Here is the slide deck from our presentation at Affiliate Summit East 2011 in New York City about what you need to know before launching an affiliate program.
Merchant ABCs Basics
As we have announced before, Team Loxly is focusing on educating affiliates, bloggers and merchants. We would like to invite you to come and be our guest at the following sites, you can submit more than one topic, or more than one site. We have guests that have discussed topics that cover all three audiences.
We have three ABCs series of podcasts where we give advice and pointers on how to achieve success as an affiliate, monetize your blog or run the perfect merchant program. Part of the success of our podcasts are listening to the people that listen to the podcasts and hear what they want to learn about or when they propose a topic that they want to share their expertise on. We encourage people to introduce us to guests we should have on our shows, and also offer to be guests and speak on a topic or ask us questions about a topic. Our podcasts are all discussion style and not necessarily interview style. We often will have a panel of up to 4 people that will discuss a topic.
We also like to keep the podcasts short and one specific topic so that our listeners have one main takeaway from our shows and are not bombarded with information that they can’t absorb. We also like our guests because we feel that the affiliate industry is in constant growth and there is no one “voice” that can keep up with all the changes. We may create some ebooks from our podcast topics and create some formal training (we are developing that on Merchant ABCs first) but we are not interested at this time in producing print books that are almost out of date by the time they are published.
Here are the links:
Be our guest on Merchant ABCs podcast: Tell merchants what you want them to know to make their programs stellar
Be our guest on Affiliate ABCs podcast: Ask us questions, tell affiliates about your timesaving tips, what things work for you
Be our guest on Blogging ABCs podcast: Ask us how to monetize your blogs, offer your style and writing tips, software and plugins you use
And on Merchant ABCs we have a very special page where you can share the things that Merchants, Affiliates, and Networks do that annoys you or makes you happy. Come share your pet peeves and your props about all aspects of the affiliate industry. We are going to start posting the responses this week. There are some very similar peeves/props that have us already thinking about future podcasts and looking for guests to cover those topics.
Affiliate program terms and conditions (or lack thereof) are often misunderstood. Some merchants set up in-house affiliate programs on networks without giving thought to how affiliates might promote their products.
Suddenly an affiliate is successfully promoting a merchant via a pay-per-click campaign that includes the merchant’s brand name. The merchant is shocked, quickly turns off that affiliate and then reverses commissions with the attitude that those sales would have occurred anyway from the natural search results.
But wait, the merchant didn’t specify in their terms that affiliates aren’t allowed to bid on their brand name. They quickly add that in. Problem solved? Maybe.
At the same time, the merchant is noticing that affiliates are ranking higher than the merchant themselves, in the natural search results. The merchant changes their terms to not allow affiliates to have the company’s brand name in their meta tags, titles or file names.
These are two examples of merchants actually hurting themselves.
They need to protect their brand name, but in many instances the merchants do not have an in-house PPC campaign and are not bidding on their own brand. Their competitors could very well be.
In the case of the natural search results, this is what affiliates do. They create pages to get indexed for brands. If an affiliate is ranking higher in natural results for a brand name, then the affiliate is doing their job, and the merchant isn’t doing a good job of SEO on their own.
Merchant terms need to be constructed in a way that is fair to both the affiliate and the merchant. If a merchant has internal staff that overlaps with their affiliates, the terms can be a little more strict.
But, in the case of SEO, even the affiliates that are very good at it can’t control everything the search engines include in natural results. Having terms that exclude paying affiliates that rank high in search results for company names or products will result in fewer affiliates working an affiliate program. Top affiliates won’t give these programs a second look.
Terms and conditions that acknowledge the various types of affiliates that are out there, like coupon, loyalty, and incentive sites are very helpful. Merchants need to think about how to harness the advantages of those types of sites, and encourage affiliates to promote the merchant by creating terms that allow for ethical affiliates to do so.
Balance is the key, along with understanding what you want to gain from your affiliate program.
Download the entire FeedFront issue 14 here
I have been thinking a lot about affiliate programs that are on auto approval lately. I think the days of auto approval affiliate programs are coming to an end and will either soon either disappear or become rare.
A month or so ago we moved the rest of the affiliate programs we manage to manual approval since most of the applications we were getting were just plain junk. Sites claiming that WordPress.com or Google.com was their domain name and coming from a foreign country was starting to become the norm. Some of these are not exactly who you want to be partners with. These applications on auto approve can easily get bad players into your affiliate program to do harm to good affiliates as well as your brand. You are giving access to trademark bidders, bad ppc bidders, PPV and even spyware.
Lets say a user goes to Google and types in your brand name. They end up clicking on either some ppc ads or a link that automatically puts spyware or malware on the end users computer. That end user is only going to remember typing in your brand name and when they tell friends about your company this is what they will remember, not exactly how you want to be known.
