This is a guest post from my friends at Brandverity. Brandverity is a tool that I use with one of my clients and highly recommend if you have a program that allows PPC with direct to merchant linking or linking to their own sites. The opinions in this post are of Brandverity and do not necessarily reflect those of Adam Riemer Marketing.
Things to think about when approving Affiliate applications
Marketers get excited about growth. This makes perfect sense, considering how we strive for customer acquisition and revenue increases. And hey, sometimes it’s just exciting to be part of something successful. Isn’t it? When it comes to affiliate marketing, Affiliate Managers want to make their programs more successful, increasing their numbers and producing more value for the company.
But in certain situations, that approach can lead to a bias for approving affiliates quickly—or even without any review at all. The basic thought is “more affiliates, more sales.” This can be very dangerous for an affiliate program, as brand poachers or malicious cookie stuffers may slip through the cracks.
Fortunately, astute program managers such as Adam recommend manually reviewing each affiliate before accepting them into your program. This helps you vet affiliates and ensure that they’ll truly add value. But what specifically should you look for when reviewing these affiliates? In this post, I’ll focus on content affiliates and what you should be looking for while reviewing the content on their sites. Before jumping to the “Approve” button, you may want to start by asking yourself some of these questions:
1) What Incremental Value Will this Affiliate Provide?
In other words, what can this affiliate give you that you don’t already have? This question is key if you want to grow your revenue and build your brand. Unfortunately, the easy answer is to just say “sales” and move on. That can oversimplify the issue—so I recommend thinking about this a little bit more. What will cause those extra sales? Let’s list a few possibilities.
The affiliate can:
- Give you exposure to an entirely new audience
- Create additional demand that causes existing prospects to buy
- Provide extra motivation for previous customers to purchase again
So, which of these will the new affiliate provide? Obviously there isn’t a perfectly clean answer here, so don’t get yourself lost in analysis. The point is simply to take a moment and rationally explain why you should bring this affiliate on board. If you’re struggling to reach enough people, and it seems like the affiliate can send you new visitors (and thus new sales), then sign them up! If you’re getting decent traffic but having a tough time converting sales, an extra-persuasive affiliate site could help a lot. If you don’t rank well for generic terms in SEO, then approve the affiliate who does. Remember, your affiliates are there to strengthen your marketing and extend your brand.
Need an Example?
A few months ago, I was looking for a digital antenna to help me transition off of cable. I ran some searches and eventually stumbled upon an affiliate’s site. The site was really informative, detailing a bunch of tests that the affiliate ran on various antennae. It even included some resources to help calculate which antenna would be best for my neighborhood.
At the time, the affiliate’s links mostly led to the Antennas Direct website. Antennas Direct is a relatively small merchant, so I really doubt that I would have even been aware of them without this affiliate’s help. Furthermore, the information on the affiliate’s site pushed me much closer to my ultimate buying decision. So, based on my experience, I think this is a great example of how an affiliate can exhibit clear incremental value.
A More Questionable Example
Let’s look at a different scenario. This one turned up while I was doing some laptop research. Here’s a product detail page from the affiliate’s site:
Now, you might be wondering if this is really an affiliate’s site. After all, why would an affiliate have an “Add to Cart” button? Plus, doesn’t the design look a lot more like a retailer’s site? Despite the appearance, this is an affiliate’s site. If you click on either the “Add to Cart” or “Full Details” buttons, you end up being redirected through an affiliate link and over to a merchant’s site.
So, considering that this is an affiliate’s site, what extra value is it providing? There are no product reviews on the page. There’s no story describing the product. There really isn’t much on the page beyond a few basic bullet points. That makes it hard to understand where this site’s value is coming from. Of course, we haven’t ruled out that it might have access to a large audience. That’s certainly still a possibility, and might explain what we’re seeing here. But overall, the site still left me questioning whether it would provide a significant lift to a merchant. (Note from Adam Riemer Marketing: If it is a non trademark PPC partner or has a large social media following or their own source of traffic, showing the page could be set up as a way to drive the sale to purchase and add value.)
2) How Would This Site Reflect on My Brand?
What does it mean for your brand to be associated with this particular affiliate’s site? Performance marketing often trains us to think only about metrics like traffic, sales and leads—but we should remember that brand image is still at play here.
What style of posts appear on the site, and what impression do they create? What audience is the content suited for? Are they similar to your target customer? While you want your affiliates to bring you new customers and help you reach new people, it’s important for their communications to be consistent with your overall brand message.
