals. If you are looking for the fastest growth possible of your affiliate program, set up an exploration call with my buddy Rob to see if Grovia is a good fit for your program.
Submit your affiliate program to affiliate directories.
If your tracking platform allows it, create a two-tier program to motivate partners to do your recruitment work. Present your two-tier offer to affiliate directories that will put your program on the top of lists.
Affiliate networks also have opportunities to give your program more exposure as well. Shareasale has a great opportunity for merchants to promote their program on the login. This is an easy first step to get your program more exposure, which leads to more applications coming in.
You will really want two lists. The first will be targets that would be great to have in your program since every sale counts. But you also want to create a wishlist of high-potential partners that could make a big difference in the program. Reach out to each list with a different strategy.
Your list will need to include target companies, names, and emails. Personal email addresses get higher response rates than generic ones. You will need to dedicate time and effort to create this list. I highly suggest utilizing third-party tools for help here.
Start with creating the top five niche publisher types that will make the biggest difference to your program. Content bloggers are almost always on this list, but the other four niches depend on the product.
If your product is software, review, and ranking sites are huge difference makers. But the message to a review site will be totally different than to a content blogger.
Write out emails for the main target audiences you are going after. Your generic email templates will vary greatly from your Youtuber outreach templates.
I use trusted CRM like Hubspot to make sure these emails go out in a timely manner if the previous emails did not get a response.
Remember that while a wide net and sequences will work for smaller affiliates, they will likely not land the big fishes. You are better off creating custom messages to improve your response rates and a catered message to offer VIP commissions.
Your ultimate goal here is to get a response. If you find partners with huge potential, do not stop poking them until they tell you no.
As an affiliate manager, it can be difficult to figure out where you should be spending your time.
Time management is something that most affiliate managers develop over the course of a career… But who has that kind of time?
I pride myself on utilizing the best productivity tools to save time throughout the day.
Here are some key tips to help you stay organized.
Keeping a clean inbox is paramount to keeping track of your opportunities. Zero inbox is the concept of clearing out all your emails on a daily basis. I don’t think a true zero inbox is necessary, so I have my own method – one that includes my favorite email tool, Sanebox.
Everyone has their own method, but a cluttered inbox will inevitably lead to opportunities falling through the cracks.
Back when I started running affiliate programs, I didn’t use anything to organize contacts. I thought I could just remember everything that was going on with hundreds of affiliates…
Needless to say, I failed miserably.
Someone later taught me to use Excel sheets to organize updates… Which works fine for some.
However, I did not become a stud affiliate manager until I learned the magic of utilizing a Customer relationship management (CRM) tool to organize my marketing efforts.
Some affiliate managers find this task tedious and boring… But it is my favorite part of the day!
I get to see all the affiliate’s sites and some have more potential than others. Some are just comically awful. But the ones that have big potential can be fun to find.
Make sure you reach out to these folks immediately while your product still has their attention.
This task should only take 10 minutes of your day if you do it right.
Once you accept affiliates into your program, send them a welcome email sequence so they have all the assets to succeed.
- Day 1 – Welcome to the program, I’m your affiliate manager, here is your link.
- Day – 2 – Here are some examples of good affiliates, here is the resource center.
- Day 3 – Want to jump on a call? Incentive bonus for getting started now.
Your affiliates need the latest updates on your product.
Make sure you stay in constant contact with at least two newsletters a month.
This will ensure you stay at the top of their mind and you can build on your relationship with these partners.
Every once in a while, you need to spice up your program with some incentives to motivate affiliates.
Set up tiered bonuses and contests to generate extra sales through the program.
One of my favorites is the 2x commissions in the first-month model. This helps motivate affiliates to get moving once they sign up.
Banners are somewhat of an outdated practice on today’s web, but links are still going strong.
Make sure your affiliates have the latest landing pages that are performing well and any coupon that will help them close deals.
Pro Tip: Provide special treatment to your top performers. This is where most of your time should be spent.
Get your list of top ten performers and do whatever it takes to make them happy. Drop all your other tasks and take care of their special requests. They are going to make you (and your program) look good.
Executives… Am I right?!
Always wanting to know the latest updates on the state of the affiliate program.
Hopefully, the executive team understands that slow and steady growth is the key to success.
Your best-case scenario is someone high up in the company recognizes that the affiliate program cannot simply be turned up like Facebook ads. I’ve sadly seen too many companies become impatient and bail on the program before it even had a chance to scale.
So what is the best way to handle this? Make pretty reports that showcase small wins and growth of the program.
- YOY > Year over Year. This compares this year to last year.
- YTY > Year to Year. Compares 2020 to 20XX.
- MOM > Month over month. Compares this month to last month.
- MTM > Month to Month. Compares July 2020 to July 2019.
- WOW & WTW > Weeks
- DOD & DTD > Days…I think you get the picture.
Recognizing MOM sales spikes of your partners is crucial to being a good affiliate manager.
This is easy to set up and will be where you spend most of your time analyzing data. If partners are up significantly, praise them and ask what their secrets are.
If they are down, sympathize with them and try to help figure out what the issue is. If you have the time, do WOW reports to get even more granular.
Every e-commerce store will have days that are slower for overall sales.
For most, Mondays are slower than Fridays. Over time, you should recognize when a certain day of the week outperforms its normal volume.
Pull stats daily from the program and add them to an ongoing spreadsheet and look for those small anomalies. Small is good, but big can mean fraud.
This is a learned trait. Statistics will give you 90% of the information you need to recognize suspicious activity, but you have to know what to look for.
Fraud is a topic that I go over extensively in my online course, which is an investment that pays for itself when you save your company thousands of dollars. But if you can’t buy today, check out my free resource of 8 red flags of fraudulent affiliates.
Every month you should be digging into what is performing the best for your program.
Your marketing team is going to want to know if some banners are working better than others and which landing pages are converting the best. Report it!
Remember that small wins add up. Make yourself and your program look good by highlighting how your program is growing.
Pro Tip: If you are like me and are NOT a data head (I’m the relationships guy), find a counterpart that is savvy with a spreadsheet. You can make a helluva team if you are able to focus on what you are really good at.
That’s all there is to it! Affiliate program growth is not easy. I hope these tips have helped to guide you in the right direction.
If you need help though, seek professionals that know what they are doing and can help your program grow exponentially faster.
Good luck out there!