Top 10 Best Practices to Running a Successful Affiliate ProgramEvery Advertiser of every product in the United States and internationally asks the same question over and over again. “What are the top best practices to running a successful Affiliate Program? “ In short, wouldn’t it be great to know the silver bullet of Affiliate Marketing and learn from years and years of failures and successes? Well I don’t know about having a silver bullet, but I do know that I’ve failed and succeeded at affiliate marketing more times than I can count.

To answer this question, I interviewed Jeannine Crooks of Affiliate Window who has also succeeded many times over in this industry. We both agreed on the Top 10 Best Practices in Affiliate Marketing.

Three Keys to Creating a Successful Affiliate Program…

1. Develop a Business Plan

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. There’s actually a lot of risk involved in the development of a successful affiliate program- all your investment, all your time. So don’t go in without a plan. You should start off with a new plan each year and review it every quarter. Include things like confirming that everyone’s duties are a good fit for their skill set and make sure that someone’s accountable for each task. Then monitor how it’s going. Are you reaching your milestones? Do you have the resources you need? Your business plan is your roadmap for creating a successful affiliate program.

2. Conduct a SWOT Analysis

Once you commit to a plan, take a close look at your competition. Who are they working with that you’re not working with? What are their policies? Their commission rates and coupon policies? How long are their cookies? Analyzing the competition will reveal where the opportunities are. Use the SWOT framework- Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. That way, you’ll be starting off by taking a thorough look at everything and you can find some way to have an advantage that the competitors don’t.

I like to look beyond what the competition is doing right, and also look at what they did wrong. I recently did a competitive analysis of advertisers programs. We went looking for affiliate programs, but we didn’t just look for live ones, we looked for dead ones! We wanted to see why died, what their commission rate was, who were they partnered with, what kind of resources and support were they putting into it. You can learn a lot by looking at old affiliate programs that didn’t work.

3. Build a Relationship

The biggest thing to understand is that you’re cultivating and nurturing a relationship. Affiliates and advertisers should both be looking for a good fit. I find it really bizarre when merchants auto-approve an affiliate. If that’s all the attention they’re putting into choosing their affiliates, how much attention are they going to pay to motivating them and responding to questions?

And Seven Habits of Highly Effective Advertisers

Best practices are a two-way street. Your affiliates are working hard to earn traffic and conversions. Advertisers have their part to play too. I recommend that advertisers use the following best practices when working with publishers:

4. Be on the Prowl for New Publishers

You always have to be on the lookout for new affiliates. You’re probably going to have 25% churn on an annual basis, including probably 10% of your top guys. You constantly have to be looking for new publishers to recruit, and growing existing publishers to take them from the masses to top performers. Set it and forget it is a myth.

5. Be Transparent

Another thing that’s really important is to make sure that your program terms and policies are very clear. That way your affiliates don’t have to worry if there is a grey area, thinking, “Can I do this?” Or, “Can I do that?” Itemize things as much as possible. Make it easy for them so they don’t have to waste a lot of time tracking you down.

6. Be Responsive to Your Affiliates

When an affiliate from one of your affiliate programs does contact you, answer them! We hear a lot of stories, “I e-mailed so-and-so, or I left a voicemail for them, and I never heard back”. That’s the worst thing you can do. If the affiliate took the time to reach out to you, take the time to answer them back. This is a relationship. Your publishers want that respect of the phone call. They want your respect to give them the right tools, and the right tools. It’s a collaboration, a partnership between your affiliate manager and your affiliate.

7. Make it Fun- for Everyone!

Make your program fun. Contests and incentive programs can get affiliates excited about your program. That’s when they want to play with you and not somebody else. And shake it up a bit. For example, if you’re going to hold a contest, do something that’s going to enable everybody to have a chance at winning; not just the person with the most sales, because it’s usually just the same guys that will win those every single time.

8. Embrace Creativity

This industry has a lot of flexibility. It’s not rocket science, but it is an opportunity to be creative. Affiliates are always coming up with fascinating new ways to promote and new ways to present. The online space is a great place to let your imagination run wild. Give your publishers the freedom to come up with some really fun ways to present things to consumer and makes them want to buy.

9. Work Your Content

Content is still king in these programs. Advertisers need to have their content right. It could be coupons, banners, articles, audio or video. The affiliate has created a curated space online. When the advertiser has the right content to drop into that space, that’s the flash play. That’s where you make sales.

10. Keep Up with What’s Happening

You also have to remember that we’re chasing a moving target. You have to be aware of what the latest trends in the industry are, what new changes have been made to the Google algorithm. The merchant needs to be flexible and adapt to those changes and are being flexible. The ones that can continue to evolve with their affiliates are going to grow like crazy.

Following the top 10 best practices to running a successful Affiliate Program means we can make more money, create more value, and live the life we dreamed. We don’t have to make Affiliate Marketing difficult or some magical mythical formula, but if we just follow a few guidelines hopefully it will get you well on your way to being successful. Affiliate Marketing can sometimes seem chaotic, but at SmarterChaos, online performance marketing, we create order from chaos, and we will drive your sales!

Contact us today!

Or if you’d like to contact Matt or Jeannine directly, you can find them on Twitter at:

Matt Frary @ChiefOfChaos
Jeannine Crooks @Jeannine_Crooks