White Paper: 7 Hidden Factors Blocking The Growth Of Your Affiliate Program
Affiliate marketing seemingly has everything that you would want in a marketing channel:
- The ability to place your products and services in front of interested global customers overnight
- Hungry affiliates acting as your own personal sales staff
- Pricing that only goes up when the performance of your campaigns increases (win-win!)
Adoption of affiliate marketing is on the rise as well.
According to a recent Forrester report, more than 80% of advertisers and publishers are using affiliate marketing. In the US alone, affiliate marketing spend is expected to reach $8.2 billion.
That’s more than triple what we were spending ten years ago! Seems like launching an affiliate program is a can't fail opportunity! Sadly, this isn't the case for all programs.
We're consistently seeing affiliate programs stalling out after a year or two. These programs reach a plateau and only go downwards in monthly revenue, active affiliates, and the number of incoming affiliates. Growth becomes non-existent.
What causes affiliate programs to fizzle out?
Programs stop growing when they lack the fundamentals to overcome hidden factors that ruin the overall success of the program, including the launching of new affiliates and maximizing the performance of existing affiliates.
What do we mean by hidden factors?
Here’s an example that’s likely happening to your program:
Most of your top affiliates are likely using coupon websites/toolbars as their primary promotion method.
Your coupon affiliates are frequently the last stop for users before they complete one of your campaigns.
Being the final stop before conversion, your coupon affiliates end up with credit for driving home a sale – leaving your other affiliates who played a key role in the sales cycle (sparking user interest, reminding the user to make the purchase, providing product reviews, etc.) without any rewards for their efforts.
This phenomenon is known as coupon poaching (we’ll dive into this later).
When these affiliates don’t see results commensurate with their efforts, they stop promoting your offers and slow your program growth.
If you use the right tools and strategies though, you’ll reward your coupon affiliates when they are driving new users to knock at your door, and then reward non-coupon affiliates (like influencers and content publishers) for generating the new user demand that is visiting your campaigns for the very first time.
Making this adjustment to overcome hidden factors like coupon poaching that stop your program from growing, is what this white paper is all about.
Ready to see what other hidden factors are limiting the potential of your program, and how you can move past those growth blockers?
For this white paper we have taken insights from the work that it takes to be the platform of choice for 800+ major brands, agencies, and networks, helping them migrate and grow their programs.
Broken down into the seven most vital hidden factors, this guide covers common actions that most affiliate programs don’t take, and provides strategies to quickly overcome these obstacles to growth.
After reading this white paper, you’ll be able to understand your program data more, improve your tracking, recruit more affiliates, and save time on routine tasks –transforming your program in just a few weeks to a program that is built for growth.
Let’s check out the first of the seven factors, which involves understanding your affiliate ecosystem.
Factor #1: Lack Of Competitive Research
Comparable listings (“comps”) are essential for anyone looking to buy or sell real estate property. By knowing what properties of similar size, location, style, and age are going for in a particular neighborhood, a relative value can be created on a particular property by the seller or buyer.
Comps aren’t limited to purchasing property, as affiliates use comps to choose which affiliate program or affiliate network to join.
Affiliates use factors like program inventory, offer payout, and payment terms to determine whether to join a program.
Remaining on top in key comp areas can make or break your program. Therefore, it’s essential to do your homework to ensure your program is attractive to target affiliates.
You’ll want to look into these areas when evaluating your competition:
- Payout rates
- Payment terms (weekly, net30, net60, etc.)
- Level of support (IM, email, phone, Skype, Slack, etc.)
- Types of promotions (e.g. holiday promotions, incentives, referral bonuses)
- Advanced tracking capabilities (first-touch and/or last touch, events, offline, etc.)
This process is time-consuming, but will yield strong insights. Here’s how we recommend getting started with competitive research:
Look At Rising Stars: It’s tempting to mold your program after the “big guns” in your space, simply trying to match their offerings and structure.
There has to be a reason for their longevity, right? Problem solved!
