Advertiser basics for running an affiliate program

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One of the key USPs of affiliate marketing is the payment model. Traditionally, this has been a ‘last-click wins’ commission per acquisition (CPA) model.

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This has begun to shift to incorporate new publisher types and the broadening of the channel, and we now see advertisers looking at attribution models or alternative payment methods to ensure publishers are rewarded fairly. However, the fundamental idea behind affiliate marketing remain the same.

No matter the business size, there are several key aspects to understanding and running a good affiliate program. Working with brands and publishers of all sizes across our 15 global territories, we’ve put together recommendations for advertisers on how to work towards a strong affiliate program in this ever-developing industry.

Know your KPIs 

Before tackling any task, lay out your goals and objectives for the program.  Each retailer will be looking to achieve something different, be it increased transactions, increased order value, more traffic to site or greater brand awareness, or a combination of all of these. Make sure your own advertiser affiliate goals are clearly defined from the jump. 

Identify your key metrics 

Once your program is live, you will need to understand what metrics will be used as markers for success. Set out your budget and targets, and have an idea of what looks like a realistic achievement. Make sure your targets match the KPIs you’re looking to achieve, as this will be your primary measure of success.When putting together your targets, start with a focus on key metrics and work the remaining figures back from there. 

For example, the below targets have been calculated alongside each other, and therefore should see all targets worked on together.  200 transactions, at an average commission rate of 5%, will result in a $500 spend. 

Metric Target achievemnet
Impressions 10,000
Traffic 5,000
Transactions 200
Revenue $10,000
Conversion rate 4%
AOV $50
Commission spent $500
Average comission 5%
ROI $20

These targets have not been calculated alongside each other, but instead focus on a maximum achievement for each metric separately. While it’s important to have individual targets, these metrics are all intertwined. In this method, despite hitting transaction, revenue and average commission targets, it would still be possible to show an extreme miss in AOV and overspend in commission. Five-hundred transactions at an AOV of $150 would equal a $75,000 revenue target, and with an average commission of 5% would equal a spend of $3,750. 

For example, the below targets have been calculated alongside each other, and therefore should see all targets worked on together.  200 transactions, at an average commission rate of 5%, will result in a $500 spend. 

Metric Target achievemnet
Impressions 10,000
Traffic 5,000
Transactions 500
Revenue $25,000
Conversion rate 4%
AOV $150
Commission spent $1,000
Average comission 5%
ROI $20

Ensure your program is as attractive as possible to affiliates 

There are lots of retailers offering affiliate programs, and a key step towards operating a successful program is attracting and retaining the most-engaged publishers available.

  • Ensure your advertiser profile is filled in with as much relevant information as possible. This will distinguish your brand, and inform affiliates of your history, key selling points, and ideals – the points that make your business unique. Particularly for a smaller business, your advertiser profile is your first opportunity to showcase your brand to a publisher.
  • Offer an attractive CPA. Although every business has different running costs, it’s important to assess the market when considering setting CPA rates. Leave enough room within your budget to offer increased for additional exposure or promotions where you can, but make sure you set rates at a sensible level which will be scalable as your program grows.
  • Be clear on what you can offer. Affiliate marketing is widely known for its vouchercode and cashback activity; however, the industry can offer so many other opportunities and routes to market, with nearly a quarter of all sales now being referred by content publishers.  If discounts are a possibility, know how often you’ll be able to use these.  If CPA increases and tenancy are available, have a clear idea of what you’ll be able to spend. If you have access to gifting, ensure you have a solid process in place for distribution and collating these.  If you will be offering standard messaging, ensure this is regularly communicated to your affiliates so their copy and offers are always up to date.  Although none of these are compulsory for your programme to run efficiently, these can be a great help with any conversations you have, and immediately remove key barriers that might inhibit a publisher from promoting your brand.
  • Validate in a timely manner and ensure invoices are paid on time.  Being a ‘pay on performance’ channel means that many publishers are inputting spend into their own marketing to support advertiser campaigns several weeks before they are paid for their work. Therefore, ensuring validations are carried out regularly, and as soon as possible, helps publishers to see you are committed to working well with them and value their time and work on the program.  Equally, delays in invoice payments can cause publisher payments to be delayedm which can also be a source of frustration for affiliates as campaign work has often long been completed.  Awin operates a traffic light system for advertiser payments, which can be read here.  The Awin platform gives visibility to publishers on average validation and payment times for each advertiser, and therefore it is easy for them to know which programs will be easier to work with and provide regular and reliable payments. When setting up your program, ensure validation times are reasonable, as well as take into account a suitable period for customer returns policies and internal processing to compile the relevant information for validations. You should also ensure this is not too unusual from your sector average, as this could mean you look unfavorable to work with compared to competitors. Awin offers a number of automated services to help with validations - speak to your account manager if this is something you’d like to know more about. Most importantly, advertisers should be as transparent as possible with validation times. For example, the travel industry holds naturally long validation periods, due to users booking holidays well in advance, and therefore most holiday companies will disclose that validations are not carried out until stays are completed.

Offer creative   

One of the greatest ways to attract customers is for them to see your product. The more creative – product images, banners, logos, lifestyle imagery – you can offer, the more views it can gather. Ensure you update creative regularly, in line with seasonal and messaging changes, new collection launches or brand updates. 

Utilize the Awin tools available   

The interface is designed to offer both advertisers and publishers as much opportunity as possible to grow their affiliate activity.

  • Use product feeds. If you have more than 20 products, produce a product feed and upload it to the interface. It is a quick and efficient way for affiliates to keep their site updated with a range of products and can be easily connected to update automatically with price changes and stock information. This can be updated multiple times a day to keep information as accurate as possible. You also have the capability to add multiple feeds should you wish, and this can be broken down into the best categories for your business to optimize usage. Even including a bestsellers feed can be a great way to highlight key products to your affiliate base.
  • Communicate with your publisher base. The easiest way to ensure your publishers are promoting your messaging, offers and products it to communicate. Using Awin’s News Manager, try and send at least one communication a week to your publisher base detailing your brand’s key focuses for the week, or weeks ahead. These can be edited as simple text or include HTML, Including Awin affiliate links within the email will ensure publishers have all the correctly tagged links ready to add to site. You can also add this messaging to the Awin Hub. Contact local marketing teams to be included in publisher newsletters, which are sent to a subscribed and engaged user base. The more notice you can provide affiliates with, the more likely you will see your brand promoted across sites.
  • Upload your key offers. My Offers provides publishers with an API of all advertiser offers, with links, descriptions and live dates. This is an easy way to ensure your offers are promoted on as many sites as possible. By uploading your offer, it will automatically be included on any site using the API and filtered to include your brand. Once the offer has expired, it will be removed from the API, so also provides a quick solution to remove messaging once expired.
  • Implement publisher tags. Publisher tagging is a great way to keep your reporting in line and gives you an easy way to filter through Awin reports with a set dataset. Tags are fully flexible and can be set to any categories you need. Recommendations would be to utilize publisher categorization or product categories to create correlations between performance and datasets. Publishers can also be given more than one tag should they fall into two or more categories.
  • Use Opportunity Marketplace. This tool allows affiliates to advertise key promotional opportunities on their sites in a central location within the interface. This is a quick and easy way to find out the opportunities available at the time and provides all information about each opportunity at a glance. As an advertiser, you can search the listings by cost, vertical or keyword to find an opportunity that fits your campaign. By clicking through the listing, you can communicate directly with the publisher and negotiate as necessary. 

Get to know your affiliates

Every affiliate site has a different demographic, style and way of working. It can be very difficult to work with them all in the same way.  It’s important to be flexible in your approach and be open to face-to-face meetings and calls. A strong working relationship is a great way to build partnerships between advertiser and publisher. To aid with this, Awin offers a range of events, including Awin + ShareASale's annual thought leadership and educational conference ThinkTank, to bring together advertisers and publishers, providing insights on the industry alongside opportunities for networking with some of our key partners and account managers. 

Don’t be afraid to try something new

Awin aims to develop new affiliate tools and features to help aid the progression of the affiliate channel. One of the latest of these features is ‘coupon attribution,’ which allows an advertiser to work with a specific publisher and ensure they receive payment for every use of the code they are allocated, no matter what channel this has been attributed to. The tool can be found within the ‘My Offers’ section of the interface, and allows the addition of a code and attribution to publisher ID which will ensure all uses are reported correctly. This is a great way of working with influencers and content publishers who can often lose out on last-click attribution, as they function as an inspiration and research resource in the earlier stages of the purchase cycle.

If you’re unable to offer exclusive codes, another option to work with publishers who feature higher up in the purchase funnel is ‘payment on influence.' Within the interface, Awin offers visibility on which publishers have encouraged users to click through to a retailer without securing the final purchase themselves. Upper-funnel publishers are just as important as last-click converters. Utilizing the payment on influence method can be a great way to work closer with this genre of publisher.  Using the tool, you can allocate a fixed payment per influence touch point to a selection of publishers or your entire publisher base.

It’s also possible to work with affiliates on a tenancy basis, offering a fixed sum in exchange for scheduled guaranteed exposure.  This is one of the most common ways to increase promotional opportunities and ensure your brand features in some of the highest traffic areas of publisher sites. 

The affiliate industry is ever-changing, and we see the continual release of new technologies and ways of working through our publishers, advertisers and networks across the space.  This means it is essential to have a strong base to your affiliate program, leaving your brand in a prime position to take advantage of these progressions and excel within the channel. 

If you’d like to know more about any of the tools available to you, please contact your Awin account manager. To join our network as an advertiser, please contact our new business team.  We also offer affiliate marketing solutions for agencies who require guidance in the promotion of their client's brand.