The people who know what really works in affiliate marketing are the merchants. They have access to statistics and revenue figures for thousands of websites and can easily see what techniques work and what don’t.
As an affiliate manager for a client I’ve spent years explaining to affiliates why their site isn’t making as much money as they hoped as well as offering tips on how it could perform better, even going as far as giving SEO advice.
In this post we have a some great contributions from a leading merchant in the travel industry who wishes to remain anonymous and also from James Cartlidge who runs the affiliate programs for e2save.com, onestopphoneshop.co.uk and thephonespot.com, three leading mobile phone retailers working under the ownership of the Carphone Warehouse group.
If you are serious about making money affiliate marketing, read this post, bookmark it, print it and read it again. These tips will get you off to a flying start.
1. What are your top tips for small affiliates to make more commission?
The affiliate manager wants you to make money very badly. Ask the affiliate manager what to do and then do it.
One of our most successful affiliates asked me how to design the landing page, and then asked me to critique his work and offer suggestions for how to improve conversions. (I practically designed the website for him) Then he asked what keywords to bid on so I sent him detailed email on exactly what kinds of keywords to look for and how to set the matching and targeting options, etc… As you would expect.. It’s worked out very well for him.
A while back, he called to thank me and I asked how much he makes; He said that for every dollar he spends on PPC, he earns two in affiliate commissions. I haven’t noticed any changes in his landing page or keywords for quite a while. I assume he’s got it on auto-pilot and is working with a different affiliate manager to build another perfect arbitrage, landing page.
Stick to a budget, be smart and be small. Really know your boundaries so you get a fixed return back. Don’t rush out a spend £xxx amount on cpc if you’ve never done it before – the market is saturated so you need to be able to make a loss for a while. Try and get your site recognised by the search engines naturally – this will cost but provides solid ground for the future. I would always encourage my affiliates to get in touch to give me some context as to what resource/skills they’ve got access to – this gets the ideas flowing. There are lots of resources available to me so it’s a case of matching up the two be it custom banners, e-flyers…I would also encourage affiliates to get on messenger or join my hot offers email base so they get killer deals as and when so you always know what’s selling.
The key is to make sure your affiliate links don’t look like adverts. Placing banners on a page doesn’t work – people are tuned to not click on adverts. We also see a huge number of people place the affiliate links on a links page, nobody looks at links pages so they won’t see your affiliate link.
It often pays to create a full page on your site for each affiliate product you wish to promote. For example if your site is about cars and you want to make money using a car insurance program you would create a page about car insurance and write some useful tips, include a nice eye catching image and an affiliate link at the end.
Redirecting your links is another important issue. If you can redirect the link so users can’t see that it is an affiliate link you will get a much higher CTR.
Make use of your primary navigation areas. In the car insurance example above you could add a link near the top of your menu with the text “Car Insurance”. The main navigation areas attract far more clicks than other areas.
Sometimes it is best to link directly from your menu area to the merchant site rather than sending visitors via another page on your site. There is no set rule for this, you just need to test and see which works for your site.
Good design and high quality content are important. If you can make your readers trust you they are far more likely to buy a product on your recommendations.
The best tip is to make your site rank for some good search terms. If your car insurance page ranks for the term “car insurance” you will make a lot more money than if you are just relying on the fact that your readers may well be in the market for car insurance when they visit your website. Ranking for the name of the merchant site is another great tactic. If you pass traffic to “Johns Car Insurance Brokers” and rank number two for the term “Johns Car Insurance
Brokers” you will get a good portion of the traffic for that term. If you do get to the top 10 for one of these terms experiment with changing your title and meta description tags to improve your CTR. Add something like “Save 10% at Johns Car Insurance Brokers” to encourage visitors to visit your site rather than the real one.
My final tip is to offer the best deals from the best suppliers. If the suppliers have great websites and good products visitors are far more likely to convert into buyers.
