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Merchants, you need to bring your affiliate program to the next level

They say that first impressions are made within seconds of meeting someone face-to-face. You take a look at them, get a sense of the vibe they’re sending out and make a snap decision whether they’re a potential friend, partner or you might just decide to write them off entirely.

It’s the same with affiliate programs.

I was looking at developing a new niche and found one with multiple spikes in search volume and transactions multiple times a year. The incumbent had a decent affiliate program though their affiliate management leave much to be desired and training resources? Forget about it.

The problem is that it’s a niche with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of items within the space. Coupled with the fact that these are items that constantly need to be replaced and the consumers have to buy their products from somewhere and it’s not hard to imagine a longterm business resulting from this.

The sad thing is that the other merchants in the space didn’t provide deep links. I was looking for product-specific links because the competition (search results) for some of these terms were in the thousands. So what do you do if the merchant only provides links to their root domain? You could move on, though there aren’t many merchants in this space.

It’d be an unwise thing to link to their root domain via an affiliate link, then expect the lead to somehow figure out that they need to type the product name into the search engine, then click on a result.

If I were one of the users, I’d want to type the product name into the search engine and find a direct link to the product and if the price was right, buy it immediately.

If merchants don’t get the affiliate picture, it’d be smarter to hire an experienced affiliate manager or have an outsourced program manager (OPM) on at least a six month engagement (ideally longer) to get things working. Else you’re just wasting your time, and more significantly, the affiliates.

PS: You might notice that I’ve not mentioned video tools or XML datafeeds, especially with a catalog that contains more than 100,000 items. If you can’t get the basics right, there’s no point trying to run before you can crawl.

21 comments on Merchants, you need to bring your affiliate program to the next level

  1. Josh
    July 29, 2010 at 10:55 am (3919 days ago)

    Andrew I totally agree! Merchants always seem to lack keeping up with whats going on in the affiliate space.

  2. Jason (Prosper202 supporter)
    July 30, 2010 at 1:55 am (3918 days ago)

    I think the message for merchants has to be, either do it right or don’t do it at all. I think a lot of inexperienced merchants believe they can just invest a little bit of time and throw up a stub of an affiliate program and invest additional resources into growing it over time, as they get more affiliates. They don’t realize that the smart affiliates are not going to jump on board until they have a decent offering of tools and options to promote their store properly, and thus they are cutting their own affiliate program’s potential short, and will probably just end up pulling the plug eventually because their program was a “bust”.

  3. Joe Sousa
    July 30, 2010 at 4:22 am (3918 days ago)

    There are so many bad affiliate managers out there and so few good ones. I could probably count the ones who really know what they are doing on my fingers and I might not even have to use a second hand.

    One of the problems is there is very little quality training out there for AMs. The companies just put someone from their internet or marketing department in charge of their affiliate program. Would they just grab a guy from the shipping department that owns a calculator and put them in charge of finances? Of course not.

    Merchants either need to take the time to find a good, outsourced AM that fits their budget or they need to train whoever is put in charge of the program.

  4. andrew wee
    July 30, 2010 at 9:34 am (3918 days ago)

    Yep. I especially “like” it when the PR manager or IT support guy is appointed the affiliate manager. Aside from approving affiliates, there’s not much else that goes on sometimes.

  5. andrew wee
    July 30, 2010 at 9:36 am (3918 days ago)

    The best AMs and OPMs tend to be those who’ve been at a successful affiliate program before and bring their best practises with them.

    It would be good to see some AM qualification or certification process, although the ones I’ve seen tend to be from profit-driven private bodies and the training was very basic.

    A quality AM likely needs more on-the-job training, ideally with an experienced mentor guiding them along.

  6. Justin Dupre
    July 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm (3918 days ago)


    Why should I care about professional experience when I hire an AM that is a solid 10 model with huge breasts and blonde hair?

    But in all seriousness, I know where you’re coming from. Too many times I’ve tried to deal with some of these merchants and half the time they don’t know what they’re talking about.

    <3 you Weeman

  7. Ryan
    August 7, 2010 at 1:52 pm (3910 days ago)

    A lot of times it’s not the merchant’s unwillingness or ignorance, but the lack of a wide array of truly flexible and… dare I say, AFFORDABLE tracking solutions that hold an affiliate prgram back.

    Especially on the ecommerce side of things.

    A cool follow-up post to this one might be to help merchants locate these solutions.

  8. david rose
    August 16, 2010 at 10:22 pm (3900 days ago)

    yes that’s what consumers mostly do, they type the product name into the search engine and find a direct link to the product and if the price was right, buy it immediately.

  9. Trisha Lyn Fawver
    August 28, 2010 at 6:18 am (3889 days ago)

    Agreed…speaking as a former AM & OPM, it’s not hard to just do things right and listen to your affiliates.

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