We estimate that affiliates generated more than £3bn in e-commerce sales last year, a whopping 45% increase over 2006.
If done well, affiliate marketing can provide a cost effective and highly measurable way to acquire customers and grow sales.
So here are some tips for managing the affiliate channel:
Find the right affiliates
Affiliates are the ones who will actually sell and promote your products and services, so finding the right affiliates for your programme is essential. Ideally, you should be choosing relevant sites with a good image that will represent your products well and generate quality leads.
Good relationships and clear lines of communication are a pre-requisite for success in affiliate marketing. The most successful merchants make sure that they are equipping their affiliates with the information and creative they need to succeed.
Keith Budden, of Affiliate Health Check, sums it up nicely: "Your affiliates are your unsalaried sales force. You wouldn’t fail to tell your own sales team what was happening in your company, so why don’t you tell your affiliates?"
Choose banner ads carefully
The right banner ad can have a significant impact on your click through rate (CTR), so choose carefully. It is often best to select a relatively simple banner as graphically rich ads can slow download speeds and may mean that visitors are not seeing them.
Offer a range of banners / text links
Make sure that your affiliate programme offers the full range of banner sizes, text links and so on that your affiliate network allows. You need to make it as easy as possible for affiliates to put your ads on their sites.
Respond promptly to affiliates' questions
From time to time, affiliates may have queries about your programme - responding promptly will show that they are a priority for you, while ignoring emails or taking too long to reply will have them looking for another merchant.
Pay particular attention to 'super affiliates'
Super affiliates tend to generate the majority of sales so you need to keep them happy. An estimated 80% of sales come from just 20% of affiliates, so there is a lot of power in the hands of a small minority.
Regular communication, providing custom reports and giving them the right levels of commission are all important as they could easily swap to another merchant with a better offer.
Provide realistic incentives
Many merchants offer tiered commissions, which is fine, but the targets have to be realistic and achievable to incentivise affiliates. For instance, if your average order value is £50, then don’t set the first tier at £2,000 worth of sales per month – to smaller affiliates this looks unachievable, and many just won't bother. Set the tier at a lower level for improved results.
Share market demographics
As a merchant, you know who your typical customer is, so share that information with your affiliates.This will enable them to target their advertising more effectively - they get more sales, you get more sales and everyone is happy.
Keep tabs on affiliate forums
Affiliates use message boards and forums, such as affiliates4u, for information about affiliate programmes, so it's important to visit these sites to keep abreast of trends in affiliate marketing. In addition. by participating in these forums, you can increase awareness of your own programme and hopefully attract more affiliates.
Use more than one affiliate network
Using multiple networks for your programme can be beneficial, as it gives potential access to more affiliates, and can help you find the most effective network.
For some though, the benefits of belonging to more than one network may be outweighed by the extra administration, duplication of effort and the danger of being spread too thinly.
According to Jess Luthi of Affiliate Program Advice, it makes sense for merchants to use two affiliate networks. This means that there is limited duplication of effort but ensures that there is back-up if there is a problem with one of the networks.