How to Launch Your Affiliate Program in 2021
As a business owner, it’s a challenge allocating budgets to marketing channels. Until you test, you never know which channel will offer the best return on investment. Affiliate marketing has proven to be a “safe haven” for merchants of all kinds. This article will discuss the benefits of affiliate marketing and launch an affiliate program in 2021.
The guide to launching an affiliate program is a roadmap you can follow to help you make a success of affiliate marketing. I’ve tried to break things down into a logical workflow so you can use the information I share to grow your business.
WHY LAUNCH AN AFFILIATE MARKETING PROGRAM
An affiliate program is an important source of revenue for many businesses. According to Viglink, 65% of merchants surveyed said they were getting 5%-20% of their annual revenue from affiliate marketing. Some of the best-performing categories for affiliate marketing are fashion, sports, health and beauty, and travel.
Affiliate programs are a low-risk marketing channel. You pay your affiliates only when they deliver. Your profit margins are reduced, but the affiliate will undertake a lot of the marketing work needed to find leads and bring them to your store. However, you need to put a lot of effort into developing your affiliate marketing program if you want to achieve success.
BUSTING THE AFFILIATE MARKETING MYTH
Affiliate marketing is a low-risk marketing channel. However, it is not without risk. You do need to be aware of potential pitfalls. For example, you might hear about people using some of the following tactics to earn money as an affiliate:
- Click fraud. The affiliate clicks on paid text links with the intent of driving up the number of payable clicks. They do this manually or with a bot.
- Cookie stuffing. The affiliate adds cookie tracking to the browser of people who visit their site. Affiliates can falsely claim credit for sales using this tactic.
- Typosquatting. The affiliate takes advantage of a misspelled web address. A person who misspells a brand name is redirected to the homepage through an affiliate link.
- Brand bidding. The affiliate bids on the brand name and captures traffic that would have visited the merchant directly.
As a merchant, you need to undertake due diligence of your affiliate program. You should review how your affiliates are generating their income. Keep an eye out for sudden spikes in referrals and investigate the cause.
Importantly, remove anyone who breaks your affiliate program’s terms and conditions. You don’t want these types of affiliates. It reflects poorly on your company, and in the worst case, practices like cookie stuffing can annoy other affiliates who work hard promoting your products or services.
Most affiliates are honest, work hard to promote your products or services. At its best, that is what affiliate marketing is all about: people making a commission in exchange for recommending products they use, love, and would happily recommend anyway.
HOW TO LAUNCH YOUR AFFILIATE PROGRAM
I briefly covered some of the benefits of affiliate marketing and potential issues you might encounter if you’re unlucky. As I mentioned, most affiliates work hard promoting your products and services. However, you do need to be aware of potential problems so you can take action.
In the remainder of this post, I want to share a framework you can follow when launching your affiliate program. Consider this your affiliate marketing program checklist. Let’s dive into the core part of this guide.
1. Set Your Objectives
When launching any new marketing initiative or business program, you must define your objectives. Your marketing goals will help you assess your marketing campaign’s success or failure when you conduct your quarterly or annual review.
Your objectives should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. The image below provides a nice overview of what I mean when we talk about SMART goals.
Let me give you some hypothetical examples of SMART goals you might use to judge the success of your affiliate marketing program:
- Generate $10,000 in gross sales through the affiliate program for the calendar year.
- Sign up 20 affiliates who make a minimum of $500 in gross sales a month.
Make sure to link the goals you use to assess your affiliate marketing program’s success to revenue targets. You can see how I’ve taken that approach in the examples provided above.
Don’t create a goal like; “sign up 100 affiliates in three months.” You might hit that goal, which is fine. However, those 100 affiliates might generate zero revenue, which ultimately means your efforts have been a waste of time.
2. Conduct Competitor Analysis
If you want your business to grow, you need to understand how you compare against your competition. Therefore, before you launch your affiliate program, conduct a competitor analysis. It should be an important part of your business plan. The competitor analysis will provide you a reference point for your affiliate program.
