Everything you need to know to manage affiliates

Affiliate marketing is a recent development in marketing methods. One party (the affiliate) brings customers to a second party (the retailer or merchant) and gets rewarded for each customer. As opposed to referral marketing, the incentives in affiliate marketing are purely financial.

What is affiliate marketing?

The affiliate network is the go-between for retailers and affiliates. It helps the former find affiliates and the latter to receive offers.

While retailers have traditionally used more common methods for marketing (search engine optimization, email marketing, pay-per-click deals, content marketing and display marketing), affiliate marketing is becoming more important.

Affiliates are free to use these other marketing techniques to direct customers to a retailer, though they also use less orthodox methods. For example, they could provide reviews of products or services their clients provide.

Retailers love affiliate marketing because it is performance-based – they do not have to pay unless there are tangible results. They can pay their affiliates (also called publishers) on a per sale, per click, per action (e.g., for a click, or form submission) or per mile (e.g., per 1,000-page visits) basis.

There are two ways that retailers track and manage their affiliates: through software and through hosted services (affiliate networks).

Why Should It Matter To You?

The use of affiliate networks can be a huge benefit to an ecommerce website. The key to any marketing strategy is building a great reputation among your customers or audience. Once you draw them in, you can offer your services and products. If they like what they see, people are likely to stick to one product or service and refer it to their friends and family.

Affiliate marketing helps you develop this reputation. Affiliate marketers, or publishers, know their audience and through the connection they make, they can direct them to your business. They can help direct Google searches to your site. They are especially good at highly specific long-tail searches.

Affiliates use various techniques to direct customers, including SEO and paid searches. Many also use blogs and reviews, and if they have charisma and consistency, they can achieve that rarest of marketing values: trust.

The best affiliates can fashion themselves as experts in the field; they speak from the heart, relating personal experiences. They develop comprehensive guides on the product or service.

Once directed to an ecommerce website, customers can then assess the quality of your product or service. The first thing they notice is the design of your website, which is why ecommerce web designers are in such hot demand.

Of course, it is not all smooth sailing when it comes to affiliate marketing. Retailers will face a certain amount of risk. Most importantly, you must ensure affiliates are advertising your products on their site. You also should make sure they are doing so appropriately. Risks aside, affiliate marketing, particularly through affiliate networks, can be a strong marketing strategy.

What Are Some of the Popular Services?

Affiliate marketing services provide a venue for retailers (or advertisers) and affiliates to exchange services with each other. The retailer needs traffic directed to their site, and the affiliate gets paid a fee.

Affiliates can be parties with blogs, YouTube channels or any other online real estate they can leverage to help you market your brand. The network is how you find and negotiate with your affiliates. There are numerous affiliate networks available. Below are four of the leading names used today.

1. Amazon Associates

If you sell anything on Amazon, you automatically become an Amazon merchant. Amazon affiliates can choose to advertise any product offered on the shopping site. While this affiliate network is simple to use, retailers have no control over commissions, and it does not offer management services.

2. CJ Affiliate

Brought to you by Conversant, CJ offers only affiliate marketing services but does very well in that niche. CJ only hires the most sophisticated publishers, after a rigorous application process. They provide various affiliate marketing tools, including many publishing models and types, and numerous PPA models.

3. Rakuten Affiliate Network

RAN, part of the larger Rakuten Marketing organization, is one of the bigger names in the business. Rakuten works mostly with larger companies with hefty marketing budgets. Being part of a marketing organization means Rakuten goes beyond just providing affiliate marketing.

4. ShareASale

ShareASale is one of the bigger platforms available. Part of the reason for their popularity with marketers (many of whom use the service exclusively) is that they provide a ton of data on all the offers on their network

How Do They Compare?

The basic premise behind using an affiliate network is they make life easier for affiliate marketers and retailers by compiling a list of all offers, allowing for a better match of companies and affiliates and handling the nitty-gritty details of running such a network. All networks should do at least that.

Beyond that, the networks begin to differ along a number of lines.

The first way to compare them is in terms of partner network. ShareASale, for example, includes more than 4,000 merchants on its platform. CJ has over 3,000. Rakuten has just 1,000.

Secondly, how easy is it to compare offers? ShareASale has numerous metrics to help marketers make the best decision. The others also offer comparison tools, with varying degrees of accessibility.

How often does the service pay? ShareASale and CJ payout once a month. Rakuten pays out when the advertisers pay, so their payment schedule is more erratic. With Amazon Associates, you have to wait at least two months.

Reporting tools are another metric to compare affiliate networks. ShareASale, for example, has a somewhat outdated reporting system. CJ has one of the best reporting tools, which is important when you want to assess performance.

Customer support and ease of learning the platform are important attributes as well, though certainly not make-or-break.

Moving Forward

If you feel affiliate marketing is right for you, register with a network. Best practice in the industry suggests you register with several (even all of) the major affiliate networks. This will give you the advantage of having a wide selection of models to choose from.

Above all else, know for certain what your goals are with this, or any other, marketing strategy. Once you have clear goals in mind, you are in the best position to leverage the benefits of affiliate marketing.