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Get More From Your Affiliate Program

It is great when your affiliate membership has hit 300,000, but if the reality is that only 10 percent of those members actively drive traffic to your site, how valuable is that number? While you should never expect 100 percent of your affiliates to be active, you should always shoot for above the industry average, which is 10 percent to 20 percent.

With high conversion rates and low costs, affiliate programs are an excellent way to drive traffic, increase revenue and develop brand identity. There are several key elements you must follow to maximize the effectiveness of your affiliate program. If you are considering launching an affiliate program or already have one, the following are lessons we’ve learned that will serve your business:

• Outreach is critical. To acquire and keep quality members, it is critical that ongoing communication between your staff and your affiliates is the No. 1 priority. With so many affiliates being pitched by so many people, you need to create strategies that not only create interest, but keep your program at the top of their minds.

Many affiliates are mom-and-pop operations that will respond to a certain amount of care and attention. Take time to call your top-performing affiliates. Find out what is and isn’t working for them and build a relationship. Monitor the progress of a new affiliate that has just signed up. If it is not generating traffic, call to ask how you can help get it up and running as soon as possible.

Affiliates need to know that you care about their success. Avoid setting up auto-response systems for answering their concerns. Keep them informed with a monthly newsletter and offer incentives such as contests to maximize their performance. Make it a goal to have affiliate message boards full of comments stating how great your program is. But also learn from the not-so-positive comments.

• Make a compelling offer. With so much competition for affiliates, your program needs to stand out from the crowd. Promote an offer that makes affiliates take notice and want to know more about it. Don’t just start with one incentive structure and use it forever. Test many and test continually. Watch out for performance-based pitfalls. Clearly define your incentive structure objectives and monitor them over time to make sure they are working properly.

• Focused staff is mandatory. Most companies beginning an affiliate program think that they can have a few of their staff manage the program on a part-time basis. If you plan to develop a large affiliate program, a dedicated staff is a must. Besides being virtually impossible to manage part time, affiliates need to know they can rely on the same individual over time. This helps build a strong bond that is critical for success.

• Auto approval. We started out manually approving each affiliate site because of concerns that we might offend our name-brand clients. This concern never materialized, however, and we switched to an automatic approval process because manual approval was too time-consuming and demanded a large staff. Besides being fast and efficient, auto-approving lets affiliates start making money immediately. This process is not for everyone, but it is essential if you are serious about creating a large affiliate network.

• Technology solutions: inhouse vs. outsourcing? When it is time to decide how to administer your program, seek out vendors that can provide reporting capabilities. Even if the third-party software company you consider is not completely where you want it to be, it is much farther ahead than if you were to do the job internally. Furthermore, a third-party provider doesn’t really cost that much and provides a simple turnkey solution. When selecting a company, make sure it can handle your anticipated volume.

• Get excited about the future. Affiliate or associate programs are relatively new, and it is hard not to get excited about new technologies that will take these programs to a new level in the future. Today, more affiliates are setting up targeted links to certain areas within a site. With new consumer profiling technologies right around the corner, however, visitors will be automatically routed to categories that best fit their interests.

Remember this advice when it comes to affiliate programs: If you’re not developing them, you should. And if you are developing them, you have to be more aggressive about it.

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