How do you find the right affiliates and build great relationships with them?
Affiliate recruitment is arguably the most important part of an effective affiliate programme. It is also the most challenging, particularly in the current climate.
E-consultancy’s 2010 Affiliate Buyers Guide reports that the UK affiliate market grew by 12% from 2009 to 2010 alone, a positive sign for the industry as a whole. But individual merchants are faced with more competition, bringing with it more noise.
Standing out becomes essential so we’ve pulled together our top creative tips to help merchants find the right affiliates, communicate in the right way and build great relationships with them.
Finding the right affiliates
The most straightforward approach to affiliate recruitment is to choose the most searched-for keywords that relate to your product/service. Simply type them into Google and one other major search engine, and approach the affiliates that appear on the first two pages.
The downside is this can be very time consuming.
Software applications can automate the process and help you find prospective affiliates that either (a) already work with competing affiliate programmes, or (b) run websites that target the traffic you are after.
Free tools that are available are Internet Success Spider and the most obvious, the Google link tool. For bigger budgets, Hitwise and Syntrix, which claims over 1.6 million contacts, are worth considering.
One useful innovation is a tool that categorizes affiliates based on technology that can ‘understand’ what web pages are about. A good example is Webgains’ SiteSeeker, which allows relevant content publishers to be found with one quick search.
Saying the right thing (in the right way)
Email is the cornerstone of communication with busy affiliates but the cardinal mistake a lot of merchants make is adding too much information to email copy, which affiliates (who get thousands of emails) do not want to wade though.
Make the email clear, concise and attractive to read. If you are doing the obvious – HTML, catchy subject line, original design, timely,personalisedand relevant concise copy – and you are not getting results, what else could you do to get your message out there?
Consider different channels and pick the right time of day to use them, e.g. Facebook, Linkedin, affiliate blogs and forums, Twitter, Affiliate Directories, Youtube and SlideShare. Share your views, ask for advice, contribute and become part of the community that you are looking to recruit within.
What about the substance of your communication? Make your offer as original and exclusive as possible. For example a marked down TV is a surefire win for price comparison affiliates.
To recruit attractive and larger affiliates offer them something exclusive. Orange, for example, has offered affiliates Go Mobile, an exclusive SIM card deal. They are subsequently seeing an increase in non-contract leads and an increase in traffic within its site’s contract section.
Creativity is also about flexibility and ingenuity – can you spot a demand and respond to it? For example, the GardenCentre.co.uk noticed its affiliates were promoting a product range it did not stock. It promptly stocked the range and recruited some new affiliates.
Next, see if your commission structure is attractive. Having the ability to customize commissions for particular affiliates is more beneficial than a ‘one size fits all’ solution and merchants can be creative with their offer over time if they keep something in the bank from the outset. Not only can short term commission increases help recruit new affiliates, but they can help activate existing affiliates as well.
Don’t stop there: Consider creative incentives schemes as well.
For example gift experience website Treatme.net rewarded affiliates for (a) the most revenue (b) the most sales (c) the best newcomer and (d) the most improved. The programme saw a 20%+ increase in uptake. An incentive of this type creates a level playing field for both super and smaller affiliates alike.
Another idea is to create an interactive, on brand and imaginative incentive, e.g. Sainsbury’s Virtual Supermarket Sweep.
Affiliate marketing is well established and there are several events in the calendar like the a4uAwards, the a4uExpos, Network Sponsored Parties, IAB workshops, E-consultancy and NMA roundtables. These offer great sponsorship and branding opportunities for merchants looking to recruit new affiliates. Why not consider some event or guerilla marketing that will help you stand-out there?
An example of this is gonedigging.co.uk which sponsored candid photos at the a4uAwards and gave away 250 spoof newspapers to attendees who sent in their photos.
Other powerful and under-used traditional channels are snail mail, telephone, direct mail, PR and corporate hospitality For example, my-wardrobe invited top affiliates and prospects to London Fashion Weekend in September 2010 for some VIP pampering and catwalk shows.
In summary, to find the right affiliates, think laterally. Make use of the latest technology and your network’s knowledge and capabilities. Then do your research to get the offer right and pick the appropriate communication channels, treating your relationships with affiliates as a two way exchange.
Underpin this activity with dedicated investment: again your network should be able to help you build an internal ROI case for an annual affiliate recruitment budget, with spread sheets, case studies and forecasting plans.
And don’t just take our word for it. Ian Gregory, Head of Digital Marketing at Viking Direct had this to say: “Creativity and commitment in affiliate recruitment has really paid off for us. We’ve become fully engaged with the top affiliates in our space who listen to what we’re offering because we’ve taken the time to understand their needs. The results speak for themselves!”