Consolidated. Efficient. Well-managed. These are the terms l apply to healthy affiliate marketing programs. Unfortunately, many publishers’ programs are exactly the opposite: fragmented, unproductive, and a chore to maintain. Embracing ways to better manage affiliate programs can jumpstart this revenue stream, provide dynamic reporting, shed valuable insight about how to innovate, and free up staff time that can be invested for improved returns.
Tending to your affiliate program with some TLC is worth it. I firmly believe that affiliate marketing’s future is in advertising that’s completely transparent—both to the consumer and to the advertiser. Managing them efficiently is increasingly important. (The affiliate industry is projected to reach $6.8 billion in the coming year; 84% of publishers and 80% of advertisers are running affiliate programs.) Having built affiliate programs for merchants, knowing the pain points that advertisers face, and having worked through and eased many of the inefficiencies common to publishers, I’m fortunate to have a 360-view of how to optimize Affiliate Marketing plans.
When I joined Android Authority in 2018, we had a bunch of different log-ins for a bunch of different affiliate networks—about a dozen in all. (There are countless affiliate networks; the majority of publishers have multiple, often juggling 6-12 networks.) We were dealing with a challenge common to publishers: getting synchronized reporting across our affiliate networks was difficult. Gaining relevant insights was arduous and time consuming.
Bottom line: we needed clearer data. We needed to understand where the traffic was coming from and what the funnel looked like. We needed to understand our audiences and how they were creating Sales. All of this would help us refine our Marketing strategy. With changes to our approach over the past months, Android Authority’s program is revitalized and flourishing. Here, I share some of our experiences and solutions—tips for publishers ready to make the transition to affiliate efficiency and a dynamic affiliate future.
1. Take the Long View
In Affiliate Marketing (and with Performance Marketing, in general), there’s so much focus on immediate results that longer-term goals and results can suffer. But taking the long view is completely worth it. Sometimes you have to step back and plan for your year—not just your month. This may seem super counter-intuitive, but if you take the measured approach to understand your data, understand your audience, and really get as many meaningful insights as possible from your incredibly powerful affiliate traffic, you’ll get information that empowers you to make a big bottom-line impact. Commit to smaller improvement numbers in the short-term for a big improvement in the long-term.
2. Consolidate Reporting
The first step in clearing our jumble of accounts and log-ins was to set up direct affiliate relationships (rather than work through link aggregation services, such as Skimlinks) and evaluate our direct Amazon Marketing in order to maximize the relationships and ensure that we, as the publisher, weren’t sacrificing functionality. These direct relationships, though, complicated the issue of juggling so many accounts. The management of multiple affiliate networks and the overhead of that process becomes in itself a full-time job.
The next step was to embrace automation. We partnered with Trackonomics to automate, consolidate, and optimize our Affiliate Marketing efforts. We quickly realized that consolidated reporting from across multiple affiliate networks, on conversion data, and at the granular level would help us completely overhaul our affiliate program. Android Authority integrated Trackonomics’ link generation function into all of our content channels (articles, YouTube videos, etc.), enabling us to append different meta-metrics across our affiliate links. Reporting on these conversions strengthened not only our affiliate revenues (which grew about 50% within four months), but our relationships with advertisers (with whom we can now provide much more refined conversion data).
3. Understand Which Affiliate Links to Use
Having a holistic understanding of our affiliate program’s performance, from a wide angle, is incredibly useful for our planning. Being able to preemptively forecast earnings-per-click for a specific affiliate link has been transformative for our process. What it means is that we can, in advance, decide on which link (from a variety of product sources) to use in order to maximize our earnings. Refined conversion data (with metrics such as revenue per writer, article type, or content type) is critical for our process. In short, the takeaway here is to build a process that makes getting the appropriate links easy, then scale that process.
4. Make It Easy for Editorial and Writing Staff
If, like us, you have a large group of people who need access to affiliate links, make the process of grabbing the right links as straightforward and easy as possible. Be user-friendly. Think about your editors and writers. Get rid of hurdles and you’ll have the buy-in of your staff.
Once Android Authority set up the back end of our program, the new system was very easy for staff to use and embrace. Having our writers be fully on-board is great. A streamlined system, all managed through the right Chrome extension, makes life a lot easier. Now, when writers see a product they want to include in an article, they’re able to just grab a link, rather than having to take that URL, close out the window, go to another system, paste the URL (without being entirely sure if it is right), and work with that. From an efficiency perspective, streamlining the link creation process gives writers the time they need to focus on writing, rather than the editing aspect. Our editors report that we’ve shaved about 80% of their administration time off—a dramatic change.
5. Create Evergreen Content
Regardless of the verticals within which you operate, being seen as an industry authority is a good thing. A great way to grow this is to build long-tail, evergreen content with a lot of focus on SEO. Articles about perpetually-relevant topics that provide solutions to problems are super-beneficial for the user and, ultimately, quite valuable for your site. By increasing our affiliate program’s overall efficiency, Android Authority has been able to plan all of our content—including things like product launches—in a way that optimizes affiliate content.
We now have the data we need to make smart planning decisions. The results for us? We’re engaging with new advertisers, who we previously didn’t have direct relationships with before. We’re also cracking into new verticals—gaming, smart-home technologies, and more.
6. Tend to Relationships with Advertisers
Successful Affiliate Marketing means sharing data. It means working together with advertisers–understanding their brand, their products, and their buyers. Advertisers are really looking for more than an exercise in branding. They’re looking to understand what the bottom-line impact is that’s directly correlated to their campaigns. At the end of the day, an impression-based model, built on CPM (cost-per-mille) doesn’t mean a whole lot.
What’s meaningful? Using and sharing with advertisers the audience metrics that show who is actually buying. Understanding conversion metrics is what validates campaign efforts. Innovations, like intelligent affiliate networks that offer cross-device tracking, enable publishers to provide a lot more meaningful impact in campaigns. When publishers use and share data that’s important to advertisers, great new lines of communication can make noticeable bottom-line improvements to affiliate relationships.
The Bottom Line
Publishers have an important role and great potential in fundamentally changing the overall landscape of Affiliate Marketing. We can make it something powerful, not just in terms of revenue impact, but in terms of long-term planning and strategy. Focus on efficiency and insights to yield powerful results.