With the FTC cracking down on websites and affiliate programs you should have it in your best interest to know who you are dealing with. Having 1000′s of affiliates in your program isn’t going to help you with sales if they are not doing anything so why bother wasting time policing them. Just announcing that you have a million affiliates tells serious affiliates that your program isn’t performing correctly and you are trying to get sales any way possible. Affiliate programs may better off having a few hundred or a thousand affiliates that are performing then being stuck on trying to raise the number of affiliates in the program.
If the FTC comes knocking on the merchants door saying this affiliate is doing this and that, the only answer they can give them is that they were auto approved into the program and we didn’t know what they were doing. Needless to say this isn’t a good answer. The FTC just gave a huge penalty to a merchant and will require them to monitor their affiliates for a few years. Do you want this to happen to you? I don’t think so as you can avoid all this by putting the affiliate program on manual approval and carefully screen affiliates. You can either do manual approvals and know who you are working with or pay later. You have to make sure the affiliate uses some sort of disclosure that they are being paid to endorse the product especially if they are doing review sites.
As a business you don’t partner with everyone in the world so why should your affiliate program be operated in the same manner. It just doesn’t make good business sense. What I see in the future is serious affiliates not joining affiliate programs that are on auto approve. Wouldn’t you rather have a serious affiliate then 100 that will never do anything at all? Of course you would. Being on manual approval also gives you a chance to contact an affiliate that doesn’t initially look like a good fit and find out how they plan to promote your program. Many affiliates that don’t look right on first look, can end up being great performers because you reached out and talked to them.
Out of the top 100 programs in the Shareasale network, 44 are on auto approval. That means over half are already on manual approval. I would bet that by the end of the year that number of affiliate programs on auto approval will be less then 10. I see no reason to have an affiliate program on auto approval except you having no one running the affiliate program or a lazy affiliate manager is in place. One of the programs we use to manage on the Google affiliate network got 300 affiliate applications a week and we would approve maybe 5 if we were lucky.
If we were on auto approval with them that would be 295 affiliates lousy affiliates that would have been in the program. We now have to watch these affiliates and 90% of them wouldn’t perform anyway so why have them at all. Just the amount of time we used going through the applications was time we could have spent better helping good affiliates get better or recruit better affiliates. It would waste more time being the policeman by letting these affiliates in and having to monitor them more closely.
Is there a benefit to having your affiliate program on auto approval? Yes, It allows the affiliate to get links up sooner, including the bad guys. If you manually approve affiliates the most it should take is 24-48 hours or so. Is that really a long wait. Odds are if an affiliate is looking to work with a good affiliate program waiting a day or two at worst is not that bad.
Most serious affiliates have no problem waiting a day or so to get approved. If they were smart they already emailed the affiliate manager explaining how they would promote the program. Losing affiliates because you are on manual approval is not really the way it is.
Some managers think that they can go back and remove bad affiliates that slipped in by being auto-approved. That is a bad practice for several reasons the biggest being that by the time you remove the affiliate, they already have links up and now they are mad at you when you remove them and will talk trash about your program. Some affiliates you won’t care, others will have better sites that you didn’t give them a chance to talk to you about. Also, with the links already out there, part of the damage is already done.
I mentioned a few reasons why if you are running an affiliate program you should think more about how you are approving affiliates. If you are serious about your business you should be serious about your affiliate program as well.
Merchant ABCs host Deborah Carney talks to Jeannine Crooks and Amy Ely at buy.at about key merchant takeaways from Conversion Conference (started by Tim Ash), which took place March 14-15 in San Francisco. This podcast discusses several ideas that merchants can implement right away to increase their conversion rates.
We covered six main points during the conversation:
1) Look at your site through the eyes of your visitors – acknowledge that we (the digital marketers) are online regularly and can be considered super users. As such, we may not think and interact with the site the way that 99% of our visitors do. Learn how they search, how they look for products or categories and improve your site based on the user’s perspective.
2) A clear call to action is key – make the call to action prominent with colors and placement. Avoid common roadblocks (discussed further in the podcast).
3) Address the “peakaboo” problem - if a user fills out a field incorrectly, show the message to correct their entry at the relevant location, not at the top of the page after they submit the form. Don’t make your users scroll up and down to figure out how to fix their information.
4) Use the power of “scarcity” – if your site sells products, list the remaining number of that product to encourage visitors to buy while they can. If your inventory is large, use messaging similar to “9+” to still incite a level of urgency.
5) Never stop testing – enough said
6) Don’t force a user to login when making a purchase – if they forgot their credentials, they may give up and purchase elsewhere. Instead, give them the option to shop and purchase as a guest, then sign up as a member after the sale completes.
Learn about these points and more on the podcast. Enjoy listening!
Thanks to Geekcast.fm for hosting our podcasts, check them out for lots of other great podcasts about affiliate marketing and marketing in general.
Merchant ABCs is the place to learn how to run your affiliate program. We have free content and courses, plus paid courses that include videos and templates that will help you run your affiliate program profitably and professionally.