Your competitor analysis should involve a thorough review of your main competitor’s affiliate programs. I’d set aside half a day for this exercise. At the end of the competitor analysis, you should be able to answer the following questions:
- How much does each company offer to affiliates? For example, a 10% commission on each sale, etc.
- What are the Earnings Per Click (EPC)? Essentially, how much money will an affiliate earn if they sent 100 clicks to a website?
- What support materials does the merchant offer to affiliates to help generate sales?
- The terms and conditions of the affiliate programs? For example, the tracking period, etc.
Depending on how they operate, prospective affiliates will consider several affiliate programs in their niche before joining one (or more). You must give them a good reason to choose you over a competitor.
Competitor analysis provides you with those insights. If you’ve done your research, you will know how much commission your competitors offer affiliates, the EPC, and the support material they provide. Those insights provide you with a reference point. You should then create an affiliate program that is as good, if not better, than any of your competitors.
3. Review & Optimize Your Conversion Rates
There are a lot of things affiliates will consider when selecting an affiliate program to support. Affiliates will consider factors like brand recognition, the quality of the product or service. One of the most important figures experienced affiliates will want to know is your Earning Per Click, also known as EPC.
Your EPC can help determine the profitability of a marketing campaign. For example, if you ran a computer shop and made more money selling a Mac than a PC, you’d naturally spend more time promoting Macs. Affiliates do the same thing. They invest more time marketing products and services that make them the most money.
If you have one of the highest EPC in your niche, you’ll find it easy to get affiliates. Those affiliates will also spend more time and effort promoting your services.
On the other hand, you’ll struggle to attract affiliates if you run a program with a low EPC.
Improving your EPC is a difficult task. You will need to split test your funnels and sales pages. You might have to make changes to your User Interface (UI) – your website’s design – and improve the sales copy. It’s a time consuming and often expensive process. However, the benefits are invaluable.
Any lift in your EPC will result in increased direct profits.
An improved EPC will also improve your reputation among affiliate marketers, which will inevitably increase the amount of money your affiliates make. It will also increase your program adoption rate.
4. Decide Whether You’ll Run the Program with a Network or In-House
When you launch an affiliate program, you can either run the program yourself in-house or join an affiliate network. Each option has advantages and disadvantages.
Affiliate networks such as ShareASale, Clickbank, and CJ Affiliate have large communities. Many networks also have a publisher team who can help facilitate relationships with affiliates. However, they only actively support their most profitable merchants.
Affiliate networks generally take a commission of each sale for facilitating the affiliate program and processing the payment. The commission varies according to the platform. The commission can be around 30% of the overall amount paid out to the affiliates.
That’s a lot of money. If you’re selling digital products, you might be willing to accept those costs. However, if you’re selling physical products or providing a service, then you might not be willing, or even able, to pay that much money.
In-house removes the middleman. You deal directly with your affiliates.
You’ll need affiliate management software such as Tune or PostAffiliatePro to run your affiliate program. The cost of such software can be anywhere from $50 to $500+ per month, but as opposed to running on an affiliate network, you don’t share your revenues with the software provider.
If you’re running an ecommerce site, your shopping cart platform may already have built-in functionality for an affiliate program. SamCart and Kartra are two good examples of ecommerce solutions that have affiliate capability. If not, you will need to purchase an extension or integrate with one of the popular affiliate management software.
Ultimately, you must decide which option is best. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. The decision will depend on your budget, priorities, and capacity.
5. Find Suitable Affiliates
If you want your affiliate program to succeed, you will need to recruit some great affiliates. There are two ways to recruit affiliates:
- Passive recruitment
- Active recruitment
When you launch your affiliate campaign, you’ll probably need to recruit affiliates actively.
Actively recruiting affiliates involves finding affiliates and asking them to join your program.
The best place to find affiliates will depend on your niche. Social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are a great place to find communities of affiliates.
Join relevant groups and become an active member of these communities.
In addition to networking on social media, reach out to affiliates directly. For example, you can:
- Send emails to bloggers or websites ranking for relevant search terms.
- Join affiliate sites like Afflift. Message people who have sold products or provide services that cater to the same target audience.
- Message influencers that have reviewed products like yours.
