• August 12, 2008
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

10 Ways to Attract Affiliates

BOSTON -- If there’s one way companies can get their affiliates’ attention, it’s by having a good Web site – and to be good, explained Tim Ash, president and cofounder of Web-site optimizer SiteTuners, a site needs to make money. In his presentation “Landing-Page Testing to Attract Super Affiliates” at the Affiliate Summit East here yesterday, Ash provided tips on how to appeal to affiliates' demanding natures.

After apologizing in advance to an attendee who had identified himself as merely "an affiliate," Ash turned to the audience and defined the notion of a “super-affiliate” -- one that goes above and beyond, he said, and is characterized by the following seemingly conflicting traits:

  • mercenary;
  • busy;
  • greedy; and
  • lazy.

“They work for themselves,” Ash said. “They don’t work for you and they’re always looking for the best opportunity.” Because of this, affiliates are constantly testing to justify the value of running your campaign on their sites. The competition is cutthroat -- if it doesn’t pay out right away, affiliates will quickly cut their losses and move on to a program that generates immediate revenue.

In order to get affiliates -- and, more important, to keep them -- Ash shares his 10 strategies for ensuring that your offer is one that even the most fickle of affiliates can’t resist:

  1. Join an affiliate network: As opposed to having a direct program, this streamlines tasks such as payment and reporting, and also connects merchants and affiliates with other affiliates and merchants, respectively.
  2. Offer better payouts: If the clicks aren’t converting, they're meaningless.
  3. Allow bidding on your brand: Affiliates should be able to bid not only on your keywords but on your brand.
  4. Don’t be high-maintenance: Be consistent in your affiliate program. Don’t frequently change your offers, terms, conditions, or your landing pages -- affiliates don’t want to be constantly adapting.
  5. Don’t change the rules of the game: Similar to the previous rule, affiliates don’t want you to do anything that will interrupt their revenue flow.
  6. Pay up: Pay on time, pay frequently, pay consistently.
  7. Share sensitive information: Let's say Merchant X reveals that it has a 5 percent conversion rate on its site; you may have a 6 percent rate, but if you refuse to reveal that information, affiliates will be less willing to take the risk -- they'll go with what they know.
  8. Listen to suggestions: If you’re not already getting feedback from your affiliates, get it -- obtaining feedback is one of the best ways to give affiliates what they want.
  9. Go the extra mile: Motivate and nurture affiliates with incentive programs or special offers.
  10. Pump up your conversion rate: When it comes down to it, high conversion rates will be your best selling point.

With site optimization, Ash emphasized, companies have seen significant lift in their conversion rates -- and, in turn, in their revenue. All it takes is some testing, whether you've got a million pages or just three. PowerOptions, a provider of stock-options research software, originally had a form page to sign up for a 14-day free trial. The page, however, was cluttered with what the company thought was necessary information. “They fought us tooth and nail," Ash recalled, "claiming that they had a sophisticated audience that would feel short-changed” if there wasn’t enough explanation. After testing two other complete redesigns, he said, PowerOptions saw a 75 percent increase in post-trial sales and $200,000 annual profit improvement.

Marketers are just beginning to back away from their reliance on high traffic as a key metric for Web-site success. “It’s like taking a fire hose and trying to aim all that through a keyhole -- your landing page,” Ash warned the crowd. A Web site should instead focus on achieving high conversions, and the only person who can help you design a site that meets this objective is -- not surprisingly -- your Web visitor.

In other words, a marketer not only has to appeal to its affiliates -- it must appeal to their visitors first. Ash outlined the common Web-site mistakes marketers make and unveiled precisely what to do to optimize the quality of a site. This has become increasingly important as the Web site has come to be seen as a company's public face. Companies, he said, are often guilty of the following missteps:

  1. Squandering attention: You only have so much real estate on your Web site, so don’t waste it confusing your customer with a ton of different links and offers. “They’re already there,” Ash said. “Stop screaming at them.” Focus on what you’re good at and make it easy for them to find it.
  2. Frustrating users: “Don’t make people feel stupid,” Ash said. Avoid trapping customers in a dead end from which they don’t know how to escape.
  3. Obscuring risk-reducers: Don’t hide information that makes you credible, such as security logos.
  4. Lacking social proof: Prominently display logos from other clientele, client testimonials, media coverage, etc. By using these resources, you gain what Ash termed a “transference of trust.”
  5. Surprising or confusing visitors: Don't surprise customers (e.g., pop-up banners, hidden forms to fill out). Anything that interrupts them, especially when they're on their way to checking out, may deter them from completing a transaction and should be avoided. Most online shoppers are one-time visitors who may never return again -- therefore, it’s important to get their money first and then ask for registration.
  6. Ignoring your baseline: When it comes to evaluating the results of a test, don’t be deceived by your absolute performance. Measure your success relative to your baseline.
  7. Collecting insufficient data: Marketers are often tempted to settle when it comes to evaluating the results of their tests. For example, Ash described a scenario where Option A exhibited 90 conversions while Option B had 100, but was Option B really better? Unfortunately, the data showed that 30 percent of the time, the results were based on luck. In that particular case, it took 1350 and 1500 conversions, respectively, for the data to accurately reveal that Option B was a better choice.

[Update: Earlier versions of this story were woefully inadequate, listing only nine tips and just six missteps -- clearly, destinationCRM.com readers derve better, so we've expanded each category by an additional bonus item.]

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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