There are plenty of ways for an affiliate’s content to be out of sync with your brand messaging, including:
- Excessive use of discount language that cheapens your brand
- Inappropriate language that your brand wouldn’t use
- Poorly written copy that prevents your product from shining
- Misleading product descriptions
Let’s check out a couple examples. Here are two different affiliate sites that don’t exactly reflect well on their respective merchants:
The site is pretty clearly engaging in some keyword stuffing on the term “best tv”. The copy does little to really sell you the various products. It doesn’t provide much insight, analysis, or anything particularly compelling. Perhaps enough people will click through anyways, but is this the type of company your brand should be keeping? What impression does it give your prospective customers?
As a side note, it was bizarre to find this site ranking organically. This could be because it’s an Exact Match Domain, but I’m still somewhat surprised to have seen it turn up (even if it was on the second page of Google).
I doubt that this was intentional. Most likely, the affiliate’s site was compromised by some kind of hacker or spammer. Nevertheless, this is clearly not a great context for the brand to appear in. What do you think should be done here? Maybe we simply caught this affiliate’s site at a bad time, but this really raises some red flags. (Note from Adam Riemer Marketing. When I come across this I write to the Affiliate and let them know. They will usually remove the content or explain why it is there.)
3) How Does This Site Promote Other Brands?
If you have the time, it would be helpful to check on how the affiliate promotes the brands that it already has relationships with. This can give you an idea of what to expect from your own relationship with the affiliate. If their methods are consistent with how you’d like your brand to be promoted, then you can feel more confident about approving them.
You’ll also get a good sense for who you’re competing with on the affiliate’s site. If the affiliate has pre-existing relationships with your top competitors, it may be harder for you to crack the key promotional spots on the site. They may have already developed a preference for promoting a particular competitor and its products. Fortunately, when you know this information up front, you can start to come up with ways to motivate the affiliate to feature you instead. Whether that comes in the form of a higher standard commission rate, bonuses for certain sales quotas, or something else is up to you.
Let’s check out an example from the web hosting industry:
The difficulties of finding transparent reviews in the web hosting world are well documented. Review sites will often rank providers according to their commission payouts. Let’s say you’re the Affiliate Manager for a web host that’s not listed here. How far are you willing to go to get listed? Is it worth offering up special commissions in exchange for good placement?
4) Who Visits this Site? How? Why?
This may sound negative, but it’s worth being skeptical for a moment. In order to contribute incremental traffic and sales to your site, the affiliate needs to produce its own traffic.
Of course, it can be hard to determine this by simply glancing at a site. One useful indicator, though, is the overall site quality. If the elements of well crafted website are present (decent design, sensible structure, and well written posts), the site probably has a strong enough following to have made such investments.
You may also want to look for other indicators. You can do this by inspecting how well the site promotes its own content. For example, does the site have an opt-in email subscription option? How well does it integrate social sharing options? You could also check how many RSS subscribers it has—RSS readers like Feedly provide approximations of readers subscribed to a given feed. Yet another option would be to count the affiliate’s total number of Twitter followers, or check its Social Authority metric on Followerwonk. (Note from Adam Riemer Marketing. Remember also that if someone has 20K followers but follows 20K, chances are that it is not a real following, not active and they used a follow me follow you back strategy.)
Overall, the main point here is that you should be able to build a reasonable account explaining how this affiliate will bring you traffic and sales. In particular, you want to ensure that the affiliate won’t alter your existing marketing channels in any unexpected ways. Unfortunately, this happens pretty regularly—especially in the paid search channel. We see a lot of in our monitoring at BrandVerity.
Any Other Questions You Find Useful?
The examples above are certainly not exhaustive. My goal is simply to provide a starting point, a quick barometer and basis for reviewing affiliates’ sites. Hopefully, they’re helpful for you in that context. Of course, there are still plenty of other potentially useful questions that we haven’t covered here. To name just a few:
- Is the design of this site up to our standards?
- How strong are the site’s navigation and calls to action?
- How long has the affiliate been posting on this site?
- Who shares links to this site on Twitter?
(Note from Adam Riemer Marketing. Here are some other questions to think about.)
- Do they list a content site but only drive sales from sites you wouldn’t approve in?
- Do they have other sites that are more closely related but not listed that are a good fit?
- Is their content original or scraped?
Of course, there are endless questions you could ask. The key is choosing the right ones so that you can spend your time efficiently. While I think it’s smart to err on the side of asking more questions and staying inquisitive, you’ll need to narrow down your own list based on what works for you. And if there’s an important question that you think I haven’t covered here, I’d love to hear your suggestions. Feel free to share your ideas below!
*Photos purchased from DepositPhotos or provided by Brandverity.