While this strategy seems sound, established competitors see good results thanks to the power of being well-known brands. Trying to match all aspects of their success will leave your program at a standstill if you don’t already have an equally powerful brand.
Therefore, we recommend seeking out competitors with unique offerings, different ideas, and who are making noise in your niche. These competitors most often will be small, but all good ideas start somewhere.
When you find a smaller, thriving program, take notes on their formula for success:
A thriving program that’s not largely known enough to rely on brand awareness is doing something worth paying attention to.
Consult The Experts: From webinars, to virtual events, to LinkedIn posts, there’s a vast wealth of quality content available from industry experts to help your program stay on the cutting edge.
Here are a few of our favorite sources:
- East 5th Avenue Blog: https://east5thavenue.com/blog
- Everflow Fireside Chats & Blog: https://www.linkedin.com/company/10881736/admin/, https://www.everflow.io/insights/blog
- Shane Barker Blog: https://shanebarker.com/blog
- Morning Dough: https://www.morningdough.com
If you need any more resource recommendations, reach out and let us know!
Tune Into The Social Chatter: A great way to determine if your offers and service options are competitive is to tune in to the many active affiliate marketing industry-related groups on social media. These groups are broken out by vertical, promotion style, industry events, or by function (such as groups that are used to vet potential partners).
By doing a quick search on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Reddit, you should be able to find groups that match your program’s offerings or affiliate type.
To get you started, here are a few of the more popular affiliate industry groups currently available:
Join The Competition: Joining another affiliate program or network as a publisher is a great way to get to know the competition. If you’re approved (which is not guaranteed), you’ll get an inside view of the value that the program or network provides.
Most importantly, you’ll get an idea of how you’re faring compared to your competition. Make sure you’re always honest about your business when applying to a competitor program or network, to ensure good faith and that your account remains active.
Go To Events: In-person events are a great way to take a pulse on what will make affiliates take notice of your program. Whether it’s browsing the exhibit halls to gauge the competition’s marketing messages, attending lectures about the latest industry buzz, or connecting at networking parties, in-person events are a great way to see how your program stacks up.
A few of our favorite conferences each year include:
If you need any assistance finding a conference, feel free to reach out to us for suggestions, too.
Turn Research Into Action: After studying the competition, here are a few ways that you can adjust your program to match your newfound competitive intelligence:
- Adjust offer payouts
- Increase referral bonus percentage or offer another referral incentive
- Run seasonal or event promotions
- Communicate the value of your advanced tracking capabilities (ex. https://www.everflow.io/post/track-both-purchases-and-events)
- Create educational content and creatives to help affiliates sell your offers, including webinars, white papers, banners, videos, and anything that will make their lives easier
The main lesson here is to keep your eyes and ears open for any opportunities to help your program seize growth opportunities and fill in growth deficiencies.
Growing your program through competitive research will only be effective if you have a solid tracking foundation in place. It’s time to look deeper into the benefits of comprehensive tracking and the dangers of not offering it.
This is where avoiding the next growth-killing factor comes into play: not tracking events.
Factor #2: Not Tracking Events
Using sales, subscriptions, leads, installs, or any other traditional outcome as a sole evaluation metric tells a very limited story about the value that an affiliate brings to your program.
Consider This Hypothetical Scenario:
- Affiliate A generated ten sales this month in your program
- Affiliate B only generated five sales in your program, but brought in more revenue than Affiliate A through just two upsells
- Affiliate C brought in fifty new visitors to one of your landing pages through her podcast, creating a stream of potential future conversions
All of the affiliates listed above play an important role in an affiliate program’s success, but for most programs, Affiliate A would be seen as the most valuable affiliate – but that’s not necessarily true.
By not tracking events, you’re not recognizing and rewarding many of your affiliates for the unique roles they play in your program.
…And if you’re not treating your affiliates well, program growth will tank.
Thankfully, expanding your tracking to include events is easy with a smarter tracking platform like Everflow.
With our platform, it’s easy to expand your tracking capabilities to include all of the important events that precede and follow the standard actions that you’re typically paying an affiliate for.
