March 29, 2012

16 Tips for Managing Affiliate Marketing Programs

Using an affiliate marketing program to increase your online sales or generate more sales leads is a good idea.  Here are sixteen tips to better manage your affiliate marketing program and improve your ROI:

  1.  Provide banner ads in a variety of sizes.  No one is going to change the layout of their blog to accommodate the one banner ad size you’re offering to affiliates.
  2. Include a good call-to-action in each of your ads.  No call-to-action = no click-thrus.  Your ads might be the most beautiful ever but no affiliate wants to waste space on an ad that won’t generate click-thrus and sales.  Even a simple call-to-action such as “Shop Now” is better than no call-to-action in your ads.
  3. Edit your ad copy.  When you provide a banner ad with copy such as “Save 70% Off Off Retail Sales”, your company looks sloppy.  If you would be embarrassed to use a banner ad with typos in your paid search program, don’t offer banner ads with typos to your affiliates.
  4. Edit your HTML.  When I have to edit your HTML on my site so that your banner ad displays properly, I assume that you don’t bother to test your ads first.  How many affiliates do you think are going to take the time to edit your HTML versus taking the time to delete your ad from their site?
  5. Design banner ads that are easy to read.  While that dark gray copy (perpendicular to your ad layout so that viewers have to turn their heads to read the copy) on a black background might look fashionable to you, it’s hard to read which means that fewer affiliate site visitors will click on your ad.  (It’s also hard to see your dark-colored products when you’ve got a dark-colored background on your ads.)
  6. Update your ads on a regular basis.  Affiliates like to A/B test, too.  If you haven’t updated your ads in over six months and those ads aren’t converting for your affiliates, chances are your affiliates will remove your ads from their site.
  7. Openly share with your affiliates.  Share info such as which ads are the best-converting, exclusive coupons, etc.
  8. Be transparent.  If you don’t offer a commission on certain products, make it easy for your affiliates to find out which products pay no commission.  No affiliate wants to find out after the fact that you aren’t going to pay a commission for traffic and sales that the affiliate generated for you.
  9.  Remember that your competitors offer affiliate programs, too.  If you don’t treat your affiliates well, expect that they’ll jump ship to one of your competitors’ affiliate programs.
  1. Email your affiliate with unprofessional requests.   I received an email asking me to start a blog that states that a specific company is the best in its industry, in exchange for a small increase in the commission rate.
  2. Assume that every affiliate likes or wants rotating banner ads.  Offer static banner ads that won’t distract from your affiliate’s web content.  If you think that you have too many messages to include on a static ad, it’s time to edit your marketing messages – keep it simple.
  3. Skimp on Return Days.  Why should an affiliate display your ads if you’re not willing to pay a commission for return visits resulting from those ads?  Your affiliates aren’t stupid so don’t treat them like they’re ignorant about the fact that it takes multiple visits to your site before a visitor makes a purchase.  (Having your affiliate program Return Days set at 0.1666667 days is really skimping.)
  4. List a phone number on your ads.  Affiliates aren’t willing to devote space to your ads if they’re not going to get a commission.  No affiliate wants one of their site visitors to see your ad, call the number listed and not get credit for the sale.
  5. E-mail affiliates that target consumers that aren’t in your target market.  What are the chances that someone who blogs about “all things Star Wars” will consider displaying an ad that targets Trekkies?  While that’s an extreme example, you’re wasting an affiliate’s time by contacting him/her prior to looking at the affiliate’s site to see if your products are a good fit for that site. 
  6. Make up your program rules as you go.  Example: Changing your program to reverse commissions on affiliate-generated transactions when the transactions included a promo code that you don’t offer through your affiliate program but do offer through your other marketing channels.  Your affiliates don’t have control over what promo codes a site visitor uses to make a purchase but affiliates do have control over continuing to display your ads on their sites.  Nothing burns bridges like making it harder for affiliates to get a commission from your program.
  7. Auto-approve all affiliates.  You have a brand image to maintain.  Does your brand image really match a site for people who write letters to prison convicts?  (Don’t laugh, that happens to companies that don’t want to devote manpower to approving affiliate applications on an individual basis.)

Always remember that affiliates who choose to display your ads on their sites have a vested interest in increasing your site conversions.  If an affiliate asks you for ads for a specific product or category, it’s because the affiliate wants to generate sales on your site.  Other affiliates will simply switch to displaying ads for other sites because it’s not the affiliates’ job to teach you how to create more effective ads.

Any affiliate marketing program tips that you would add to the list?

March 27, 2012

A Tale of Two Free Recipes

It’s starting to get easier to find companies that understand the value of providing free content online.  Some companies, however, do a better job of making their free content easier to share, thus reaching a larger audience.  Here are two companies, competitors in the same industry, which take slightly different approaches to providing free content:

  • Godiva: Godiva products can be found almost everywhere you look – from Godiva’s bricks-and-mortar locations to larger retail chains, such as Walgreens, Barnes and Noble, and Target, to  Godiva does a good job of promoting sales in all channels by providing free recipes, which include Godiva products, on

Godiva makes it easy to sort the free recipes by category and/or ease-of-baking.  Best of all – Godiva does not place any obstacles in the way to accessing the free content/recipes, so it’s easy to share these recipes via all social media platforms.

  • Ghirardelli: Ghirardelli products are also in many of the same large retail locations as Godiva – Target, Walgreens, and grocery store chains – and online at yet Ghirardelli only makes some of its free recipes, which include Ghirardelli products, available on its web site.

If you want to see most of Ghirardelli’s free recipes, you have to "like" the company on facebook. 

Let’s face it, not everyone wants to deal with logging on to facebook to access more free recipes when they can easily find free recipes at other sites.

Why does any of this matter to your company?

  • Providing free content, without any barriers to accessing the content – be it filling out a sales lead form or “liking” your facebook page – allows more potential customers to access and share your free content.  Having worked with B2B and B2C clients, I realize we would all like to have the contact info of every potential customer who views our free content online but at the end of the day, most marketing and sales staff are judged on increased revenue, not increased number of sales leads. (Besides, you can still use software packages like Eloqua to track the site visits from your email list and see what site pages your sales leads are viewing.)
Treat your free content like your checkout process – the fewer steps involved to find and share, the higher the conversion rate.  Godiva really gains the advantage on Ghirardelli by not making site visitors go through the extra steps of logging on to facebook and “liking” the company.  However, both sites take different approaches to design and usability: Godiva at least uses the keyword “recipes” but the link is in the bottom navigation; Ghirardelli opts for the call-to-action phrase of “bake with us” in the top navigation.  What design approach is best for your site?  Take a look at the keyword phrases your site visitors are using to find your site and when searching for content/products on your site.  You make it easier for visitors to access your content when you communicate using the same terminology as your site visitors.

  • Word-of-mouth still carries more influence than paid marketing.  Why not let as many people as possible share your free content on Pinterest, Google+, facebook, Twitter and other social media sites?  It’s free advertising for your company and increases the top-of-mind awareness of your brand.

  • You either gain a competitive advantage or you risk losing market share to your competitors that realize the value of providing free content that can be easily shared by prospective customers.  I recently spoke with a Marketing exec in a retail company who told me that his company is going to focus on social media in 2013 but not this year.  The reality is that his competitors are already using Polyvore, Pinterest, and other sites to push awareness and sales of their products.  If your company is not willing to spend much money on social media, at least make it easy for your customers to freely promote your products via social media. 

What steps are you or your clients taking to provide more free content online to increase sharing, brand awareness and revenue?

In case you now feel like baking: