Affiliate Marketing Advertiser Guide 2019: Everything You Need To Know.

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Used as part of the overall promotional toolbox, affiliate marketing is a powerful method of driving sales. 

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Effective for small and large brands alike, it provides a strong return on investment and allows advertisers to access and target audiences they may not otherwise reach.

However, retailers (known as advertisers or merchants) new to the concept may not fully understand or appreciate the nuances of affiliate marketing and how it can benefit their brand. To be able to implement it successfully the first step is to understand what exactly affiliate marketing is and how advertisers can use it to their advantage.

What is affiliate marketing and how does it work? 

Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing method, a technique that pays for results, not for adverts. Most affiliate programmes pay commissions on sales, although some pay for lead generation or clicks to the website. It involves three different parties; the advertiser (merchant, retailer or brand owner); the publisher (the affiliate marketer who promotes the products); and the customer who buys the products.  

The fourth stakeholder is often an affiliate network, who acts as a partnership platform for advertisers and publishers to discover each other, as well as supporting and advising the publishers and advertisers. They also offer industry expertise and access to useful and insightful data that is geared at helping affiliate businesses expand, as well as the tracking technology to provide full insight into the performance of the affiliate programme. 

Affiliate networks such as Awin are able to offer service and technology in order to support our advertisers and drive their affiliate programmes forward through strategic partnerships, dedicated account management and regular consultation and collaboration with our client services functions.  Awin’s bespoke technology and service combination is flexible to suit the needs of our advertisers. Using insights from across the network, Awin’s account managers are able to provide insights and recommendations on key sectors as well shopping behaviour and trends which can be used to shape strategy and promotional activity across a range of digital campaigns and industries. 

The concept is simple. The retailers set up an affiliate programme featuring the products or services that they want to promote and advertise the programme to potential publishers, either directly or through an affiliate network. 

The publishers sign up to different affiliate programmes, usually by registering with affiliate networks and then promote the affiliate products to their audience and existing customer base. The advertiser provides each publisher with a unique tracking code which will identify any sales each different publisher makes. 

The advertisers track the sales their team of publishers make and pay out an agreed commission on each sale to the publishers. This is known as a cost per acquisition or CPA, model.  

One of the key benefits of becoming either an advertiser or a publisher through an affiliate network is the number of opportunities this opens up, alongside the ease of getting started.  For advertisers who sign up to Awin, we have a dedicated integration team who can guide our clients through tracking implementation and ensure an optimum setup before launching their programme on the Awin network.  Our integration specialists are able to advise on the best setup and requirements for your programme, including server to server tracking to help mitigate against ITP. For publishers, joining the network gives access to over 15,000 advertisers to promote, which can be viewed via the Awin advertiser directory.

Why use affiliate marketing?

why advertisers should use affiliate marketing

The benefits to advertisers using affiliate marketing are many, including: 

  • Widening the audience – every publisher that the advertiser works with has a unique and new audience. When they promote the advertisers’ products, they are exposing them to this potentially untapped market place. 
  • Connecting with relevant content producers - as an advertiser, it can be hard to find individual connections to websites that would have a strong affinity with your brand.  Affiliate marketing instantly opens up thousands of opportunities as you join an affiliate network. Working with Awin, we are able to connect each advertiser with over 200 000 active publishers globally.
  • Cost-effective – advertisers that use the cost per acquisition method are only paying commissions for conversions into sales. When using traditional advertising methods, there is never a guarantee of sales from the ads, but advertisers will have to pay for the ad regardless of whether they convert or not.  The average ROI of the affiliate channel is 1:£16.
  • Quick results – if advertisers are working with trusted, experienced and successful publishers, results can be much faster than other forms of marketing. 
  • Flexible - due to the digital nature of the industry, affiliate marketing is flexible and can therefore easily be run according to your brand KPIs, targets and performance metrics.  Commissions can be calculated to ensure advertisers are not losing money and validation periods can be determined based on returns policies, which therefore ensure the programme can always run positively.
  • Build a brand reputation – the more the brand is promoted, the more well-known it will become. Publishers are often influencers as well whose audience trust them and, by default, they have confidence in any products they promote.   
  • Easily trackable and measurable – unlike other forms of advertising, affiliate marketing is easy to monitor and measure the success of the programmes, allowing the advertiser to make appropriate changes if necessary.   Tracking can be followed in real-time, allowing marketing teams to provide accurate reporting and insight into the performance of their programme across a variety of metrics.
  • Minimal risk – if products don’t sell, the advertiser does not pay out commission. The risk with this form of marketing is minimal so even if the advertiser is working with a wide range of publishers with a variety of performance metrics, they will not lose any money if some publishers don’t make any sales.  This opens up the ability to test unknown or new propositions without fear of wasting budget or increasing Cost Per Sale metrics.
  • SEO benefits – the more the brand and the products are exposed on the internet, the better the website will rank organically. 
  • Reduce staffing costs – affiliate marketing negates the need to have a high in-house marketing team, helping to keep costs lower within the business. 

Working with a network like Awin can also offer additional benefits:

  • Access to industry experts - outside of Awin’s account management team, working with the network also gives advertisers and publishers access to the work of our support teams, such as Global Strategy, Technical Services and Business Intelligence.
  • Sector insights and recommendations - working with a large number of clients, Awin is able to identify shopping trends across data points such as seasonality, sectors and climate and therefore provide intuitive recommendations on what activity and promotions could work well for your brand.

What is an affiliate advertiser?

An affiliate advertiser is someone who owns products or services that are promoted through affiliate marketing. An advertiser is concerned with increasing sales, and to do this they need to attract good quality publishers. This is usually achieved via an affiliate network such as Awin which acts as an intermediary in the first instance (although their role is much more in-depth than just a platform to introduce advertisers to publishers).  Awin has a dedicated compliance team who individually review each publisher application to the network to ensure the quality and security of the publishers we are able to offer to our advertisers.

The advertiser generally provides the links, banners, texts and content to be used to promote the products. They also assign each publisher a unique code to allow them to track each publisher's sales, and payout commissions accordingly.  

The publishers promote directly to consumers and are usually the first  contact in the sales process. However, their role is purely to drive traffic to the products and facilitate the sale. They do not handle returns or refunds, as this is handled by the advertiser as per the usual online sales process.

How to get started with affiliate marketing as an advertiser

To become an advertiser the first step is to have a product or service that publishers will be interested in promoting. Almost any product or service can be promoted through affiliate marketing, although certain types are more popular than others.  The key requirement is that your website is transactional and the sale can be completed completely online.

There are certain core products that always perform well, such as fashion, travel, insurance and technology and there are also different trends that do well depending on the current market. During 2019, successful products include virtual reality products, drones, phone accessories, home automation, security systems and more. 

How to find publishers (affiliates) to sell your products 

an affiliate working with advertisers to sell their products

Good publishers can make a great difference to an advertiser’s profits, so choosing the right ones is a major step in the process. They need to be an authority in the same niche as the products being offered by the advertiser and should have an active audience who engages with them on a regular basis.  

Finding the perfect match can take time but the potential payoff is worth the effort. In the early days, it may be a matter of advertisers working with a large number of publishers to discover those who are compatible with the products. For publishers to sign up to the affiliate programme it needs to be as visible as possible, with links on the website and on emails, and it also needs to be as attractive as possible to potential publishers.  

When choosing publishers a large following can be important but how the audience interacts with the publisher is a key factor to consider. There should be regular interchanges and an excellent rapport between both parties, as this leads to greater trust and a greater likelihood that the audience will listen to the publisher and buy the products currently being promoted. 

Advertising the affiliate programme directly is one method of finding publishers, but one of the most straightforward ways is to find publishers through a network. 

Find publishers through a network 

An affiliate network, in its simplest terms, is a marketplace aimed at linking publishers and advertisers. Choosing the right affiliate network is an important part of finding the right publishers to work with.  Advertisers and publishers that work well together and have the same goals, with access to the right tools, will be more successful.  

Look for an affiliate network that has a professional attitude and that uses rigorous procedures during the sign-up process. Awin asks all its publishers to undergo an approvals process which allows Awin to vet them before allowing them to become part of the network. Awin has a strong compliance feature which helps to maintain ethical standards across the network. This ensures transparency and a high standard of quality. 

In order to get started in the affiliate marketing industry,  advertisers need to integrate with their network of choice. Once integration is complete and tracking tags have been successfully added to the advertiser’s site, the next step is to ensure you’ve included as much relevant information as possible across your programme profile. An affiliate programme usually lists the service or product available, plus the commission rates, banners and any creative that is available for publishers to use, links and texts, and any other information that a prospective publisher might need. The affiliate programme profile is the advertiser’s shop window on the network and needs to be as enticing as possible to prospective publishers.     

Networks make it as easy as possible for advertisers’ affiliate programmes to be found, by categorising them within advertiser directories and including search keywords. On Awin, all affiliate programme profiles are publicly viewable to make them as easily findable and accessible as possible.

Within the Awin interface there is also a publisher directory, which allows an advertiser to search for new publisher by sector, advertising type or keyword.  You can then contact the publisher directly through this listing, or invite them to join your affiliate programme if they haven’t already.

Awin also offers some sound advice on making an affiliate programme as attractive as possible to publishers.  These tips include: 

  • Fill in the advertiser profile as thoroughly as possible 
  • Provide a clear and concise description of what is being offered 
  • Offer an attractive commission rate 
  • Make sure publishers are paid on time and within a reasonable time frame 
  • Include quality creatives for publishers to use 
  • Make the most of all the extensive tools on offer, including product feeds and communication channels. 

A unique feature of the Awin interface is the collation and visibility of CAVE data for each advertiser.  This allows publishers to see at a glance an advertiser’s:

  • Conversion rate
  • Approval Percentage
  • Validation Period
  • Earnings Per Click
  • Awin index

This means that publishers are able to easily assess if the advertiser will be good to work with and they will be paid on time.  The Awin index takes into account all of these metrics and offers the publisher a standardised percentage which can be used to compare across the network and advertiser sector. 

As the advertiser/publisher relationship develops and strengthens, the process becomes more streamlined. However, it’s important advertisers maintain a flexible approach as all publishers have different styles and methods of working. Awin provides a comprehensive guide aimed at publisher recruitment.

The advantages of working through a network  

Advantages to working with an affiliate network

An affiliate network has the advantage of making it much easier to find quality publishers to work with, but they also have many other advantages. 

Industry knowledge is an important factor when it comes to success, and networks tend to have their ears to the ground. They are aware of all the latest trends, as well as how to get the best out of your affiliate programme. Awin provides each of their advertisers with an account contact  to help, support and guide them, giving them the information they need when they need it. 

Networks also provide the necessary tracking software and access to detailed data and reports. The technology has been developed and improved over many years, and any advertiser looking to go it alone would need to invest heavily in similar software to get the same results. 

Affiliate networks negate the need for a big in-house marketing team, as advertisers on networks have access to a whole suite of specialised personnel, with the objective of providing marketing strategies, insights, support and tips and tricks.  

Using a network can also cut down on overall marketing costs, as advertisers tend to have less need to spend big budgets on advertising elsewhere. They pay the publishers they work with through the affiliate network to promote their products for them, but as payment is generally created by successful sales, it’s a cost-effective method of managing a budget. 

Common types of affiliate marketing sectors

There are various ways to undertake affiliate marketing, and a range of different types of publishers to work with. The most common affiliate marketing sectors include: 

  • Bloggers and editorial content – bloggers and content sites earn money by writing and sharing great content that their audience wants to read. Either directly within the content or alongside it, they promote affiliate products. The products tend to be highly correlated to the content and targeted at a warm audience. Because of this, promotions are usually very successful. 
  • Voucher code sites – consumers love discounts and 59% state that voucher codes influence their buying decision more than any other form of promotion. Brands can use this to their advantage by partnering up with affiliate networks who then distribute brands' promotions to voucher code sites. These websites then work to drive traffic to the deal on offer. Voucher code websites include marketplace sites, which list the vouchers by brand and type; UGC (user-generated content) or community  sites which rely on discussion by the users to promote the voucher codes or offers, although these can be heavily regulated; cashback or loyalty websites, which pay out small commissions to loyal users of their sites and often also list voucher codes which can be used via their channel; apps and browser extensions, which help consumers quickly find discounts while shopping; and blogs, which provide content on topics and share related discount codes. 
  • Review sites – these sites review and compare different products, many of which will be affiliate products. Audiences search for product reviews as a way to reassure themselves of quality and value prior to purchasing. Review sites are a form of social proof. 
  • Email marketing – email marketers contact their lists on a regular basis, the frequency depending on the types of offers or newsletters the user has signed up to receive. The emails can be a mixture of useful content and promotional material. Emailers work hard to build authority and trust with their audiences so that when they recommend a certain product, their purchase rate tends to be high. 
  • Social media influencers – influencers are individuals who have developed a presence online and are respected within their niches. Their videos and content are watched by an audience who regard them as their peers and trust their judgement. When they promote or discuss new products it has the potential to go viral if their audience shares it. 

Like any form of marketing, affiliate marketing is a fluid, ever-evolving process. The basic strategies will likely remain the same, but external influences will continue to shape the industry. With GDPR firmly in place, users need to continue to follow the European Directive and FTC guidelines and be transparent regarding affiliate links.