Don’t accept everyone who applies to your affiliate program. You might end up with affiliates who harm your reputation with low-quality content or spammy promotional tactics. Review applicants and only approve those who align with your goals and standards.
Actively recruiting affiliates will be hard. You need to show an affiliate how much money they can make by supporting your product or service. When an affiliate starts to make money, it’s easy to incentivize them to put more time and effort into promoting your product or service. However, it’s difficult to get people to work hard promoting your service for free.
Passively recruiting affiliates is straightforward. Passive recruitment is most effective when an established brand and affiliates know how much money they can earn to promote a product or service. For example, the screenshot below is from an income report by Pat Flinn.
You can see that he made $36,956.18, supporting ConvertKit as an affiliate. I guarantee many people signed up to the ConvertKit affiliate program after seeing that figure after they saw the earning potential.
Most companies create an affiliate sign up page and share some basic resources. Here is an example of the affiliate page for Viddyoze, a video creation platform.
The page promotes the affiliate program. You can see the type of companies that use the software, the revenue the company has generated, and more. Plus, there’s everything you need to promote the offer as an affiliate.
Things you might want to have in your Joint Venture package include:
- Product information – everything you might need to familiarize yourself with the product.
- Email swipes – emails an affiliate could use to promote your product or service.
- Demo reel – show people what you offer and why it’s valuable.
A Joint Venture page, or Affiliate page, should provide all the information an affiliate needs to promote your product or service. The more support you provide, the easier it is for the affiliate to start earning money.
6. Support Your Affiliates
It can be hard to generate an income from affiliate marketing. Furthermore, most affiliates have little if any training in affiliate marketing.
As a merchant, you should be ready to help your affiliates. I mentioned in the previous section how to passively support affiliates with a great affiliate toolkit. However, if you want to stand out and support affiliates, you might want to hire an experienced affiliate manager.
Part of an affiliate marketer’s job is to provide support to your affiliates and help them increase their earnings. Creating an online community to support their efforts is one approach you see companies take. For example, you’ll find plenty of closed Facebook groups run by companies that want to help affiliates sell their products or services.
In addition to providing support and encouragement through online groups, you can also run events to increase knowledge and understanding. For example, you might run a monthly webinar to share tips and tricks to help new affiliates. You might wish to offer some training on how to use their affiliate dashboard, how to use an affiliate tracking software to improve their conversion rates, or how to write a product review that converts.
Remember: when your affiliates win, you also win. It makes sense to support them.
7. Evaluate and Improve
Your job doesn’t end once your affiliate program is up and running. It’s only the beginning! You will need to monitor your program continually and make improvements. That will also mean monitoring the performance of your affiliates and actively seeking their feedback on the program. If you see the same questions cropping up repeatedly, that’s a sign there is something you need to fix or clarify.
Remember to keep providing your affiliates with everything they need to succeed, too. That means continually updating your marketing collaterals, promotional materials, and providing discount or offer codes.
Finally, consider incentivizing your affiliates by setting goals. You can increase their commission rates, send them a gift, or give them a special exclusive discount code for their fans. When you reward them for their hard work, they’ll keep going above and beyond for you.
Affiliate marketing can be very lucrative if done correctly. Whether you run an ecommerce store or operate in the SaaS space, starting an affiliate program makes sense. It can provide another revenue source for your business, bring in new traffic, and expose your brand to an audience you wouldn’t have reached. The results? Increased brand awareness, engaged customers, and a stronger reputation.
But if you want to launch your affiliate program, you need to go about it in the right way. Success in affiliate marketing depends on how well you plan and prepare during the set-up phase. It also depends on actively monitoring your program and continuing to improve it at every opportunity.
I’ve outlined the steps you need to take in this guide. Now it’s over to you. With careful planning and execution, you’ll soon have an amazing program up and running.
Laurent Malka is the Co-Founder of Anytrack, a startup developing a conversion tracking software for affiliate marketers. He was born and raised in Switzerland and now lives and works in Israel. He is a serial entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in marketing and business development. Laurent has been a panelist and speaker at numerous digital marketing events, including SEMrush and IG Affiliates. He prides himself on connecting the dots across disciplines, industries, and technologies to solve unique challenges.
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