With just a few short steps, you can track events that matter to your program including:
- Newsletter subscriptions
- Initial site visits
- Loyalty (sharing your offers, liking your social pages, etc.)
- Repeat activity (e.g. rebills, repeat site visits, revisiting your offers)
- QR code scans
The above list is only a fraction of the events that our clients can track.
Essentially, any important digital event should be tracked. By doing so, you are zeroing in on more affiliates who can help your program grow.
Here are a few use cases:
- You’re working on a rev share model with an affiliate. If that affiliate is not earning any meaningful commission, there is a good chance they’ll soon shift their focus toward other advertisers. However, if you’re able to see they’re driving more newsletter signups than anyone else, you are now in the position to reward them properly for the value they’re driving.
- Your program just recruited a huge YouTube influencer. He constantly covers your offers and programs in his videos – but never receives credit for the interest he generates. Upon tracking initial site visits, you’re able to reward the influencer for all of the new traffic that he has been sending.
Tracking events can be done on a few levels in Everflow:
BTW, if you’re seeking more info on how event tracking can grow your program, make sure to check out Track Both Purchases And Events.
As mentioned above, tracking events is key for ensuring the influencers in your program remain active and appropriately rewarded. Utilizing event tracking is just one part of enabling influencers to grow your program, however.
To unleash the true power of the influencers in your program and attract stronger influencers, you need to make tracking as seamless as possible. Otherwise, you’ll run into the next growth-blocking factor: not being influencer-ready.
Factor #3: Not Being Influencer-Ready
You’ve seen the incredible surge in influencer marketing over the past year or so.
From beauty, to gaming, to nutrition, influencers are playing a key role in all affiliate programs.
With the increasing number of brands driving sales primarily through influencer marketing, the ability to provide a strong tracking structure is critical for your program (a.k.a make sure tracking limitations never get in their way). Their efforts need to be recognized and recorded properly.
By doing so, proper evaluation and rewarding can take place.
The first step in creating a friendlier tracking environment for influencers is to use direct linking (which many platforms don’t offer and thus most programs don’t use).
Here’s Why You Need Direct Linking:
Typically, when an influencer (or affiliate) promotes an offer, the traditional linking setup routes the customer to a landing page through a long URL.
This setup is flush with negatives for an influencer, including links that can’t be shared easily and a poor user experience through taking customers to a landing page vs. actual company site.
This standard linking setup also zaps any SEO juice you have with traffic going to a temporary lander, as opposed to your established (and higher ranking) site.
With direct linking, influencers drive traffic directly to your site through a conventional URL structure with a few extra characters added at the end. It’s just like using UTM parameters in Google Analytics (and you get full SEO link value, too).
Getting started with direct linking requires just a few steps with Everflow:
Another mistake to avoid with the influencers in your program is not using coupon codes and coupon URLs.
With a coupon code, all an influencer needs to do is drop a short code in their videos, podcasts, flyers, merch, or essentially any channel they use for promotion.
The customer then goes directly to your site to make a purchase using the influencer’s code. The influencer receives credit for the conversion, and the customer receives a discount. Value provided to all parties.
Coupon codes are by far the easiest way for influencers to promote campaigns on video and audio mediums, too.
Whether in a podcast, stream, live post, video, or any other rich media format, sending traffic to an offer is as simple as, “go to affiliatesite.com and enter the code SteamTV to get 50% off.” It’s also quite easy to create coupon codes in Everflow (more details below).
Coupon code URLs provide the same level of convenience as coupon codes, and offer a few added benefits:
- Link directly to site vs. landing page
- Shorter URL that is easier to remember
- Full URL can be shared in rich media formats (with a better chance of customers actually remembering the URL and making it to your site)
With Everflow, setting up a coupon code and coupon code URL for an influencer is done at the same time. All you need to do is enter in basic information about your promotion.
Our blog post provides more context on coupon codes and coupon code URLs, as well as some resources to help you get started.
Through direct linking, coupon codes, and coupon code URLs, you’ll give your influencers the right tools to ensure more leads convert.
Influencers aren’t the only types of affiliates in a program that can be impacted by inefficient tracking, however.
The growth of your program can easily be stunted by a practice known as “coupon poaching.”
While coupon poaching can limit revenue and motivation for affiliates in your program, the remedy to addressing this hidden growth-blocking factor lies once again in deploying a smarter tracking setup.
Factor #4: Not Building Out Defenses Against Coupon Poaching
Coupon poaching happens when a customer nearly completes their purchase and then does a last-second search for a coupon code.
The affiliate who provided the coupon code receives credit for driving that sale, instead of the affiliates who are working behind the scenes to develop the sale.
Quite an unfortunate turn of events for the affiliates who educate the customer on the campaign, provided info to push the sale along, or gave the buyer another purchase reminder.
With users tending to search for a coupon code right before purchasing, coupon affiliates most often receive credit for the sale in typical affiliate program setups.
Coupon affiliates are definitely valuable members of your program. However, so are your influencers, content publishers, and the rest of affiliates who work to develop the sale.
Without the efforts of these affiliates, your campaigns will receive substantially less attention.
How would your campaigns do without being covered by review sites? Not mentioned by an influencer? Not reviewed in a video? Chances are, not too well.
Smarter platforms like Everflow have a few solutions in place to help prevent coupon poaching while helping you motivate more of your affiliates to promote your campaigns – keeping the growth of your program rolling.
The first of these solutions is first touch attribution.
First touch attribution allows you to change how affiliates are compensated for their role in your campaigns.
In Everflow, it takes a few clicks to switch attribution to first touch for your campaign(s), or by advertiser.
Once enabled, affiliates who first introduced the customer to the campaign will receive credit upon conversion, as opposed to the typical setup where the affiliate that the customer last visited before the conversion receives credit.
This attribution switch transforms your program’s growth by activating more of your affiliate base.
For example, Nutra affiliate network FanFuel recently utilized first touch attribution to activate their influencers and ramp up to seven figures in revenue in just seven months.
To dive deeper into first touch attribution, check out our blog post.
Like first touch attribution, Everflow’s Click-To-Conversion Time Report zeroes in on when a conversion occurs, and is a great defensive measure against coupon poaching.
Available only at Everflow, the Click-To-Conversion Time Report displays the length of time between a user’s click and the subsequent event you’re measuring.
A realistic length of time between a user’s initial click and their eventual purchase would indicate a value-driving affiliate, while a suspiciously-short length of time would indicate coupon poaching.
For example, it takes at least a minute or so to consume information on an offer page:
Most folks read the page, ponder the pros and cons of moving forward, and then have to submit some info.
Therefore, a conversion that occurs in less than thirty seconds after a user gets to an offer page is most likely due to a customer grabbing a code and then heading back to the original site to make the purchase.
With Everflow’s Click To Conversion Time Report, you set a minimum time window for how long a customer must be on an offer page before a conversion will count, and you can also monitor previous conversions to look for conversion times that seem abnormal.
Grab more info and get started with Click To Conversion Time Reports through our recent post on coupon poaching.
Don’t get us wrong, we love coupon affiliates. However, using first touch attribution and Click To Conversion Time Reports ensure that your program continues to grow through motivating more of your affiliate base.
Speaking of growth, your program will also plateau if you don’t employ more than just basic, out-of-the box tracking options.
Factor #5: Limited Tracking Capabilities
The digital landscape is constantly changing and becoming more accessible in many ways. Affiliate platforms are evolving as well.
There are more tracking possibilities than ever before, which means the potential for affiliate program growth is bigger than it’s ever been – if you’re willing to move beyond basic tracking solutions.
Tracking installs, leads, sales, and basic success metrics is certainly valuable, but there’s a wealth of data that you can unlock with a smarter platform.
With more data, you’ll grab insights into what is or isn’t working in your program, taking growth to another level.
Here are just a few of the impactful tracking features that Everflow provides:
- Placement & Traffic Source Reporting: Track affiliate activity down to the placement level to gauge which affiliate strategies are driving results for your program. Our blog post on placement level reports provides you with all of the necessary context and steps to track placements starting today.
- QR Code Tracking: From dining, to shopping, to events, COVID-19 dramatically increased consumer QR code usage. Unlock new affiliate partners by providing unique QR codes to track offline campaigns.
One of our clients, Serial 1 by Harley Davidson, uses QR codes to ramp up in-store leads:
QR codes are a great way to bolster program growth with more offline sales. To get started, check out expanding program growth through QR code tracking.
- Email Attribution: Email attribution allows you to associate the newly delivered customer’s email with the affiliate that drove it, and pay that affiliate whenever the customer with that email renews on a campaign. This tracking functionality is huge for rewarding your affiliates who drive rebills and subscription renewals. If you are looking to fire up your email affiliates, this article will get you set up with email attribution using Everflow.
- Google, FB CAPI, and TikTok: With Everflow’s suite of integrations, you’ll track every performance partner and channel in the same place, including walled gardens like Facebook and Google. These folks run a tight ship. They don’t let you get away with using third-party tracking links that redirect users on the way to the site they’re intending to reach.
Improved tracking is only useful for growth though if you have a nice stream of affiliates joining your program. Without a recruitment plan, you’ll run into another roadblock to growth…
Factor #6: Lack Of A Plan For Recruiting Affiliates
Affiliates are bombarded with products and services to promote. Account managers are constantly reaching out trying to get them to join their programs. When it comes to maintaining your affiliate base, you never can be too comfortable with your numbers.
It’s critical to be proactive when it comes to affiliate recruitment and create a plan to ensure a steady influx of new affiliates.
A few tips to keep in mind:
- Affiliates are taking an opportunity cost risk to test out your program. They need to see results quickly. Therefore, make sure to only reach out to strong fits, to not waste their time.
- Research affiliates that are already making good money working with your competitors. If they are seeing success in your niche, they will usually want to start testing out new opportunities. Publisher Discovery and Grovia are great sources for this type of competitive info.
- Consider partnering with an agency that specializes in your niche, as they will know who to recruit and have established relationships. You can check out our full list of agency recommendations here: https://www.everflow.io/partner/agencies.
- Expand past traditional affiliates by building partnerships with symbiotic companies. Find the companies that have similar types of customers, and see how you can cross-promote each other.
- Continue to glean advice from industry experts like those mentioned earlier for quality content (like this workshop we did with Publisher Discovery on affiliate recruiting).
The Key To Affiliate Recruitment: Investing In Relationships
While following the tips listed above will guide you in creating a strong recruitment plan, one key piece of strategy needs to be the heart of your plan: investing in relationships.
Affiliates, especially successful ones, are hit up 24/7 with messages from programs with “more exclusive offers” or “the best payouts.”
Even if you aren’t using hyperbole, or actually do have “the best payouts,” your messages likely will be lost in the avalanche of communications affiliates receive.
You may gain hits from time to time, but you’ll likely waste time and resources reaching out via a scatter-shot approach. The win percentage just isn’t there.
Why should affiliates trust your word?
Why should they switch what they are doing well to join your program?
It’s a lot of risk for them, without much reward.
This dynamic isn’t set in stone, though. You can catch the attention of your target affiliates, and recruit more of them to your program by investing time and resources into getting to know their needs and establishing a relationship to build trust.
This process doesn’t happen overnight.
Connecting with a recruitment target, and establishing a strong relationship can take many calls, meetings, and emails.
Regardless of how you choose to build relationships, and how long it takes, it’s a necessary step in every recruitment plan that typically takes a great deal of time.
Wanna know a secret?
There actually is a shortcut to building relationships faster with Everflow.
Through Everflow Plus, you’ll get connected to a partnership manager who will study your business, and directly introduce you to all applicable affiliate partners (who are already connected to Everflow).
