Starting an affiliate program to market your business online is a great way to get real growth - but it comes with dangers that you must manage pro-actively from the start.
By definition, affiliate marketing hands a degree of control over to the publishers who market on your behalf.
Because these publishers are incentivized with sales commissions, they may end up using advertising and promotional strategies that your own company might not be comfortable with.
Making sure that publishers who are part of your program only implement "white hat" strategies that won't harm your brand in any way is vital.
This article provides a few tips to help you avoid some of the most common pitfalls when starting your own program.
1. Avoid poor quality publishers
One of the most common mistakes for organizations trying to grow their startup program is to accept too many publishers too quickly.
Obviously, the more affiliate partners you have, the more your products and services are promoted, and the more sales and revenue you should generate. But quick growth is less desirable than quality growth.
There are literally millions of low quality publishers looking for something to sell - and they aren't picky about what they sell, so long as they can make a quick buck.
Partner with people like this and your brand may be quickly associated with lots of low quality Internet real estate.
What's worse is that low quality partners may produce lots of low quality links and content around your brand, which is absolutely toxic to page rankings and organic search traffic from Google.
It may be that you end up irreversibly polluting other healthy channels, and this can be very costly, perhaps even terminal.
In general, you should vet everyone that applies to ensure they:
- have a quality site/blog/channel
- do not engage in spammy activities
- are a genuine person/business
- are established within your niche/brand/industry
Ideally, you want to maintain a small, manageable stable of influencers who will promote your brand responsibly and effectively.
2. Don't leave guidelines open to interpretation
It is your responsibility to lay down the rules when it comes to what are or aren't acceptable marketing strategies.
For example, many companies forbid affiliates from bidding on specific brand keywords in Google AdWords. Obviously it is counter-constructive to drive up advertising prices by competing for your own product and service ad terms.
In general it is a good idea to talk about promotional strategies that are allowed, and disallow everything else. Otherwise you run the risk of some enterprising publisher using a spam technique you've never even heard of to damage your reputation.
Provide a list of allowed promotional activities that is restricted based on what is in line with your own marketing methods.
3. Stay away from spam
Even with proper guidelines in place you can be sure that one or two affiliates will overstep their bounds every now and then. It's important to monitor the activities being undertaken on your behalf.
This morning, for example, I received an unsolicited spam email (copied here):
Would your full-time employees be eliglible for tuition reimbusement towards an accredited BA or MBA program?
[spam link to pattenu.org removed]
This spam, complete with two spelling errors in only one sentence, would have been duly ignored - except I was intrigued by the fact that the link seemed to be from genuine college.
Why would an establishment like a university resort to email spam? Surely, in that industry, reputation is important?
As it turns out the link provided redirects to an admissions sign up form on patten.edu:
So Patten university is spamming businesses with links back to their admissions sign up page. Given how seriously the U.S. legislates against spam with the CAN-SPAM act, I am surprised they have taken this route.
I suspect that, more than likely, an outsourced "expert" who is incentivized with admission sign-up commissions is responsible. Then again, maybe they're just an organization that's ok with spamming people.
The point being that it is very easy to damage your reputation without keeping a constant eye on what is being done on your behalf.
Would I sign up for an MBA with Patten based on receiving a spam email that didn't spell eligible or reimbursement? They're lucky I don't report them.
What experiences have you had running an affiliate program? Share your advice in the comments.