Top 10 Affiliate Marketing Tips

Marketers with successful affiliate marketing programs know that the affiliate channel is a cost-effective way to drive incremental revenue. But as with any marketing strategy, if you don't consistently apply best practices to your tactical efforts, you're likely to have disappointing results. Here are ten things you should focus on to improve the performance of your affiliate marketing program:

1. Optimized Data Feed: The easiest way to get increased distribution is to have the most robust, complete, up to date product catalog possible. This makes your products immediately available to publishers and across comparison shopping engines. It's also the thing we hear most often from publishers as being the most critical piece to working successfully with advertisers.

2. Effective Creative: Publishers, also known as affiliates, spend time and money promoting your products or services, so you need to make sure you provide effective creative to help them sell your products. Effective creative has consistent brand messaging and a consistent look and feel every place the consumer interacts with it in the buyor- try conversion funnel, from the banner on a publisher's site to your landing page to your shopping cart or lead form. Effective creative also has a clear and highly visible call to action and a compelling offer (see #3 below).

3. Competitive Offers: Are your offers in line with your vertical or industry? Take a look at what your competitors are offering for similar products or services and evaluate whether or not your margins allow you to provide a comparable or better offer. The trend of offering free expedited shipping proved successful for online retailers during the 2009 holiday shopping season and is continuing to be popular with consumers in 2010.

4. Deep Linking: It's well known that that deep linking (linking directly from your offer on a publisher's site to the landing page where the product or service can be ordered) converts better than linking to your home page. The fewer pages a consumer has to click to before reaching the item, the more likely that shopper will complete the purchase. An easy way for online retailers to provide publishers with their complete and up-to-date product catalogs is through the use of data feeds, which a comprehensive affi liate marketing solutions provider can set you up with (see #1 above).

5. Optimized Landing Pages: Your publishers can drive quality traffic for you all day every day, but if your landing pages aren't optimized, then your conversion rate will suffer. Make sure that there's visual consistency between your ads and landing pages, that your copy resonates with your target audience and that you follow through on the promise of your ad by making it clear what shoppers need to do next to get the special offer.

6. Pay-Per-Click (PPC)/Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Search publishers in the affiliate channel can complement your existing investment in PPC by filling in the gaps in your current search strategy whether that is managed through in-house program or through a search agency. These specialized publishers are able to elevate your ranking on the search engine results page where you may be outranked by your competition. In addition, if you're not using paid and/or natural search campaigns to test the effectiveness of your ad copy, you're essentially just guessing at what works.

7. Simple Checkout Process: Streamline your checkout process to reduce the steps required to purchase a product. To prevent shopping cart abandonment, list shipping charges early in the checkout process and include thumbnail images of items next to their descriptions to provide a visual reminder for customers returning to their carts from previous visits.

8. Incentives: Top-performing publishers drive the majority of your revenue and expect to be compensated accordingly. So don't let them down by offering the standard commission you give to all your publishers. By offering special incentives that you tie to a specific product or to a volume or time-based goal, you're letting your best publishers know that you'll reward them for achieving the results you need.

9. Communication: Lack of communication with your publishers is the cause of many failed relationships. Make it a priority to communicate frequently and clearly with your publishers using the methods they prefer. Many publishers rely on email or instant messaging, but there may be times when they'd appreciate it if you picked up the phone or visited in person - this especially applies to your top revenue-producing publishers.

10. Quality Online Presence: When was the last time you looked critically at your Web site? If it takes forever to load, has confusing navigation or amateurish graphic design, then consumers are likely to perceive your products and services negatively. Invest in a graphic designer or user interaction designer (or a talented intern) who is skilled at presenting information from a consumer's point of view rather than from a corporate perspective.

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