It’s matchmaking in the affiliate space! Getting started with Everflow Plus begins with scheduling a quick demo.
However you plan to bring in more affiliates, you’ll be headed for steady revenue growth by sticking to recruiting affiliates who know and trust your program.
Word of mouth will grow about your program as you’re taking the time to build relationships, not just contacting every affiliate you have access to.
Let’s cut to a few months from now, with your recruitment plan functioning flawlessly, your tracking dialed in, reporting insights frequently integrated, and your program generating more revenue each month.
What could possibly limit the growth of your program now?
It’s time to knock down the last factor that is holding your program back, and that is not utilizing platform technology to work smarter.
There are tools that should be in your current affiliate platform to automate tasks that your team is likely spending a lot of time on.
Let’s dive into how you can grow your program by reducing the time that your team spends on routine tasks, and freeing that time up to focus on program expansion. Ready to finish strong?
Factor #7: Not Utilizing Smarter Technology To Save Time
Your affiliate platform should have time-saving tools available to free up your team so you can focus on growth.
Utilizing these features allows you to identify ways to make repetitive tasks easier. Instead of maintenance tasks, you can dive into ways to boost program revenue.
At Everflow, we’re flush with these time-saving tools, including:
Fraud Prevention Via KPI Rule-based Automation
Most affiliate fraud can be caught easily, though it’s time-consuming to comb through reports for bad actor placements. Automation rules block and notify you whenever suspicious conversion rates, click-to-conversion times, and conversions occur during off-peak hours.
You can use this technology to optimize performance channels at the placement level, too, including:
- Automating action against fraud placements by sending notifications and automatically blocking them.
- Setting clear KPI rules around any metric, such as excessively-high conversion rates, low event rates, or integrating third-party anti-fraud solutions.
To get started with KPI-based fraud automation at Everflow, visit: https://www.everflow.io/post/step-7-catch-more-fraud-automate-prevention.
Everflow connects your tech stack directly to our platform, giving you easy access to all of the tools that you’ll need. No need to have multiple tabs open with Everflow.
Once you’re an Everflow customer, you’ll quickly be able to pay affiliates, track sales, fight fraud, manage lists, and complete all tasks in-platform.
Currently, we have over 50 integrations, including Salesforce, Google, Facebook CAPI, TikTok, Tipalti, Shopify, Optizmo, Sticky.io, Webflow, and Hubspot.
For more information on our available integrations, visit: https://www.everflow.io/partner/integrations.
Doing With More SmartLinks
With SmartLinks, you can automatically route traffic to different offers based on your preset rules. This solution saves your team hours each week on offer optimization and fraud prevention activities.
Here are just a few things that you can do with SmartLinks:
- Compare Offers: Automatically split test traffic between two offers
- Test By KPI: Rotate offers based on preferred KPIs, like conversions or clicks
- Test Multiple Offer Landing Pages: See which landing page performs best on a specific campaign
- Fail Traffic: Automatically send users who don’t meet offer targets to eligible offers (which is great for routing users in a non-eligible geo to an offer in an eligible geo, or routing users who have completed an offer to an uncompleted offer)
To get started with SmartLinks, check out this video tutorial and article.
It’s easy to fall for the traps presented by any of the seven hidden factors listed above, as they are responsible for stagnation of growth for so many affiliate programs.
We certainly don't want that to happen to your program!
Make sure to use these guidelines to take genuine inventory of your affiliate program, and set out to improve your results above and beyond what you thought possible for this year.
Once you’ve built these strong foundations for your program, you’ll hone in on the strengths of your partners, creating lasting and lucrative relationships.
As shown above, your affiliate marketing platform is more than just a place to track sales and approve affiliates for your program.
Your platform should provide deep data and tools that provide insights and make your life easier. If that isn’t the case, it’s time to make the switch to Everflow.
If you want the easiest way to take action on the lessons from this white paper, feel free to contact us today to set up a demo. We’ll show you how you can use Everflow to unlock growth for your program