Affiliate Management 101
Here's all the questions that anyone new to affiliate management tends to ask, so ask away!
An affiliate 101 sounds a bit of simplification of a complex industry. Though, if you are new to the world of affiliate or performance marketing and program management, you'll no doubt have a load of questions. And - every time you get an answer - that opens up to yet another question.
We've tried to pull together a lot of the questions that we and our partners get asked on a regular basis and shuffle them into some kind of order. Check out the Affiliate Marketing Glossary as well if there's any words you're unsure of.
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is the process of advertising on other websites payable by commission only on an agreed action. That can be as a %age of retail basket value, a fixed fee per referral, or a recurring fee on subscriptions. It is confusingly also applied to payment for a raw lead just to muddy the water a bit!
What is an affiliate program?
Put simply, an affiliate program is an arrangement in which an online merchant or advertiser pays a referrer for an action, usually with mutually agreed tracking. That can be as simple as UTM code, or the latest cross-platform multi-attribution formats. When managed well, it becomes a powerful business partnership.
How do affiliate networks make money?
The affiliate networks charge a fee for each advertiser; originally that was a set up fee and a program 'override'. That has developed over the years and now fees can be anything from a flat $$ for an agreed level of platform data usage, right through to a management fee plus %age of affiliate commissions. It's usually agreed individually between the tracking network and each advertiser.
Are affiliate marketing and performance marketing the same thing?
Performance marketing is a broader term and can include almost any parameter from a link 'impression' right through to a sale being made. Fees and commissions are usually based on the level of performance which for affiliate marketing is where a sale or referral being made.
Are affiliates and partners the same?
Nailing an affiliate definition is never easy, as a search for the word in Google shows, as it applies to financial or business affiliations of all sorts.
Loosely, in our context they are the same term, though increasingly the word partner is used to refer to the major publishers or advertiser relationships where these are tracked using affiliate technologies. Check out the Partnerize description - and our Glossary for more details.
How do I find affiliates for my program?
Most affiliate networks will have a directory of affiliates for you to reach out to when starting a program, and they can usually suggest some of the good performers who will get you up and running. SaaS platforms tend not to do this as each subscriber has their own partners, not shared among the platform's advertiser subscribers.
As one of the most comprehensive affiliate recruitment tools, Publisher Discovery lets you find affiliates in your own market vertical or by competitor analysis. It is also the affiliate recruiting technology of choice for several providers to provide affiliate recruitment capability, often included as part of the higher level accounts. See more on our Partners page.
Where can you meet affiliates?
This is a largely online industry, so there are usually plenty of opportunities to meet affiliates at major Affiliate Conferences, network events such as CJU and Rakuten DealMaker. There are also other more informal meetups which happen regularly, so keep an eye on the latest news from the networks.
We cover much of this in a blog post which includes a recording of a conference session on 'Getting the Basics Right for Affiliate Recruitment'.
What is affiliate disclosure?
A disclosure statement on an influencer or bloggers posts reveals to the reader that there may be affiliate links on the website, for which a commission may be paid to the publisher if these links are clicked and a sale is made.
Do affiliates need qualifications?
There are no formal qualifications in affiliate - even for affiliate managers (though there are now plenty of courses available). It's fair to say to be successful, an affiliate will need a thorough grounding in websites and SEO, or whatever channel they choose to work in. For an affiliate manager it means each applicant to a program needs to be carefully checked before approving to a program.
Is affiliate marketing still growing?
Absolutely! The last year or so saw a major shift towards affiliate as traditional ad budgets took a hit. Advertisers and publishers of all types grew in numbers on a global scale.
From 2018 industry reports that UK affiliate marketing spend has increased by 15%: US predictions are for a growth of 62% between 2015 to 2020. It is expected that a 10% annual growth on spend will continue.
How many types of affiliate are there?
There have been plenty of writers try to arrive at a definitive set of affiliate types - anything from 5 to 15; AMNavigator outlines as many as 20! In reality no publisher is only a blogger or only a coupon affiliate, as many use multiple channels to market. Loosely this covers most of affiliate activity:
- Cashback / Loyalty / Rebate
- Coupon / Vouchercode
- Content or SEO affiliates
- Bloggers / Influencers
- PPC / Search affiliates
- Social media
- Email marketers
Do coupon affiliates hijack sales I'd already be getting?
It's a tricky question and people across the industry still regularly debate this at affiliate conferences. Current wisdom is that when managed effectively and as a promotional partnership, it can be highly beneficial. If possible issue a specific coupon code for each affiliate; that will mean that you can attribute the sale more effectively - and secondary scraper sites (that regurgitate other sites content) won't get a penny - but your customer gets the benefit anyway.
The coupon affiliate landscape is also littered with other poorer quality publishers with out of date or even non-existent offers; they exist to appear in search on a brand name with seemingly relevant content.
Are influencers also sometimes affiliates?
Several years ago, bloggers an 'influencers' as they have become known, usually feared a penalty in Google search if using affiliate linking. More recently this has changed and many influencers have a broad portfolio of revenues. Read out interview with the Curvy Fashionista for more insights.
What is a super affiliate?
Superaffiliates generate large sales volumes - and derive a large income from affiliate marketing, usually in the range of five or six figures
What's a technology affiliate?
This is a very broad term, which used to be applied mostly to those intrusive toolbars of 15 years ago. Now it applies to a broad range of often innovative technologies which an advertiser can integrate on an affiliate basis. These cover retargeting, basket recommendations and even engagement via in-site messaging.
