So this is something that seems so simple and soo many people can make soo many claims that it is insane. The real truth behind picking an Affiliate Marketing company to manage your Affiliate Program is actually a lot more easy than you think, but a lot more tricky than you would think as well.
There is a lot to take into consideration about all of the firms out there. Probably 95% of them work with AdWare that can and will steal from you, however it will look like legit sales and the firm will deny it or play dumb when you call them out on it, especially if they are being bonused on performance or total sales and can allow their Affiliates to redirect and hijack your own internal Marketing and stuff cookies to take credit for sales they never earned or sent. Even on one of my favorite online marketing forums, ABestWeb.com where you can learn about adware or parasites, and the community is completely against adware, over half of the firms and “trusted firms” actually still work with adware and hope no one calls them out on it. Just so we are clear, Adware is not the same as trademark bidding, the types of adware I am talking about hijack the end users browser and set cookies on the end users computer and take credit for the sale if that person shops, regardless of where that person came from.
So the first thing I recommend when looking at an Affiliate company is to see if they work with these types of companies because chances are that if they currently work with them or adware Affiliates in their other programs, they will probably work with them in yours, regardless of what they say. Look through the Parasiteware and Unethical Affiliates Forums for a few of the big ones and then look through your perspective agencies Client list who have programs on CJ, Linkshare, Google, etc… are listed on the Parasites websites, if they are then they are more than likely in the Adware too. You can also look at 5 Star Affiliate forums for another list or more discussions on adware. Furthermore, would you actually want to trust a firm that allows their other Clients to be stolen from so they look better and can get paid more? You also have to realize that the Affiliate Networks know about this and don’t do anything about it because of the amount of Money that they actually make off of the theft. Anyways, read the parasite forums at ABestWeb.com and then check that Outsourced Affiliate Program Manager’s other clients to see if they allow their Clients to partner with AdWare that can or will steal from them and ask yourself if you are willing to be stolen from too. (On a side note, not all of the companies listed in the Parasite forum are still using adware that steals, however many of them are and still have the ability to stuff cookies on your own internal PPC, your Email campaigns, your SEO and any way else someone finds your site).
The next thing to think about is payment. Affiliate programs can easily take 6 months to a year to really get going and in that time frame you need your Manager or Management company to be responsive and guide you through which Affiliates you may want to work with and which you don’t. Or you may be the type of Client that just says, don’t let anyone steal and grow this program, either way, your Management company should treat each Client equal because they should not be charging one company any more than the other and if they are worth their weight or are actually able to grow your program like they are supposed to be able to grow it, then they should be able to make just as much money with you as they would with larger and smaller brands. Smaller brands are usually hard to get going in the beginning but do catch up to the big guys. I grew a small brand into a program doing well over $650K per month from around $20K to $40K per month, and I did it Adware free.
Make sure your Affiliate Management company can cover everything.
Affiliate Marketing involves all types of Marketing from Email and CANSPAM Compliance to PPC, to CSEs, to Datafeeds, knowing basic HTML and even how to do graphic design work. If your firm cannot answer questions about CANSPAM or even basic html or even the benefits of an Affiliate Network vs. a CPA Network (There is a huge difference) as well as the benefits and downfalls of the different Affiliate and CPA Networks, then you should move forward with them. If they are not versed in multiple types of Online Marketing and don’t have basic skills to answer questions without using your own internal resources or billing you for hiring someone else on to do their job, then why hire them or go with them when you can find someone or hire someone or outsource to someone else who can do it all.
It is also important to remember that if your Affiliates are Spamming, you may be just as legally responsible for CANSPAM Violations and Laws as they are so make sure your Firm or Agency can answer the questions and have solutions to help protect you.
Another thing to think about with the Agency is are they too good to be true?
Most Agencies say they work with thousands and some say hundreds of thousands of Affiliates. The truth is, out of those huge numbers, maybe only 5% can drive sales. Out of those 5%. 2-3% are probably only shopping through their own links and maybe driving a legit sale once a year and even less are able to send you a sale once a month or quarter. Don’t let them play numbers games, it really is to good to be true. The next 1% may be big producers, but they are also the parasites that are ripping you off and the trademark bidders that are eating away at your own internal efforts and basically ripping you off. The last 1% that is where you get the actual added value with real legit sales.
The truth is that with each program, Affiliates need to build new campaigns, test them, build content and get it indexed, work on building you into their sites and blogs, and the Manage will need to go out and recruit new ones specifically for your niche. They may have a ton of Affiliates, but a huge portion of the remaining 5% may not actually be in your niche either and therefore are useless to you. Talk to your Agency about how they recruit and the different methods they will use. You can always give them a boost with advertising, but at the same time, it is up to them to get the word out and keep it out there.
Avoid Agencies that recommend listing on every network. This not only leads to a million issues with tracking if you don’t include last click in software and custom programming, but numerous network fees, a program that is impossible to manage and if it is because you want that other Network’s Affiliates, well that means you have a very lazy Manager or Agency. It is their job to know those sites and their job to recruit them into your Network and your program. That is why you are paying them. Seriously think about that one.
The last warning I will give about something to look for in an Agency is if they put you on Auto Approve. This is one of the most dangerous things you can do. Not only does it open you up to fraud Affiliates, Spam Affiliates, Adware and Parasite Affiliates who can steal from you, but it also shows your Agency and Manager don’t care enough about your brand to actually review each individual Application. If they don’t have time for this, and don’t have time to recruit other Network’s Affiliates for you, they do not have time for you! I don’t care how reputable they are, this is a serious issue and always a huge mistake.
Anyways, enough rambling.
When you are looking for someone to help Manage and Grow your Affiliate Program, make sure you have someone that will not only protect you, but will also protect your brand, your company, give you the time you deserve and work with your program and your Affiliates, not let the Networks do the work while you pay them for taking the credit.
If you would like me to list some firms, besides myself who I would recommend, please feel free to leave a comment here with your email address and I will gladly share with you some of the firms that I believe do a good job of taking care of you, your brand and your program.