If you arhonestjohne an Affiliate Manager or work in an Agency that manages Affiliate Programs, there’s a common question from Clients or from the higher ups.  It’s an innocent question, and it’s meant to get us thinking about how we are going to grow a program.  Nonetheless, it comes up over and over and over again.  It has come up so many times that I feel the need to post my recent answer via our blog to try to help others answer this question.

The day starts like any other day, you login and you check on your email to see what the day holds.  The same question is lurking in the email inbox, and you need to answer it…..you’ve been asked it many times on the phone, in email and in person.  You’ve been told the same thing many times.  You have defended it over and over again.  Finally, you take the plunge, how am I going to answer this question?


Here it is…..


How are you going to go after “more traditional affiliates” for our program?

We only want real affiliates…. not coupon sites, search, email, or incentive sites.


So I thoughtfully pull out presentations that I’ve presented on the Future of Digital Marketing and The Legs of The Stool for an Affiliate Program, and I start to compose an email.  I need to try to change the perception that Affiliate Marketing is one thing….that it is easily definable and it looks a certain way.  I have to change the idea that if an affiliate walked in the room, we could describe them exactly.  This isn’t the case though, so how can I explain the eco-system?  Here is the email I wrote:



Dear {Advertiser},


You have asked us to provide a plan on how to grow the {Advertiser A} program with “traditional” affiliates.  We are happy to go through our strategy and philosophy to make sure we are on the same page.  I apologize about the length, but this topic is a pretty broad one and it’s important that we get this right for you so that you are satisfied and we are productive on your program in a way that is profitable for you.


Here are my thoughts and we can go from there.


Affiliate Marketing is not necessarily a channel, it’s a way to pay for media and to extend your sales reach beyond your team’s coverage.  I’ve attached a presentation that I give at various digital marketing conferences and usually people come up afterward and say that it was helpful to look at Affiliate Marketing in this way.


I’m not clear on what you mean by “traditional” affiliate. The vision of what an affiliate is has drastically changed and those affiliates that build web pages strictly on topics related to your product and then sell your product alongside those pages exclusively don’t exist the way that we all thought they did.  They are the Komodo dragon of affiliate marketing.  They are on an island somewhere, everyone wants to see one, but they are shy and don’t appear that often.  When they do they are an anomaly that we need to take care of and nurture.


In order to generate significant {Advertiser A} sales we need to target all types of affiliates.  Affiliates don’t just do one thing any more and we have to be prepared to work with them all in the way that they work.  Our tactic will be to go after affiliates below aggressively.  We are a proactive recruiter, and we don’t limit the program but we identify 10 or more key opportunities each week that will be significant.


Those types of affiliates are:


  1. Content/Review/Blog – these types of affiliates need to drive traffic to their sites and their partnership with you is that they are using their own money to buy ads/search to sell your product.  It not only shifts the risk for you where you are only paying per sale, but it is also a way to extend your budget because they are complimenting your search efforts.  The issue is that we just need to work WITH them so that they don’t bid up prices.  We have opportunities we brought to you that will drive additional sales but you limited it to {Affiliate B}.  Other content sites such as {special content} websites and industry specific sites are tougher to find but when we do we will recruit them.  Many of the sites such as {special content} websites may not run ads on an affiliate model because they have learned they earn more money running CPM banners, paid placements, or Adsense.


  1. Coupons/Promotions/Discounts – these are not a discrete set of affiliates either.  Coupons can be used by blogs or content sites mentioned above, as well as social media and shopping affiliates.  There are not really pure “coupon” affiliates that just dump a bunch of coupons onto their sites.  Even {Affiliate C} can be controlled by offering them unique promo codes and working with them to get unique placements as a result and access to their huge usership.  Many coupon sites have huge social media presence, email lists, and search tactics.


  1. Email – Email affiliates can be the above affiliates that have lists of their users, so we need to provide them with email creatives.  They can be newsletter affiliates that have a member site and they will run ads inside their newsletters.  There are also email affiliates that have primary data that is theirs, or they can be emailers with third party data that they are authorized to mail to.  These are all unique opportunities.


  1. Search Affiliates – There are not as many pure search arbitrage affiliates any longer since Google has changed its policies over the years, however search affiliates are affiliates that are requesting to use terms related to your brand and product to drive to a content or sales page that sells your company and its product.  Many Affiliate Managers just use a blanket statement that these affiliates don’t drive value and drive up your search costs, but we’ve proven over and over with trusted partners that allowing them to use your brand or product terms in combination with what their site is about is incremental and valuable.  These Trademark plus affiliates can extend your reach, your budget, and sometime they know more than any of us in terms of search optimization and may cover markets you don’t reach like 2nd tier search engines and mobile search.


