Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Being a Smart Affiliate Partner

Image obtained from iStockPhoto.comIn the online world there are several ways to generate revenue; you can sell things, you can seek paid advertising or you can join an affiliate program and earn money for referrals.

When you sell things, you are always thinking of better ways to present your products or services. You try different ways to draw in visitors and analyze your page layout to make sure the purchase process is simple and efficient (otherwise visitors won’t make it all the way through).

When you add banner or text advertising to your pages, you usually plop them in the highest trafficked and/or visible places. Since most webmasters settle for CPM advertising relationships, impression volume is all that matters.

So, why do many affiliates treat affiliate relationships like advertising? Yes, it is true that with any affiliate program, shear volume should yield sales. But, why waste all that traffic?

As an affiliate partner, you’re an extension of the partner company’s sales and marketing department. You’re effectively selling (or pre-selling) their products or services.

While you still want to focus some attention on placing creative that yields a solid clickthru rate, you also should consider whether the landing page for each creative produces the best sales per click.

The partner may offer two search boxes that have comparable clickthru rates, but one may yield more sales. Commission Junction offers EPC (Average Earnings Per One Hundred Clicks) calculations with all the creative. This is a helpful calculation for comparing similar creative.

Remember, however, that all web pages are not alike, and so the program-wide statistics you see may be distorted. For example, a US Census creative might show a high EPC, but there may be sites in the program that are census-oriented and draw in traffic looking for census data. These kind of sites will probably achieve a higher EPC for a census creative than your site if it is less focus on the topic.

My own web site, Genealogy Today, is a pretty generic site and with a specialized piece of creative like a US Census banner I would never see the EPC that say a census-centric site like Census-Online.com would. So, pick creative that best matches the needs of your own unique visitors.

That’s not to say that you should avoid creative that doesn’t match your site’s focus. It’s always good to have some in the mix as your visitors may actually check our you site and not find what they’re looking for. Just recognize the performance of these creatives may not match the EPC listed.

One of the most important factors in selling things on a site is to make sure you clearly state what the product or service offers. For products, it’s key to layout all of the attributes down to size, weight and a clear, readable picture is essential. For services, it’s important to spell out the terms, benefits and any deliverables.

You’re pre-selling a partner company’s product or service, so you should do some of the same things you would if you were selling it yourself. Look at the creative you’re using and ask yourself if the visitors know what they’re getting when they click on it.

Think about your own objective. You want visitors to click on the creative and do something — preferably make a purchase. You can send blindly send 1,000 visitors and hope to make a few sales. Or, you can selectively send fewer, more qualified visitors.

A “red flag” goes up in my head whenever I look at a performance report and I see clicks increase without a relative increase in sales. That red flag usually indicates that I’m not doing my job in pre-selling. (Yes, it could also mean the affiliate partner landing page is lame, but I rarely can control that. It could also be that the partner changed the landing page)

I find the following tactics to be the most effective at whittling away unproductive clicks:
  1. Make sure partner company name is clearly displayed,
  2. Make sure it is clear MONEY is involved (nothing is free),
  3. Provide an alternative, more direct click.
Let me explain #3. Visitors like options. Many like shortcuts. Say, for example, you’re displaying a search box that (after clicking) shows the visitor some results and asks them to signup. The “action” button may be somewhere on the page that the affiliate partner feels is the best place, and you’re not likely to change it. So, give your visitors a shortcut before they get there and lose interest.

There’s one last suggestion I want to make, and its one I am just beginning to explore. There’s a feature on Google that I’ve rarely used, but I now see the relevance and think it could be applied to affiliate marketing.

I’ve often thought about the situation where I’m promoting an affiliate (let’s call it “A”) and the visitor is already an “A” customer. They either pass by the creative, or generate an unproductive click. My thought is why not offer something akin to Google’s “Similar pages” feature. This way, if the visitor already knows what “A” offers, you can share with them related sites (that are also affiliate partners).

So, to do a quick recap:
  1. Monitor clickthru rates. Replace low-clickthru creative placed in high traffic areas.
  2. Compare EPC values of similar creative.
  3. Match creative to your own visitors, but mix in some unrelated stuff also.
  4. Make sure partner identity is clear on creative, or add it yourself with text or modify graphic (if program rules allow).
  5. Clearly show where $$$ are involved.
  6. Provide shortcuts to action pages.
  7. Try offering related alternatives.
There are plenty of “tricks” and slightly-deceptive ways to drive clicks to affiliates, but if you give me 1,000 visitors, I’d rather send each of them to a place where they are most likely going to act, rather than rely on “chance” that some of them will.

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