Case Study – 7 Figure YOY Growth Via Top Funnel Affiliates

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affiliate marketing case study seven figure year over year growth

The client came to us because they didn’t have luck with affiliate program managers in the past.  The traffic sources were hard to determine, they found some end of sale interceptions via branded coupon phrases in Google, and lots of reviews being a source of traffic (which is value adding, but not top-funnel).  We assured them the affiliate channel can be top funnel, provide value, and be mutually beneficial for both the partners and the brand.  They gave us a chance, and below you’ll find the results with tons of actionable tips, and how we achieved them.


We removed any affiliate that showed up for the “brand + coupons” in Google via SEO and PPC, then redid the TOS to require any partner with a review to have at least 60% – 70% non-review traffic, and enforced the rules for everyone including mass media outlets.  This meant removing a sizable portion of the top 10 and 20 partners which was scary, but needed.

Because the client does not allow end-of-sale touchpoints we were able to take competitor’s top partners away by showing them how much more they can make with our top-funnel strategy.  At the same time, the no end-of-sale touchpoints makes recruiting new partners easier because we can make a case we protect their commissions.  Next we used market demand with a top-funnel focused plan including SEO, conversion optimization, social media, and YouTube to gather data points and execute complementary strategies with similar partners.  By doing this we were able to scale them by 7 figures YOY. 

Best of all, the client is now on track to do even more this year as you’ll see in the second screenshot.

One of the biggest wins was working on conversion optimization. We reviewed our content sites, and one particular thing that moved the needle fast was modifying their calls to action and SEO targets to create higher AOVs and increase traffic levels.  The pre-selling and calls to action with a focus on different user intents resulted in increased earnings and conversion rates for the affiliates and the client.  Everyone wins in this situation.

Full Case Study

Here’s screenshots featuring YOY 2023 to 2022, and January 1 – February 14, 2024 to 2023 direct from ShareASale.  Below that you’ll find what we did with the actions we took to achieve these results.  This way you can implement it in your own affiliate programs if this is something you’d like to try.

The screenshots are from an ecommerce client whose program we manage.  The numbers are blocked by the client’s request as they’d like to remain anonymous.  We manage about 15 programs on the platform, and not all are listed on our site, also per client requests.  This way we can keep them anonymous.

We left the commas and punctuation intact so you can see the numbers are in six and seven figure increments, and ShareASale’s green and red labeling so you can see these are screenshots from the affiliate timespan report once the compare periods are selected.

2023 to 2022 YOY

yoy affiliate program growth

Jan 1 – Feb 14 YOY

quarterly affiliate program growth

The information below covers how we increased conversion rates for the program, ways we activated and grew current relationships, and the steps we took to find new partners, or take partners away from competing companies.  

Here’s how we did this:

  1. Update the program TOS
  2. Audit the program and enforce the rules
  3. Talk to other teams for data (conversions and volume)
  4. Redo the newsletter and promotional strategies
  5. Build rapport with top partners, and partners that have potential
  6. Recruit new partners based on potential and stability with new data points

Update the Program TOS

Before you modify a program or make changes, ensure that all of your partners are aware of what is coming.  Even ones that are likely to be removed as everyone deserves a chance to stay.  Affiliate marketing is about relationships.  Transparency and setting realistic expectations that are mutually beneficial is the key to success with the channel.  

Many times an affiliate program TOS will not be clear or have examples of what is and is not allowed.  We added and defined policies that may not have been as clear so that all partners are knowledgeable about what the client considers value-adding or no-value.

Next we ensured that the processes and rules are in place for when policies are violated, and double checked to verify everything is easy to understand by having non-affiliate people read it and say what they think it means.  

If a regular person wants to try monetizing their social media channels or blogs cannot make sense of the TOS because it is in legal jargon, how will they be able to follow them?  Especially if English isn’t their first language.

Pro-tip: Do not decline or refuse a partner because they live overseas. Their traffic could be all US based.  You’re missing out on huge amounts of US traffic, specifically in the hosting, electronics, and finance space if you block foreign affiliates completely.

Now that the TOS was deployed and everyone was aware of the changes being made, we needed to find what everyone was doing.

Audit the Program

The program was not in horrible shape when we got to it, but there were issues.  Some partners had content pages that were top funnel, but also had pages built to show up in Google for the “company’s name + coupons” via SEO.  Others were doing PPC and shouldn’t have been.  And other practices that were not adding value to the client were sliding under the radar.

We presented the client with a list of the top 20 or 30 partners including notes on whether to keep the partner, keep them but require modifications to their promotional strategies, or remove them completely.  

Once the plan was approved we ended up removing 4 or 5 of the top 10 partners, including one of the top 3 partners.  Later on we pulled more of them including another top 3.  It was scary because we had to make up the revenue, but our goal is to make the client succeed, and these partners were not acting in a manner that would do this.  The good news is that we set expectations with the client and shared a best and worst case scenario.  The client was ok, as long as we focused on the long game and building a value-adding affiliate program.