2. How can an affiliate boost their chances of being accepted for a program?
I receive well over 100 affiliate applications every day. First impressions count. I look at the applicant’s website for about two seconds before accepting them or rejecting them.
We have hundreds of affiliates who earn a commission every month. I am very familiar with what types of websites have the potential to make money and what type of website doesn’t have a chance. I’ll usually reject the ones that I just know won’t make money. We don’t want our ads on a webpage that is nothing but a wall with hundreds of affiliate banners or websites with that look like they were designed in 1996. I do this in part because I don’t want to waste your time and we don’t want to dilute or cheapen our brand by allowing poor quality websites to display our ads.
I instantly reject “coming soon” and “under construction pages”. However… If you contact me first and let me know that all you have is a domain or that it’s under construction, I’ll almost always approve your application.
Provide as much detail as possible, also follow up with a further email/call. We get lots of applications come through to which we try and get back to the majority, but affiliates shouldn’t be afraid to contact us before we get the chance.
Unlike the merchants above we tend to accept most applications, probably because the program is very niche and not widely promoted.
3. Do you think affiliates can still make good money using Adwords to drive traffic?
Absolutely… (If you know what you’re doing) If you know what you’re doing but are unfamiliar with the niche, ask the affiliate manager what to do. Try to get on the phone with them, make friends with them and get them to give up the goods. Again… They want you to make money and will usually help you if you ask.
It’s all about the landing page. You don’t want the visitor to linger or spend much time on the landing page. The perfect landing page should be relevant to the keyword searched for and should have just enough content to persuade the prospect to exit the page through an affiliate link in about two seconds.
Some affiliate programs allow you to send traffic directly to the merchant. Others will allow you to bid on the brand name or brand related keywords. Both of these will boost your conversion rates.
Before you start… Estimate the conversion ratio so you have a good idea how many visitors it will take for you to get a single conversion, then estimate how much it will cost versus how much you will earn. The ideal situation will pay out at 100 times the minimum cost per click. In this situation, you only need to get one person out of 100 to convert to break even.
As above it’s a risky game. There are affiliates out there that are real pros and they make it work, but it takes time, money and a close eye to get a return.
Adwords can get very expensive very quickly so you really need to be confident on your numbers and conversion rates before you start. I wouldn’t try Adwords until the site was really tweaked to maximise its income.
4. What do you class as cheating and how do you catch the cheaters?
Any violation of our Terms & Conditions is “Cheating”.
One of the LinkShare tools I have is called the “IP Report”. This report reveals what page drove traffic to our website. If you do something sneaky like place our website in a 1 pixel frame, I’ll spot it right away.
I have all of my best affiliates memorized. I check the statistics every day. If someone new shows up, I’ll always look at the website and landing page, etc, to be sure nothing is wrong.
I need to personally vouch for the activity of every affiliate in our program and my neck is on the line for every single commission payment.
Sometimes I’ll get an affiliate who is having amazing success but I can’t figure out how it’s being accomplished. In these situations I’ll contact the affiliate right away and ask how they are driving the traffic and then double check the story. If the affiliate can not explain to me in a convincing way how they are able to drive the traffic, I’ll terminate the affiliate relationship ASAP.
I need to take the affiliate payment invoice to my boss for a signature. If my boss says “Wow! Who is the new guy?” … “How are they able to earn such a huge commission?” … “Show me the landing page”, etc… I better have a good story and explanation. If the affiliate can’t help me stay out of trouble, I can’t help them make money.
We don’t allow brand bidding, we also can’t allow using our domains in the display URL for CPC. We have tools to identify the below.
Cookie stuffing (where the affiliate opens the affiliate link in a hidden iframe) is the main cheating method. Others include sending people via a link that they think leads somewhere else. Depending on the intent we might ask the affiliate to stop doing this.
It’s quite simple to set up a report that shows each affiliates traffic and anybody receiving huge increases will be up for further scrutiny.