Most networks will be able to recommend the most relevant technology partners for you to engage with.
Do you have to set up via a network?
Simple answer is not always; you can run a simple referral partnership using UTM codes, though that is not really scaleable. There are now hundreds of tracking providers that should be able to support any kind of advertiser requirements.
Networks will give you the ability to manage approvals and payments; and use more advanced tracking and attribution models often with brand protection included. These will also enable a program to grow from a few partners to many thousands of affiliates.
Where can I get advice on setting up a program?
If you're still deciding on how to set up, then several of the OPM agencies will be happy to consult and suggest the best options for your business. FMTC have published a handy list of OPMs they partner with.
Read the wider discussion on the role of the affiliate manager in the article: What is the affiliate manager's role?
What creatives do I need to provide for affiliates to promote my brand?
One of the hardest parts of stating a program is to find how to get affiliates to actually promote your offers and products. You need to give them some help and a lot of it is about understanding an affiliate's point of view - read more in this Publisher Spotlight.
It's always worth making graphic banners available, though in reality these are rarely used and tend not to convert. Most affiliates value quality content and images.
What happens if an affiliate isn't performing?
If there are no sales or referrals - then nothing happens. You won't get sales - they won't get commission. By building a relationship with each publisher you should get an idea of why - it may just be seasonal, or that he's developed a better relationship with your competitor!
Is there an ideal email template for recruiting?
There's plenty of advice in the blogs of several of the OPM agencies on how to get affiliate partners to join your program. It's fair to say however, that there won't be a single answer and it will depend on your market. Take a look at this blog article which may help.
I've sent loads of emails to recruit affiliates - why do I get less than 5% response?
Sorry to say that 5% is brilliant! Bear in mind that even small affiliates will get hundreds of emails from advertisers (larger publisher may receive over 6,000 a month at key times. Some people send at least three emails at different times to get attention; and maybe a last one saying "this is the last email you'll get from me..." - which often gets the best response!
You need to think beyond the raw email and look at developing multiple touch points - and communicate with them the way they want to be reached, whether in social messenger or even Skype. Here's an even more extreme example of trying to achieve cut-through from Optimal Wellness, with thanks to Sarah Bundy for the YouTube video.
This section is some of the questions affiliates will have for you so you can be prepared!
What's your usual website conversion?
Something you'll need to share with affiliates, so they can work out if it's worth them promoting your program. If you get different conversion from different channels, let them know. Bespoke landing pages for key affiliates can help conversion further.
How soon after a sale do I get paid?
This one will depend on your own return policies. If you allow 30 days cancellation for instance, then you'll need to set your program terms to approve sales after that date. Most networks and OPMs will be able to help you set these
Can I get a product for a review?
This of course depends on your products and value - some at a few $$ value you can share anyway to get a review. For high ticket items such as technology or homeware items, it's worth sharing a product with a contract to ensure safe return after the review is published.
Do you accept PPC bidding on your keywords?
That may seem a cheeky one - but for many advertisers it can really be beneficial, especially where an advertiser has a semi-generic name such as mattressworld or petsupermarket or similar. Bidding on a pure brand name is usually disallowed.
There will be competitors bidding on the main PPC keywords, so to work with affiliate partners can help gain a larger share of the traffic as Tradedoubler's article explains. Your terms and conditions will need to be watertight to keep control of your own brand name.
What's server tracking?
There are an increasing number of tracking providers using server to server tracking usually with a variety of different names. Linkconnector were one of the first to market over 10 years ago with their patented Naked Link Technology; there's a useful tech description on their site. Since then others, including TUNE, Partnerize, Tradetracker and others have launched similar server technologies.
In almost all cases these links appear to a browser and a customer as a direct link with no network cookies and no 302 redirects in between affiliate and advertiser.
Does affiliate work on mobiles?
Most smartphones act like mini computers, so links to a merchant on a mobile browser can be tracked. Be aware of the latest on the impact of Apple ITP2.2 - and keep up to speed with any news.
There are increasing numbers off networks who can track from mobile app to app as well; sometimes combined with cross-device tracking.
What's the problems with cookies?
In May 2019 Google made a change in how cookies were to be handled - and provided a decent lead time (for a change) for online businesses to adapt. In affiliate marketing which had often been reliant on network cookies to make tracking work, it meant some networks had to change radically as this PerformanceIn article shares.
Many had already been changing tracking systems in anticipation so were better prepared.
How does direct linking work - will it track?
This is usually similar to server tracking as above - and yes this usually tracks well as there are no ad signals for browsers to block.
Are ad-blockers an issue for affiliates?
With the current waves of changes from Google, Apple's ITP and GDPR it's not easy to keep up with it all! Most affiliate networks are ensuring that activity complies with Google's BetterAds Standards. It does mean that poorer quality and less technically capable affiliates are being pushed out - the reputable publishers are thriving.
So - if you're ready to build your program we'd love to let you test drive the leading affiliate recruitment software, Publisher Discovery.
Using Publisher Discovery to find affiliates by market vertical or keyword is really easy. Check out our Category level listing and get started recruiting straight away.
Some additional reading to take you to the next level:
A Complete Guide to Partnership Marketing - J Crystal, EConsultancy
Complete Guide to Affiliate Marketing Program Management - Mihaela Olaru, AM Navigator (and a useful blog post as well)
10 Mistakes to Avoid - when setting up an affiliate program
Affiliate Networks & Tracking Platforms - Pt 1 (on Linkconnector) of a series by industry veteran Sarah Bundy