The hardest ones to remove were content sites with top-funnel traffic.  They did add value, but not in a way that was mutually beneficial.  This included some mass media outlets that have tons of traffic and are known brands that are trusted by readers.  Others chose to follow the new TOS so we were able to continue which let us do a lot of PR work and helped with the program growth.  

For the partners that we were keeping, we evaluated their current traffic and pages, looked for topics that have not been covered but are relevant for their audience, and where they are promoting our client’s competitors.  By identifying this we can approach each partner with a unique and customized plan for their needs vs. generic statements and strategies.

The plans included:

  • Email optimizations
  • SEO ideas with how to code missing tech elements
  • The positions of calls to action and the wording being used
  • Fixes or changes to selling points that increase AOV and in turn the commissions for the partners
  • Ways they can grow and scale, even if there was no tie in for us (I mention the why later on)

We also did a comparison to see what other websites, YouTube channels, social media influencers, etc… are similar to our top performers.  This gave us a list of who to reach out to first.  

Pro-tip: YouTubers, niche site owners, and influencers talk to others in their space.  When you build the trust of a couple, it opens doors with the masses.  

Do not be afraid to work for free with the communities of site owners and influencers in your space.  Winning their trust, even if they don’t promote you, opens the doors because you have a supporter in the inner circle.  This gives credibility to your name as an affiliate manager and your brand as a program to work with.

Talk to Other Team Members

Now we did one-on-one meetings with partners using data from SEO, PPC, and email to present what converts wording and theme wise.  We also included where the volume/consumer demand exists, and how much value each product or service being promoted brings in.

Value can be margin, AOV in the shopping cart, or LTV of the customer.  

By having this data you can go back to the list created in step 2 and figure out what to recommend to each partner.  If your data team has the ability to look up customer types by partner, you can do even better.

By matching the audience for similar topics the affiliate has not covered yet, but also converts on the new phrases, the affiliate can increase their target audience size and reach since it is apples-to-apples, and the majority of the site remains contextually relevant.  The increase in traffic and promotion of your brand will likely lead to your partners and your company growing.   

Pro-tip: Approach the partner with the volume, AOV, conversion rate, and potential earnings based on the commissions their account is set to.  

If the topic has 1,000 searches a month, can give 100 clicks from visitors to the brand with a conversion rate of 5% and an AOV of $100, this is $5 per month the partner can be making.  If changing the call to action increases conversions or AOV, the amount goes up. 

Now that we had revenue increasing from current and new partners, it was time to reach the masses in the program by redoing the communications strategies.

Redo the Newsletters, Communications, and Promotional Strategies

If your affiliate manager or affiliate management company is only sending promo codes and sales in their newsletters, they’re not growing your program, your company, or revenue for long term success. 

A coupon code or sale promotion is a short term boost of traffic, and only if it gets posted to social media and a newsletter.  Adding the coupon to a site showing up for your “brand + coupons” in Google is the same traffic you’d have had anyways, there’s no gain, just a new code on the page people find when they’re checking out of your own shopping cart. 

These types of affiliate newsletters do not grow your company for the long run like evergreen traffic sources do.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t add value, they just don’t lead to reliable and consistent growth. 

Affiliate newsletters should provide education and encourage long term growth.  You can share topics that have large amounts of traffic via SEO and include tips specific to optimizing for these phrases via blog posts, YouTube videos, and featured snippets or forum results.  

Another type of newsletter is providing tips on increasing engagement for social media channels.  Make sure to tie in your products or services with the examples to inspire influencers to try new things.  You can also provide tools they can use to test and monitor performance, or research hashtags and other helpful tools.

Many times partners will reach out asking for a quick review of their strategies or for clarifications.  This helps you to get onto their editorial calendars which is what leads to sustainable growth, as long as the partner doesn’t lose their account.  If the partner sees success, they may add a planned push at specific time intervals when conversions are highest for your company so you get boosts throughout the year.

Another option is to teach your partners how to grow their email and SMS lists.   Provide them with ways to monetize emails without affiliate marketing.  Even if your brand is not included in that newsletter, there is value because you get the partner’s trust and can work to get new content that promotes your products or services created later.  

Share data on where most opt-ins happen for your space by position and channel type.  As the partners’ lists grow, so do your opportunities to get exposure to these lists.  When you educate the partners with how and where to optimize, you open the opportunity to get banners and text links included naturally for traffic year round.  And so does the amount of traffic you get when they do the blast because the list size is bigger for a double win.

Many of our clients do not do discounts or promo codes.  Some will do them for Black Friday and Cyber Monday only.  So we change up the promotional strategies with these limitations for our brand conscious clientele.  

Instead of deals and discounts, we offer cash incentives based on performance, gift cards, and other things that encourage partners to get more active.  How do we know what to offer?  We ask the partners what motivates them.  

By knowing the motivations we are able to run promotions specific to groupings and themes, or to the entire program if a majority are interested.  And doing this is easier than it sounds.

Most modern affiliate platforms give you unlimited tags to apply to affiliates just like an email database.  Let’s pretend the content niches are tagged with colors and the motivators are numbers.  

Your tags could be:

  • Blue
  • Red
  • Purple


  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4

If blue is motivated by three, select both blue and three and only email them the promo while keeping the newsletter private to other partners.  Then do individual follow ups to each partner to ensure they received the promo.  And if all of the niches have the same type of motivator and the promo is general vs. niche specific, email it to everyone.  

It’s a bit of extra work at first, but pays off in the long run.  Now that we know the motivators and have new content being developed, we have some bandwidth for trust building.

Build Rapport With Top Partners and Up-and-Coming Stars

If the affiliate is not intercepting your own traffic by showing up for your branded terms in Google, this is who you want to reach out to first.  They have optimizations for traffic that converts, and potentially have more opportunities to expand their reach.

The goal of this affiliate program is to acquire new customers and grow revenue, so we banned the types of partners that rely on brands to have their own traffic as this does not add value to the brand when the goal is customer acquisition.  That does not mean this is right for everyone or for your situation, but it was the right thing for this client.

Talking to the top partners that have their own traffic let us learn what we were not doing well, what they would like from the program (aside from higher commissions, everyone will ask for that), and what our competitors are doing better and worse than us.  This gives us a chance to present the client with opportunities to grow.  And these opportunities can grow PPC, social media, SEO, newsletter conversions, and other non-affiliate channels.

We kept notes on who requested what, and once the feature went live, we let the specific partner know before the entire program.  This helps the partner that came up with the idea feel special, and gives them first dibs on the tool or topic since they came up with the idea.  And when an idea wasn’t doable, we let the partner know.

Affiliates get tired of managers dragging them along and not communicating timelines or not being able to create tools or opportunities.  It is always best to be honest and say it isn’t going to happen.  This type of transparency builds trust and keeps communication open.  That is even more important as you work with them on other clients, or as you change companies and have a new program that is a match.

We have the current partners happy at this point, but current partners can only move the needle so far.  This means its time to up our affiliate recruitment game.

Recruit New Partners

We started outreach from day one, but were going off assumptions.  I’m going to combine how we used new datapoints with the assumptions to save some space here. 

From the start we studied our competitors for strengths and weaknesses.  Some had blocked coupon sites, cashback, and toolbars like we did in this program.  Others, especially the big ones, allowed them in.

In many cases, the competitors were and still are likely unaware they have end-of-sale touchpoints because the “banned” types of affiliates were and may still be posing as media outlets and content sites. Or they were the actual content site and media outlet, but a secondary account that only does coupons and deals. 

You don’t have to work with both or provide coupons to get editorial exposure in most mass media.  The two teams are separate at most media outlets, don’t let the agency or affiliate manager trick you into thinking this is not true.  Publications separate editorial from advertising so readers continue to trust them, and search engines know the editorial integrity is intact.

Our first step was reaching out to potential partners promoting our competitors and we used our “clean” affiliate program as a selling point.  By not allowing end-of-sale touchpoints, or on-website touchpoints in the program, we make a strong case as to how we are protecting their commissions and how some of the competitors may not be.  In some cases we did a screen share call and demoed it for the partner the differences in the partners. 

The competitor may have attribution set up where the top-funnel partner would win, but if the manager is not responsive when their affiliates write or ask questions, there’s no way for them to share this and the attribution settings are meaningless.  It turns out many of our clients’ competitors have non-responsive affiliate managers and affiliate agencies.  That made our job in recruiting their top-funnel partners easy.

Pro-tip: If you decide to do a no end-of-sale program, track the partners that began seeing increases in sales.  Even if the increase in sales was small, if it was from other affiliates overwriting their tracking, you have an advantage.

By letting the partners with increases in conversions know why they’re seeing extra money, we won their trust.  This also shows them how much they could be losing elsewhere.  Once this became apparent, they replaced the competitors in high traffic spaces to test ROI with our client, and some saw an increase in their revenue even though our program paid less than the competitors.

Pro-tip: Even if the commission is smaller, higher conversions or a higher AOV can lead to more revenue.  We tracked individual EPC and total commissions paid as the control metrics for the individual partners.

Once your partners see that you understand attribution and conversion optimization, you can share upcoming website tests with them to get them excited.  If the tests work and the partners make more, they’ll be more inclined to continue promoting you.  In some cases you can lock in exclusivity deals, but it has to be worthwhile for the partner to agree to this.

The affiliate channel for this client is almost completely top-funnel.  If SEO were to fall or they no longer spend on PPC and social media, the channel would have the same traffic because it is not dependent on the brand’s own success.  We’re bringing in an increase of seven figures YOY via new customers, building positive brand exposure, and we created a program that is mutually beneficial for both the affiliate and our client.  We’re proud of the work we did, and the program is continuing to grow.  I hope this case study helps you grow your affiliate program too.

If you’re interested in an affiliate program audit, or having Adam do a quick glance (usually for free) to see if you have issues and opportunities, reach out through here.

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