  1. Mobile – this is another broad category of affiliates that includes mobile search, in app, mobile programmatic media, mobile web, and more.  To work with these affiliates we have to have a strong app or mobile specific website flow.  It’s important that we pay attention to this channel, as it could be more than 40% of your buyers that are getting to you via mobile and tablets.  Many of the affiliates listed above are also considered mobile because users will reach their sites via a mobile device, and subsequently go to your site on a mobile device.


  1. Incentive/Reward/Loyalty – These affiliates are not all created equal either.  There are cash incentive sites, points, miles, and many other types of incent.  We have virtual currency sites, content unlocking, and promotional paths.  We think that some traffic can be poor in this channel but some can be highly effective.  Running a campaign with Cartera that run the mileage and bank rewards programs for the Fortune 500 airlines and banks is a very good strategy.  Discounting this channel would be a mistake, however this channel does need to be managed closely between the affiliate and the advertiser to make sure the traffic is converting into profitable customers.


  1. Social Media – There are social influencers, paid social media like Facebook ads, and there are all of the above affiliates that have huge company pages with many followers.  This channel requires promotions just like many of the ones above, it requires working closely with the affiliate, and it will require making sure that there is fresh content and closely managed messaging.



There is no way that I have covered them all above, however I’m just trying to suggest that a highly restrictive affiliate program limits the opportunities available and you never know where the next sale will come from.  Our most successful advertiser clients are willing to expose what works for their internal team to the affiliate, views the affiliates as marketing partners, and is open to testing all types of traffic using safeguards.  As long as the affiliate are transparent with us, we work with them if there is channel conflict, and we measure the Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) as well as limit fraud, we should be able to grow a very healthy affiliate program.


Let me know your thoughts and what you would like to see on this program.  We are aiming squarely at the {xxxxx} sales per month for you as this is the KPI you have asked us to hit.  If there is another KPI like number of affiliates just let us know what’s important.





Now this may not have been the absolute perfect answer for Affiliate Program Management, but we all struggle to define affiliate marketing and what it means for our program.  The quick answer is, there is no such thing as a “traditional affiliate” and we need to be open to all types of promotion online.  That’s right, it’s like CONTROLLED CHAOS but it’s a great way to drive sales.  Just think, you are partnering with very smart people that have out-thought us and are prepared to do whatever it takes (within reason) to sell your brand.  This should be embraced and cottled, not restricted and throttled.  I’m not suggesting that you just open up the campaign to everything and that you have the wild west of affiliate programs, but I am suggesting that you try everything and work alongside those affiliates that have taken the time to even apply to your program, pick up the links, grab the creative, build something out for you, and that just want a little love.  That’s right, affiliate love.  Embrace them and love them.

Hope this helps you in the future build healthy, happy, profitable Affiliate Programs.  Good luck with Affiliate Program Management out there!


The Chief of Chaos

Matt Frary


ABOUT THE COMPANY:  SmarterChaos.com is the premier digital performance marketing and affiliate program management agency online.  SmarterChaos manages large branded customer acquisition programs using affiliate marketing, search engine optimization, paid search, social media, programmatic media, re-targeting, re-engagement and much more.  SmarterChaos was founded in 2010 to build profitable customer acquisition campaigns for our Clients more efficiently and effectively than they can do or themselves.  SmarterChaos is located in beautiful Castle Rock, Colorado.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Matt Frary, the Chief of Chaos at SmarterChaos, is an entrepreneur and speaker in the digital marketing and online customer acquisition space.  Matt has been running affiliate programs since 1999 when he started at eBags.com and throughout his career at MSN Autos, The Integer Group, Mercedes Benz, and other startup companies. After graduating from Thunderbird, The International School of Management with a focus in Brand Management and Finance, he founded ROIRocket.com in 2005 and built one of the top 25 Affiliate Marketing Networks according to mThink and Revenue Magazine.  Matt has focused on building companies in the digital marketing space that drive value for his Clients and that protect the brands that he is entrusted with.  Most recently Matt has founded SmarterChaos.com, SheIsMedia.com, Pollen-8.com and mTelligence.co.  Matt is a Member of the Performance Marketing Association and he lives in Colorado and skis often.